Daniel McNeil

A beautiful summer in the fields—azure sky, hard labor, and Coco the farm dog riding atop a stack of hay. The second cutting came in thick and green. My co-worker Dave and I toiled under a blessed sun, listening to a truck downshift to make the sharp turn onto Hayes Road. A moment after we heard that chrome semi pass, a different sound: frantic yelling.

“Get in the truck!” Dave hollered.

The two of us sprinted to the Chevy, and he gunned it across the rough field towards the barn. Dave slammed the brakes. Before we came to a halt, he bellowed, “Unplug the fence!”

My Converse All-Stars hit the barnyard running. I jumped sideways through a narrow gap in the doors, skidded through the sawdust, and yanked the plug from the socket.

This was no dainty charger. That baby could send power over 100 miles of fence line, and I’d seen its shock drop a grown man to his knees.

I ran back to the truck, and Dave peeled out onto the road. That’s when I saw the cause of all this panic.

Rachel was on the side of the road, untangling a boy from the electrified barbed wire fence. His bicycle dangled there too, those five strands of wire holding fast to the child and bike. Dave and I hurried out of the truck to help. One glance at the bicycle’s condition revealed what had happened to the boy.

Poor 10-year-old Bobby, the son of our boss, had hopped on his old rusted, untuned, rickety bicycle with bad brakes. He’d been unable to slow himself while rounding that sharp turn off the hill, shooting straight across the road and into the fence. Every two seconds, that sixth electrified wire had sent punishing voltage through the boy. Rachel had stopped to help, getting shocked as well.

By the time we arrived, Bobby and Rachel were pale and shaking. With Bobby finally upright on wobbly legs, we went to bandage his many puncture wounds.

Imagine how that turn would have gone differently if Bobby’s bicycle were in proper working condition, if the brakes could have slowed his descent rather than merely brush the wheel’s rim.

Today, this story strikes me as a metaphor. We cruise through our days on the bicycles of our minds, carried by mental habits that usher us to varied terrain.

Rarely are we encouraged to tune our minds up, and so engrossed are we in this journey that we might even claim there are too few opportunities to pull over and take stock.

Ninety-five percent of the time when I ride I don’t even remember a bike is under me, mediating my experience of the world.

Plus, how fun is doing maintenance? Isn’t it better to just ride on to the next smooth swoop of singletrack, newly-paved river road, a group of friends or breathtaking sunset? And how much can we really improve these mind-bicycles anyway? We are who we are, right?

Well, a long history of contemplative practice and fresh neuroscience findings suggest that life can be improved in measurable ways with even a few minutes in the workshop. Merely tightening one brake cable could have changed Bobby’s entire day. Our mental analog is becoming more attuned to our heart-mind that can pause and hold emotions with equanimity and love.

Instead of heedlessly hurtling forward without any tools to steer or slow, a little mental training begins to put us in touch with experience in a new way, one where the ego eases and in its place rises a heightened sense of awe, interconnection, and gratitude.

Mindfulness meditation is for people of all backgrounds, from religious to secular. The mind is not exclusive to any particular group. Ten minutes a day. Five minutes a day. One minute a day. It all matters.

Think of what one minute of adjusting the brakes could have meant to Bobby. Not only him, but Rachel, who suffered merely from being a bystander.

Is mindfulness practice a panacea? No. Goatheads will still puncture my tires. I’ll strike obstacles. Rainfall will slick the pavement. However, at the very least, a regular tune-up helps turn typical hills and angles of life into what they’re supposed to be – a journey to be savored more than suffered.

Daniel McNeil lives in Moab and is the director of Grand Area Mentoring.