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Zen and the Art of Traffic

Yesterday, we moved to the city of Falls Church. That means that last week, my three years of driving 40+ miles each way (8,000+ miles a year just in getting back and forth from Leesburg to Falls Church!) have ENDED. I'm grateful to the vestry (church governing board) and my work colleagues who have been flexible and understanding the past three years.

To celebrate the end of commuting -- with apologies to Robert Persig, and to real Zen practitioners, and to people who have even longer and worse commutes which they are still doing -- today I thought I'd offer a lighthearted list of...

My Top Insights Gained from Commuting, or...

Zen and the Art of Traffic:  

Insight #1) Just Like in Politics, if you Want Peace of Mind, Avoid the Far Right and the Far Left.  If you're driving on a multi-lane highway, avoid the far right and the far left lanes -- that's where most of the crazy, unpredictable, and even dangerous stuff happens. In traffic (and politics) I prefer to stick to the middle lane(s). But...

2) There's Nothing Like Traffic to Test the Limits of Patience and a Non-Judgmental Attitude.
Some days -- particularly when it's snowing, or raining, or there's construction, or it's sunny, or it's early in the morning or it's late at night, or it's a long weekend, or you're running late, or maybe you haven't had that second cup of coffee and you're tiny, teeniest bit irritable -- there seem to be a LOT of jerks and idiot drivers out there. Clearly, YOU are not one of them. It's them. Well, let me tell you about the day I got my comeuppance: I was describing a particularly horrendous commute to someone and he said, "yeah, a 'jerk' is someone driving faster than you are, and an 'idiot' is someone driving slower than you are." Ouch. There is no "them" and "us," there is only "us." 

3) To Avoid Road Rage, Use Judo.
Road rage -- a hijack of the brain stem that turns decent gentlemen and ladies into frothing lunatics -- is real. It's triggered on the roads, and in life, when anger (which can be good) erupts in hostility (which is bad). To avoid it, try to use Judo. In Judo, you use an opponent's size and strength against them. So if someone cuts you off, wave them, and the next person, in. If someone is tailgating you, instead of obsessing about what is literally behind you, look further ahead and speed up, and keep speeding up until you yourself are about to tailgate someone or you get to a point where can change lanes let the person pass you. In other words, use rudeness as a prompt to engage in an act of kindness.

4) Stereotypes...
Boston practically prides itself on having the worst traffic -- I heard someone from Boston say that when his dad was teaching him to drive, he said, "Don't use your turn signal! That sends valuable information to the enemy!" -- but I think D.C. is giving them stiff competition. Which brings me to speculate...

5) Why Washington D.C. might be a Tougher Place to Live -- and Drive -- than Los Angeles or New York City: 
Arguably, each of those three cities has a primary "currency." In L.A. the currency is fame ("how famous are you?); in New York the currency is money ("how rich are you?") and in D.C. the currency is power (who do you work for/how powerful are you?"). The thing is, there can be greater and greater amounts of fame and wealth -- more and more people can become famous and wealthy, not necessarily at the expense of people who already have fame or wealth. But power is perceived as more of a zero-sum game: if there's a winner, there's a loser. If that's true -- if there's a fundamental shortage mentality in our city -- I think it affects the overall "psyche" of the community, and spills over into traffic where people protect "their" space (and time) from perceived encroachment.  

6) Pod casts and 106.7 The Fan are a God-send.
You can turn a long commute into lovely "found time" simply by downloading some podcasts, or by listening to sports radio. Long commute = abundant time to listen, be enriched, informed.

7) My Favorite Spiritual/Prayer Podcast... "Pray as You Go" by the Jesuits.  Each day, you get a minute or two of gorgeous music, a short scripture reading, a wonderful, short reflection on that reading, and some more music. It all takes about 8 to 10 minutes. But it is transforming, to both your drive and your day. It's impossible to overstate the Peace of Mind that podcast brought to me.  

Okay, I gotta get back to helping with the move. 

But what about YOU? What'd I leave out? What would you add? Let me know in the comments. 


  1. Turn off the radio altogether and just have some private conversation/listening with God.


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