Traffic can drive you crazy, or it can assist you on a journey to enlightenment. Sound impossible? Read on!
In an earlier blog, “Let’s Make Those Changes!”, I suggested that one positive change is to cease lamenting about all the stupidity going on around us, and instead to look for what is working well. I hit home with many of you when I suggested looking for good drivers instead of “stupid” ones. Responses were overwhelmingly along the lines of “I never considered looking at traffic with a positive attitude – I always accepted it as a frustrating experience that I suffer to tolerate.”
What if driving in traffic was a spiritual path? Maybe we can call it “Driving to Divine”. Or “Wheel Your Way to Enlightenment.” I doubt either of those would have enticed me. Yet when in my 30’s, I set out to practice “ahimsa” (Sanskrit for harmlessness) in my life, I discovered that applying it while driving in Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex traffic, where we lived at the time, was exceptionally challenging. I could gallantly capture a black widow spider in a jar to release into my back yard. But could I remain calm when I was driving 10-mph over the speed limit while someone was riding my bumper, honking his horn, and flinging colorful hand gestures at me in the rear view mirror? No way! THAT justified losing my cool. Such a driver was causing harm, and didn’t “deserve” my calm.
A sneaky thought crept into my mind that I needed to also work on non-judgement. Maybe the driver had a reason to drive fast – like his wife was in labor and he had to get her to the hospital. Or he was frustrated by a problem at home. Or he just got fired from a job and was working out his anger. Or he was late to an appointment. Or …sigh…was there no end to all these explanations that my mind conjured up to excuse the traffic demons?
For fun, I decided to focus on traffic. Just traffic. I would apply non-judgement, harmlessness, compassion, non-gossip (no complaining to co-workers about stupid drivers I’d seen while driving to work that morning), non-resistance, and humor. Humor isn’t listed as a virtue in any tradition I’ve studied, but it sure is one to me. Where might this journey take me?
Here’s what I learned from the following scenarios:
People riding my bumper when I was driving the speed limit or above. First, let me list tactics I had been regularly applying. I know you never do this, but I’ll confess. I would slow down so they had to drive even slower. I pumped my brakes to tell them to back off. I wouldn’t look at them in the rear view mirror so that I could avoid seeing their mouth shouting obscenities. I took my time in the passing lane, inching forward slowly, so they couldn’t get around me or anyone else easily. I would s-l-o-w-l-y pull over to let them pass. Another tactic was to speed up faster than them so they couldn’t have the satisfaction of winning the traffic race, and as a result I drove faster than I wanted to. Of course, the only effect this had was to push their hot button to make them even madder. I arrived at my destination irritated, and out of sorts. Applying spiritual principles: I moved over as quickly as I could to let them fly by. How simple was that? They went on about their day and I continued mine in a calm frame of mind. I chose to maintain my composed calm vibrations instead of allowing their dis-consonant ones into my head and heart space.
People driving slower than the traffic flow, or poking along in the passing lane. Here’s what I used to do. I would ride their bumper and eventually honk. (Hmm – that sounds familiar.) Applying spiritual principles: I practiced non-resistance. I drove at a safe distance behind them and allowed them to be who they were. Eventually a spot would open for me to move around them or they would pull over. I discovered that the more space I politely gave them, the sooner they pulled over to let me pass. It was as if an invisible force was assisting me in direct proportion to the kindness I expressed. This was cool, and I began to look for other ways to hook into this new flow.
Drivers who won’t allow other cars to merge onto freeways or exits. This really got me irritated. How hard is it to allow someone to merge in front of you? If everyone does this, merging will flow seamlessly. Yet some drivers behaved if they had stood in line in the pouring, freezing rain for six hours to get a ticket for their car’s spot in the entrance or exit lane, and they weren’t going to let anyone else in. Applying spiritual principles: I started to allow plenty of space in front of me for merging cars when I was in one of those lines. It became a game I loved to play. It wasn’t long before I realized that now someone always allowed me to merge! The more helpful I was to other drivers, the easier my own drive became.
Speeding when you are late to work or an appointment. This one always feels justified. Yet have you noticed that it is precisely on such occasions that you run into detours, slow drivers, and red signal lights? An old adage says, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” This is especially true when driving. Applying spiritual principles: First, I planned my schedule better so I wasn’t constantly running late to client consultations. When I did run late, I drove normally and gave special attention to being helpful to other drivers. Instead of hurrying up to fill an empty space in the traffic ahead, I slowed down to let another driver merge in front of me. I purposefully looked for opportunities to be courteous. An amazing thing happened. The traffic opened up in front of me as if something was creating a path for me. I often arrived at my appointments sooner than expected, even though I had started out behind schedule. When I did arrive late, my client was inevitably running late too, and was glad I hadn’t been waiting for them.
What was going on? I had found the flow. Instead of judging, forcing, and resisting traffic as I used to do, I now merged with its flow and allowed it to carry me to my destination. I literally became one with the traffic and it moved me effortlessly.
If this worked with traffic, what might it do with other areas of my life? I put it to the test. It brings the exact same result. When I focus on being helpful, courteous, positive, constructive, and resourceful, my life flows. I frequently reach my intended goals sooner than anticipated and the journey feels effortless. Yet if I slip into being judgmental, forceful, resistant, and complaining, I drop out of the flow. Life becomes bumpy and erratic. It’s one more demonstration that “we sow what we reap.” If I change what I sow in traffic (or anywhere in my life), I reap a different result.
This “Tao of Traffic” is a potent spiritual practice. I’ve practiced it during rush hour on the freeways of Houston, Chicago, Oklahoma City and St. Louis. I’ve taken its lessons into all areas of life and it never fails to put me back in the flow. It is when we resist circumstances the most that we need to shift attention to helping others. It pulls you out of the doldrums and gets you sailing again. Give it your full attention for three weeks. Observe changes it brings. Put a smile back on your face, and return humor to your life. Because – humor is a virtue!