Every time we get behind the wheel of a car, we have countless opportunities to “get hooked” by other people’s choices while driving. Too slow! Too fast! He’s swerving! She cut me off! Could you possibly turn any slower? He took the parking spot I wanted! Stop tailgating! What shade of green would you prefer before going? Did you see her run that red light? Why are you stopping all the way back here? Get out of “my” lane! Oh, SURE you have two or more people in the car in that HOV lane! What, are they lying on the floor?
What all these examples have in common, in addition to demonstrating impatience or intolerance, is the unconscious belief that driving should proceed smoothly and optimally at all times for one’s convenience and peace of mind. Sometimes, we have legitimate concerns that our or other drivers’ safety is endangered, but we still may erupt in comments like these, out loud or in our heads. The impatience or fear can cause us to suffer, often unnecessarily.
But if driving provides countless opportunities for us to “get hooked,” it also provides just as many for us to practice patience and remove ourselves from the center of our own world, to not make it personal.
So much of human reactivity boils down to whether we like something or not or how it affects our own agenda in a single moment of time. You’re driving along on a road with little traffic at a speed that is comfortable, things are all right with the world, and then someone pulls out in front of you from a side street and wants to go, say, even just 5-7 mph slower than you do along the same route. Maybe it’s a day when you just don’t want someone going slower in front of you, or you’re in a bit of a hurry, or have a little impatience in you. Hey, I was really enjoying that driving experience until YOU pulled out and died, slow poke! You couldn’t have waited a couple more seconds for me to pass?
But someone pulling out and driving at a much slower pace than I prefer is just the nature of driving. Someone driving recklessly across five lanes of highway traffic really fast is just in the nature of driving. Basically, these experiences entail someone doing something in a car that I don’t like here and now. I can not like that and let it burn awhile, or I can not like it for that inescapable shenpa moment, see that it’s my small self wanting things to be “perfect” or “my way,” breathe, and release the irritation, knowing it’s all happening because I unconsciously but mistakenly believe driving should unfold the way I want it to. When we accept what happens, the suffering that is caused by resistance to it diminishes or disappears.
On my way to pick up my daughter at the bus stop recently, I pulled up behind a car at a stop sign, and the driver was talking out the passenger window to a couple of boys, asking for directions. It took quite awhile in car years, where 45 seconds seem like eons, but I could see what was obviously going on, and for once I just waited. No tension, no annoyance or impatience. Nothing but blank, peaceful waiting. Then three cars pulled up behind me, and one driver immediately and repeatedly hit the horn, and the driver ahead of me jumped and roared out from the stop. I started driving again, for a change completely calm and kind of bemused. The weird thing was that I didn’t force myself to be patient–it just happened because I recognized the shenpa when it happened, breathed, and released the impatience.
If it happened once, it could happen again. Really. It could.