I have been mulling over this post in various forms over the past few weeks; having already written about a bike ride in an early post, I didn’t want to be too repetitive, or seem overly narcissistic, but at the same time, physical exercise, particularly running and cycling, has been an essential part of my make-up since childhood. This piece from the New Yorker website prompted me to sit down and think about this subject again.
Traditionally there are four postures for meditation. Seated meditation is the root of our practice. Each school of Buddhism has its own style, but they all derive from Shakyamuni Buddha’s experience of awakening through sitting. We can always go back to sitting, wherever we are, and experience it afresh each time. Walking meditation is usually a part of any extended sitting schedule, and is learnt very early on in our practice – though I also enjoy the kind of walking meditation of going around the city, or walking in nature, with as much of a zazen mind as I can manage. There were times at Tassajara I had to meditate standing or lying down when my body was unable to take the seated posture, and I learnt a lot from both of those.
I would add two other postures: running and cycling. While neither approaches stillness, at least externally, I have so often experienced a calmness and clarity of mind while the body is working hard and on its way to being exhausted. At times I have wondered how I would have managed all my energies, especially when I was younger and had not begun to meditate, if I did not have these ways of burning them up. Like a concentration practice, they become a virtuous circle: the more you can exercise, the more enjoyable it is. I have found that after an hour or so of running, or three hours of riding on the road, if I am not hurting too much, I come into a settledness that is deeply satisfying. I can’t say exactly what I think about either when running or riding – apart from contemplating that I have to keep going until I get myself home – but, as in meditation, it feels that the whole process of thinking loosens up, and I am always glad of that.