I wrote this a long time ago when I still did triathlons. If I wrote it today, it would be about a bike ride, but the point I was trying to make then is one I still try to remember when I find myself watching my bike computer, thinking faster is better.
I did a workout last Sunday for no reason. It was a brick -- I rode about ten miles to Discovery park, ran two trail loops that made a little more than an eight mile run, and rode back home. I’m not training for a future race. I didn’t do it hard enough to test myself or push my limits. I certainly didn’t set any personal records with it. I wasn’t really trying to lose weight or improve my health. I did it alone, so it wasn’t a social event. It was a workout without any of those reasons, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be.
What was special about Sunday? Both nothing and everything. It was a crisp fall day without a cloud in the sky. Traffic was light. My legs were a little stale from my ride the day before, but mostly that just made a good reason not to push hard. Discovery park is always beautiful, with a mix of forest, sand bluff, and Puget Sound beach. Halfway through the first loop a bald eagle flew overhead. Later, along the beach I watched as dozens of small sailboats raced on the Sound, with the sun making their sails shine brilliantly white. It was a good day to be alive and moving, but the difference I’m trying to point out isn’t about the outside, it’s about the inside. Sunday was special because I was out there riding and running simply because I wanted to be out there.
Am I really being completely honest here? Are all the reasons I listed earlier completely irrelevant to me? In reality, many of them are relevant, at least indirectly. I like staying thin and feeling healthy. I may choose to run or ride in a race sometime in the next few months and will depend on workouts like Sundays in order to complete and enjoy it. I’m sure that I could think of other things that I get from working out, and they are all important. Still, I don’t want them to be the reasons I get up off the couch and put on my gear. I enjoy myself less when my workouts are a means to those ends. The best workouts are the ones that I recognize to be an end in themselves.
I used to go hiking sometimes with a friend whose life was completely entertwined with climbing, hiking, and skiing. He would call me up on the phone and say, "Hey, do you want to go play tomorrow?" I used to think of it as just a quirky phrasing and shrugged it off. Now, I think he was using the language intentionally and truthfully. We were going to go play. My best workouts -- the ones that are an end in themselves -- the ones like Sundays brick -- are the times when I simply go out and play.
There are quite a few words above, and they are primarily my attempt to articulate an interpretation of the story below. Maybe it means something different to you. Maybe it will mean something different to me in the future. Whatever it means, I don’t think its as trivial as it first appears.
(Copied from an unattributed posting on the net)
A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, "Why are you riding your bicycles?"
The first student replied, "The bicycle is carrying the sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!" The teacher praised the first student, "You are a smart boy! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over like I do."
The second student replied, "I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!" The teacher commended the second student, "Your eyes are open, and you see the world."
The third student replied, "When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo." The teacher gave praise to the third student, "Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel."
The fourth student replied, "Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings." The teacher was pleased, and said to the fourth student, "You are riding on the golden path of non-harming."
The fifth student replied, "I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle." The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said,"I am your student!"