Driving Like a Tibetan Monk

A different way to be out on the road.

Posted Jun 26, 2017

I wish I could drive like a Tibetan monk. I’d like to remain detached when cheaters cut in and just let aggressive drivers have their way. Instead, I go wild. I get agitated and yell expletives, especially when someone goes under the speed limit while talking on their cell phone. Invariably, they speed up to make it through a yellow light, and I sit there in a stage of rage at the unfairness of getting stuck at the red while they sail on, blithely unaware.

Of course, it’s pointless for me to get so upset. Many times, I have told myself to settle down in these situations, to no avail. Unfairness is always a provocation for me, but so much of life is unfair that if I react to each instance like this I am only hurting myself. My blood pressure rises and my focus narrows to the level of the petty.

Writing this piece, I got interrupted by having to drive somewhere. Out on the road, I noticed that I was paying attention to events in a new way. It seems that admitting that I am out of my mind behind the wheel – quite literally – did something to my consciousness. I found myself watching myself, with one part of me becoming an observer. This was a different way to drive.

Maisie Grosskopf, used with permission.
Source: Maisie Grosskopf, used with permission.

Almost on cue, a man in a car behind me in the lane crossed the solid white line to our right, speeding up enough to prevent me from moving into the exit lane when the white line opened for me to move over. “The rules of the road don’t mean anything to him,” I told myself dispassionately, almost bemusedly. I was glad my level of watchfulness had kept me from exiting right on top of him. I was thinking about safety, not revenge or punishment, and I wondered why his dangerous maneuver hadn’t gotten to me.

I recalled the way my father drove when I was dependent on him for rides here and there as a teenager. Normally he was a mild-mannered man, but in the driver’s seat he became irate and vindictive if anyone cut him off. Once he pursued a driver who had drifted sloppily into his lane. “I’ll teach him to pay attention,” he snarled and stepped on the gas, riding alongside him and gesticulating. I was embarrassed and afraid; our safety was secondary to his fury.

 It was as though he was trying to right the wrongs of his life out on the road. Anti-Semitism had stood in the way of his becoming the school principal for years, even though each year he had been the most qualified applicant. I remember thinking that he felt powerful on the road; the V-8 engine in our Chevrolet station wagon could accelerate like a rocket.

Has something like this been going on with me? I have to ask the question about road rage as a proxy for other kinds of anger that don’t have a sufficient outlet. There is a certain anonymity in battles for stretches of pavement that may release pent up irritation from having been thwarted in other arenas. Last summer, I was stopped in traffic and was cursing out the man in the car beside me who ignored my signal as I was trying to move over into his lane. Then I realized my window was open and he could hear me with the top down in his sports car just a few feet away. Instantly, I became meek and ashamed. That other woman had yelled at him, not me. The wild woman.

It’s possible that I am done with her. If someone gains a 30-second advantage by blocking me from switching lanes, what does it matter? Driving is like life – you can focus almost entirely on reaching the destination, or you can decide to make the most of what transpires in getting from here to there. Like my father, in my regular life I try to live generously and to consider other people’s feelings and needs. What’s the difference out on the road? We all end up in the same place eventually, and in the meantime why not take things easier?

Why not leave several extra car lengths ahead on the freeway and let people cut in and out as often as they please?  Why not maintain compassion and extend courtesy whenever you can? When someone acts in a manner that is aggressive or dangerous, stay out of their way. Instead of remaining caught in a petty struggle for pavement, I’m going to try to drive like a Tibetan monk.