I had an epiphany a few days ago while riding my bike along the Back Bay near my home in Newport Beach, California. It’s about a 45 minute ride and serves as my workout four or five days a week.
Forty-five minutes alone on a bike. You know what that means: Lots of time for my mind to wander into Thoughtlandia.
Traveling to Thoughtlandia
As someone who has traveled the spiritual path these past ten years, I am well-aware that Thoughtlandia is NOT where I want to be. My regular meditation and mindfulness practices train me to live in the present moment as much as possible. But that’s hard to do when you’re alone on a bike, even with the beautiful scenery surrounding me.
After several years and thousands of miles on my bike, I have noticed thousands of times that my attention has drifted into thought, just as I would in a meditation session. So I say to myself, “Okay, yet again, you’re off in thought. Let’s look around at what’s in front of you…in this moment. Beautiful, blue sky, sun shimmering on the water, ducks swimming around in the bay…”
But most of the time the preeminent feelings inside me are frustration and exasperation. My inner dialog is, “Come on, man. You’ve been meditating regularly for eight years, practicing mindfulness in your daily life and you STILL drift off so easily on these rides? Get with the program!”
A golden opportunity
Well, a few days ago when this happened it occurred to me that this riding dilemma presented a golden opportunity. And it has to do with the nature of spiritual growth/awakening.
This growth doesn’t happen overnight. More important, most of it doesn’t occur with noticeable milestones.
I’ll illustrate with an example of the opposite. Let’s say you take three putting lessons from your local golf pro over a few weeks. And he has you practice a bunch of putting drills in between lessons. After a few weeks you play eighteen holes, putt amazingly well and shave a few strokes off your score. That’s an example of practice and work resulting in noticeable progress.
Spiritual growth is subtle
Well, most spiritual growth isn’t like that. It’s subtle. You just sort of notice at various points that you feel calmer. More centered. But for most of us, that progress doesn’t come with hit-you-over-the-head, wow moments.
So what does that have to do with my Back Bay bike ride? My epiphany was that I need to accept that my growth has happened, and will continue to happen, in a very gradual, subtle way. My mind is still going to wander on my rides. But as time goes on it will wander less.
Just keep practicing
All I need to do…all any of us needs to do, is continue practicing. Every day. Do your meditation. And during your daily life, notice when you’re drifting away from your center and bring yourself back.
If you keep doing that, day after day, month after month, year after year, the growth will come. Slowly but surely, gradually, you will become calmer, more present and more compassionate.
Patience is all
So bringing this all the way back to the profoundly valuable lesson I learned pedaling away a few days ago: We can all travel this spiritual path more swiftly if we exercise patience.
It hit me like a ton of bricks on my bike that if I’m just more patient with my growth, those feelings of frustration when I drift into thought will evaporate. As they did on that ride.
So if you get frustrated in your meditation, or if you get frustrated when you blow your stack with your teenage daughter because she stepped on your last nerve, or if you get frustrated because you just drifted into thought for the tenth time on your 45 minute bike ride, just say to yourself: “That’s okay. I’m on this path. I’m doing the work. And I’m just going to be patient with myself.”
The great thing is, if you do become more patient with yourself, you’ll speed yourself along the path. Because getting frustrated, whether in meditation or mindfulness practices, only slows our progress down.
So that’s it. Do the daily work. Chop the wood and carry the water, as Ram Dass called it. Don’t let any mind-wandering or unconscious behavior throw you off track.
And be patient.