Street Zen — Driving to Enlightenment

Zen is a way of life, not a religion. As observed, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”. I found myself ready, and the road appeared.

Photo by aranprime on Unsplash

I live in an area a bit distant from nearby shops and facilities. If you need groceries, you have to drive 5 minutes. If you want to eat out, it means 20 minutes. If you fancy a movie, you add a few more miles (and minutes). The thing about driving? You encounter people on the road who drive you nuts.

This means drivers cut into your lane without warning. Factor in that I drive a bike, and the other person may be driving an SUV, and you barely have time to say, “Hello- Lord of the Underworld!” before you are flushed into his living room. I am a patient guy, but just for fun, I decided to get frustrated.

I gave a few guys the bird. When a car kept honking behind me, I allowed it to pass me by and drove for a mile honking behind it till the person stopped their vehicle in panic, looking at their seatbelt. Hey, I can honk too- with great power comes great responsibility. Yeah, this might appear immature, but I hope you are also rubbing your hands in glee…no pleasure like the vicarious.

It then struck me. This is exactly what I needed to realize the road as a teacher. I had to stop riding the streets, I had to read the streets.

And I was enlightened…

1. Competition makes no sense:

Everyone on the road is coming from somewhere, and going somewhere. Overtaking a person doesn’t make you ‘ahead’ of any person on the road. You might overtake a car, only to watch sadly as the car parks down the next driveway. All your energy wasted. The car didn’t stay long enough on the road to let you enjoy your success (of being ahead).

Competing with people is fun only when they’re going the same place you are. But for the most part, competing serves little purpose.

2. We create our own drama:

All of us come from different buildings (homes or offices or stores). ‘Other Guy’ and I didn’t even share the same starting point (or street) as mine. So we found ourselves running half-races- I either ended up joining them for 5 miles from Intersection X or he joined me well after I had left my house.

Once he turned off into a different street, I came to realize that the race was all in my head. He was sharing the road with me, but he barely knew I existed. All he wanted was to go home for an emergency or a date or just to sleep. He was driving on autopilot, I gave his auto-pilot a personality and made myself the star of an imaginary drama.

Others create drama in our lives, but we have the choice to refuse to be an actor. We can walk off the stage. Or even better, join the audience. The best option- don’t enter the theatre.

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. — War Games (Movie)

3. Focus on what you can control- yourself:

There are times to honk, and times to overtake but no right time for accidents. Accidents only slow you down. Hit a car, and you will spend your time arguing about why you are not the victim and your (lack of) insurance. You will experience greater delay as you recount your story to the police. Getting better at driving is about choosing your battles and knowing when one isn’t necessary. Pass the crazy driver and pray for the souls he might overrun.

We are all crazy, but the trick is to manage your own craziness. Others are too crazy to listen to you anyway.

4. Find your own path:

When you want to get somewhere, you find the fastest route. Traffic jam for the next mile? Take a few side streets to bypass the bumpers ahead of you. Sure, it might be slower than the main road or expressway, but the route you were on was going nowhere. Rather, the road was, but the traffic wasn’t.

Find the route that works for you. You know where you are going, and when you need to be there.

5. Faster may not get you there sooner:

You might work a block away from your workplace in a traffic congested area. You might even be able to see the building from your bedroom window, but if you take your car, you might have to travel 3 miles before you stop at a light for 10 minutes, take a U-turn and drive in the opposite direction to land on the other side, after which you will also have to find a parking space.

Sometimes, it is easier to walk. You know your landscape. After all, Time = Distance/ Speed.

6. Focus on the road, not the rearview mirror:

You do not drive by looking in the rearview mirror. Keep driving that way and you will end up in a ditch. You may glance at the rearview mirror once in a way to make sure you can turn, but only after making sure your way ahead is clear. It is pointless glancing at the rearview mirror if you are not moving forward in any direction. Yes, you might have to reverse once in a while, but I assume that this is not the population’s preferred mode of driving.

7. Focus on opportunities, not obstacles:

You drive by wriggling through gaps in the traffic. You don’t worry about the cars or trucks or bikes in front of you and how big they are (unless you are a detective or a guy in an action movie). Your eyes are trained to see gaps and assess if they are big enough for you. You need to know your vehicle well- how big it is, its turning radius, its acceleration and braking power, and use this self-knowledge to decide if you can make it through that gap in the next 5 seconds.

You progress through self-knowledge, not by defeating every possible obstacle before you.

Source: Wikipedia

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

Winston S. Churchill

8. Renew yourself:

You have to refuel your vehicle periodically. You can’t wait till the fuel tank is empty before running around for gasoline. You are going to plan your journey. You know that if you don’t fill up your car today, you will be late for an appointment tomorrow The same goes for servicing your vehicle- too many rattles and jingles and you will have to get it checked, or your car may give up its ghost when you least expect it (and are most desperate).

9. Shed your skin periodically:

Occasionally, you may have to purchase a new vehicle– sometimes your current one simply refuses to work properly anymore. It might be time to get better accessories, a newer look, perhaps more leg space. Your new vehicle needs to reflect who you are and have become. It is your statement to the world, however humble or fancy it might be.

10. You are not what you drive:

Have you noticed how people behave the way their cars are? A person driving an SUV may become a jerk, the same person on a mini-bike may act peppy and have a ‘don’t care’ attitude. Behind the wheel of a Hummer, this person begins to ‘rule the road’, with little concern for the ‘puny humans’ trampled under the wheels.


To summarize:

  • You are not your vehicle. You are merely the driver.
  • You can choose the way you drive, but not the traffic.
  • You can’t change the roads, but you can choose the best route for today
  • You have to focus on today’s traffic, in order to reach tomorrow
  • You may be bored driving the same route, but you can learn to enjoy it
  • When you arrive at your destination, you leave your vehicle
  • You park it for the night. You go to sleep.
  • When you wake up, you may not leave in the same vehicle you arrived in.
  • You realize that your vehicle was never yours, it was merely for rent

Realizing your true self

Bringing it all together while paraphrasing from the Upanishads:

  • Our body is our vehicle,
  • Our soul its passenger.
  • Our intelligence is the driver,
  • Our senses and values are our navigation system.
  • We park our body when we die,
  • We then go to sleep, to wake in the beyond.

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