What riding a bicycle can teach us about life
Life expresses itself differently in the body and the mind. The body is mostly on autopilot, as exemplified by the automatic life-sustaining processes such as breathing, regulation of the heartbeat, body temperature, functioning of the brain and other vital internal organs. We have little or no conscious input on critical life functions in the body, except perhaps for the pattern and depth of breathing which we can alter consciously. The mind may be functioning on its own, but unlike the body, it does not have an automatic mechanism that keeps it in a healthy equilibrium. The mind comes to us as a raw potential. We are free to shape its growth. Consequently, most of our attention is drawn towards the mind. There is a constant struggle between what we want of the mind and what it wants to do. Balancing the body with the needs of the mind is like learning how to ride a bicycle.
Once we learn how to ride a bicycle, we never forget it, similarly, once we learn how to bring harmony in the body-mind complex it never leaves us.
The body and the mind may be compared to the front and back wheels of a bicycle. Just as the two wheels have to rotate at the same speed for the cycle to move forward, when the body and the mind are in sync with one another, life becomes very smooth and easy. Awareness straddles both the body and the mind, just as the seat on which the rider sits is placed in between the two wheels of a bicycle. Awareness is like the rider.
When awareness is solely on the body, the body becomes like the ‘front wheel’ which dictates to the handlebars which way to turn. Everything we do becomes body oriented. When the mind becomes the sole focus, all our actions are by the mind’s whim. When awareness is held independently but linked to the body and the mind, we become in charge. In general, the mind is needier than the body. The body is self-sustaining for the most part, especially if we adopt a healthy lifestyle. The mind needs a hands-on approach.
Through awareness, we can apply ‘brakes’ to the mind when it is trying to outrun the moment and sprint into the future. If it is lagging in the past, awareness can ‘pedal’ faster and bring the mind in tune with the present. Just as a rider’s focus in on the handlebar, brakes, on pedaling, and not so much on the movement of the wheels, if we keep our awareness on silence, witnessing, and appreciating life; the body and the mind will move in harmony with one another like the wheels of a bicycle turning in sync with one another.
We may ride a bicycle for leisure, as a means to get to work, or as a sport, but no matter what our intent is, it is incumbent on the rider to be alert at all times otherwise accidents may happen. Similarly, when our alertness and awareness slips, it is the mind which first wanders off course, guided by prevailing thought ‘winds,’ while the body moves along at it own pace thanks to its ability to function on its own. This results in the mind and the body not being in tune with one another. Life may seem to be moving, but in reality, we enter a standstill, just as a bicycle cannot move if only one wheel turns.
We end up becoming ‘mind mechanics’ when much of our time and effort goes towards restoring balance and equilibrium.
Chaotic movement of thoughts disrupts the equilibrium of the mind. This, in turn, impacts the body. Smoothing out feelings, making the mind more restful may be grouped under the broad term of mindfulness. Such mental housekeeping, more often than not, becomes the goal rather than a helpful aid towards something more significant than just taming the mind. The mind is like a house and awareness is like the occupant of that house. It is one thing to have a lovely, well furnished clean house, but the real enjoyment comes where there is someone there to live in and enjoy that house. When we grow in awareness, we begin to enjoy the mind’s presence. It can be an excellent companion.
Busy in the struggle to attain a peaceful mind, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture of life. Peace of mind is a milestone and not the destination of life. When the mind and body are in constant equilibrium, we feel light and peaceful. Our awareness will then have a chance to shift towards exploring the deeper aspects of our being which transcend the body and mind. We are accustomed to deriving enjoyment from the known. Awareness helps us enjoy the unknown as we explore our inner depths. Such happiness does not depend on the body and the mind.
The deeper we go within, the more freedom we experience. There is a difference between freedom through the mind which is conditional and dependent on the mind and freedom from the mind which has no preset conditions. We can call ourselves genuinely independent when there is freedom from the mind. In such a state, awareness grows and spreads. We begin to feel one with existence, in contrast to a conditioned life in which we struggle to feel one with the body and the mind. Feeling one with existence makes caring, sharing, accommodating and gratitude a natural aspect of our being.
A fruit has to first grow to its fullest before we can extract and taste its sweet essence. While we enjoy the fruit, nature creates the opportunity for more such fruits through seeds contained within. Similarly, as our awareness grows, the heart of it, which is love will spread. Love is not something we can think and will. It happens spontaneously. In full awareness, there is unconditional love. Its fragrance follows a person who lives in total awareness. Just as we don’t need wheels to be transported to great distances in our dreams, the essence of complete awareness which is unconditional love does not require the wheels of the body and the mind to travel far and wide. An invisible current takes it to all corners of existence. Externally nothing magical may happen, but there is a miraculous inner transformation as we grow in awareness.
Imagine riding a bicycle on a smooth country road with beautiful scenery all around. Our eyes would naturally be on the surroundings and the way ahead and not on the wheels of the bicycle. Similarly, a life led in awareness makes every moment beautiful. As we enjoy the beauty of every moment, we will naturally want to share it with others, including future generations. The future means there is a road ahead. Nobody can see where that road leads or what we may encounter as we travel forward in life. Wherever we are in life, the universal aspiration is for the future to be better. When the focus is not on the body and the mind, we begin to move away from individual aspirations towards thinking about the future of the world and what best we can do with our time to bring about a positive change. The ‘road’ we stand on today is the present, how we maintain it will impact future travelers on this same road.
Just as we cannot live on a bicycle, it is only a means of getting from point A to B, and we cannot live forever through the body and the mind. But properly using them, the journey of life can be turned from the rough unpaved world of ignorance towards the smooth well-connected network of awareness in which all beings are included.