Back at Motorcycle Safety School, we had an exercise where the object was to ride across a parking lot and circle around a traffic cone.
Most people wound up weaving their bikes from side to side along the way. A few knocked the cone over.
It wasn’t just because it was a beginner class, and we weren’t familiar with the bikes yet. It was a phenomenon known as “target fixation.” Basically, we were all so focused on the traffic cone, that we lost track of everything else, including the goal of going around the cone instead of through it.
This is a perfect example of how a motorcycle ride is a perfect example of a Zen state.
See, a lot of people think Zen is a question of emptying the mind. A Zen master named Yasutani would point out to his students that a completely empty mind is a characteristic of the dead. If you’re not dead, you’re still thinking. Zen is, in part, a question of prioritizing the mind so you don’t target fixate.
There’s a lot going on in your life. Just like on the road. In the world, it’s unhealthy to focus too hard on either the bad or the good. Just like on the road.
On the road, suppose you’re coming up on a nice banked turn, the sort of thing a biker lives to curve around. Only there’s an oil slick across part of your lane. The slick is a bad thing, the curve is a good thing. It’s not healthy to focus all your attention on the slick, because then you might misjudge the turn and go flying off into the trees. It’s not healthy to focus all your attention on the turn, because then you might ride right over the slick and lose some skin on the asphalt.
A part of Zen training is to de-emphasize the concepts of “good” and “bad” to help with looking at things. In our example, the slick being “bad” or the curve being “good” are not relevant to your navigation through both of them. The slick is something to be avoided, not something to panic about. The curve is something to be enjoyed, not something to obsess over.
To get through the situation, you unfocus, so you can better look at the whole picture, including any dry patches where you can fit your wheels without going ass over teakettle.
“Awareness” and “focus” are two different things, you see. And sometimes focus means that you’re not really looking. Be aware of that, and you’ll look better.
Just like life, the better you look, the more you’ll see.