Litlove wrote a great post on creativity and play recently, and I’ve been thinking about how cycling is a form of play for me. In a way my cycling isn’t a good example at all, since many aspects of it are not in the least “playful” — the fact that I measure so much of what I do on the bike, that I’m training and I plan my training carefully, that on the bike I’m performing the same motions over and over again, and I’m frequently out on the same routes again and again. I have a bike computer that sits on my handlebars where I can read what my heart rate is at the moment, and my speed, and cadence, and a whole bunch of other things. There doesn’t seem to be much room for the creativity of play — it’s more about repetitive motion and numbers. Litlove says that play is “open-ended, unconstrained, free from debilitating rules, mutually engaging (if in involves another)” and that isn’t really what my riding is about.
Except in another sense that IS what it’s about, because what happens with my mind isn’t the same as what happens with my body. Even though my body is doing the same thing over and over again — pushing the pedals, turning the handle bars — my mind is free to wander anywhere. I spend a lot of hours on the bike, but I rarely find myself bored. Even riding in a century, when I’m on the bike for 6 or 7 hours, I don’t get bored up until the very end when my mind starts to focus in on my aching body. When I’m riding I often get in what feels like a meditative space, where I’m not really thinking of anything at all. I may have a song in my head, I may occasionally think ahead to what I’m doing next in my day, but mostly I’m just … thinking nothing. The very fact that my body is performing a repetitive motion helps free up my mind, I think; the constraint of being on the bike creates space to just exist in.
I think my mind accomplishes something while I’m out playing on rides; it doesn’t solve problems, or come up with creative new ideas, or reach fabulous insights, but my mind does a lot of letting go — letting go of worries, mostly. I almost always come back from a ride feeling much better, much happier, much less anxious, much more energetic.
Litlove says that play is “a state of creativity that is of necessity inconclusive.” Riding my bike is in a sense all about conclusiveness: I’m out there in order to do the ride and get back home again, in the fastest time possible, or in order to gain a certain amount of strength and power. But in another sense, I’m out there and have nothing to do with my mind, except for the minimal need to pay attention to traffic and the road (actually, my mind tends to wander so much I can have trouble with this, and have been known to let my bike wander off into the grass), and am free to think or not to think, whatever I want. My mind has no goal or task to accomplish. Thinking of riding in these terms helps me understand why I love it so much.