Recently somebody quipped, ‘If you drive in Delhi traffic, you are prepared for any stress life throws at you.’ The same could be said about any of our congested metropolises. The chaos on the roads, the lack of respect for traffic rules, the rising aggression, can all amount to a harrowing experience for those of us who drive ourselves, and especially if we need to commute daily to and from work. Inevitably we reach our destinations feeling tense and tired, at times even upset and angry. More than our cars, it is our equanimity and peace of mind that is dented in the process.
Over the years, I have thought about possible mindfulness techniques that could be used while driving, to protect our state of being from the rigours of the road. A simple and basic way is to remain aware of the breath. Like peripheral vision, we can maintain a peripheral awareness of breath as we drive. The moment we allow ourselves to be bothered by something, it shows up in the breath, which quickens and becomes shallow. A moment of awareness, in which we bring our mind back to the breath and allow it to settle into its natural rhythm, is useful in defusing any kind of stress.
A crowded Indian road is perhaps also the best place to practise compassion. It might sound improbable, or perhaps idealistic, but it is certainly worth a try. Many years ago, when I began driving, I quickly became aware of the ‘me first’ culture that exists on our roads. In the beginning I tried to do the opposite, by taking the initiative to give way, wait for others, slow down. I have had to abandon this many times when I realise I might stand on the side for a long time, giving way, but nobody will stop for me.
What continues to be helpful is to remind myself that the other driver is just like me, a human being trying to get somewhere. Perhaps they have not had the chance to develop an attitude of caring, which is why they are pushing their way through. This shift in perspective may do nothing to better the situation, but it will change the way we react to it, and the way we perceive the ‘other’. It is important to remember that if another driver is being selfish and uncaring, I don’t have to follow suit.
Tibetan Buddhism teaches a powerful mind training practice – Tonglen – which basically requires the practitioner to breathe in the pain and suffering of all sentient beings, and breathe out healing and compassionate energies. It is oriented towards ridding our hearts of the barbed wire we fence it with, and opening it up to the humanity of others and our own connection with them. I cannot think of a better place to practise it than a chaotic Delhi road!