“Smile, breathe and walk slowly.” ~ Tych Nyat Khan
As a Lyft driver, I once spent a lot of time on the road – a lot of provocations and stress.
The driver may feel a constant problem for work attentiveness instead of giving way to destructive emotions such as impatience and frustration. Meditation can be a difficult practice if you are driving a vehicle (demanding as both activities take your full attention) – try to focus all your feelings on it and you will most likely pass a pedestrian or end up with a car in a ditch.
But focusing on the road is not necessary to close your eyes or take any of the other classic “meditative” positions. I think it has to do with something simpler: instant detachment – both from everything that happens around you and from your own internal reactions, when you watch from a very small distance how they are tides.
Here are some of what I learned about maintaining balance when on a stressful road.
It is important to remember that sometimes we do not see something.
While driving along Market Street through downtown SF, I once noticed that several pedestrians stopped at a crosswalk in the middle of the street. They had no right of way; the light was red for them and green for us drivers trying to pass. Car signals.
Perhaps for a second my impulse was to join the sound battle. Then I looked closely and saw what was really going on: the woman dropped her bags, causing their contents to spill onto the asphalt. People on the street were passers-by who ran to help her pick them up.
When they finished, I noticed them standing and raising their hands in apologies [to the perturbed honkers] it seemed like both “Wait, please, a minute” and “Sorry, sorry, sorry”.
Witnessing this has made me think about how often in this fast-paced world we come to reactivity sooner than even understanding what is happening first. I think we are especially prepared for this on the road.
As Shankar Vedantam said in his podcast Hidden Brain: “This woman did not come across you maliciously; she is blind. This soldier, who was standing in line, did not faint because he did not have what he needed; he has diabetes and needs insulin. This woman is not soulless because she did not help the elderly man who fell; she is paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. ”
Often in life important parts of the larger whole are not available to us, but sometimes we act or react as if we think we have access to everyone.
In particular, when the driver in front of me is moving very slowly or accidentally stops, I sometimes feel an impulse to signal. I wonder why they are “so inattentive”. I ask them in my head if they have forgotten where the accelerator pedal is. My immediate instinct is to blame the one who is holding me.
But I have to remind myself that I lack information. Maybe the driver in front of me stops to have someone cross the street. Maybe we have a red light that I don’t see. Maybe… [insert any other number of possibilities here].
Although I don’t see any of that.
I was also at the reception; for example, when I stop to allow an animal to cross the road. I do not see an animal that obstructs the road, the cars behind me are annoyed and signal disapprovingly.
Willingness to admit if I’m wrong (similar to the paragraph above).
One day, driving home across Richmond Bridge, I thought there were only two lanes, and I assumed that the guy next to me was cheating while driving along my shoulder.
In response, my mind composed a whole story involving an authorized driver who does whatever he wants – intertwines and goes out, causing almost collisions; uses the shoulder as its own lane so that it can accelerate past the mass of stopped cars before cheating the way back into the pack as soon as it gains a clear advantage.
He threatened the driver [through this behavior]who responded with a signal, he says, “Why don’t they just relax?”
I imagined people behaving similarly if not in cars. Those who do not know their own actions, which may call others “too sensitive”, while refusing to acknowledge their contribution to causing this supposedly sensitive reaction.
I signaled indignantly to the driver, but he kept driving over his “shoulder”. I cast a distrustful glance at him; he did not look back. He didn’t even seem to notice that my beep was aimed at him.
That’s when I realized why the “shoulder” is actually a legal band.
Remembering that I am was wrong in the past it helps me to practice indifference when I am tempted to resent on the road.
Practice forgiving mistakes.
I think of those cars that run aground in the middle of an intersection during heavy hours – usually because the traffic lights turn red when they drive halfway. I think about how cars around them often ambush beeps to signal their rejection.
I say this to myself when I’m going to get angry: The enthusiastic driver was wrong. He or she is probably already aware. Your beep doesn’t teach him something he doesn’t know yet.
I realize that all my beep would add is more noise on an already too hoarse road, which heightens the driver’s shame while maintaining one’s own stress and self-justification.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed that sometimes the most reckless drivers can also be some of the most intolerant of other drivers ’mistakes. One day a man who was driving eighty on a shopping street surrendered very unhappy when I switched to his lane (even if it wasn’t a “miss” for someone who followed the speed limit).
First he pressed the brakes. Then he theatrically wandered around me in the alley next to us. From there, he changed lanes three more times in one quarter, dodging cars as if they were opponents in a fast-paced video game chase.
If we remember that we all make mistakes, it will be easier to offer grace to other drivers.
Practice gratitude. If you have a smooth ride, admit it to yourself. Stay in that moment and remember how he felt.
Metaphor comes to mind every time I drive across a bridge without moving (which happens very rarely, but when it does, it feels magical). Riding on a smooth sidewalk without a car in plain sight evokes winter, white Christmas sensations.
This soothing and cleansing spectacle contrasts sharply with the standard state of the highway: usually a long stretch of cars, constant reminders of overcrowding and limited resources. It’s like gliding down a ski slope when the snow is fresh, untouched, freshly plowed and not rubbed by other skiers.
I made a remark be thankful for that.
Even machines like Siri can be your thanks. For example, when a vehicle kills a freeway, I appreciate how it accompanies me on an alternative route. On one of them we were driving on bucolic roads past sunflower fields, while country music was playing from the columns of my car (and beetles were spraying on the windshield). On the other, the river gushed a few feet away from us, creating a calm backdrop both visually and audibly.
Don’t force it, but if there comes a moment that may be worth thanking, register it (even if it applies to an inanimate object). Admit it, at least to yourself.
Humanize other drivers around you.
I think part of what exacerbates and intensifies the rage on the road is the ease with which we can dehumanize the drivers we share with on the road because we see cars first and then people. However, tuning to certain visual cues can restore the human component.
I have found that eye contact with another driver can sometimes drown out any anger on the road that starts to gurgle at my end. Other little things help, such as making the corgi stuffed animal visible (if drivers are angry, the view can calm them down.).
One day while driving, I came across a stopped car in the middle of the road. Just as I was about to get angry at the obstacle, a little Hispanic who was eating an apricot stuck his head out the car window. Juice trickled down his chin while he waited for Dad to fix their car (which is why they were stopped). The innocent spectacle instantly reassured me. It was almost that characteristic level of sweet and central.
Another visual signal is “hardening”: when a dog pokes its head out the window to feel the wind on its face. One day, when I saw them, the irritation began to grow: these big brown eyes – wide open, serious and a little wet – shone over the golden snout in the back window.
I calmed down again, my anxiety spilled our eye contact is to remind us that we are all made of flesh and bone, even when stress causes us to reduce each other to the metal devices inside which we lie.
Take your time, sir. In the meantime, I’ll just play with your cute furry baby if all goes well …
In the absence of visual cues, use your imagination.
Every time I start to feel impatient to the slow driver in front of me but don’t see their faces (or no other visual cues that would stop the impatience), I take a deep breath. Then I gently advise myself to imagine a man in a car.
The specifics of whoever popped into my head doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I recognize their humanity and show patience to those who do.
If that doesn’t work, try imagining one of your family members. And if the driver was your uncle, or a kind elderly neighbor, or mom? Use your imagination to see inside a 2,000-pound metal machine that gets in your way. Draw lines on the faceless enemy inside him. Deobjectification of its operator.
Driving and movement can be stressful and exhausting. In times when it seems like the surrounding cars and I’m just crawling to my destination, it seems to me that I could be outside the car and pulling it with a rope – at least that’s how I get exercise and vitamin D.
Sometimes I want someone to invent a car feature that would allow the driver to switch to “pedal mode”. This would be a great way to release endorphins through exercise (thus reducing stress levels) during these stressful situations.
But until these innovations appear, we can work to control our own internal response to any external road frustrations.