I have never been the spiritual kind, but there I was in the quest for inner peace, looking into my own mind. Trying to rid it of a few pesky thoughts.
In my mind’s dimly lit corridors, unfettered thoughts scurried around like plague carrying rats. I saw something move, and recognised that rat. It was the excruciating memory of losing the last game of ping pong I played with a hated colleague. I lost in spite of his ping pong skills being vastly inferior to mine. I thought about how I was never going to get to play another game with him and how he would smirk until the very end of time at having beaten me in that most important game of both our lives.
Now that was just a small rat. There were bigger ones.
Like the growing awareness that I wouldn’t have the kind of impact on the world that I had dreamt of having as a child. I would most likely scurry out as furtively and anonymously as I had scurried in, giving the world nothing to remember me by. I could see that failure rat out of the corner of my inward looking eye. The brute was bigger than I remembered him to be. He was obviously eating well.
The vermin problem was getting serious. They had to go. So I turned to meditation. The plan in a nutshell: focus on the breathing, still the mind, expel all offending thoughts one by one, until all that’s left in the afterglow of that calm distillation is a serene, rodent free recognition of my true essence.
I sat with my eyes closed, body motionless, trying to observe my breath. As the time passed, I sadly observed other things too. First observation: my body was not lotus position-compliant. Subsequent observations: it was business as usual for all my resident rodents. I wasn’t sure if they were unaware or scornful of my pathetic attempt to exterminate them, but they seemed to be scurrying around with greater vigour.
This meditation thing was going south rapidly, but against the run of play there was an another observation. Game changing observation: the stiller my body was, the more restless my mind was. Wait. So could… the… converse… be… true?
There was only one way to find out.
I joined a group of cyclists in the remote land of Spiti in the western Himalayas. For 10 days of bone rattling, lung bursting, quadriceps shredding cycling in the mountains.
This was not tourism. I was a warrior yogi, determined to hunt down that elusive serenity, wrestle it to the ground if need be, and drag it back home.
We set off, and I took it all in. The shadows made by jagged rock faces, the sound of water polishing glistening pebbles, the benevolent tailwinds, the diabolical headwinds.
The riders spread out; each finding his own pace, wanting his own space. The trail snaked ahead of me, curve after curve undulating hypnotically. Sweat pouring, legs burning, heart exploding, and in the midst of all this… a strange sense of calm.
I started finding a pleasing equilibrium between my pedalling cadence, my heart-rate, and yes my breathing. While my body was being flogged, it was speaking to me in the most soothing tones. Just listen to me and everything will be okay. I will be fine. And more importantly, you will be fine.
While the forks of my bicycle bounced ceaselessly, the mind was impossibly placid. Sector after sector, day after day, spent in glorious communion with myself. Not a rodent in sight.
On the last day, I had to backtrack a bit, having left my gloves behind at the last halt. And then I saw something. Right in the middle of the trail was a big dead rat, with his guts spilling out. I would have recognised failure rat from a mile away. Gotcha, big fella. How does it feel to be roadkill?
Meditate on that.