A bicycle is a magic mirror. You get your own personal reflection back from the bicycle. The inner journey parallels the outer one when you ride.
— Joel Solomon
This meditation is to help you better use the tunes that come into your head while you’re riding. You know what I mean. You’re riding along, and a song goes into your brain and goes around and around in it. Sometimes you get a helpful song, one that reflects a good mood or helps you up a hill. Sometimes you get an annoying jingle from a stupid TV commercial. Rather than have these melodies come to you randomly, this meditation is designed to help you use music more effectively when riding.
Here’s how to begin. When you start out on your bike, begin with a kavanah, an intention, that you will receive a song that will help your ride. I think it’s helpful to say your intention out loud, but if you’ll feel too silly, just think it. But do make the intention before setting out. (See “Intentions” under Tools and Techniques if you need help with this process).
Now, you’re riding along, and a song comes into your head. When you get a song, don’t let your ego mind immediately judge it, or your chatterbox brain analyzes it. Just ride with it for a while, see how it makes you feel, what images it evokes.
You might be a conventionally religious person, and expect you’ll get a hymn. Instead, you get a song you learned at camp when you were ten. Maybe you remember what it was like when you were ten, and feeling happy and free in the outdoors at camp, and that feeling comes back to you as you ride along.
Maybe you’re riding alone, and a popular love song comes into your head. You think about those who you love, and those who love you, and that’s your gift for this ride.
The song might just reflect the way you feel right then — maybe the Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine” — and you feel good inside and out.
One time when I did this practice, I was riding in some fairly hairy traffic through the skyscraper canyons downtown, and the song that came to me was the hymn, “Gam Kee Aylaych” (which you probably know by the English words “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”), which made me laugh at first. I felt stronger and more confident amongst the cars though when I got to the verse, “..for You are with me, for You are with me…”
One afternoon when I did this practice, I got a niggun. Niggunim are tunes without words — you usually sing them to a “yi di di” or a “bim bom”. Rabbi David Zeller calls niggunim “snowplows for the flurries of the mind”. They can carve a clear path among all the thoughts that are blowing around in your mind to a place with no words, to a place where you just are who you are. When I get a niggun, it usually means I’m thinking too much on the bike. It’s time to let the words go, the rational thoughts go, the part of the brain that plans and analyzes go, and take your tune and just ride. Just ride.
There’s lots of ways you may end up with something wordless, that functions like a niggun. Like, your feet are setting a good beat as you turn pedals, you have the bass line already in your head, and you’re doing scat — “Doo-bee-doo-bee-doo whap whap!” Or you hear Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto “dah dah dat, dah dah dat…” etc. It might even be the Hawaii Five-Oh theme song, “dah-dah-dah da da, dah-dah-dah dah…”
Now, one of things that happens while we ride (and when we meditate) is that sometimes we get the stupidest stuff in our head. The song we get is a theme song from a TV sitcom from many years ago, or a lame advertising jingle.
So, how do you deal with this sort of nonsense? Here are three steps:
- Be sure you’ve set your intention well. To try to make sure you get helpful music, rather than just the flotsam and jetsam of advertising jingles and hooks from pop tunes that float on the surface of your consciousness, make sure you have a clear intention when you start out the ride.
- Accept that you have been exposed to all kinds of crap — even if you don’t watch much TV now, you spent hours as a kid watching F-Troop or Welcome Back Kotter in a zoned-out, all-absorbent mode. So when the F-Troop or Welcome Back Kotter theme song comes into your brain, that’s the way it is. Again, don’t leap to judge, analyze, or repulse. Just acknowledge it and let it go. “Oh yeah, there’s the F-Troop theme song again.” Then spend some time focusing on your pedaling and your breathing while you’re on your bike, and it will probably fade away.
- Sometimes you get some stupid song and you were meant to get it. One time I got the Oscar Meyer Weiner song. You know, “Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner…” I thought, oh heck, an advertising jingle, and let it go. But it kept returning, so I decided, ok, that’s my song for this ride, so I went with it. I realized the part that resonated was the end line, “…then everyone would be in love with me!” I realized that lately I had been feeling a little sorry for myself, and in need of a little more love in my life. At the same time, I was getting this message in a brainless jingle — the undercurrent was, “don’t wallow in self-pity, Petersky, look at the humor in this situation!” When I realized that, I had to laugh, and then the song faded out.
Enjoy your tunes!