Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bicycle Zen

Like. Don't like. Neutral.

These are the three base-level feelings we experience about everything in our lives. Peel off the skin of any emotional response and you'll find these at work.

If we learn to let these three just come and go, a lot of trouble can be avoided. Easier said than done of course.

A simple example from my own life might help illustrate this. As a lifelong bicyclist in a city, I have had my struggles with cars and traffic. Bicycling in the city isn't terribly easy. Planning and design work almost always privileges motorized vehicles over bikes and pedestrians - at least here in the U.S. Even when things are well marked and it appears to be "safe" for bikers, you can still run into inattentive or angry drivers that would rather you weren't there.

For many years, I biked with a deep resentment towards motorized vehicles. It didn't matter if they were actually doing anything dangerous or not in any given moment. Someone might offer me a chance to cross ahead of them, for example, and I'd think they were trying to shoo me through quickly. That shooing quickly snowballed into "these folks don't respect me at all." Which usually spun into "bikers are second class citizens." Although there's still some truth to the last statement, the stories aren't at all helpful while actually biking. But I'd get hooked by them, and it all stemmed from an initial "don't like" that came up again and again.

About three years ago, I began cutting through the thoughts and emotional reactions that developed in response to this don't like by chanting the Jizo Bodhisattva chant while riding. Jizo is kind of an archetypal Buddhist figure that is said to protect travelers, children, the dead, and vows among other things. Chozen Bays Roshi of Great Vow Monastery wrote a fabulous book about Jizo several years ago that I was fortunate to study soon after it was published. As soon as I learned about it, I knew Jizo would be a companion on my spiritual journey.

Biking with Jizo has become a norm for me. Although I have to confess that I haven't been so diligent in recent months and it's starting to show. However, more often than not, I experience the like, don't like, and neutral more clearly. Without a lot of getting lost in elaboration. Stinky alley. Don't like. Fall leaves. Like. Dog in a yard. Neutral. End of story.

Do I still get pissed and reactive towards motorized vehicles at times? Sure. However, such experiences sometimes colored my entire day in the past, and now usually burn off within minutes. And when I think about it, it really comes back to this point of being able to see, and experience, these three base-level feeling tones without getting lost in emotional and thought elaborations.

What's your experience with all of this?


Jeanne Desy said...

I like your insight - just don't cling to them. I used to try to talk myself out of my negative responses, understand people, pray for them. Oh, heck with it.....we have a Jizo in our front garden. Tom ordered it from Jan Chozen Bays' workshop. We love her dearly.

Anonymous said...

Zen Bicycle post...Like