You learn a lot about people when you’re on the road. Like myself, for instance. I had the thought that since I’ve been meditating for years, it should all be smooth sailing (mixed metaphor, I know). Oh well.
All it takes is for me to be approaching an intersection with an oncoming green, but with the orange “Don’t Walk” light flashing. I can feel my body tensing up. Not so long ago, I’d press the gas pedal hard to get through but I finally realized that the constant rhythm of speeding up and slowing down wasn’t what I wanted in life. So now I lighten my foot and the yellow or green happens. But the tightness remains. I figure that I’ve many years of driving still ahead of me, so how cool that I’ll have all these future intersections to practice my mindfulness.
I first attended a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in 2010. I wanted to drive. I wanted to be alone for a couple of days, and experience having no one know exactly where I was on planet Earth at any given moment, until I phoned Jody from my daily destination. As I set out, already enjoying my aloneness, I felt peaceful. I wanted the driving to be a preamable to the meditation.
My plan was to take secondary highways all the way from Union, Ontario to Barre, Massachusetts. Nice two-lane blacktop. And I left home with one assumption: in Ontario, all the way to Fort Erie, Canadian drivers would happily drive the speed limit with me (80 kilometres per hour, or 50 mph). But once I’d cross the Niagara River into Buffalo, those darned Americans would tailgate me all the way across New York if I kept to 55 mph (or 90 kph).
It was early morning, not another car on the road. A bit later, here comes someone from behind. Coming fast, as a matter of fact. And voila – there he or she was, stuck to my bumper. After probably only a few seconds of that, the driver pulled the wheel right and zoomed noisily past me. By mid-morning, Highway 3 was filling up, and the “car five feet behind my rear bumper” scenario was repeated over and over. With fewer chances to pass, some drivers would jerk their auto to the centre line, looking for a break in the traffic. Overall, I let my mindfulness fritter away. I was shocked that we Canadians were so pushy, so “me, not you”. That’s not who I am, is it? After reflection, the answer came: “No, it’s not”.
Once I was off the mandatory section of Buffalo freeway, I found Highway 20 towards Albany and settled into my moderate journey across the state. Or more accurately, prepared for the onslaught from the rear … … …
Guess what? There was none. I’d be toodling along at 55, glance into the rearview mirror, and see a driver several car lengths behind, matching my speed. Oh, the bliss of space. I got to look around at the world – the farmers’ fields, the cows, the heightening hills and the cutesy towns. It seemed that half the houses were displaying the Stars and Stripes, and that made me happy. Through New York and half of Massachusetts, I hardly ever encountered an impatient driver. So much for stereotypes. How wrong I was.
Then a week of slowness and silence at the retreat centre. Sometime, I’ll tell you about it. Coming back home, nothing on the road fazed me. That tension at potentially yellowing lights was non-existent. And out in the country, on a long series of rolling hills, another opportunity arose. A semi-trailer was having trouble on the upslopes. Sometimes his speed would drop to 20 mph. Not only did I not care, it seemed that the four drivers between the truck and me didn’t either. No darting over the centre line to see what’s ahead. No bumper games. Just five of us keeping a respectful distance from the vehicle ahead. And there was another feeling … love for the human beings in those cars and that truck. People doing their best, people okay with what the moment was giving them. At one little town, one of my friends turned off the road, leaving four followers. I missed that person. There was a hole.
What if I could bring my mindfulness to all travelling moments? Why not to all moments, period? Not just when I’m sitting in a meditation hall, but when I’m living my life. Sounds cozy.
Gosh, if Canadians were like this