2009-11-17

Reading Signs On the Wrong Highway.


I was on a road trip out East to see my brother and his family. The evening before, I had driven across the bluff over Lake Erie at Erie, PA. I love a blue horizon! Cutting the corner of Pennsylvania into New York and on past Buffalo, I spent the night in Williamsville, just off the thruway.

Next morning, out in the moist summer air, I tossed my bag and my guitar in the truck, and slammed the tailgate shut. In the cab, I set up to listen to some podcasts; even a couple from the nearby Rochester Zen Center. It was a bright, beautiful morning to drive the rest of the way across New York and into Massachusetts. I had breakfast at Bob Evan's and hit the road. Good grub and coffee for my belly, and some new podcasts; nourishment for my brain.

My route would take four hours or so to Albany and then just into Massachusetts to Chester. Around Albany, I-90 heads into Massachusetts and the NY Thruway heads Southeast and becomes I-87. As long as I made the turn to stay on I-90, I didn't have to think much to navigate.

On the south side of Batavia, NY5 comes alongside the toll road. My brain was simmering in the warm juices of an interesting podcast. My eyes are open, hands at “10 and 2,” but the auto pilot is engaged. Physically, I'm tooling down the highway at 70 miles an hour. Mentally, I'm sitting in the Rochester Zendo listening to the deliberate, even tone of John Pulleyn. Its warm and comfortable, a good dharma talk. Its quiet, feels safe and over there to the right is a RAMP TO I-90!! WHAT?!? Did I miss my turn already!?!? Where am I?

My brain grinds a few gears and roars into panic. My foot pulls back from the accelerator. I'm scanning the traffic beside and behind me, checking if I can still make the exit. On right shoulder is a solid guardrail. There is no opening; no gap for the exit. The ramp goes up and over a knoll and curves over to join my lane. It takes almost a mile for it to sink in that I was looking at a sign on the wrong highway. The sign wasn't for me, it was for the people on NY5 who wanted to join me on the Thruway.

If you aren't present in the present you are not really living your life. When we are consumed with what should have or could have happened, or perhaps, wishing something had not happened, we are stuck in the past. The paunchy former star athlete, or the aged former beauty queen, still trying to live their “glory days” are clich├ęs of movie and song. We can't make good decisions for our current life if we are not actually living it. When consumed by the past, we are living in a world we can't change because it has already happened. We are reading signs on the wrong highway.

If you are consumed by the future, you have great plans, great hopes for some moment to come, some thing to happen. Consciously or not, we put things off today for those fabulous times to come. We can be consumed by some nebulous goal even while not making any actual progress toward it. Life is passing us by because we don't see it. The kid in the back seat whining “Are we there yet?” is not enjoying the ride. He can't see anything interesting along the way because he is not looking. When great moments, or great possibilities, come to us in the present, we cannot see because we are looking just passed them at some unfocused potentiality. We are reading signs on the wrong highway.

When we obsess about how things should be or are going to be, we cannot see how things actually are - reality. In order to move forward, in a direction of our own choosing, we must know where we are going to start. We must accept reality; accept things just as they are. In this accepting, we don't wish something else had happened. We don't ignore things as they are because we “aren't there yet.” When we are carefully aware of just where we are, good decisions can be made about where we want to go from here, and what we want to do next. We are on the right road and reading the right signs.

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