I got a motorcycle almost two years ago. I wanted something fun. I had an inclination since I was younger (my father has Multiple Sclerosis and I spent much time on his motorized scooter as a child fantasizing it was the real deal) that it would be pretty fun.
Fun in spades. But also some unexpected lessons here.
Presence is an elusive state. Our minds like to wander.
We theorize about the future - creating hypothetical worlds and exploring them.
We reflect on the past - regret, retrospection, dwelling.
"For the present is the only thing of which a person can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which they have, and that a person cannot lose something they do not already posses"
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It is rare that we are present. Here in the moment.
When you are riding on the road - exposed to the asphalt that we normally walk on but at speeds that blur and preclude it from focus - you are present. When the consequence of a wandering mind is existential, it’s funny how you become, existentially, present.
Riding forces you to spend your time in acute awareness of things - the sounds, the smell, the lighting, the temperature, the air, the resistance, the city, the countryside - around you. Your immediate surroundings become everything in your immediate conscious.
When you are on the road, you ride in the wake of your awareness, sitting quietly in solitude long enough to see and hear and feel the world around, not just your own opinions about it.
If the world is constantly trying to steal your presence, riding at length and leisure affords you the space to think without anything competing for your time. As true as it was circa 167 AD when Aurelius noted the elusiveness of presence, everything is vying for our attention. Fewer companies today are competing for our money; far more companies are competing for our attention and are in competition with how we spend our time. Reading is their competition, sleep is their competition, exercise is their competition — anything we spend our time on beyond the confines of their time-taxing offerings are their competition.
I've personally been unable to get into meditation, but I imagine riding a motorcycle is the closest thing to a cheat code that exists today that did not in the days of the Stoics.
Riding a motorcycle is terrifying.
It is not until you ride one that you realize how much you've taken the security of cars for granted. Inside of a car — the fact that you can say those words and have them make sense gets at the profound difference between cars and motorcycles. Despite the obviousness of the difference, until you experience being part of the landscape you normally watch go by as a passing observer, it's hard to grasp the overwhelming sense of fear.
Over time, you learn how to control your mind and body in the presence of this fear. To become familiar with — even embrace — fear.
I've noted a heuristic before: between two paths, choose the most difficult. Riding my motorcycle helped bring me to this destination, because when fear is towering over you, when you have no choice, when your adrenaline is spiked and your heart is racing, you can try avoidance, or you can steady yourself, breathe, and embrace it.
While riding inspired these thoughts, reading “The Art and Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance” helped me articulate what has been bouncing around in my head.