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 Tenth Et.
That may sound like a joke. One, simple word that seems to point out the very obvious, telling you to do something that you already do without thinking.
I assure you, this is not only the most serious of all the components of this thing I call Zen Bikerism, but also without doubt the most difficult to truly follow. Or at least it can be the most difficult:
Breathing is not living. Circulating blood is not life. Walking, talking, thinking, moving, shitting, fucking, drooling, eating, standing on the top of a flagpole rubbing your stomach and patting your head? None of that is living. That’s just existing.
Unless you do it right.
To live is to not be dead. Not all death is physical. The physical aspect of your being is in many ways the least of your worries, important though it may be. Because life itself is not a physical thing; the physical part is just how you experience it.
To live is to not be dead. What is death?
When you turn yourself inward and never even look back out, that is death. When you tell yourself I can’t, that is death. When you dedicate yourself to isolation, that is death. When the first thought you have on experiencing a pleasure is how much you don’t deserve it, that is death. When you eat an entire meal without tasting it because you were thinking about something else, when jealousy clouds your mind, when you refuse love because you’re married to hate.
Everything you do just out of habit, everything that you just sort of let happen, everything in your experience and your personality that you just can’t bring yourself to look at. Every time you go numb because you don’t want to feel…those things are all the same thing, and that thing is the face of the Grim Reaper.
You can do all of these things, and still breathe and circulate and walk and talk and all the rest of it. Most people do all of these things of death simultaneously with breathing and the rest of it. The majority of those people don’t even know they’re doing it. Most people you meet don’t even know that they’re already dead.
But not bikers.
Has it occurred to you yet to wonder why I would bodge up a kooky religion out of an expensive fair weather hobby of all things?
It was already a religion.
The biker culture is a celebration and a worship of Life Almighty, even when it acknowledges Death. That is the essence of all true religion. There are plenty of industries made up to look like religions…but sincere celebration and reverence are the things of which a spiritual union are made. That’s a religion, no two ways about it. Every bike is a pew in the Temple of the Open Road. All I did was slap a name on the experience to give it a little more focus. A name under which to celebrate life.
What is life?
Life is awareness. Up in the saddle of a bike, you can’t be anything but aware.
Life is connection. The awareness leads to a sense of tremendous one-ness, because the world around you is not separated from you by glass and steel. Nothing between you and the pavement but two wheels and your own skill; the wind and sun touch your face, reach down and hold your soul as the grass and the houses and the creeks and the rivers all give your eyeballs a feast fit for an emperor…and you are a part of it, not apart from it, watching it go by like just another boring TV show.
Life is connection. From the bike rally with thousands of people all able to talk to each other, even if they just met, like they’ve been best friends since the Dead Sea was only sick, to the little flick of the fingers bikers give each other when they ride past going opposite ways.
That Salute is a Sign of Life. A connection. An acknowledgment that “Hey. You get it. You made it.”
Life is also acceptance, and for some people this can be the hardest part, the part that seems unconquerable, because the first thing you have to accept is yourself. Some people are born being able to do this, others have to work at it. From the moment we learn to decipher a language, we’re told what we have to be, what we should be, and a lot of the time the one doing the telling is in fact ourselves.
And that’s when the dying starts. “Oh, no, I shouldn’t have said that.” “Why can’t I be like Frank Sinatra?” “What is wrong with me?”
All sentences of Death. Death sentences.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to not be a dick. There’s nothing wrong with having an Inspirational Figure or three. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve.
It’s like ultraviolet radiation. A little bit of it is healthy. Too much and you got cancer. Too much cancer, you got death.
I know what I’m talking about. I know what all of this feels like. I spent two thirds of my life, dead.
And then I bought a motorcycle.
What happened after that didn’t happen all at once, but the biker culture is one that reveres the sovereignty of the individual: no matter how much you have in common with everybody else, you are you, not like anyone else. Not only is that OK, that is what makes everything worthwhile and interesting. That’s what makes the whole world work. Just you, alive, being you.
I promised you a miracle when I started out to list these Ets. And no matter how far my tongue may ever burrow into my cheek when I deliver these sermons, I keep my promises.
A long time ago a man named Augustine Mandino declared that the Greatest Miracle in the World was resurrection.
I’m inclined to agree.
That’s the purpose of all this. It took me forty years of being dead, to learn how to be alive, and the bike was my key to life. Maybe yours is a tennis racquet. Doesn’t matter. The point is, while I can’t tell you how to perform your miracle, because I’m not you, I can speak from the position that miracles are not only possible but happen, because I’ve been there and done that.
To know that it’s okay to look at the world a little sideways, to know that it’s okay to not be like someone else, it’s okay to have room for improvement, and most of all that you and everybody else has the power to work a miracle in their own world…to experience the simple joy of life. That is the essence of Zen Bikerism. That’s what took me years to learn, and when I ask myself what it is I can leave to the world to serve as a signpost to a better consciousness, well, there ain’t nothin’ better, pilgrim.
So go, and do, and feel, and live, no matter what setback might have put you in a place that doesn’t match some plan or other that you made. Go have a look at the sky and feel it and know that you’re in it. Focus on what’s right, be only aware of what’s wrong.
Resurrect yourself, as often as you need to. Only the living can reach their full potential; and what’s the point if you’re not even trying? So LIVE.
Resurrection and miracles; these are acts of God. You are God between your ears. Yours is the power; you can die, you can live.
And I know that sometimes a death can’t be avoided. Life is not all beer and skittles (nor would anyone who understands it want it to be all beer and skittles). Bad shit will happen, you will feel bad about it, it will kill you, just a bit.
But if you know how to live, you’ll come back.
That is the Truth.
And the Truth rides a motorcycle.