Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mindfulness In Motion

I ride up to Redmond to chat with my friend Mark Thomas. We meet up at Victor's Coffee, discuss weighty matters of the world and then each go our separate ways on the various errands that will fill our day.

Redmond is north of Issaquah and I usually traverse the dozen miles which separate the two towns on via the eastern side of Lake Sammamish. On this side of the lake I have the option of either taking the paved, mostly well-shouldered Sammamish River Parkway or the more scenic, unpaved Lake Sammamish Trail. I'd taken the Parkway on my trip north, so I opt to take in the slower scenery of the trail for my southbound journey.

I ride down the trail which runs along an old rail corridor. Over the past few decades almost every bit of land that either overlooks the lake or has direct waterfront access has sprouted a multi-million dollar home. Despite the fears of some local residents that the creation of this public trail on public land would create a corridor of crime allowing roving pedestrian and biker gangs to spend their free time bashing Bentleys and lobbing Molotovs at Mercedes, no such crime-wave has been forthcoming. Instead the trail crimes tend to be more aesthetic in nature, tiny dogs whose tiny running suits match their owner's perfect Polarfleece, software executives jogging while under the influence of Bluetooth, middle-aged men riding bicycles while wearing clothing far too fluorescent for decent decorum...

That last character, of course, would be me.

So I'm riding down the trail minding not only my own business but the business of others, because I've learned, over the years, that fortune favors the vigilant. I go slow. I click my brake levers, ding my bell, clear my voice whenever I get even remotely close to other trail users. I look for the telltale white earbuds that warn me that their wearer may be paying more attention to Britney or Bono than anything as mundane and dangerous as the actual real world.

And even so, for all my vigilance, my attention isn't always perfect and sometimes I can be surprised.

I'm surprised today, but not by my inattention. Today I'm surprised by how far a person's mind can be from their body.

I see them jogging towards me. This is a straight section of trail and they came into my field of vision at a distance of at least 200 yards. I'm rolling towards them, they are running towards me. They are two young women, running side by side. As the distance between us closes, I can see them clearly. No earphones are visible, they are not conversing. They are jogging, looking straight ahead.

Straight at me. The guy on the red bike, with the bright yellow vest. In what I believe is called "broad daylight."

My spidey-sense is tingling. I slow way down. I click my levers and ring my bell.

I'm now going at just about walking speed. Neither woman seems to have the slightest awareness of my existence. And one of them is in my lane, running straight for me.

"Hey!" I shout as we are about 15 feet from each other and I basically track-stand on the trail. The woman's eyes flip into focus and go wide. She slows, slips in behind her companion and says, "sorry, I didn't see you" as she jogs past me.

I don't have a response.

There is little I can do but tell this story and note that I've kicked the paranoia level on my clue-less meter up one more notch.

We all have distractions in our lives. My friend David Smith pointed out to me the other night that even something like a rear-view mirror, which generally increases your safety and situational awareness, can be detrimental if you are looking back at the particular moment you need to be looking forward.

The best advice I ever got on this subject came from a zen master: "Be here now."

Be careful out there. Pay attention. You can be certain that somebody isn't. They may be jogging, they may be driving, they may be riding a bike.

All I can do is try to remember to be here now.
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