“Mom, you’re like the Grinch when you drive,” one of my girls said the other day after she heard me commenting out loud about a driver’s lack of turn signal usage. I had to admit she was right. Every yogi has his or her obstacles on the journey to becoming kinder, and my own manifest in the form of fellow drivers on the roadway driving erratically, talking on their phones, failing to use turn signals and traveling 30 mph in a 35 mph zone. Whoa, that is a whole lot of judgment on my part, isn’t it? While I can practice kindness with ease at the grocery store and workplace, the road somehow brings out the worst in me. A recent low point: my impatient drive behind a slow-moving Subaru Forrester, which I followed for what seemed like an interminable slow drive while complaining to myself, until we arrived at … the yoga studio.
My brand of road rage is easy to hold on to because it is of the silent sort: I pass judgment in the safety of my vehicle, where no one can hear me. But part of me knows that even if no one can hear, my judgmental and cranky commentary is sending negative energy out into the world. Even worse — it is doing nothing to improve anyone’s driving quality, including my own.
Recently, I’ve been reading quite a few books about the philosophy behind the physical practice of yoga. Many of us come to yoga for what it promises to do for us: a calmer mind, less aches and pains, and a healthier body. But did you know there is a whole philosophy behind yoga which offers – and expects – much more of the practitioner?
One of the key parts of living karma yoga is not just uttering “namaste” — which means I bow to the divine in you — but living it. As such, yogis commit to treating everyone they come into contact with as an equal, with love and respect. This is, admittedly, a huge challenge. Consider how hard it is to treat our loved ones well all the time, and now imagine treating those you don’t like (and perhaps even severely dislike) well. All the time. Yeah, makes me want to give up, too.
But time and time again I return to this challenge because I believe it is a worthwhile one. There are no promises as to how quickly this journey will take, but over time, I will hopefully build habits which will make me kinder toward others.
That day in the car, my daughter noticed what she had had made me think, so she added, “don’t worry, Mom — the Grinch learns and gets nicer in the end.” And yes, this Grinch is indeed learning and becoming nicer to the other souls behind the wheel out there, one day at a time. But the journey is long, so I am jump starting it with the Roadway Karma Challenge.
Inspired to create change for myself on the road, I wrote up a list of reminders to help me undo my bad habits behind the wheel. Maybe you’ll enjoy pondering some of these on your next drive as well:
- I love to drive. When I am behind the wheel, I generally enjoy it, and have trouble understanding why so many people would rather do anything but drive. This is the perfect opportunity to remind myself that we are not all the same, and that is a wonderful thing.
- When I am in the micro-universe that is my car, listening to my own music or interacting with my children, it is easy to make up stories. Is everyone else deliberately being rude and impeding my journey with their driving? Probably not. There is no way I can know what is going on in each person’s car. I can’t really communicate with other cars to ask just what they are up to and why. The methods of car-to-car communication I learned (turn signals, mostly) don’t always work. The bad driver I am frustrated over could have just gotten terrible news, or be the victim of abuse, or be in the midst of a foreclosure. In the case of drivers especially, we never know what is going on in other people’s lives, or what kind of battles they are fighting. Resisting the temptation to invent what is motivating other people behind the wheel can save us from becoming unnecessarily annoyed and aggressive.
- Not everyone on the road is as comfortable behind the wheel as I am. People in small cars may fear big trucks, people with poor vision may be nervous and thus slower behind the wheel, new drivers may seem erratic as they develop confidence in a vehicle, and yes – a parent may be distracted by demanding children in his or her car. Just as in life, you cannot change others’ behavior, only your own. Reacting compassionately, and maintaining awareness of other cars, is our best bet in almost any frustrating driving situation.
The Roadway Karma Challenge is on. As I head out onto the roads from now on, I’ll be trying to improve the ways in which I interact with other drivers. I know it won’t be easy, but at least I’ll give it a good try. Every car holds a soul in it which is just as worthy as mine, and that which is divine in me is most certainly divine in the other driver. Namaste, fellow drivers…and please don’t text and drive.