February 28, 2014

Traffic lessons for Life.

Yesterday I watched two cars go for the same spot in the same lane.

There was honking and hesitation and going-for-it! and not-going-for-it! and about 15 seconds later it was all figured out.

It was like a day of polar vortex winds perforating an otherwise 25 degree winter day.

As I sat there, I wondered what it would be like if we were actually allowed to look at each other and communicate to each other when we’re driving—it wouldn’t take much—maybe a go-ahead gesture—taking a fifth as long to decide who gets it this time.

But this isn’t how it generally happens. It generally happens that one or both cars will rapidly speed up or slow down and aggressively force their entry into the desired lane-spot.

Why? Is this really how we want to be driving?

Maybe this is because when we get into our cars, it very easily turns into me time. We are dispersed in little boxes that we call our own. We are separated from each other, and those who we feel separated from we feel threatened by. We think, What if that person hits my moving box with their moving box? That could hurt me, or even worse—it could kill me! 

On the whole, it seems like when we drive, there is a little bit of fear. Or perhaps a lot.

We feel separated from each other, and aside from fear, we also discover our us-over-them mentality: it’s important to look out for ourselves first.

It’s not that we don’t care about other people: if we see someone slip and fall, our reaction is, does that person need help?

But our fear makes it so that not only do we look out for ourselves first, but sometimes we look out for ourselves at the expense of others. We do this when we perceive our gain to be more relevant than their loss.

Forcing our right-of-way, cutting people off and thinking poorly of other drivers are all symptomatic of this fear. This makes it so that on the road, we find a lot more things that we don’t like than we do like.

Of all the times we’ve spent driving around in our cars–how many of those times felt even the slightest bit relaxing? How many of those rides felt like they cleared us out and set us up for whatever was coming next? When was the last time someone asked us, How are you? and our response was, Wonderful! I just had a calming drive over here.


And yet, why shouldn’t they? We are given the exact same opportunities in every moment. Every new fraction of time that we move through has the same amount of unknowns, the same amount of movement, the same abundance of atomic data swirling around.

I’ve been using my time in my car recently to absorb this practice: the practice of being In Love, Now.

The car is a particularly easy place for me to lose sight of how I want to be spending time with myself, as I frequently find myself gritting my teeth and having vaguely pissy thought-lines.

Our cars are not designed for Here and Now—they are designed to take us where we need to be in 10 minutes. Everything is always a fraction of a second faster.

We become busy looking at the spot we want to move into that our Presence of Self is jumping just slightly forward of our car no matter how fast we’re going to catch up.

And when we’re commuting someplace we go regularly, it can feel as if we have made this exact trip dozens of times before—that it’s just another commute to work or to the grocery store, but it’s usually a commute and rarely an adventure.

It doesn’t even cross our minds that this traveling has absolutely not happened before, not even slightly. There are cars on the road that we probably travel with everyday and will never know it; and there are cars we’ll travel beside once and never see again. The flow of traffic will never be more gloriously Now than it is right now.

And then there’s the proverbial echo of voices-past calling out, Remember! You aren’t the center of the universe!

But, oh how easy it is to believe that—we get inside our box and control the temperature and the sun-flow and the audio atmosphere. We use our arms and legs in small precise ways, and when we do this we feel like we are in control of how our lives will play out. We’ve done this dozens of times before so we have already calculated how long it will take us to get there in the sun, in the rain, the snow, during the time when the baseball game lets out, etc.

This experience becomes just another…and then, just another…

And soon we have added up 35 just another…and the 35 one was just enough to put us over the edge into dreading, and now, even before we go to sleep at night, we think: I’m dreading driving to work tomorrow.

Of course this is a very dramatic example of our feelings and this isn’t how we always feel, but nonetheless, our feelings are quite dramatic sometimes. Other times our feelings are seas so placid you would bet your life saving’s they were made of glass. (We are very surprising creatures.)

But what if we started driving in a completely different way? What if we were able to exit the garage and have a completely different perspective on this whole driving thing?

This is the shift: we shift our thoughts from thinking about ourselves to thinking about the collective.

We move away from the feeling of separation, instead asking ourselves:

What if this were just one big pot of traffic and we were all in this together?

This might put into check our habit of taking it personally when someone cuts us off, or when we feel threatened by the person who flashes their brights to let us know they want us to drive faster. In those moments, may we know that other people’s unkind road tendencies are a symptom of the feeling of separateness, and that every honk in our direction means–at its seed—“I am not you.”

May our response be absolute compassion, for we too have known what it feels like to be alienated–as if we are completely separated from our species. May other peoples’ behavior have no influence over how we think about ourselves.

When we stop believing that others can harm us, we lose all our enemies.

This will be the first time where we exit the garage and prepare for forty-five minutes of who-knows-what in the car and think: We’re all brothers and sisters, let’s all get to where we need to go safely and swiftly.

And suddenly traffic is not 2,000 individual lives stuffed in 1,700 wheeled boxes; rather, it’s one huge organism with thousands of moving parts going in multiple directions at once.

When we take our focus off our little wheeled box, and take our focus to the whole—the entire organism—then we start moving in the most efficient way possible for the group, instead of the most efficient way possible for ourselves.

We are all part of the same organism, and it is not only us that is going someplace today. If we want to reflect on the idea of what relaxation is, then we might conclude that relaxation is the ability of an organism to become completely self-cooperative: when there are no component parts of it resisting or fighting.

If the entire roadway is the organism, then the individual cars become its cellular units. And currently when I get onto the road (which may be symptomatic of the place that I’m driving in, which is a large city in the midst of heavy winter and slush piles and pot holes), I feel a lot more resistance than cooperation.

Resisting and fighting each other on the road becomes futile—for it is a battle we will never win. We play into it because we start our engines thinking only of ourselves—thinking that it is us against other people, and we must win by getting to our destination just as quickly as we can. We forget that this is absolutely not our story. In fact, it is not a story at all—it’s just life, unfolding incrementally through space-time, and right now we get to be a part of it.

When we resist, we are tacitly hoping that our resistance will magically get us what we want: that this will make other drivers behave the way we want them to so we never have to deal with traffic again. But this will absolutely just not happen, because other drivers are not operating according to our wants, they are operating according to their wants.

This is not our story.

In fact, this is not traffic. This is life-movement that we’ve named traffic, and in naming it, we made up a bunch of rules and  gave ourselves wheeled boxes with horns to honk and blinkers to flash. This is life-movement with the same opportunity as any other life-movement for us to realize that we are already enlightened and relaxation can be here, now.

So if I want to only look out for myself on the road, and you want to only look out for yourself on the road, then what happens when we both show up at the same time to a stop sign? If we’re driving for only ourselves, we’ll both force the right-of-way, making it so that we either collide or we spend time dancing around the you-go-no-I-go-no-you-go break pedal dance.

Looking out for the entire organism is the most efficient way of moving. It’s the awareness of our entire field of vision—a quarter mile in any direction, instead of just the bumper of the person ahead of us and the blind spots in either periphery.

We can drive for the whole organism even if everyone else on the road is only driving for themselves. Driving with awareness of the whole is like taking our arms around everyone we drive alongside of and wrapping them into a great big hug. This doesn’t mean people will necessarily treat us differently, but that’s okay.

If anyone is angry on the road, it is not us they are angry at. Their anger is only inside themselves, and since it originates inside of them, it can’t possibly have anything to do with us. We’re all the way over here, in our own little moving box.

We are driving with the awareness of the whole only because it feels so much more relaxing this way. And it doesn’t matter if other people drive this way or not.

A mere 1,900 words can be summed up in a short sentence: when we get on the road, let’s be kind to ourselves and kind to each other.

And the next time you hear me honking, it will only be because I’m telling you that I love you.

Happy driving.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise


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