The Zen of the Effort – Embrace the Effort
Undoubtedly my favourite place to train is a small-secluded hillside not more than 3 miles from my house.
It is a hidden dead end road servicing small estates in a rural suburban town next to mine. Not more than a ½ mile in length this short climb with portions approaching 7%. It is popular with local racers looking for some inclines to train on. If you don’t know the exact location of the lane you will most certainly ride past as it is not much more than a driveway in appearance. Without traffic and few houses it is a tunnel of green in the warm months and sheltered from the wind in the winter.
The reward at the top is an open field with a vista that extends to Wachusett Mountain to the Northwest.
During my training sessions it feels like one the most peaceful places on earth, when training on that hill the only the sound is your breath, the drive train, the tires on the pavement and sounds of nature. When climbing that hill I have my own personal Zendo on the saddle. It is a place where I often can become one with the effort:
“If your intent is that athletics and sports are tools or devices to reach higher levels of mind then your workout sessions become meditations”
In Buddhism, meditation is the vehicle to become present in the moment – to become mindful, to be “awake”. I find that I am often am most awake in the midst of a hard effort or workout. The memory of such an intense experience can be seared in memory and recalled years later by just being aware at that present moment. It is easy for me to recall the exact conditions and feelings of an interval workout done more than 10 years ago in an empty office park on a Sunday mid afternoon in February. In my mind I can still see and feel the weak filtered sunlight and the quiet of that long ago February afternoon just hours before sunset. I can still remember the thoughts and feelings I felt that afternoon, of being so content to be doing just what I was doing, by myself, and not wanting to be any place else but where I was. If you have ever had that transcendent ride / run / race when everything came together or “flowed” without conscious thought or effort then you know that feeling. Athletes of all sports will sometimes report times when they were “unconscious” during the effort when they were “in the zone”, executing exceptionally without thinking. These are the experiences that are so rare or intense that you can recall just how you felt many years later, this being manifestation being in the state of presence of an effort done well:
“To do something perfectly you must not think about what you are doing at all. Your thoughts are imperfections in your actions. They alienate you from the true reality of your actions”
“Allow the inherent emptiness within what you are about to do direct you.”
For me preparing for a difficult effort or race can get my mind and body all aflutter…I will think and worry too much. Gautama Buddha recommended eons ago “do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”. I try very hard just to relax and experience the moment as it unfolds. Be there more for the experience than for the results.
I enjoy training now even more than racing as I can be more one with the effort as I don’t worry as how I will perform or what my results will be. I look forward to the effort I am about to do. When emptying the mind during the effort time stands still. Before you know it you are done and “out the other side” back to “reality” heading home…where did the time go?
I love that hill to work out on as I am almost always the only one there. Having the mind “empty” and open to all of the experience while training one can become “one with the effort”. During the time I am climbing and descending during repeats I try not to think of anything but where I am, the effort, the sounds of my breathing, the wind, the pedals turning over. The reward I give myself at the end of the workout is to stop at the top, listen to the wind through the trees, to see the clouds racing across the sky the hills in the distance and partake in the peacefulness at the top and that feeling of contentedness of an effort having been done, well or not: Samadhi.
During a hard effort instead of doing everything you can to avoid thinking about the pain of the effort and thinking about anything but, try to embrace the effort, experience the sensations of breathing, your legs turning and driving the bike or your footfalls on a run. If you are with others do not reflect about how you are doing in comparison to them, but instead become one with the effort. I am often at my happiest when letting go just content in my effort, to be thoroughly spent. At your next hard effort or race, before beginning the activity just empty yourself of your thoughts regarding what you are about to do, go with the flow, the sensations. If you could close your eyes you would feel these sensations without comparing yourself to others.
Enjoy the results. Your ordinary efforts may become a transcendent experience.
Author Bio – Rick Hardy is a Masters cycle racer from Boston (USA 🙂 ) who works at zen and is member of the Boundless Way Sangha