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Keep pedaling: The Buddhist Secret to Effective Meditation

Attack the hill is a catch phrase that's heard at least twice during every group bike ride.  It's usually shouted at the bottom of elevation changes as a way to motivate cyclists.

People have a tendency to slow down when they start climbing a hill. It's an instinctive attempt to avoid the tight muscles and extreme exertion that comes with a hard climb. 

The phrase attack the hill is meant to shake us out of that mindset, and remind us of what we really need to do in order to reach the top; pedal harder.

This is necessary because as the bike begins to climb, gravity takes over, and we lose forward momentum.  In fact, if we give in to the initial instinct to slow down, we may lose all momentum and come to a complete stop.  That's why we have to pedal hard, with everything we've got in the beginning.

Once that's completed, the name of the game is to keep pedaling.  It sounds simple, but when our quads start to burn, and shortness of breath kicks in, it's very tempting to coast for a minute. But the momentary relaxation that comes with coasting results in the loss of forward momentum; momentum that we have to work twice as hard to get back.

Finally, it's important to keep the bike in the highest gear possible. The rookie move is to shift to a low gear so that pedaling will be easier. That's okay for beginners, but all of that easy pedaling results in very slow-going. The more efficient route is to pedal slower, in a much higher gear. It's harder, but it results in more forward motion with each revolution of the pedals. It's also a better workout.

To recap, if we want to ride up a hill in a reasonable amount of time, we need to do three things:
  1. Attack the hill, and pedal hard in the beginning
  2. Keep pedaling until we reach the top
  3. Use the highest gear possible
This method is both simple and effective., but most people don't use it.  It's hard, and people don't like doing things that are hard. So we shift to a low gear, or pick a path with no hills when we ride. Maybe we even go so far as to not ride at all because staying where we're at physically/ emotionally is easier than dealing with sore legs and a sweaty body.

Meditation works in much the same way.

There's a lot of mysticism and expectation built up around the practice of seated meditation. We hear words like enlightenment and satori, and we think there must be a secret to being a good meditator. In truth, the method for this practice is quite simple. 
  1. Sit on the floor or on a cushion in a cross-legged position
  2. Place your hands in your lap with the palms upward, right hand resting atop the left, and thumbs tips lightly pressed together
  3. Adopt a noble posture with the spine straight
  4. Breathe from the stomach, and focus on the feeling of air moving in and out of your lungs
  5. When your mind wanders, and it will, bring your focus back to the breath without judgement
  6. Don't move
That's it. That's everything involved in seated meditation, the practice that Buddha himself used to realize enlightenment.  But if its so simple, why are people so unwilling to do it?  Perhaps it's because meditation is a lot like riding a bike uphill.  It's simple on the surface, but there's a lot of hard work involved.

For example, in order to do this practice successfully, we must be willing to sit with whatever unpleasantness comes up.  We have to experience the anxiety of wondering, "Am I doing it right?" We have to endure the ache of sore muscles and stiff backs without moving, and feel every bit of emotional hurt that manifests itself.

In short, we must be willing to struggle a little bit in order to practice meditation just like we must be willing to sweat if we want to make it up a hill .

The only secret if we want to use that word is consistency. Just like our legs get stronger each time we jump on a bike, our minds get stronger each time we sit on the cushion. Over time, the practice acts as a sort of exposure therapy for our minds. The more we feel anger without giving in to it, the more we experience mental pain without reacting, the less control our emotions have over us.

Eventually, we start to get bored with our thoughts. The same trigger that used to illicit a level 12 meltdown gets downgraded to a 7, and then a 3.  As our confidence grows, we start going for longer "rides", and the hills we experience during meditation seem smaller.  Eventually, they get overshadowed by the inherent contentment that lives within us.

But that can't happen if we don't keep pedaling through the hard parts.

That's why we must attack our cushions in the same way that cyclists attack hills.  Even if we only meditate for 1 minute a day, through consistency and hard work we can realize enlightenment in this lifetime.

Namu Amida Butsu

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Keep Pedaling: The Buddhist Secret to Effective Meditation


  1. yes..I always though that. I feel nice to find someone that interpret the feelings that i felt for the first time when i began to practice on my racing byke.


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