Traffic School of Awareness

This article first appeared in The California Sun, January 1997, when I was living in Los Angeles for a while. This article came into being in response to the hours I spent on the crowded freeways and streets of that massive collection of humanity. And while I was able to keep a peace of mind sitting in traffic, and shaking my head while yet another brother or sister drove like an %$**&#@ and nearly killed someone, I eventually left with a feeling of relief not having to be inside of a machine for such long periods of time. So for all you who contend with that rush hour(s), may these words help you in finding peace within the madness.

Living in any major metropolitan area, drivers generally take to the road with a grimace; for undoubtedly, the nemesis traffic will be waiting. And if so, that hour or two in the lanes becomes a time of hell.

Yet it does not have to be a hell. In fact, it could be a time of quite the opposite. Yes, that’s right; it could be heaven, right smack in the middle of rush hour.

Most people get in a car, and with tunnel vision, seeing only the future where they want to be, miss what’s around them. And when that future, those hopes, are denied or delayed from immediate gratification, suffering occurs.

And the resentment boils just as an engine overheats in gridlock. The trick is to stay present and not get caught in the tunnel of wanting to get there. As a society, we are stuck in tunnel vision, either staring at the television, reading a book, writing in daily planners, looking for that right relationship, or at whatever else we might be fixated on. Yet the price is high for such a habit, as we have lost awareness of the world around and within us--a world that is independent of what we want. And without awareness ignorance is the natural result.

When driving or in anything else, be aware of all that is around you, and what is happening with you, in your physical, emotional and mental bodies. Observe. Breathe. As you relax your focusing you will become more aware of the stillness of your being as you watch. This will enable your other senses, considered far less crucial in our sight-oriented culture, to be utilized much more efficiently as well.

Another way of opening your awareness is to be mindful of the others that have been sent by Life to share the moment with you. Extend your awareness to the needs of the others around you. Does that person who looks frustrated at trying to get over into your lane need your assistance at this moment? Or would that driver behind you who let you into her lane appreciate a wave of gratitude? Many bumper stickers of “Perform Random Acts of Kindness...” can be seen on the road. Being in the driver’s seat offers many chances for bestowing kindness.

Behind the wheel is a perfect time of getting to know more of your self. It is amazing to watch people cut off others on the road, blast their horns in anger, speed down a street endangering pedestrians, things they would never consider doing if they didn’t have a multi-ton steel encasement protecting them. It’s like the driver in this steel body becomes somehow the subconscious driver that hides in the physical body.

By observing how you are behind the wheel, what pushes your buttons, how you move through and respond to your environment might teach you what goes on in the shadows of your subconscious.

Communicate! Without awareness there is no communication. How could there be? If you only see where you want to be and not where you are, how can you communicate to those around you? You are not even aware of them. They become only an idea of what you want them to be in terms of helping you get to where you want to be.

How can you know anyone if all your senses of awareness are not functioning? It’s like the three blind men and the elephant.

Today when communication is considered talking into a cellular phone, how few people even consider to turn on their turn signals anymore! Communication is the consideration of including others affected in your decisions of the moment. It is an act of communion with those around you. If there is no awareness then there can be no consideration. To cut off others without consideration only cuts you off from what is around you, and alone you’ll be, in your metal shell, whether on the road or not.

Being aware of the situation all around you also helps in making decisions. To be always trying to be kind does not work either because there is no awareness. For example, stopping in the middle of a street to let an oncoming car turn left while several cars are right on your tail, will only cause more hardship in a pile up, due to lack of awareness. Trying to be kind because you should be kind, without the discrimination of awareness is simply more ignorance. And ignorant actions cause only pain in the long run.

All traffic schools are set up to assist drivers in driving safely. There is nothing safer than opening up your awareness to the present. You will become calmer as you arrive in each moment; instead of rushing to some time that’s in the fictional realm called "then." The more relaxed, the quicker your reactions will become and clearer your decisions. You will become more aware of the needs of other drivers, enabling you to make appropriate actions. Your senses will be alert allowing you to feel fully alive, fully aware.

And so driving becomes not a road to hell, but an experience of Heaven right Here Now. And rush hour will become a Rush impossible to describe.

Janaka Stagnaro
www.mindfulness-meditation-techniques.com


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