Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 3

Slow Down.

That's it . . . . just slow down.

OK, OK, I'll elaborate. I lived and commuted in Detroit for a few years. I've been there, done that, never got the t-shirt or, amazingly, a ticket. I did have to call for bail money once but that was completely unrelated to speed. Recently, I've spent 300,000 or so miles on the highways and byways. Not many of them in rush hour traffic but just enough. Enough hours in traffic in different places in the world that I can tell you that Detroit Drivers are the worst. In fact, there were only three times that I experienced anything worse than Detroit; all isolated incidents. Twice in Texas with a fatal accident somewhere ahead of me. And once in New York City, I was halfway from Long Island City to the George Washington Bridge when a Yankees game let out. It wasn't just the traffic jam, everyone in New York thinks they're special and were fighting like lemmings to get to the front of the line. One guy got so excited, he changed lanes without looking and rammed his sexy foreign car into the dollies _underneath_ a semi trailer. Luckily, not mine.

My theory is that Detroit is the worst because, up until recently anyway, nearly everyone in town was building cars or had a link somewhere in the supply chain. Therefore, Detroiters think of cars as toys. Everybody zips along in Detroit Rush Hour - 75 mph [at least] and 8 inches apart. OK, in Winter it was only 73 mph and people are playing it safe - 9.5" apart. Detroit Rush Hour was one of the first virtual reality arcade games. Everyone was playing. You're watching all your mirrors and scanning the horizon, vectoring the cars around you and strategizing. Some guy is barely in front of you and you slip in right behind him. You're running so close together, the heat from your radiator is fogging the chrome on his rear bumper.

Once we have entered the fray, we have to win. We'll cut in and out of lanes, pass on the right, jam the gears and the gas, brake, jam, brake, jam. Hell, we'd consider passing on the shoulder if it meant getting the jump on those out-of-state-plates driving the speed limit! When the inevitable happens and we get bogged down, we are livid. DON'T THEY UNDERSTAND?!?! I'VE GOT TO GET TO . . . to where? To work? You aren't nearly that enthusiastic about your job once you've made into the office parking lot.

Lets assume you have a 45 mile commute. If you drive 75 mph, it will take you 36 minutes to go 45 miles. If you drive 57 mph, it takes you a little more than 47 minutes. Is all that stress worth getting to the office 11 minutes sooner?

What about a 90 mile commute? Maybe you're in management and you live out in some verdant, peaceful suburb. If you drive 75 mph, it will take 72 minutes. Driving 57 will stretch that to almost 95 minutes! If you're in management, you are definitely going to tell me that those 23 minutes are valuable. Read on.

Now, some of you readers are on to me already. There is a problem in my examples, though I tried to word them carefully. The times are only valid if you could leap into your car while it was already doing 75 mph! And you'd have to average 75 mph for the entire trip. If there are more than a couple stop signs, or the inevitable traffic jam along the way, your average speed will plummet. Every time you slow down and/or stop, you are losing most of the 11 minutes you gained in the example. You're spending lots of driving time at the same speed as someone who is only driving 57 mph on the highway. Take it from someone who gets paid by the mile, just stopping to hit the john will spoil your average speed for hours.

So, back when I thought I was done, I suggested you slow down. Not only will your fuel consumption and maintenance costs go down, you will gain an even more precious commodity. . . peace. Tranquility. You can laugh at all the stress puppies flying by you on the highway. You can smile at those slow out-of-towners. You can get to work in a decent mood and smile at your coworkers. You will become unbound. Think of smiling at the threshold of your house in the evening. Imagine hanging out with your family without that lump in your gut; without the crispy edges around your burned out life.

There is something else that happens to me regularly out here on the road. Someone will fly by me on the way. At the next stop sign, rest area or truckstop, that same vehicle is right there in front of me; just pulling into a parking space when I enter the lot. Imagine your coworkers stomping in to the building, cussing under their breath and swallowing all that pressure. If you take the slow lane, you'll likely be sauntering in right behind them. Except you'll be smiling, noticing that the landscape guys planted flowers. You'll remember someone's birthday as you walk by their desk. You'll be happy enough to just start your day instead of heading for the coffee machine to bitch about traffic. Imagine how you'll feel that night at home. You'll notice how beautiful your family is, how lucky you are. You'll be living a life instead of fuming about traffic.

So what's it going to be? Five minutes sooner to a job you don't really like anyway? Or the slow lane, smiles and peace? Well, no stress on the road. You're still just a hamster in the wheel once you get to work.


Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 2

Jim Morrison growled "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel." Sage advice while driving. However, certain occasions arise when we are tempted to lift one hand from the wheel and extend a particular digit in response to some traffic transgression that has occurred against us. We used to call this gesture the Tampa Bay Turn Signal.

Try this the next time you feel like thrusting that one particular digit at another driver: use all ten. In Eastern traditions to bow to each other as a greeting is very common. This is actually more than just a greeting. The bow, with palms pressed together like a Western prayer, a hands breadth away from the nose, is the 'sacred' in you bowing to the 'sacred' in the other. Call it the sacred or Buddha or Vishnu or God or whatever you would like. Or think of it as recognizing our common humanity in each other. It is hard to stay pissed off at someone you are blessing.

As we discussed in Egoless Driving - Lesson One, there is no reason to allow any more stress into your life than you already have. Let it go by recognizing that you are the same as the other driver. Occasionally, you get distracted too. The act of letting go, forgiving if you like, empowers you to leave it behind. You won't think about it all day. The stess will be gone - evaporated not from the heat but from the coolness of your response.

So next time you're tempted to flip, try bowing. Put your palms together and nod your head slightly. Its as much for you as it is for them. You may want to wait until they pass by. If it turns out, in traffic, you bless someone you know, they'll wonder even more about you.


Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 1

It has happened to all of us, in a crowded parking lot or maybe a four way stop with two lanes coming from all directions. Somehow, you just didn't see that other car. You both come to a hard stop. With a sheepish look, you mouth the word "Sorry." Or maybe you avoid his glance and drive away as your face burns in embarrassment. Your driving record is clean, a good driver, but you just made a mistake. Everyone does.

When the shoe is on the other foot, however, and we were the one brought up short by the distracted driver, we don't seem to think of it the same way. That guy is a moron. He drives like an idiot; shouldn't even have a license. Now wait a minute. If we can make the occasional mistake, why can't he?

When we react badly to the distracted driver, we are forgetting that we is just like him. There are a few morons out there, of course, but most of us get along just fine. Take your ego out of the situation. The ego loves it when it can feel superior to someone else. When you let the ego run unchecked, you are just hurting yourself. The superior feelings of the ego are short lived, but the stress will be with you all day long. If you get cut off on the way to work in the morning, it'll wreck your whole day. It is wiser to just let it go.

It is far better to live with humility. We are all human. There are good days and bad days, but most of the bad days are an illusion of the ego. Next time someone brings you up short, thank them whether they show any contrition or not. Thank them for reminding you of your own humanity; our shared humanity. They have allowed you an opportunity to practice letting it go. The Buddha says all thoughts of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred and violence are the result of a lack of wisdom - in all spheres of life whether individual, social or political. We could use a lot more "letting it go" in our lives. Maybe you can start a trend. Let some of your serenity rub off on someone, but no trading paint in the H.O.V. lane!