The lessons taught by the motorcycle are many; Ten of these shall be known as “Ets” and shall be considered fundamental to the practice of being a Zen Biker. All of them are of equal importance and form a synthesis, yet an order presents itself. This, then, is the Sixth Et.
In all of your life, on the bike or off, nothing will ever be more important than awareness. This is the axle upon which the wheel of your world turns.
It is so, in a practical manner: think of the multitudes who walk through their days hunched over what they think of as their lives: their jobs, their petty intrigues, the dancing light from their cell phone screens as they laugh at a meme that they don’t even realize they have inspired.
Because they are unaware.
There is an infinite amount of information just in your immediate area. Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote of a man stunned into insensibility contemplating the amount of raw data that composes a single leaf on a single tree. There was color, shape, tensile strength, velocity, vibrancy, energy, chlorophyll levels, on and on and on…and then there was the same information in the next square millimeter of that same single leaf on that same single tree.
So much to process, that the man couldn’t even move for the sheer overwhelming mass of it all. It is because of this information that the brain has at times been likened to a limiting valve; if you were constantly aware of everything that just your physical senses picked up, you’d be unable to do anything but sit there and drool (and be maddened further by the awareness of the trickle down your chin).
But a good thing can be taken too far.
One of the field exercises one undertakes during the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course is to pilot the machine from one orange safety cone to another one across the practice ground, round it, and ride back. Most, if not all, of the beginner riders tend to wobble their machines around a little bit, weaving from side to side rather than riding in a straight line. The instructors explain that this is a fine example of a phenomenon known as “target fixation.” You narrow your awareness too far, exclude too much of the surrounding information, and you lose control of everything, including the target.
There’s a whole world out there, and it all affects you. In order to deal with it properly, you not only have to be aware of it all…but also aware of your awareness.
Think of a baby: the baby is aware, it knows hunger and heat and cold and comfort and discomfort. And it thrashes around screaming when confronted with them all. Everything is of paramount importance to a small child. A slight rumble of hunger, a light tap on the head, these things are the very end of the world.
Because it is only aware of the stimuli.
When the baby gets older, it learns not only discipline (with the right education, anyway), but also scale; the same tap on the head only makes an older child blink, because it really isn’t that big compared to everything else.
In that awareness of scale is the seed of the state of being which we are seeking. The seed of the Zen state.
A friend of mine once told me that she tried meditating, but couldn’t get the hang of emptying her mind. Nothing could be further from the actual goal.
The Zen state sought for in meditation is not an emptying of the mind, but a prioritizing of the things in it. An ultimate state of awareness of awareness.
Once you have that, even in the smallest capacity, then all other things are possible, for in that moment, in that state, you are in charge. A baby is helpless; a stimulus launches it into a response. All reflex, no control. The seed of the Zen state is the seed of self-control, and you are God between your own ears: control of the self is control of the Universe.
And the key to getting there, is Be Aware.
A motorcycle is one of the places on Earth where the necessity of this state is most apparent. Nothing between you and everything else but two wheels and your own skill. You have to be aware of your surroundings, your machine, your navigation, your ability, the other people on the road. If you’re not, you’re not safe. Without that Zen moment stretching through the duration of your ride, and letting you know when to stop, the danger of the situation is multiplied a thousandfold.
Small wonder that bikers tend to use the bike in lieu of a therapist; it is a place where everything makes more sense…because it has to. Whatever is eating you, no matter how important it is, is far less important than not getting yourself killed. Now imagine bringing that clarity and proportion, that state of balancing everything in your current experience in such a way that you can ride from one cone to another without wobbling…into every aspect of your life.
Once you grasp that, you see that all this isn’t just a load of blown smoke. Now you see where we’re going, and now we can get there.
In all of your life, on the bike or off, nothing will ever be more important than awareness.
That is the Truth, and the Truth rides a motorcycle.