"From the great spiral galaxies to the trillions of atoms swirling in a grain of sand, the universe is composed of spinning wheels of energy. Flowers, tree trunks, planets, and people – each is made of tiny wheels of turning inside, riding upon the great wheel of the Earth, spinning in its orbit through space. A fundamental building block of nature, the wheel, is the circle of life flowing through all aspects of existence"
Wild ecstasy may loosen itself out of hiding, spontaneously breaking free when I cycle contemplatively, but then again, faithful to its facts, cycling offers no straightforward access to blissed-out, transcendent states of being, nor does it serenely organize the cyclist into harmony with what might be called God and God’s qualities (peace, gratitude, trust, calm equanimity, and of course, unconditional love). Cycling is grit, gruel, and endless grind. It’s dirty, it’s sweaty, it’s exhausting. I always come out of it as if I were in battle (and I was, with my mind): with grease stains on my calf, the imprint of my helmet sewn into a red line on my forehead, the eagerness for two greasy cheeseburgers and a heaping plate of layered nachos, and my hair in a knot from hell. When the Elements, or the steepness of the unrelenting grade, or my lagging energy stores, find me at my limits of tolerance with discomfort, I whine to the sky or the forest or the top of the climb that extends out in front of me on a road reconfigured as a torture chamber, “if God is omnipresent, why didn’t I find God in knitting by a warm fire or something?” But, cycling was it, the closest thing to it, and because it was it, I have to reconcile that it is a medium that is naturally conducive to breaking people open to a larger reality.
Cycling works on cyclists whether they know or not that it contains the potent seed to become a contemplative practice. It activates cells from their slumber, it energizes the dormant body, it flushes interior channels with chi, or what the ancient Chinese named vital life energy. It gets its practitioners out of their busy lives and congested heads and into their revived bodies. It purges petty concerns, regulates the nerves, cleanses perception, tests one’s strength, requires you endure, and confronts inner demons. It recapitulates the time-worn revolutions of the cosmos around the crankshaft, it enactively reproduces the sacred mandala, ritualistically tracing out its circular pattern, it awakens the spirit.
A dynamic platform for spiritual launch, or for integrating ourselves such that we touch into our cleanest, barest, clearest mind that opens us onto a joyous cosmology. Expanded, enriched, and elevated. To achieve this meant peeling off from the peloton of group rides to pursue it solo so I could meet it directly, as an Individual in direct, unmediated relation with the open road, to drop into what I could make of myself or pull out of myself to move as and through my own power, it meant taking short rides further, into more complex terrain, it meant crossing the threshold of the day ride to enter the euphoric potentials of continuous cycling, traveling with the essentials in rear panniers, it meant crossing state lines, it meant applying persistence and perseverance to test strength and the outer limits of my desire. “One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude,” said Goethe. The open road was the matrix through which this inspiration occurred.
The true nature of contemplative cycling I lay bare: it is not a practice in meditative movement that is a sure means of reliably, or unfailingly, attaining a seamless sense of contemplative oneness with the Cosmos. Contemplative cycling presents itself as a unique medium that, in the marrow of its long hours grinding out thousands of revolutions of the pedal stroke over pavement, offers spontaneous opportunity for tiny slips into self-abandon, intimate portals unto a revised perception manifesting as the ecstatic glory of truth, and a blissful union with the road behind as in front, within the basins and the bowls and on the peaks and the precipices, within the complex contouring of the land that transpires and collapses just as soon as it is sustained by steady pedaling that evens, quiets, and persists with diminishing drama, resistance, and fear.
As said, I didn’t consciously set out to accomplish any sort of spiritual transcendence, I wasn’t an active seeker. I was out to become a cyclist to respond to the tickle of some calling and to win someone’s heart, to taste some of his fiery wild of my own, and along the way of the long road it seems I won my own. Within quiet spaces in the center of all of the excessive training and incessant mileage as an endurance cyclist, on isolated peaks, in the drenching heat of desolate desert highway, as the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean blazed neon fuchsia and melon over a strip of Coastal Highway during hour nine in the saddle, a radical presence would shock me into silly wonder, sane peace, and the love of fate, all at once, gratefully-ecstatically!
Yet this bliss, for me at least, wasn’t, and still isn’t, found easily. I find it exceedingly transient, prone to degradation, and easily interfered with by my lesser mind unable to hold open the expansive, obscuration-free vision of life here on Earth, which I pray doesn’t collapse when I re-experience it, and pray even harder that it, when it does, dawns on me once more. So, getting sort of conditioned to the pattern of it, the ecstatic vision co-occurring with long hours in the saddle, contemplative cycling was consciously born.
And yet, even as it formulated itself as a spiritual practice, as a technique, as a method, still it didn’t get any easier or more hack-able with such conscious awareness. It’s always a long slog, the outcome uncertain, the product of self-overcoming not guaranteed. During certain periods of unusual flow and momentum, I’m convinced that it’s becoming so. I picture some spiral ascending as the strength of radiant, faithfully-streaming Sunshine that gets ever-closer to God. And then a heavy head wind will dismantle my progressive intent and slay my calm abiding and I’m left shattered into a thousand useless pieces of petty confetti, grumbling once more about my pain and discomforts.
The data points to a reconciling conclusion that it’s just as difficult to access as when I began. Which is fine. It’s acceptable. It’s more likely anyway that any need to self-overcome cyclicity itself is the ego’s hungry need for reassurance and for progress. I mean it’s cycling for heaven’s sake: in its material conditions of practice all you do is endlessly cycle!
I find a deeper relief in Alan Watts who intelligently and eloquently plays with this very same idea in suggesting “how long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it come faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall outspring all springs?”.
It’s probably the case that I have been particularly stubborn and strong-willed, and that the odds were, and still are, against me: only in such a grueling matrix as endurance cycling could this strength of heart and clarity of perception and dissolution of affliction have been chiseled out of such obstinacy. If I be the case I figure others are wired accordingly and so I am here to speak from experience about the value of establishing a practice that goes far beyond your edge, self-imposed limits, and the factor of your comfort in order for the transfigurations of consciousness to come for you and nab you into an alternate way.
Ironic though it might be that a particular concrete desire launched me on this path, initiated enough mojo, and maintained enough commitment to do this, really persistently do this, and that the path, laid out as miles upon miles of durable black pavement upon which relentless exertion is required to keep going, that this heat, this sweat, these tapas, this alchemy, worked on me to extinguish and to elucidate, He, cast as a false figure on the difficult-to-reach horizon, making it such that cycling in the fiery ring for years was long enough to ensure magic would unleash.