The 'Open' Road.

The long black ribbon stretched through the burnt oranges, yellows, deep garnet reds of fall. Beautiful bright colors had taken over from the lush green of summer.  The yellow center line danced from solid to broken, to double solid and back to broken – American backcountry highway. I swished and swayed down the road, surfing on the momentum of 80,000 pounds of truck, trailer and load. A magnetic satellite radio antenna hung on a pair of pliers that gripped the mirror bracket like a kid hanging on a roller coaster safety bar.  170 some channels of any damn thing I please - and yet, after three or four days, 13 hours a day, humming my way between the ditches, regardless of the quality or quantity of radio choices, my ears and my brain just tired of the stimulation.

Without realizing it, it was right there - with the radio off, driving on autopilot, gently bouncing along at 62 mph, lost in the hum of the big diesel engine under my feet - that I rediscovered the benefits of meditation.  Though I wasn't calling it meditation. I had attempted to start a mediation practice in a mid-Eighties dormitory at Michigan State University.  Needless to say, there was plenty of stimulation, and even some temptation, that prevented me from succeeding.  I had a shelf full of books on Buddhism and the spark of youthful enthusiasm but never quite found any traction.  Then life and career, marriage and divorce happened. 

Rolling along, just living in my own head, I began to see things more clearly. I toured different regions of the country.  I lived among people of different cultures; regional and international.  I saw the best and the worst of human behaviors.  I realized a simple truth: that which brings us together is good, that which separates us, or allows us to feel separated, is bad.

After a second divorce, mostly amicable but complicated, I was searching my past seeking how to be happy again; or at least contented.  Like an archaeologist, I dug through my memories for clues. I cataloged bits and pieces; tested hypotheses and ran experiments. I came across the memory of my earlier flirtation with Buddhism. 

After more than fifteen years as a hardcore atheist, there wasn't a chance that I could return to the Christianity of my childhood.  Since the age of twelve or thirteen, I had had issues with the 'F' word.  Try as I might, I could not muster 'capital-F' faith. On the road, I started reading about Buddhism again.  I went back to Suzuki, tried the Dalai Lama, stumbled upon Brad Warner.  I crammed my iBook with San Francisco Zen Center podcasts and listened as I traveled.  The meditation practice I couldn't get going 25 years previous in East Lansing was gaining traction on a three foot square sheet of plywood on top of the mattress in the sleeper bunk of my semi-cab.  Shortly after I quit driving to live and work in West Michigan, the Grand Rapids Zen Center opened. Surrounded by like-minded souls and an invaluable teacher, my practice has blossomed.

My mind had opened enough to let my heart expand.  The simple statement I had discovered – 'That which brings us together is good, that which separates us is bad" - fit like a lost key into a Buddhist way of thinking.  Just like a scientist, who is open to what he finds, not swayed by what should be but only by what is, the Buddha said 'don't take my word for it, try it yourself.' Be a light unto yourself. 

One thing I knew for sure after 500,000 miles, the traffic jams, the politics and the truckstop hustlers, what the world truly needed was loving kindness and compassion. I also knew that it could only start in my heart.  The world cannot be changed by arguing; by yelling and screaming. The world won't be changed by bluster or persuasion; not even by the pointing of a gun. The only way to change the world is to change your own heart.  The only person to convince is yourself.  Do the right thing for all of us at this very moment and everything else will follow. 
Image lifted from http://www.imperfectwomen.com/october-roads-lead-to-all-things-good/ without permission.
   from my Droid
Todd R. Townsend