photo by Alex Robinson
I love to wake early on a Sunday morning and go for a bike ride. Unlike the many people who pass me as I plod along, I do not ride for exercise or any other discernible purpose. I have no particular destination, and no timetable. I ride just to explore and look at the world, for though I have been exploring and looking for nearly five decades, I still find the world incredibly interesting and beautiful.
In the flow
I live in a city, and sometimes I ride through industrial areas or train yards, sometimes I ride through residential areas, and sometime I ride in parks or out to the countryside. The distinction between natural and man-made is not of much use to me as I ride along; what’s there is there, and what’s there is what I am interested in seeing.
On some of these days, I become unaware of time and unconcerned with distance as I ride. Hours and miles pass by, and I am absorbed in the sheer joy of exploring the world. But inevitably, at some point this changes, and I start to desire to get home (this usually happens after I start back and hit the inevitable hill, for I live in a high part of town). The moment I want to be home, the entire quality of the experience changes.
In that duration when I am unaware of time and unconcerned with distance, I am exactly where I want to be. The moment that I want to be somewhere else, I become acutely aware of time and distance. Up to that moment the miles passed effortlessly; after it the miles become an obstacle, and I am keenly aware of the amount of effort required to overcome them. Whereas I had been completely content with where I was, suddenly I’m no longer content.
Between cycling and eternity
The 6th Century Zen poet Seng-ts’an wrote:
“Do not like, do not dislike, all will then be clear. Make a hair’s-breadth difference, and heaven and earth are set apart.”
The gulf between nirvana and samsara, I suggest, is precisely the gulf between these two experiences of bike riding. To be absolutely fulfilled in what you are doing, so that there is not a hair’s-breadth of desire to be anywhere else or doing anything else – that is nirvana. To have that hair’s-breadth of desire, or an ocean’s width of desire – that is samsara.
The mystics through the ages have spoken of a place beyond the concerns of time and space, and what they are talking about is nothing more than a Sunday morning bike ride. They have spoken of a place of suffering, and what they are talking about is nothing more than the itch to get further on down the road. People through the ages have misunderstood them. They thought this place beyond the concerns of time and space, which they call eternity, must be altogether outside this world.
But instead, it is to be fully and completely in this world.
What better place to ride a bike than here and now?
Thomas Schenk: “If asked, I’d call myself a Space-age Taoist, Black Sheep Catholic, Perennial Philosophy Pantheist, Dharma Bum. In other words I am a kind of spiritual and philosophical mutt. I’m not out to change the world, for I believe the world has a much better sense of what it is supposed to be than I ever could. But I do try to promote the value of the contemplative life in these most un-contemplative of times. I don’t know if the piece presented here has any value, but I feel blessed that I can spend my time thinking about such things. My version of the American dream is that here, as the child of a line of farmers and peasants going back through the ages, I have the privilege to live with my head in such clouds.”
Check out Thomas’ other articles: