The real problem with rush hour traffic is all those egos in all those cars. All those cars make you go slow. All those egos not getting where they want as fast as they want make misery. Sitting in traffic is a great time to get to know your ego. Sitting in traffic is essentially just sitting. That is my practice.
Sitting in meditation and sitting in traffic are fundamentally different. I’m not so likely to rear end somebody if I space out while meditating. Sitting in traffic is a good time to practice patience, because I am confronted with my impatience. It is a good time to practice compassion because I am confronted with rage. I don’t tend to feel rage, but I see it in other drivers when my mindfulness skips a beat and I forget to signal or drive too slow in the wrong lane. Other drivers may honk, yell, or make threatening gestures at me, and I practice compassion. You’re so angry, that must really hurt. My ego also feels hurt and a little responsible for my bonehead traffic gaffe.
There is a taoist idea about a driverless boat that is interesting to think about when driving. The story is that if you are paddling your boat and a boat without a person on board bumps into you, you don’t get as angry as if the boat had a captain. It is an ideal way of living to be that driverless boat so there is nothing in you which inspires rage in others. That boat, and car driver is our friend, Ego.
I mostly notice my ego when I am forced to go slow. My ego wants to go 100, my Self is going 20. That is basic discontent with reality. There is also a big difference for me in driving to work and driving home from work. This shows me how my experience is tainted by anticipation. Again, I am disconnected from the present moment because of my thoughts. The driving is mostly the same, but the destination affects my experience. I may be worried about being late to work, and so experience anxiety as I stop for a moment. That feeling passes as traffic speeds up. Going home is different on different days of the week. It’s most enjoyable on Fridays regardless of the traffic.
When we try to rush through rush hour we get increasingly frustrated. As we slow down our thoughts and practice mindfulness and compassion, the hours of sitting in traffic become at worst tolerable and at best refreshing.