With the sheer weight of demands on our lives today, the idea of mindfulness or living in the present is becoming increasingly important. Our app ecosystem, incorporating social media, the internet, instant messaging, emails, etc. take up so much of our headspace and time in the physical world. Being mindful is an action in itself that is becoming harder to do. As someone who is constantly plugged into all worlds, this is something I have spent the last few years trying to do better.
Ironically, starting to live actively on two wheels has taught me more about being present that all the apps, writing and exercises that I have engaged with to date. Yes, I do recognise the irony of another app to be mindful when it is often apps that distract me.
There is an assumption that comes with riding motorcycles. In the mind of many, motorcycle = death + wish. Invariably, when I walk into a space with my riding gear, at least one person will ask me if I want to ‘die’ or a derivative of that thought. Granted, motorcycles can be detrimental to your health. And saying that there are other things out there that can be life-threatening sometimes feels a little primary school-ish (yeah, but you can also die in a car, crossing the road, yada, yada), despite being true. But when I decided that I wanted a motorcycle, it was not prefaced by “how can I kill myself?”
I love life. I have a family to be here for and things I still want to do but riding is something that always appealed to me. And, as someone who has learned how to engage with the world within the boundaries of my abilities, I am not gung-ho when it comes to riding. Something I have learned about being on a motorcycle is that it is a lack of mindfulness in others that poses a greater risk to me than my own actions on the bike.
The spread of technology into all aspects of our lives means that, despite there being laws to the contrary, many people spend a lot of their time on their phones while driving. Because you can be fined for using your cellphone while driving, we tend to put them in our laps or hold them beneath the steering wheel to check emails, social media, Whatsapp, smses and the like.
We have also ‘perfected’ talking on the phone while on the lookout for Metro and other police, which is ironic because, even if you don’t have a car with Bluetooth, all smartphones come with handsfree headphones. Even when you are using headphones to talking while driving, we tend to be a bit distracted and not 100% focused on the road. Plus, I have seen people doing makeup and hair, shaving, reading, etc. all while driving which impacts on your ability to travel within the lines.
What this means for anyone on a motorcycle is that car drivers can be erratic and unpredictable. They change lanes on whim, drift across the road lines, weave without reason…all of which has potentially painful consequences for you on a bike.
When driving a car, there are those moments when you get in the car, are on the road for 20 minutes, arrive at your destination and realise that you don’t remember much of the drive. In a way, you are driving on autopilot.
Perhaps once one has been doing it for years, they can do that on a bike but I have to be extremely present when on my bike, especially when taking into consideration the ‘distracted driver’. I watch people in cars through the back window, rear and side mirrors. I try not to assume anything. I watch driveways and pedestrians, just in case they decide to hop out. I try to do the extreme opposite of what I would do if I had a ‘death wish.’
When I find myself drifting off, I take deep breathes to reconnect with that moment. The wind, the smells, the sounds of the outside world are very present and I find myself drawn to them in a way that is strangely inspiring and meditative. Though I am powering through those spaces, I am much conscious of them when riding.
I am also becoming a better car driver because I am much more aware of the things I do that are potentially dangerous. It is made me very conscious of my bad habits and lack of mindfulness when in my car. I still have much work to do in this regard; it is easy to get sucked back into my devices, particularly. But I am getting better.
My life depends on being mindful. My peace of mind depends on my being present in all aspects of my life. And riding a motorcycle is about more than just speed.
Writer: Kojo Baffoe