I was driving back from Shasta Abbey last weekend and listening to a teaching by Mark Epstein, a Buddhist practitioner and teacher and clinical psychiatrist, on working with the emotions. Mark was teaching that it is a common error to think that meditation is a tool to eliminate the emotions. Instead, the practice is to notice them arising and work skillfully with them. Periodically in the teaching, he asked the listener to join in a short meditation.
I always find it interesting when I’m listening to a teaching on the road and am asked to meditate. Often the teacher says “Close your eyes.” Not such a good idea at 65 mph. But I do find a kind of meditation while driving not only possible but quite interesting. Many of us have had the experience when driving of suddenly realizing we can’t remember the last ten minutes. We have moved miles in the car thinking of something else and suddenly awaken to the fact we are further on our journey with no memory of the last few miles. Clearly we have driven the car safely and competently (we didn’t run off the road or hit anything). So we do not need to have our whole mind engaged in the process of driving. There is room for listening to a teaching and for some type of meditation. For myself, I find it helpful to sit straight in the driver’s seat and take the wheel equally with both hands. Then I bring my thoughts fully to the act of driving. This is almost like using the breath as the object of meditation, which I do if I become particularly distracted in my daily sitting meditation. I find driving can become a very meditative experience in this way.
At one point in the teaching, Mark asked that the listener move into the space of meditation and pay particular attention to thoughts arising and to notice when self arose. What triggered it? What were the thoughts and emotions associated with self arising? I did this and found that while driving as meditation, self co-arose with other. Not before and not as a result of, but simultaneously. When I noticed self, I was noticing other. It might be another driver driving in a way I found irritating or dangerous. It might be my own speed requiring my full engagement and attention. But in every case, regardless of the particular circumstance, self and other were two sides of the arising. When I was just in the driving as meditation, the road was flowing beneath, the scenery was passing, other cars were in front or behind or passing in the other direction, and there was really no “me”. It was just the flow. When self and other co-arose, I noticed that often (always?) there was some defensive emotion (fear or anger) associated with the arising. In the few cases where a defensive emotion did not manifest, feelings of desire were present (I love that car!!).
When I was just driving… anatta!