Driving with Dignity

Here is somebody who carried teaching received in the meditation hall out into the testing grounds of city driving. This letter is published with the permission of the author.

Dear Rev. Master Mugo,

The whole “driving as walking meditation” came up this morning, as a result of the recurring situation in city traffic of finding myself at a stoplight. I find long distance driving good meditation – especially in a vehicle with cruise control. The relaxed alertness you described is quite familiar since I do a lot of long trips. Driving in the city is problematic for me, though.

What I was referring to (in our conversation of yesterday) was learning to deal with the competitive tension I fall into at traffic lights. I have a lot of trouble with red lights. It’s to the point (in my efforts to refrain from racing away from lights) that if I’m coming up to an intersection where one lane is empty and the other lane has a car in it, I’ll switch lanes, if necessary, to avoid being in front at the “start line”.

I don’t know how I always seem to end up there on the start line. It certainly seems like it happens more often than pure random chance. It happened again first thing this morning – at the first light I got to on the way to work. This time, though, I had just been mulling over the walking meditation at our last retreat.

You had mentioned the idea that walking meditation could be translated as “walking with dignity”. Sitting at the stoplight, with the sports car in the lane beside me, it occurred to me that it might just be possible to treat driving the same way. A slightly different position of the hands (from walking to driving) perhaps, but the same “dignity”, focus and awareness.

The light turned green, and I drove away, trying to start off as I would my first step in a period of walking meditation. It worked pretty well. Perhaps it was my imagination, but the driver beside me seemed pretty relaxed too.

I’ve tried lots of ways of dealing with red lights. One senior monks approach, of just being willing to be in and observe the situation almost works. It’s a pretty slippery slope though – one quick impulse and I’m racing away from the light. I still don’t know what I’m afraid of “losing” or what I think I’m “gaining”, but it’s that kind of thing. At some point I hope I’ll recognize it, but meantime I’m going to work on my walking meditation, both in the zendo and while driving.

With bows,

Thanks! Thank you SO much for this. Driving with dignity; I will remember that when I next get behind the wheel. Mugo

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One thought on “Driving with Dignity”

  1. That’s a really good post.

    I tried getting to work with dignity yesterday – a mixture of walking, tube and train. Interesting to see where competitive habits influenced me – mini walking races, wanting that seat, and so on.

    One thing that was really clear was how simply leaving early enough to have enough time to make the journey, and then just ‘doing your own travelling’ were key. And you can’t moon around and become late, or get in other people’s way, either.

    Commuting will never seem quite the same again, I suspect.

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