“My church is in the mountains,” “Riding is my meditation,” “Riding brings me closer to God than any religion,” and “Welcome to the church of what’s happening now” - these are just a few comments I’ve heard on recent rides, and relating them to my own experiences is what inspired me to write this third installment of ProVisions.
As humans, we crave meaning and purpose. With science reigning and the Church fading, deeper life meaning can become more elusive, so naturally we need a new source, something that provides us an experience beyond words, something that makes us feel alive. It seems that riding mountain bikes delivers, as those quotes above attest to. To derive our fulfillment from mountain biking is awesome, but I believe we need to proceed cautiously, or rather, consciously.
When we go for a ride, it makes us feel amazing. We then seek a similar experience the next time we go out. Each time provides us rich opportunity for meaning making, and each of us are drawn to slightly different aspects of the sport to accomplish that. Here are just a few examples:The Explorer
‘Where the trail ends’ is where you come alive, deep in the mountains, exploring uncharted territory. Or travelling to new riding destinations and ripping fresh singletrack. The Trickster
Pulling off a new move whether a first for you or for the world, this is when your confirm your worthiness and the praise floods in.The Racer
Exposing yourself to intense and sustained effort is when you hear the church bells (errr cow bells) ring. You train long hours to prepare for this moment, immaculately tracking every calorie in and how it’s burned. Get the combination just right and you’ll be racing in a seventh heaven suffer fest.The Mentor
You’re responsible for bringing new people to the sport of mountain biking, what higher calling than showing them the trails and turning them in to true believers.
But what happens when you run out of peaks to explore, tricks to learn, races to enter, and newbies wanting to ride with you? What happens when you just bore of it, or even worse, when an injury comes along and keeps you off the bike? Well, there goes your church, along with the meaning that it provided. For pro and recreational athletes alike, this can be devastating. A quick fix is to swap sports - try something new, fresh, and challenging, something that doesn’t aggravate the ‘ol injuries, some sport that provides a similar serving of solace.
Riding is a relatively healthy and positive ways to address that yearning for meaning (and to treat that mid-life crisis); there certainly are much worse alternatives. But the bottom line is that riding may eventually be revealed as a distraction and postponement from discovering the deeper meaning of life we intuit. It may be providing a fool's version of this meaning, a fleeting version that begins and ends with the ride…how could something as healthy and awesome as mountain biking end up being like showing up for church on Sunday and sinning the rest of the week?
It doesn’t have to be if we proceed consciously, but in today's measurable scientific world, we are taught to direct our attention outward, find meaning out in the world, so we become very talented do’ers, champions at doing stuff. It’s relatively easy to ‘do’ all that is necessary to be an explorer, trickster, racer, or mentor, especially when it seems to satisfy our yearnings for meaning. The thing is, that all this doing doesn’t leave much chance for human ‘being’. Being comfortable in our own skin. We need to stop doing for a few moments – and watching TV doesn’t count – we need to watch our minds. By looking inside, we can radically bolster and evolve whatever meaning we have discovered ‘out-there’.
By practicing ‘being’, I essentially freed my beloved sport from the burden of providing meaning and purpose. Mountain biking was no longer a pill I took, I was no longer relying on the ride to bless me, I was now able to bless my ride, and for the first time, experience what it means to truly freeride; being in the zone is now a choice rather than a random side-effect.
So how do we “proceed consciously,” “practice being,” and “connect to a deeper source of meaning and purpose” beyond reputation, image, title, role? These are big questions and very personal. There are many practices and methods, I’ll share a couple that have worked for me, which are contemplation and meditation.
Contemplation is all about asking yourself the big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I to do? How am I connected to nature, to the friends I ride with, to the 3G signals circling the world? Doing this while out on a ride is perfect, but all you ‘strava’ians aren’t gonna like it because it requires you to stop and take in the view!
Meditation while out on a ride is great too, the key is that you’re not relying on your riding to elicit the meditative experience. Cultivate this ‘being’ capacity while stopped. It may be awkward if you’re riding with friends, so doing it at home may be best. Check out this short blog
I wrote as a starting point.
For busy people seeking a riding high, contemplation and meditation are a waste of time, but I am convinced, from my own experience, that when done diligently over time, the higher quality riding high that you’ll experience is just a bonus compared to the benefits that resonate through the rest of your life. It will allow the Explorers to discover a rich inner world that is infinitely vast, the Tricksters to find inner joy to complement the external validation, the Racers to connect their training to life versus just the race, and the Mentors to show us what it really means to say ‘it’s not about the bike’. Have you had similar experiences? Please do share!Ryan Leech is widely considered to have been one of the most progressive and technically skilled mountain bikers in the world. Intimate with the benefits of yoga for a thriving pro career, he got certified to teach and thus began injecting a new generation of cyclists with the body mind intelligence necessary for long term optimal performance. His new Yoga for Cyclists Video is now available.
As a Professional Integral Coach™, he works privately with people, such as pro athletes, during transition to help them discover what’s next more quickly and with less suffering.