On the road to the present moment

Well, it looks like the economy here in America is opening up. Living here in Monterey, California, I have enjoyed the infrequent trips around town, with no tourists crowding our one-lane Highway One on the weekends, where we putt along with bumper to bumper.

Even so, it is nothing like living in the Los Angeles Area or the Bay Area. I avoid the Bay Area, my birthplace, like the plague. Driving there can be hell. Yet I have family up there, and when I am accosted with the traffic, especially around rush hour (more like rush hours), it is time to go into mindful practice. When I do this, not only can I get through the traffic without sending forth expletives, I can enjoy it.


Most people get in a car, and with tunnel vision, seeing only the future where they want to be, miss what is 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, or any screen, for that matter, 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.

Physically, how does your body feel? Are you sitting comfortably? Do you need water, food? Are there any spots of tension, such as your back and neck? How are your hands gripping the steering wheel?

Emotionally, how are you feeling? Irritation? Frustration? Anger? More and more we hear of incidents of Road Rage. It is very real. By being aware of your emotions this rage will not overtake you.

Mentally, what is going on in your head? Any thoughts that keep coming up and going round and round? Are you having conversations about what happened? What you should have said? Or a conversation in the future? Fantasizing?

Observe it all. No judgment on whether any of it is right or wrong.

Breathe deeply through your nose. Hold for a second or two. And exhale through the mouth. If you feel physical tension anywhere breathe into it by imagining that the breath is moving to that spot instead of your lungs. Imagine exhaling the discomfort from that spot.

As you relax, your focusing on the road will relax as well, as you will become more aware of the stillness of your Being. This will enable your other senses, considered far less crucial in our sight-oriented culture, to be utilized much more efficiently.

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 of 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? Look for those opportunities to “Perform Random Acts of Kindness” that those bumper stickers extol us to do.

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 yourself. 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, the id, that hides in the physical body. The same, I think, is the same for trolling on the internet.

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 with 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 blind men and the elephant.

Today when communication is considered texting, how few people even consider turning 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 pileup, 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 is 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 take 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 and Now. And rush hour will become a Rush impossible to describe.

--Janaka Stagnaro

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