Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Talk Thursday: Meditating in Traffic

No, this isn't an approved Talk Thursday topic. The topic-o-meter is stuck again. Besides, who knows if I'd be able to crank out a genuine Talk Thursday column in the slightly less than thirty minutes I have here at Afrah tonight. Not my fault. Talk to the Dallas drivers, whose collective insanity made both the Tollway and the 75 virtually impassable this evening. One was at a dead stop, so I tried the other, which was at a slow crawl. Better than a dead stop, you say? Well, you'd say wrong. Apparently I annoyed the guy behind me, an oilman type driving a BMW, because he honked at me. As he pulled around me and roared into the other lane, I experienced a momentary thrill because he had to immediately slam on his brakes. That lane wasn't moving either. Ha, I thought. Serves you right, jerk. And immediately felt bad for being un-Buddhist-y. I should, of course, have wished him every happiness and a safe journey.

You know what I'm talking about. If you're a Christian, you've probably said or done or thought something less than charitable to somebody or about somebody and immediately felt guilty because that wasn't very Christian of you. Jesus would definitely not approve, in other words. Or Buddha, in my case. (Well, Jesus and Buddha. They would have gotten along.) But darn it all, we can't be saints 24/7. Sometimes we return to our inner cave man, and when that happens, we can just be mean-spirited little weasels.*

This sort of thing seems to happen quite a lot in traffic. I haven't exactly researched this, but I think it's a combination of being in a car, which feels about as familiar as being in your living room, and being terrified out of all reason. As Gary Numan put it, here in my car I feel safest of all. I can lock all my doors. It's the only way to live. You're anonymous, merely a shell of paint and metal zooming down the freeway. Or crawling down it, more to the point. Now add in the extreme terror (Watch! BMW guy pulling around Jen at great speed! See! Some idiot on a motorcycle popping a wheelie at 65 mph! Thrill! To the unrivaled stupidity of the guy in the pickup dragging a metal cart that's lost its wheels and is spraying sparks all over the freeway!) and it's only a matter of time before you get pissed off. As soon as the panic starts to fade, the angry rushes in. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's how-dare-you-scare-me. Maybe it's more like I've-been-made-a-fool-of. I'm not sure, but it definitely happens to me. Scared to pissed in 4 seconds.

Which is why, when they teach driver's ed in high school, they should teach meditating in traffic.

Not traditional meditation, where you sit with your eyes closed and your legs crossed. That'd be a recipe for disaster (though in Dallas, one might not even notice the difference). A kind of meditation that's even easier. As you drive, you take a breath and you let it out. You take another breath and you let it out. You don't take your eyes off the road, and you don't take your hands off the wheel. You just breathe, and you watch the traffic, and as long as your attention is taken up with traffic, and breathing, there's not enough room left to get scared, or pissed off. And if you start getting scared or pissed off, you take an extra long, extra deep breath and let it out slowly.

I do this. Practically always, when I'm driving, and I've been working on doing it when I'm just, you know, walking. At some point along the line, I stopped yelling at other drivers. Just stopped, after doing it from the time I got my license. One of these days, maybe I'll stop having un-Buddhist-y thoughts about other drivers, too. Or at least remember to think something nice about them when I catch myself doing it.

*Apologies to Zev and Scooby. I realize that real weasels are not mean-spirited.

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