Why Mindfulness?

The beginning of this year is particularly poignant for me. Three weeks from today I'll turn 50, and like many who have faced/are facing the half century mark, I'm not only thinking over the past year, but my entire adult life in general.

The first question I've been asking myself is "am I truly moving in the direction I want with my life?"

To the above I can answer a heartfelt yes!

The second question is a little more challenging "am I doing so with mindfulness?"

Ah. Hmmm. That depends on the moment.

Why, you might well ask, is mindfulness important? I'm well aware it's a bit of a buzzword right now in certain groups and audiences.

Certainly mindfulness is important while I'm riding my bike. I find it crucial for my own safety (as well as the safety of others) for me to be here now, in this present moment, when I'm riding and not off with my mind wandering around somewhere else. Which is why I don't listen to music while riding, even in one ear. Listening to what's going on around me is just as important as seeing.

While I have been on a rather long rambling personal spiritual quest my entire adult life, I didn't become acquainted with the concept of mindfulness as the Buddhists mean it until sometime in 2002.

I literally stumbled upon Pema Chodron's book "When Things Fall Apart" at the then Borders on the 3rd Street Promenade near my apartment in Santa Monica. I remember the moment pretty clearly. My health was sliding downhill as quickly as my economic prospects. I was in a dark scary place and this small book with the bleak but artful image and the second line of "Heart Advice for Difficult Times" sounded like something very useful for the dire state I was in.

It was.

Mindfulness is a concept that is now taught and shared beyond Buddhism. I think these two definitions listed on Wikipedia sum it up well for me:

1) Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis

2) Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

I want to focus on mindfulness + the bike in very broad terms in honor of what Pema, and other Buddhist teachings have done to help me face and deal with chronic health and life challenges over the past twelve years. Sp I've decided to change this blog's name from my previous "Editor's Note" to express something that is more personal and from the heart. Also, for almost fourteen years I kept some type of personal online blog. The last iteration of this was called "Maitriquest" after the Buddhist term for "unconditional friendliness" or "loving kindness." I ended it after many years this past fall when I was preparing to launch Pedal Love because I simply didn't have time to keep it up on its own anymore.

I also want to honor the spirit of mindfulness I've found in the wonderful friendships I've been making with others who are dedicated to making the world safer, healthier and more vibrant through biking, walking and placemaking advocacy.

Does that mean this is only a blog about Buddhists and Buddhism? No. I can't say that I am a Buddhist, though I have several friends in various forms of advocacy work who are. Certainly I'm still very much a work in progress (aren't we all?). I personally have a big challenge with any type of organized spirituality from some negative experiences when I was young - that's not to say I'm against it at all - it's just that the idea of it for me right now still fills me with panic and dread. I prefer the book or the video.

But mindfulness as a concept, and as a focus for one's life - that I can understand and aspire to. That I can share happily with others.

And the concept of mindfulness is what guides me in this big idea of mine (perhaps a crazy one) that it's time to start a "Civil Streets Conversation for California." The bike is an important part of this conversation certainly, but it's just one part. The key to a Civil Streets Conversation is that everyone matters - even angry drivers who feel entitled not to have to share the road with bicyclists. Everyone should be heard - but in a civil way.

Imagine if we as a community, a state, a nation could get to the heart of the matter of why so many of us feel compelled to rush from one thing to another and do two things at once. Imagine if we could become aware of, and own, when we are being driven emotionally to speed through our lives mentally, emotionally and physically not because we have something truly crucial to do, or a place truly crucial to be - but because we have bought into the "speed freak" mindset of an aspect of our culture that pushes us to want and do more and more and more.

What if we faced squarely that it's only our ego that is fed when we cram our lives and appointment calenders so full we're exhausted all of the time? What if we decided it was okay to slow down? To be here now and fully present to what this moment in time has to offer?

This blog post is dedicated to Jim Brown Executive Director of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, Rene Rivera Executive Director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and Carolyn Szczepanski of Director of Communications + Women Ben for the League of American Bicyclist who inspire me regularly to the wisdom and opportunity of mindfulness.

About Melissa

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A writer, speaker and media relations specialist Melissa Balmer's personal mission is to bring the connecting power of beauty, style and personally engaging storytelling to showcase the bike as a tool for optimism. In September 2011 Melissa launched the original "Women on Bikes SoCal" program under the Long Beach non profit Bikeable Communities. In November 2013 it blossomed into the "Women on Bikes California" initiative under the California Bicycle Coalition.

Melissa was an original member for the national Women Bike program advisory board of the League of the American Bicyclists, and continues to serve on its Marketing & Media committee. In 2010 and 2011 she was a part of Georgia Case's Idea Group creative team that created the "Share Our Streets" multi-media road safety marketing for Bike Long Beach. In 2012 she served as the Host Coordinator and Media Relations person for the Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place conference. In 2013 she coordinated the vintage bike events for BikeFest in Long Beach, "Know Your Neighborhood by Bike" tours for Bike Long Beach, and played the role of Summit Coordinator for the Nov 2013 California by Bike Summit. Melissa has lived car free in Long Beach California since 2007.