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Craziness on the Road: How to Stay Calm Under Pressure

    A friend of mine recently said that drivers on the road today make a simple trip to the grocery store a frightening experience. Just a few days ago, I myself was traveling on the two lane highway near my home and noticed a large truck hurtling toward me in my lane, evidently passing someone else. Only a slim, rocky shoulder on my side stood between me and the next world.

    My experience, unhappily, is not unique. More and more, drivers act out of passion and impatience, not out of what is safe and considerate. For most of us, the roads are not optional; we have to drive to get where we need to go, and we really feel we are stuck with the mess with no way out. But there is a saying in Chinese called �dangerous opportunity.� This means that the true peace is not gotten in tranquil times, but in great tumult and agitation. Nothing could better describe out roadways and their daily craziness. So here are six ways I have found to use this craziness for greater peace:

    Setting our intent The quality of attention is paramount; it can convert each trip in the car into a sacrament that is holy. I find that, before I drive out for any trip, it helps to hold in mind the purpose for the journey. If, for example, I am heading out to pick up groceries for a party my family will be having, I think, this is not just me; I am part of that greater circle for whom this trip is for, and that circle will protect me. It is more than just me, and I must show this journey the respect it deserves by allowing ample time for it. If I get into my car with this resolve, then when someone passes me over the double line, they disturb my attention, not me. The way to a higher, more civilized interrelation on the roads doesn�t begin not with others, but right with us.

    Keeping a cell phone There are situations that will shatter any peace. Once when my wife was driving home from her evening French class, a driver cut her off on the highway onramp, crashed into the ramp ahead of her, then swerved back onto the roadway, evidently speeding from the police. She immediately called highway patrol, and when she got home, the feeling that she had helped remove a true menace from the road and saved others was what gave her the most comfort. Dangerous situations, such as someone driving this recklessly, or an accident, or a dangerous object in the roadway, should be reported to the authorities. They are less likely to shatter our peace if if we know reach help and protect others from them.

    Empathy with other drivers Say you are turning right out of a shopping center and no one will let you into the roadway. There is a green light up about a block, and everyone is racing to catch it. Even when it turns red, no one lets you in. We want to yell or honk or flip them off, we are so angry. But here is where, fully in our feelings of anger, we can actually find an island of peace. If, for example, I have set my intent and allowed ample time for my trip, I can sense the frustration each driver is in, the feverish hope they will get ahead, running to overtake time itself, and hope deeply for them that they will turn instead toward slowness and peace.

    Reaffirming our intent If we drive in speeded up roadways sick with hurry, then in a very real way, our own mind-stream has helped to create them, or assented to the ever more out-of-control fastness. But if we remember in our hearts the desperation of these inconsiderate drivers, it will enable us to remember, I went on this trip to buy groceries for our party. Not just I, but all who are coming send our thoughts of peace and consideration into the greater mind. Every unpleasant situation on the road is a chance to slow down the feverish pace of our own thinking, because it offers greater challenge and make us draw deeper in ourselves to get peace that will stay very long with us.

    Using a mantram to keep our calm Our world is the collective sum of all mental energies of six billion people. So long as the speed of the mind is not under control, destructive thoughts will gain momentum, and out of control speed will make our roadways a living nightmare. We may think the power of one person who stands up and says no to speed is insignificant. But the example of a slowed-down mind is such that one clear thinking, compassionate individual, appealing just with who they are to all that is best in human nature, can help turn back the destructive course in which things have been moving. That is why I recommend the choice of a mantram, a time-honored spiritual syllable like Om or Jesus, which calls not just upon our own powers of mind, but on the peace in the collective consciousness of centuries. If in our deepest consciousness we say the mantram and affirm, I will live in a speed-free world, where roadways are again safe and people treat each other with kindness, then that is the world we can achieve.

    Co-creating peace When my wife and I moved to our small California town five years ago, the roads were quiet and slow. But it became a tourist destination, and traffic grew so great that walking out in a crosswalk became no longer a legal right, but a prayer to the oncoming drivers who really did look like they would mow you down. We tried two things: first, we redoubled our efforts at meditation, which is the basic tool for calming and slowing the furious thoughts in the mind. Then we said with the full powers of awareness, we will live in a place where drivers show courtesy. This is the world we co-create for ourselves.

    Just after the first of the year, added patrolmen began to appear on the roadways. Not only that, two articles appeared on the front page of the Living section, both announcing the new crackdown on speeders and the resolve of the citizens to have safe roads again. From a crazy speed that would scare any pedestrian from attempting to cross the driving abruptly changed; people now drive below the speed limit and watch carefully. I do not think it is coincidence that our meditative thoughts and strong resolve to live in such a place helped bring these events about. No one of us is insignificant; our thoughts and intent, made stronger through meditation, assuredly affect this planet.

    � Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal

    Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditatio. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran�s edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step programs.

    Visit Stephen�s work at www.directawakenings.com