Tag Archive: philosophy

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.

Camaraderie

CamaraderieThe article “Camaraderie” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 1/19/2014.

I follow the Dakar Rally every year, partly because it kicks off my riding year as it takes place right after New Year’s Day in sunny South America. I also tune in because I’ve always been a fan of endurance events dating back to my running and biathlon racing days. I just love to watch people test themselves and admire the qualities it takes to not quit when many would.

This year’s race has been an amazing test for motorcyclists with an early marathon stage that left less than half the motorcycle competitors remaining in the event. Every year during the two weeks of the race there are poignant scenes of racers coming to each other’s aid. This year one particular act of sportsmanship saw Kevin Muggleton, his own race over, assist fellow rider Mark Davidson who entered a checkpoint exhausted and demoralized. Kevin made sure Mark was fed, buoyed his spirits with an embrace and a pep talk, loaded his road book and humbly and heroically sent him off to finish the stage.

It’s always moved me the way competitors will extend a hand to help one another and it reminds me of the way we motorcyclists look after each other on the road. It has something to do with each of us knowing the risks and the rewards and being willing to share each in equal measure. There have been times that I’ve pulled over just to take a photograph and have had fellow riders pull up and ask if everything is okay.

Last week I took a leisurely, solo, Saturday morning ride on an unusually warm winter day and ended up at the Maurice River Diner in southern New Jersey. I sat by the window and watched at least a dozen other riders pull in for a late breakfast. Upon spotting each other we all tend to exchange nods or smiles that seem to say “how unbelievable is this day and how happy are you to be out in it with your face in the wind drinking it down in gulps?” It also says “see you on down the road and if you need help I’ll be there”.

Kevin Muggleton’s act of sportsmanship and humanity at the Dakar demonstrated a quality that all motorcyclists have in common. We are just as willing to share in each other’s joy as we are to share in, and thereby lessen, each other’s sorrow.

Let Me Try

let-me-try-772x517The article “Let Me Try” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 12/29/2013.

Last month temperatures were predicted to hit the mid-60s and above here in southeastern New Jersey. A rare late December gift that lets us get out on the road in normal gear after thinking it’d be a few more months of dressing like a NASA astronaut to get a ride in.

I looked forward to riding in the temperate weather but lately Big Red’s electrical system has been giving me fits. Intermittent losses of my low beams, turn signals, and neutral light had left me not riding and delaying finding a local mechanic to deal with the matter. Given that the holidays were upon us and I’m new to the area I was loathe to give my bike to someone only to have it languish there causing me to miss this weather gift only to get it back after the new year when it’s sure to be snowing and/or too cold to ride.

Over the years I’ve taught myself (with the help of YouTube and a few rider forums) to take care of most of the usual repairs that crop up with a bike that has the number of miles on it that Big Red does. Electrical, though, is something I haven’t yet had to tackle. I’ve wired a GPS and swapped the stock horn for an air-horn, easy stuff; but this issue had me walking past the bike hesitant to tear apart the wiring harness to find the cause of the problem. I tend to take baby steps where these things are concerned; wary of leaving myself without a ride should I get in over my head.

One of the best side effects of motorcycling is the spillover confidence it generates. Things you once thought you hadn’t the skill set to tackle become a simple matter of education and concentration. Quite often it’s as simple as doing what you are comfortable with, stopping to re-evaluate before proceeding, and also having the ability and willingness to seek help when it’s clear a solution isn’t forthcoming. My homework told me the trouble could be a relay, fuse, sensor, a burned wire, or a half-dozen other possibilities.

I figured I would try and that I may be capable of more than I give myself credit for. The problem may be minor and I can always stop and leave it to a professional if it turns out to be something beyond my abilities. Often solutions are a mere matter of deciding to act, like so many other things in life. Avoidance causes stress, self-doubt creeps in, and you find yourself afraid to begin and retreating to the safety of excuses and delay. As M. Scott Peck wrote: “If we know exactly where we’re going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we’ll see along the way, we won’t learn anything.”

In the end, a thorough cleaning and securing of Big Red’s two main electrical connectors fixed the dilemma. An $8 can of connection cleaner, a little research, a block of time to devote to the issue, and the patience and confidence to give myself a chance left me riding on a warm late December day having learned, once again (and in large because I ride), that I am more capable than I had imagined.