Bike Your Way Into a More Mindful Life: An Interview with Waylon Lewis

Magazine Publisher Waylon Lewis is an outspoken, bleeding-heart American liberal steeped in Buddhist tradition and the founder of Elephant Journal, a once mass-market distributed print magazine that is now a leading digital publication covering the mindful life. What does that mean, you’re wondering? In a nutshell, according to Elephant’s mission statement, the mindful life is about ‘giving a care about living a good, fun life that’s good for others and our planet.’ He also recently published his first book, Things I Would Like To Do With You, which incorporates Lewis’ musings on long-term love and romance.

So, why did we ‘give a care’ about talking to Lewis, with whom everyone in Boulder, Colo. seems to be on a first name basis? Well, part of the reason so many people in Boulder’s community recognize Waylon, or Way, is because he gets around town everywhere on his bike. He’s easily recognizable, usually wearing one of his signature trucker hats and some vintage duds, steering his bike with one hand while holding his dog’s, Redford, leash in the other.

We get deep with Waylon– community activist, tortured soul, bike lover, and overall, a person who walks his talk and isn’t afraid to speak his mind (but is still sometimes a little afraid of being hit by a car on his bike.)

What was your first experience with bicycling?

I must have been like, whatever age people start bicycling with training wheels on. I was born in ‘74, so probably around 1979? Our parents would run and push us, without the training wheels, and then we would go for a while and then tilt over.

Growing up in Boulder, did people teach kids to ride their bike as a legitimate form of transportation, how to navigate streets and traffic? Was there a culture of that?

Yeah, but it wasn’t like how it is now. It wasn’t like “You should bike to work!” My friend and I biked to and from school together and we’d talk about our day, our friends, basketball, girls, whatever was on our minds.

The bike culture that exists now really didn’t exist when I was a kid. There was the Red Zinger Classic and old school races like that when I was a kid, but there weren’t all these organized road races and riding groups like there are now. You didn’t see gangs of hungry cyclists in spandex click-clacking around Spruce Confections like you do now. Road biking was much more of a casual thing.

When I went to Boston University for journalism in the 90’s, urban bicycling did not exist. No one in Boston, at all, biked. I remember walking by a bike shop in ‘96 and thinking ‘wow, a bike shop.’ America has really transformed in terms of biking, and rock climbing...and yoga...and various things in the last fifteen years.

Bicycling is one of the best ways to meet everybody. Not just the people you like, not just the people you work with, not just the people who you think are cute. Everybody. That’s where community happens.

For you, how does biking relate to living mindful life and nurturing community?

I grew up in the Buddhist community here in Boulder. From a Buddhist point of view, your entire mission in life is to create an enlightened society, a more healthy, happy society. On some level Boulder has done that. We have the advantage of it being sunny here. People are active. People are out.

Depression tends to happen when you feel isolated. You think, ‘I’m the only one going through this.’ After any kind of tragedy, or difficult time, if people share in that weight, it’s moving and inspiring, and bicycling is one of the best ways to meet everybody. Not just the people you like, not just the people you work with, not just the people who you think are cute. Everybody. That’s where community happens.

Do you see yourself biking everywhere as a form of activism or utilitarianism?

I didn’t start biking as an ideological thing, but then as I biked more and more, it became an ideological thing. I was like ‘this is awesome, free parking...ultimate convertible...’ Your commute goes from the most stressful part of your day, to the highlight of it. It’s where I can just breathe, and detox from multitasking all day.

MORE: Michael Jager, Chief Creative Officer at The Solidarity of Unbridled Union, on biking to detox and clear your mind for creativity.

Does biking tie into your personal health?

If at a certain point you stop exercising in a practical way, and you only exercise by going to the gym, or doing something deliberate, it’s easy for that to fall off as you get older. But if you can build it into your life, especially if you’re a parent or you’re a college kid and you’re super busy, if you can build it into the structure of your life in a practical way, it keeps you mentally young, and physically healthy, happy, and less self involved. When you’re miserable and stressed out you get super self involved. Your worldview turns inward.

What advice do you have for biking with dogs?

  1. Start them young, or as soon as you adopt one. Just start by walking your bike, and walking your dog.
  2. Repeatedly veer the bike tire towards the dog to teach them it’s something to be afraid of. And you need to be incredibly strict. You have to jerk their leash really aggressively if they’re distracted by squirrels or cats; chasing after them is not cool when you’re biking. Dogs love running alongside you when you’re biking; they really love the exercise.
  3. If it’s summer or it’s hot outside, you have to keep them cooled off, so I let my dog, Redford, play in the Boulder creek.

Biking in Los Angeles is super fun, but you have to use a navigation app to stay away from traffic, and you end up in all these beautiful neighborhoods. You feel like you’re in 1950’s LA and Carey Grant is going to walk out with his pipe.

Favorite place you’ve biked?

Biking in Los Angeles is super fun, but you have to use a navigation app to stay away from traffic, and you end up in all these beautiful neighborhoods. You feel like you’re in 1950’s LA and Carey Grant is going to walk out with his pipe.

Ironically, on Venice Boulevard, the busses are coming by trying to kill you every block or two. I feel like they target you. I’ve never been more scared and angry biking than on Venice Boulevard.

I’m not a fan of multitasking. So if there was something that was designed to make multitasking with your phone while biking as simple as possible, I am all for that.

What technology are you using personally to enhance your ride?

There are two things I would use if they were more comfortable. One is my phone to navigate, and I do use it when I bike around in cities that I don’t know. And it is pretty awkward. I’m not a fan of multitasking. So if there was something that was designed to make multitasking with your phone while biking as simple as possible, I am all for that.

The other thing is once in awhile I will talk on the phone for work. I really hate doing it. I’m Buddhist so I try to be mindful when I bike and not get run over by cars. When you’re biking like this and listening to one thing, while not seeing another, I don’t like that.

So why take something that’s supposed to separate you from your desk and put your desk on your handlebars?

For those of us who work all the time, and have a lot going on, we maybe don’t have the option for that pure state of zen throughout our day. I would say if putting your phone on your handlebars makes the experience of being on the phone, or navigating safer, that is a good thing. However, if it makes it so comfortable you forget that you’re cycling, that could be dangerous or a drawback.

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