Most of us spend a considerable amount of time behind the wheel, and often in traffic on busy roads. Driving can be either a pleasurable and relaxing experience, or a journey full of frustration, anxiety, and tension.
What stands between a good driving experience and one filled with negative emotions? Many people think that the difference is due to the behavior of our fellow drivers. They believe that other drivers are driving too fast, too slow, cutting off, failing to signal, etc. The truth is that the great majority of negative emotions associated with our driving experience are a result of driving with our ego in command.
Our perceptions of other drivers are rooted in our own assumptions regarding their intentions and our frame of mind when we are driving. If we think that our fellow drivers are selfish, aggressive, and out for themselves, then our responses to their actions will be defensive, assertive (combative), and an occasion to show them that “they are not going to get away with that behavior”. Our ego will tell us that they are being careless, distracted, and taking unnecessary risks that could result in damage or injury to other vehicles and drivers.
Our perceptions of other drivers’ intentions are influenced by our own moods. If we are frustrated and anxious because we are late for an appointment, those feelings get projected into the intentions of other drivers. Unruly children in the back seat can contribute to our own anxiety and stress while driving. The fact that we have just been “cut off” does not consider the fact that we were positioned in the other driver’s blind spot where we are invisible to them.
When we are frustrated or impatient our ego views all events that impede our forward movement to our destination as personal affronts. A “Baby on Board” sign or a dog in the passenger seat in the vehicle ahead of us is a hint that the driver may be taking precautions or driving slowly. Even so, the ego in us says that we have as much right to the road as anyone else, and that any infringement on that right is to be defended, even if such defenses are expressed as inappropriate responses (horn blowing, tail gating, or various forms of “road rage”).
Before my learning, my ego had often caused me to intentionally tail-gate a vehicle that suddenly and without notice or signaling moved into my lane (I own it), only inches from my front bumper. “They cut me off and I’m going to teach them a lesson” my ego says as I continued driving dangerously close to the rear of the other vehicle at highway speed. I am fully aware that if for any reason that they suddenly brake, I will be unable to avoid hitting them, but my ego does not care. Revenge is sweet! Or is it?
My ego would not allow me to consider the fact that the other driver may have been lost, could not see me, had a child on board, or was simply not paying attention. Who pays the price for my egoistic attitude? I am the one who paid by creating my own anxiety, frustration and stress.
I have learned that driving with my ego is a cop-out. It takes a lot more self control and discipline to let it go. Letting it go does not make me a wimp. Letting it go preserves my inner peace. The real battle going on is not between me and other drivers. The real contest is between my ego and my desire for a safe and peaceful journey. The winner of this internal contest will determine whether I spend my time driving in a state of war with other drivers or at peace with myself.
What I have learned from driving in traffic is that I must not take any actions by other drivers personally. It is extremely rare that drivers are on the road with the intention of frustrating and causing problems for their fellow drivers. And even if such were the case, the least beneficial response for me would be to be provoked into an unconsidered action.
I have learned that inner peace engenders outer peace. The secret to inner peace when I am driving is to consciously pause when I feel the first heat of anger, frustration, or anxiety rising from an incident. That short pause before responding creates a space where I can decide to go to war or to live in peace. When I make it a practice to not take my driving experiences personally, peace within generates peace without. Letting things go means that I am not allowing myself to be the victim of my ego, and that my ego is not making victims of others. If we desire a peaceful and enjoyable journey, put the ego in the trunk and leave it there.