the practical buddhist : essentials

how christopher hitchens helped me meditate for 4.5 hours

I know what you’re thinking

Christopher Hitchens, that eloquent, pragmatic, atheistic journalist and literary critic, is well…dead. And you’re right. Sadly, Mr. Hitchens succumbed to the sequela of esophageal cancer in December of 2011.

Here’s how it happened


I left home in Santa Cruz this morning at 06:30. I’m consulting for the next few weeks for a firm in Southern California and this morning, after working a week from home, I rode my minimally packed BWM 1150GS south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

As a matter of practice, I listen to music via some wonderful Bose earbuds while walking Buddy, cleaning the house, lifting weights, and riding my motorcycle. For today’s journey I was set to engage a Jackson Browne playlist but the at the last minute changed my mind in favor of an audio book.

The book in question was one of my favorite Hitchens’ works, God Is Not Great. I read the hardback and still have it in my bookcase despite a fews #MinsGame donations that significantly scaled back my bookshelf contents. The audio-book was in my account already and I thought its 8-hour listen time was perfect for the day’s riding.

While I have no problem discerning lyrics and chord progressions at 75 m.p.h. inside my full-face helmet, the spoken work, at least as recorded by Christopher Hitchens, proved a bit more difficult. I attempted to adjust the volume on my phone while riding and instead of boosting the volume, I somehow cut off the device altogether.

Destination, definitely known

I’m very destination oriented when I ride. I’d love to be the carefree motorcyclist that frequently stops to take gorgeous photos around every few bends in the road, but I simply am not. Although I did stop to take this photo today of my bike and James Dean, having stopped for fuel near the intersection where he died in a fiery crash in 1955.

2014-07-20 10.02.23

Because of this destination oriented riding style, I was loathe to pull over and stop to adjust the phone settings. I made this decision because, 1) I don’t like stopping unless it’s for a good reason, and 2) see reason #1.

I rode on in relative silence; no music, no Jackson Browne…only my thoughts and the sound of air rushing by my helmet as well as the soft roar of my BMW. Then, a funny thing happened.

Meditating at 75 m.p.h.

I started meditating as I rode.

My body was mainly motionless, my eyes focused on the road with my transient thoughts arising and falling away like they do in a more formal meditation setting.

I can ride for about 90 minutes before I feel my aging knees start to stiffen. It’s then I look for an appropriate exit and take a break. I repeated this ride-meditate-rest pattern three times.  Each meditation session was approximate 90 minutes and my rest periods about 20 minutes.

Each time I rode off the highway to a safe resting place, I doubted that I’d be able to meditate again so soon. But each times I was pleasantly surprise.

I can’t recall another time when I’ve meditated 4+ hours in one day. It was liberating.

Not a daily habit

I’m not of such naïveté to think I can do this every day. I don’t have the time in my current life to meditate for 4.5 hours each day. My meditation practice isn’t at that level…nor do I think that it should be.

Sitting meditation, or zazen, is not something I can physically sit through for any more than an hour at most. That’s where I am in my practice. I don’t feel it’s a strength or a weakness. It simply is.

In about a week’s time, I’ll be riding the 400 miles home to Santa Cruz. Perhaps I’ll have a different experience this time, or maybe it will be similar. Either way, it will be good.

However, on the return trip, I definitely think Jackson Browne will make an appearance.  😎

One response to “how christopher hitchens helped me meditate for 4.5 hours”

  1. […] mindfulness while eating; having coffee, conversing with a friend, while writing, walking, even riding my motorcycle. But I can’t practice mindfulness while reading Facebook. In fact, spending time on Facebook […]

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