By Carmelene Melanie Siani
“I don’t know why but those construction crew guys with the yellow hats and the traffic signs always have the cutest behinds,” I had casually remarked to my husband.
I was driving about a half hour outside of Yuma, Arizona on Interstate I-8 when, in the distance, I could see one of those self-same construction crew guys holding his sign. “Yeah, well. You better pay attention to the sign the guy with the cute behind is holding because you’re going to lose a lane,” he replied, droll as ever. I put on my signal and moved over a lane.
As it usually happens however, traffic in the lane I had just moved into slowed to a crawl. “Look at that lane,” I carped, pointing to the lane I’d just left. “Why can’t they all just move over here?”
“Yeah, that lane is moving pretty fast,” he agreed.
Sitting with my hands on the wheel—the traffic slowed to a stop—I had a split second Buddhist thought about how comparisons lead to suffering.
“Just accept the lanes of traffic the way they are. Cultivate patience. Breathe. Don’t judge the other drivers.” But in my usual non-Buddhist way, I only had this Buddhist thought this for a split second. In real time I hated the people in the other lane for going faster than me.
Breathing and compassion just wasn’t working.
“I know what they’re doing,” I said, vehemently readjusting my steering wheel, “they’re driving up to the beginning of the merge and forcing themselves into my lane. That’s why my lane’s going slower. They’re clogging it up. They’re all lane gluttons, that’s what they are.”
By now, having abandoned Buddhist equanimity entirely, I had succumbed to name calling and self-righteous driving.
There was a time in my life when I adhered to the precepts of Buddhism. Until I was almost 50-years old I had lived in terror of judgment from the Catholic God I had been introduced to when I was a child. I always felt that a God who would sacrifice his only son by having his hands and feet nailed to a cross wasn’t going to look too kindly at this lusty little Italian girl.
It’s not that I ever doubted that there was a God, I always felt a sacred presence inside me, but I lacked a language that matched my inner experience of that God.
I needed to find my way to him, or her, or it.
Finally, with meditation and contemplative prayer as my guides, I learned about compassion and acceptance of things as they are. The fear and guilt of my Catholic upbringing had dried out my soul. Eastern thinking and Christian mysticism watered it and I met a god, or at least a spiritual framework, I could live with.
Still, to this day, the most difficult thing for me to practice is the acceptance of others as they are, without judgment or condemnation—including the way they drive. That day, on Interstate 8 between Yuma and Tucson, Arizona, accepting other drivers as the human beings they are, meant accepting them for cutting in front of me into my lane.
“Don’t judge. It’s a lot more relaxing.”
But then, it’s one thing to talk about a spiritual practice in high and lofty terms while on a retreat or even on your Facebook page, and quite another to apply it to the mundane things of everyday life, like why can’t everyone just drive like me, courteously and perfectly.
As it turned out, when I finally reached the beginning of the two-lane merge I found out that it was my lane that was the one forcing itself into the other lane after all.
“I hate it when I have a self-righteous outburst only to have it turn out that I was in the wrong all the time,” I groused out loud.
“It’s all right honey,” my husband teased. “It was that guy’s cute behind that got you confused.”
He could have been right.
Once again, however, I realized that lesson that my meditation teacher had given—the one about how you don’t have to go to a 10 day retreat to practice Buddhist precepts; you just have to drive on the freeway.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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