Cycling is all about being in the present moment. When you are on your bike you are in your body, not your – too often troubled – mind. Or so the experts say.
What the experts are getting so excited about is a meditative practice called Mindfulness. The practice of Mindfulness has never been more popular. Books and tapes abound. Celebrities are proud to admit to using the techniques. Just ask comedienne Ruby Wax, she even wrote a book about how it has helped her. In 2011, at my psychiatrist’s suggestion, I completed an 8 session course.
For those of you who have somehow managed to miss all of this Mindfulness mania, here is a snapshot of what is at its core. The point is to calm, what the person who ran the course I attended, called the ‘monkey mind.’ The basic practice is to focus on one’s breath. The reason for this is twofold. First, obviously, it is a neutral, ever – present physical reflex that has no psychological meaning. It is a vital part of everyone, something that outside of vigorous exercise, or actual breathing problems such as asthma or emphysema, goes unnoticed. The second is that it provides a focus for calming the mind that requires, literally, nothing else. It is the most ultimately portable technique, no other apparatus, lycra or gym membership required. So, it’s cheaper than counselling.
Being in the present moment, whether aware of my breathing or not, means that I am concentrating what is around me right there and then. It’s the same if I am cycling in traffic on the way to the station, or spinning along country lanes chasing butterflies.
But, for me, being in the present moment, can be a serious problem. Just as I can be sitting by the side of the road taking in the view, I can also be deep in thought. Too deep.
It’s not what you’re thinking. I don’t mean morbid thoughts. I mean really, really interesting thoughts. About, well, anything. This morning it was musing on the Spanish civil war, the couple of books that I, over the years, have read on the subject. And there’s the poetry of the era, too. Or dwelling on the books I have read, not the stories, not the themes or characters, but the blur of them rushing past like a river to the sea. As energetic and as unstoppable as they are featureless.
Being In the Present Moment at times like this is a thrilling experience, throbbing with energy and possibility. I am living in the French Alps, at the top of the iconic Tour de France climb up the Alpe d’Huez with its 19 hairpin bends, the fabric of my lungs and legs tearing as the air gets thinner and the end moves ever further away. The shopping in my panniers gets heavier and heavier as I approach my street on the edge of town and realise that I have forgotten to buy the toothpaste.
from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)