Mountains and Meditation

Mountains and Meditation

During the winter of 2016-17 I became a big fan of listening to podcasts when I spent three or four months living and training in Mallorca. Maybe it was just nice to hear some english, but I loved listening to something while cooking dinner and became an avid consumer of the medium.

When I went through all of my shit the following year, I turned to podcasts even more. One of the common themes I noticed from a lot of the people being interviewed was a reference to meditation, how it had helped them regain a sense of calm and higher perspective amidst their hectic daily lives. These were super successful people from a wide array of fields, so it piqued my interest.

Meanwhile I had started riding the bike again after a few months, mostly just puttering around to get myself out of the house and attempt to maintain some semblance of sanity. About once a week I would get up early and drive north to ride in New Hampshire's White Mountains. I didn't like the riding around Beverly very much, but up north I could escape into the mountains, remember what it felt like to be a bike racer and how much I loved it, and I could climb and climb to my heart's content.

Podcasts were my only companion during those long drives back and forth, and on one of them I finally came to understand what meditation was, and why doing what I did in the mountains made me feel the way it did.

Meditation doesn't require striking some Instagram pose, or sitting with your eyes closed on a special mat or whatever. All it is, really, is getting your mind to calm down by focusing on one simple thought or task while regulating your breathing.

My little rides puttering around Beverly and the North Shore didn't really do much for me. It was only when I escaped up to New Hampshire, pointed my bike up towards Lincoln Gap, and opened up the throttle that I ever felt good. I would climb as hard as I could, until it became so hard that I was forced to forget about everything. All I could do was focus on my breathing and keep my cadence up. I would push and push and suffer until I came out the other side, where your mind is totally quiet and you're just in the moment, watching the landscape pass by like in a movie. Sometimes I would see myself from above. The pain would cease and I found I could control myself and my effort almost like in a video game. Sounds a lot like meditation to me.

I would reach the top completely empty - both physically and mentally - and there is just this beautiful stillness in those moments on the summit of a big climb after you've pushed yourself to the maximum. Something I love about the mountains is how they give perspective to everything, how you feel so small and insignificant looking out at the massive world below. Some of my fondest memories remain blasting up some climb somewhere in Mallorca in the dead of winter, sun coming down, wind picking up, nobody around — just me, my bike, and the mountain. Maybe a few uninterested goats or sheep who couldn't care less about whatever watts per kilo I just did.

For me that's why the mountains are so special and such a necessity in my life: because they help to restore balance and perspective on everything, to see just how small you and your troubles are in the grand scheme of things.

I guess if there's any point to all of this rambling it's that you don't need to go buy a yoga mat or sit cross-legged on a beach somewhere in order to cleanse your mind and reestablish balance. Like everywhere else in life and sport, you just have to find what works for you, take some deep breaths from your diaphragm, and quiet your mind in order to regain a sense of tranquility and higher perspective amidst the chaos of daily life.

Barry Miller