Tag Archive: philosophy

Old is New Again

The article “Old is New Again” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 5/23/17.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

—Henry David Thoreau

It’s early February and I haven’t ridden much in weeks due to weather, but I have kept myself busy with other motorcycle-related projects. I find myself at a crossroads physically, dealing with the still lingering side effects of Lyme disease and nerve pain associated with a spinal stenosis flare-up. This while I watch my mother undergo chemo treatments without complaint. Compared to her trials, mine seem miniscule, but when you’ve self-identified as an athlete for most of your life and then are no longer able to, it’s a difficult transition.

I wasn’t raised to complain, but pain is pain and causes limitations that you can’t ignore forever. Once you’ve raised a child and buried a parent, however, life loses some of its ability to knock you off your stride. I do find myself having to adjust course, redefine myself, and accept some new physical restrictions, though. Thankfully riding isn’t one of them; but the time I would normally have spent working out has been replaced by remodeling my home and, of course, tinkering with and upgrading my motorcycle. This year’s additions included LED headlights, engine guards, grip pads, tank pads, and a peg lowering kit.

Zen MotorcyclistLast summer I replaced a worn-out chain and sprockets and, rather than throw the old parts out, hung them on a pegboard in my garage in a pattern that resembled a sort of misshapen face: the draped chain formed a wide smile beneath two dirty, mismatched sprocket eyes. I started thinking it’d be a pleasant diversion, and a nice addition to the home I’m decorating, to make something from the parts. A clock seemed like an obvious choice.

I’ve never considered myself particularly crafty, and if you’ve read any of my old blog posts you know that my history with tools is at best a humorous one. I found the clock-making process, however, to be cathartic and motivating. I figured I’d either end up with something original to hang in my home, or a mess of a conversation piece to hide in the garage and laugh about over a beer and to remind me of a pleasant distraction during a particularly stressful winter.

I’m happy with the way the piece eventually turned out. I’m glad to have had a few hours every other day over the weeks it took to finish it to focus on creating something unique, rather than dwelling on mom’s impending treatments and my own nagging pains. The welcome distraction of cleaning and painting, finding the right clock movement and perfect curved glass to cover it and the materials to hold it all together, served as a metaphor for me. Though the parts may be worn-out and past being useful in the manner intended, they needn’t be discarded and can, with a change of focus and intent, be put to another use: to start over and live a second, previously un-imagined life.

The clock I made now hangs in my sunroom. The chain and sprockets it is made from propelled me some 15,000 miles over the better part of two years. I’m sure each link represents a dozen memories from that time. Several people have told me I could make them to sell, but the value to me isn’t in what it might be worth but rather in what it represents. By craftsman standards I’m sure it would be considered amateurish at best. Just like motorcycle riding though, the lasting value is never in the arriving, in the completion. The lasting value is in the process; in how much you change, reflect, and grow along the way and in what memories the effort leaves you with. In the words of Henry Miller, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

Regarding my recycled timepiece, I will always see far more in it than there is to look at. This may even become a winter ritual. When the weather warms, I’ll get started on the next recycling project, maybe a pendulum clock this time, or a lamp of some sort. I can’t decide; but I’m in no hurry. It’ll take another 15,000 miles or so to get the parts ready …

The Road Not Yet Traveled

The article “The Road Not Yet Traveled” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 7/31/17.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”  -The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

 

When I started blogging for RoadRUNNER five years ago or so, I used the title “The Road Often Traveled” for my first few posts. Commuting by motorcycle was what I thought I knew something about, so I borrowed and butchered a line from Robert Frost’s 100-year-old poem. I often heard it referred to as “The Road Less Traveled,” but the title is actually “The Road Not Taken.”

I recently had a phone conversation with the head of marketing for a sports eyewear manufacturer. It turned out to be an unexpectedly in-depth conversation not only about how I started riding but also writing, as well as my professional career path. It got me thinking about the Frost poem and about how decision leads to decision and one path leads to another. After a bit of research, however, the poem has come to mean something new to me.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “the road less traveled” used to sell everything from cars to vacations, to self-help books. You’ve seen it inscribed on mugs and on inspirational posters. While Frost’s poem is easily one of the most searched pieces of literature ever written, it is also one that is almost always misinterpreted.

The poem speaks of a traveler coming upon two roads diverging in a yellow wood. In most cases (car commercials, for instance), the words are used as a celebration of rugged individualism and people boldly choosing the path that not many do; but the poem isn’t about that at all. Rather, it’s about reconciling our decisions later in life, looking back and coming to terms with our choices long after they’ve been made. As the poem says, both roads are equally worn and there is no difference between them—a fact many eager to push product always miss.

Frost initially wrote the poem to poke fun at his friend, English critic Edward Thomas, who had the habit of regretting whatever path the two happened to take during their walks in the countryside. After coming across this fact about the poem, I felt better about it. I had always thought the poem somewhat sad, since the narrator says he would speak of his choice of direction many years later with a sigh. I’d always thought that sigh meant that he’d lament having not chosen the other road, that, given the chance, he’d want to go back to see how things might have turned out had he chosen otherwise.

As a motorcyclist, I can point to the specific events that prompted me to start riding, of choosing that “road.” I’ve written about them often in the last few years. In the broader sense though, I’ve given thought to the other “roads” I’ve taken in life. Recently my friend and coworker Brian asked if I’d ever thought about what career path I might have chosen if I hadn’t pursued computer-aided design. As is the case with my decision to start riding, I couldn’t help but smile and say, “No, actually, I am where I’m supposed to be.”

The decision to begin riding motorcycles was the most natural I’ve ever made. I needed my brother’s company after our father’s death. To look back with a sigh and imagine having not decided to ride isn’t a question at all—never was, never will be. Truth be told, I can’t think of a path I’ve been down that I’ve regretted or would choose not to go down again. You are the sum total of the roads you’ve traveled, and if you love yourself (and you must) then you must love those roads, those choices that made you who you are. Rather than an arbitrary choice to be re-examined with a sigh years hence, I’ll look back on riding, as I do now, as a liberating decision that expanded my circle of friends and created a vehicle of expression for feelings that might otherwise have gone unexpressed.

Riding itself can be seen metaphorically as “the path less traveled,” and, my friends, it certainly has made all the difference. When I hear advertisers get Frost’s poem wrong, I have to laugh. More than 100 years later he’s still having fun with us while at the same time making us think.

Wherever you find yourself on your road, I hope that you are looking ahead to your next choices and content with those already made. After all, that road, your road, really is the road not yet traveled.

The Means To Notice It All

The article “The Means To Notice It All” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 9/22/2016.

This past Mother’s Day, my girlfriend Erica and I rode to a farm not far from my home that she had lived on for a time. We were visiting the owner, Sally, who Erica had grown close to during the time she spent there and who she’s remained friends with ever since. As I approached on the cycle down a long, narrow, winding gravel driveway and under an idyllic train trestle, I spotted horses and donkeys in the fields, chicken coops and tractor barns, all the stuff of a working farm. The sky wasn’t looking so good, but it was a May day, I’ve ridden in the rain before, and besides, the dark clouds and winds created the kind of weather I’ve always loved riding in.

the-meansSally, a strong, no-nonsense woman, appeared to be close to my mother Mary’s age. She actually reminded me a bit of my mom. A bird had made a nest in a broken light fixture on her porch and laid eggs. Sally saw to it that the switch to the light was disabled and a sign was posted warning visitors to use the side door lest they suffer the wrath of a mother protecting her young.

I sat on the floor as we spoke, petting Sally’s huge, fleshy-faced English Mastiff. We covered a lot of topics. Sally is sharp, up-front, an avid reader, and direct, the sort of person I love talking to. I got the feeling that with her there are no games or fear of offending, just smart conversation. Eventually the talk turned to motorcycles, and (more…)

The Best Lessons

The article “The Best Lessons” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 07/19/2016.

4-16-zen-400x264I have a tendency to meet people at the supermarket when I take the motorcycle for my weekly supply run. I like the looks I get carrying my grocery bags and helmet; people wonder where I’m going to put everything. I’ve written before about others feeling at ease walking up to me when I’m dismounting or packing my purchases in my saddlebags. I’d like to think it’s my countenance that puts people at ease, but I think maybe it’s just the bike that draws them in. I’ve had interesting (and occasionally bizarre) conversations with complete strangers who always part by telling me, with a smile, to be safe. I love that aspect of motorcycling.

I recently met a young aspiring rider who works for the store where I do my shopping. I was packing an eight-pound bag of dog food into my side case and heard Wow, that thing is huge!” from behind me. The young man thought my V-Strom was a big bike, which made me smile.

It’s not that big a bike, tall maybe. The luggage makes it seem bigger than it is. He went on to tell me with wide, enthusiastic eyes that he was planning on getting his first bike. He was thinking a small bike to start, despite his friends’ insistence that (more…)

To Each His Own (full text)

The article “To Each His Own” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 03/15/2016.

In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day—or to celebrate each special day.”

—Rasheed Ogunlaru

I’ll admit I was at a bit of a loss regarding this column. I had the “bones” (as I like to refer to the overall theme), but the structure was lost on me. Then, I visited my dentist, and by the time I left his office, I had the rest of the column in place in my mind. Today, for once, I was happy to have visited him.

3-16-zen-e1458047262598-772x472Sitting in the chair, our usual banter somehow turned to base jumping and paragliding while skiing. My dentist recalled a documentary about an athlete who had lost several friends to these same endeavors. Moments later, I’m shot up with Novocaine, and the ridiculous (and uncomfortable) plastic prop is placed in my mouth. It was then that my dentist and his assistant made the not so obvious, yet all so predictable, leap to discussing the danger of motorcycles. As if on cue, the obligatory statement comes out about how we have responsibilities to our loved ones to give up such dangerous pursuits. I couldn’t respond. And it irritated me (more…)

Beautiful and Broken

The article “Beautiful and Broken” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 11/01/2015.

Broken-ZenIn the Aftermath of a Crash –

Kintsukuroi (or kintsugi) may sound like the name of the latest model from one of the big four Japanese motorcycle companies. Actually, it is the Japanese art of repairing the cracks in broken pottery with gold or silver—literally “golden repair.” The belief is that an object is more beautiful for having been broken. One of the historical accounts of the origins of kintsukuroi is that a hot-headed military leader was given a specially crafted bowl for a tea ceremony. The bowl was dropped by another person and broken. To avoid the wrath of the leader, a guest ad-libbed a poem equating each of the five pieces to one of the other guests. The true life of the bowl began the moment it was broken. In kintsukuroi, it is the belief that the vulnerability of the object is what makes it beautiful.

When I read about it, I thought about motorcycles in general and mine in particular. I ride a 2005 Suzuki V-Strom adorned with scars and scratches. If I were to walk a stranger around the bike I call Big Red, I could tell them the story of the motorcycle from those marks. New motorcycles are beautiful, but they have no past; and it is history that brands anything and gives it life. A motorcycle’s life begins the moment it is ridden.

After calling several dealers in my area looking specifically for a red V-Strom, I finally found one; but the dealer informed me that vandals had thrown bricks through the dealership window that bounced across the motorcycle. The romantic in me knows that great tales have interesting beginnings, so I drove up to take a look. I found it in the back, under a tarp, and covered with dust and bits of glass. A week later, after haggling about repairs and negotiating a great price, my brother Dave and his wife, Michelle, accompanied me on their ’94 Nighthawk to pick it up.

Fast forward three years to 2008. On my morning commute, I was broadsided by a Pennsylvania white-tailed deer at 45 miles an hour. His head hit Big Red’s gas tank directly in front of my left knee and destroyed nearly everything from that point forward: headlights (in a thousand splinters), front fender (split), turn signal, mirror and bar end weights (destroyed), and left side cowling (split in two). Plastic shards were everywhere, and I was in a ditch with a broken collarbone and severe bruising (but otherwise fine).

In his book, Into the Wild, author Jon Krakauer wrote, “The fragility of crystal is not a weakness but a fineness.” Modern motorcycles are miracles of engineering and can withstand a tremendous amount of punishment; but crashing in that way, at that speed, their fragility becomes evident, and the destruction can be complete. I thought Big Red was done-for, and that I’d merely be telling anecdotes about a bike with an interesting beginning and tragic end that I had once owned but is now in a scrap heap.

One call to my brother and he was in a flatbed on the way to pick up the wreckage. A neighbor near the crash allowed me to push Big Red into his driveway and another stacked the fragments into a neat pile that resembled a memorial cairn. How fitting, I thought. One look at it and Dave told me how lucky I was. By that point, I knew I was fine, and my only concern was to resurrect my bike so I could ride again. I knew I would do so as soon as I was physically able, but I wanted to use this one again, my bike, the one I found broken and forgotten under a tarp and covered in dust and glass. I suspect that Dave knew exactly how I felt.

In the months that followed, we ordered parts, tore Big Red down to the frame, and rebuilt it. Or rather, my sibling did while I watched with one arm in a sling. As I healed, so Big Red was healed. The pieces of a broken work of art mended and were made more beautiful for having been broken. Each time I remove the left side cowling and see the skull shaped dent in the gas tank, I am reminded of that time in Dave’s garage (and my brief stint in the air that day).
I like to see the visible signs of wear on things, especially motorcycles. They mean that its purpose has been fulfilled. Each imperfection is a chapter in a chronicle that, often, only the owner knows. Kintsukuroi dictates that repairs are to be made with precious metals like gold and silver, but some repairs are made with things even more valuable, like a brother’s love and skill. Five years and 40,000 miles later, I still ride Big Red—the bike I found broken and that I will always find more beautiful for having been.

Ride Through the Twisties and Bhagavad Gita

DSC_0571As I twisted the throttle rounding a particularly exhilarating curve along my favorite twisty road and heard the satisfying exhaust burble of my Teutonic sport tourer, I thought of the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita.  Bhagavad Gita is one of the most sacred Hindu texts and a literary masterpiece that served as the source of inspiration for among others, Einstein, Thoreau and Emerson.  The epic poem traces the dialog between Arjuna, a decorated warrior, and Lord Krishna, the Divine who presents Itself to Arjuna as his charioteer.  The topic of the dialog between Arjuna and Lord Krishna is the life in Yoga.  As I strengthened my bike I saw the smiling face of my Guru.  A profound truth was about to be revealed to me.

I took no hallucinogens before my ride and have not been diagnosed with any condition of the body or mind associated with randomly appearing visions.  It is just when I am on a motorcycle alone with the wind and fully present in the experience, things, important, often deep things, come to me.

Nearly three months ago I got back from India after spending three-and-a-half weeks studying yoga and meditation and absorbing the wisdom of the Himalayas with my youthful Master, extraordinary Yogi, and a fellow motorcyclist, Anand Mehrotra.    My experience in Rishikesh, a small Indian town on the banks of the Ganges River, at the foothills of the Himalayas was beyond powerful.

Yet, upon returning I had no idea what happened to me.  Sure, I felt uplifted and inspired and to anyone who would DSC_0515listen I would tell how trans-formative my journey was.  Inside though I felt more dissatisfied than ever with nearly every aspect of my life.  As the pressures of everyday routines began to mount, I quickly fell into the same destructive patterns I thought I had left behind long before.  Even though I maintained a daily yoga and meditation practice and even taught these powerful disciplines to others, the disconnect within seemed as deep as ever.  I often wondered if I felt into the trap Anand warned so much about – acquiring a new vocabulary and a few ideas, but no depth beneath.

Then, on that motorcycle ride I thought of the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita.  In it, as Arjuna surveys the two armies about to engage in a bloody battle with each other, he tells the Great Lord that he does not want to fight; that he finds the bloody battle he is about to engage in utterly pointless; and that he likes the great men on both sides of the battlefield and feels sorry that they will lay their lives down in a useless feat.   Krishna, the Almighty Presence, the God of Yoga, tells Arjuna to fight indeed and do so fully without caring the slightest bit about the results.  And only then, Krishna begins to tell Arjuna about life in Yoga.

You see, what I got on that ride is that true change begins with awareness which then turns into presence with whatever is.  It is only after awareness and then presence that we can even begin the teachings of Yoga.

As my iron stead settled into the rhythm of a serpentine road – I understood.  After three and a half weeks in the Himalayas I simply began experiencing awareness, not yet presence.  But, I was transformed indeed, as I took the first tiny step towards life in Yoga.

Easy Like Monday Morning

The article “Easy Like Monday Morning” by Bud Miller/Zen MEasyotorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 2/02/2014.

Cori and I both started new jobs recently and with that come changes to schedules, new responsibilities, routines, and pressures. She mentioned during a recent conversation that at lunch she’ll find an empty cubicle where the sun pours in and take time to consider all she has to be thankful for. It struck me as a gentle way of calming yourself and finding a center of peace amidst all that is changing. I realized that I already do something similar on my daily commute on the bike.

Motorcycling is a unique pursuit. It can be at once spiritual, a vacation, recess, and meditation (and is often all of them together). It can be (and is for me) a chance to commune with nature, to consider what’s important, to clear your mental slate, and be a time when you aren’t trying to please anyone other than yourself.

Like any successful and mutually beneficial relationship, riding should elevate and inspire. Monday morning need not be dreaded. Many a Sunday night over the last decade or so I’ve drifted off to sleep after checking the weather with thoughts not of the workweek ahead but rather of the Monday morning ride. It’s a way to carve out a little more time to give thanks in my own way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “…tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” That’s usually what it boils down to; a head full of nonsense that just needs to be swept away. Life’s challenges never cease but one thing remains a constant, the morning and evening commute (or any ride for that matter). That’s when I’m easy, easy like Monday morning.