Can a motorcycle have anything to do with spiritual surrender and freedom?
When I was a little girl in the 1970’s (and 1960’s) a motorcycle represented freedom and adventure. I remember watching television shows or movies, or even seeing motorcycles rumble down Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California where I lived the first thirty years of my life. I wondered where people were headed … what their life story detailed. I can’t really remember ever riding a motorcycle–other than on the back of one, in high school, with a rather rambunctious troublemaker. He gave me a ride home, and I was secretly relieved when I received a lecture from my parents telling me in no uncertain terms NOT to ride on the back of a motorcycle, particularly without a helmet, in shorts, with a boy barely sixteen driving. (Interestingly, I could ride my aqua Schwinn ten-speed down PCH, no hands, barefoot, in the middle of the road. There wasn’t much traffic back then.)
Fast forward a lot of years. I married a man from another state who spoke a slightly foreign language of motorcycle, dirtbike, racing, speed, power boat, precision, and control. Until then, my language consisted of sailboat, surfboard, mountain bike, skis. With a ring on my finger, and a move to Colorado, I listened to a new group of guys share stories of riding enduro’s, and all sorts of two-wheeled adventures and misadventures.
One day my husband told me he was ready for a street bike again. I had barely blinked when a shiny–gorgeous, really–black Honda Blackbird was parked in the garage. The next week I found myself walking into a shop in Denver, Colorado, where I was fitted with a high dollar helmet (don’t worry Mom), a good vented jacket, and leather riding gloves. I was told I was geared up and ready for a ride with him.
Now, you need to know that at the time, a Honda Blackbird was the world’s fastest street bike in production. Beautiful to look at, with a quiet powerful engine, it really didn’t appear to be built for two. But, my husband assured me that I would be perfectly safe, and it would be just fine.
Climbing on the back of the Blackbird for my first quick ride around our rural neighborhood, I was quite aware that my one hand gripped a very short two inch bar on the seat behind me, while the other tucked around the body crouched over the bike in front of me. My feet balanced on slender pegs. It didn’t seem too safe to me, but I trusted him, and after a slight protest that I could just about bounce off the back of the bike, I decided to be quiet and see what this was all about.
A few days later we went for a planned two hour drive. It was a summer week night, after work. I hired a kid sitter for a “date night” with my husband on his new Blackbird. We lived in Northern Colorado, and a few winding canyons were only five miles from our home. Climbing on the back of the bike, I noticed for the first time my husband had a sticker on his helmet, right at my eyeball range, notating his blood type. I thought to myself that either he was operating from his usual eagle scout “be prepared” mode, or maybe I should be slightly concerned. I wondered if my blood type had been mysteriously added to the back of my helmet. After all, I was the one on the back of a little seat, with nothing to really hold onto, or really even brace my feet on. And, I had absolutely no control over our speed, where we were headed, or how we could respond to anything at all. I simply was present, in utter trust. I would soon discover how liberating this would be!
After learning how to balance and move with the bike, and developing our set of hand-tap signals to one another (we didn’t have any type of walkie-talkies or microphones between us) off we went. Now, I have to say, if it were me driving–even if I was really accomplished–there would have been no way my husband could have relinquished control. But, I think women learn to do this differently than men. At some point on that first ride, I relaxed, and quit worrying about what I could not control. I sat up, let go, and began to just move with the bike–almost like I did as a teenager riding my ten speed down Pacific Coast Highway, no hands, balanced and delighted in the present moment.
I remember suddenly realizing how sensuous and spiritual the experience was! I couldn’t hear anything thanks to the helmet, but I could smell the flowers, dirt, and pine trees. It was an early summer evening, and quite warm. Light in the canyon played on rock and the river flowing alongside the two lane road. I discovered I could see things along a familiar route that I had never noticed while driving in my car. Furthermore, I could really let go. With a sudden realization, I knew there was nothing I could do except to be utterly present and surrender everything to “just this, just this.” The ride ended way too soon. I discovered I was all too eager to go for a ride anytime we had a kid-sitter! I lost the desire to learn to drive the bike, and became utterly content to simply show up for the ride.
Many moments of spiritual reflection followed that first ride, and I was sad when the time came that my husband decided to sell the Blackbird–it really wasn’t the best bike for two people, and he had satisfied his need for speed on a Blackbird.
Other stories intersperse through the years, but I will save them for another time. Stories about me learning to ride a dirtbike, and the Harley Heritage Soft tail that eventually replaced the Blackbird, but was left in Colorado during a move to Alaska.
I wonder, as I do again tonight, about when my next motorcycle ride will occur. A part of me longs for this particular type of utter surrender within myself, to the present moment, and with another person. I experience a deep relationship with God, others, and the world–what Martin Buber refers to as an “I-Thou” relationship, and I’m human. I believe God longs for us to connect with one another in significant–and sometimes unexpected–ways. So, I am paying attention to how my spirit longs for the freedom and embodied spiritual experience a motorcycle can gift me–or any of us–with.
For me, and maybe you, perhaps this is the essence of spirituality and spiritual teaching … being fully present, letting go, awakening all the senses, utterly trusting, and being fully free to respond to life in the here and now with appreciation and action. It’s at least a good start. I think so. How about you?