Earlier this week, I was driving to teach a yoga class and I was seven minutes behind schedule. I was trying to hold onto the really good idea that I wanted to teach while I was strategizing about how I was going to sweep the floor, pee and be in the front of the classroom before we were supposed to begin. There was a car on the road and I didn’t think I was tailgating, but since I wasn’t really paying that much attention to driving with all the thinking I was doing, I might have been coming up on the guy just a tiny bit fast. This car in the lane ahead of me seemed to get nervous, leaning a little to the left, then a little to the right side of the lane, but I barely noticed this as I continued to think my important thoughts and drive forward at a reasonable clip.
Both of us approached a stop sign, and at the last minute, the driver decided to pull into the left turn lane. It was one of those maneuvers where he just managed to get the end of his car over there and I had one of those half-thoughts that he must be new to the neighborhood and just found his street. I then pulled up to the stop sign line for maybe a half second before I moved through the intersection and the guy in the turn lane didn’t turn. He slowly pulled forward and then moved back into the lane behind me. He didn’t need to turn. He didn’t need to turn? Then why did he pull over?
And then I realized he pulled over because I was maybe tailgating a teensy bit or he could see by my approach that I was in more of a hurry than he was. There was the turn lane so he moved his car over so I could be on my way. He did all of this before I got annoyed or before it even registered that he was going slowly. I was behind him for maybe a minute and the first chance he got, he pulled over and let me pass.
This is a small thing, but it made a huge impression on me. First of all, while he was driving, he was actually paying attention to what he was doing and to other drivers on the road. How very yogic of him. We yogis practice to be present and focused on what we are doing, when we are doing it. It’s there in the very first yoga sutra Atha yoganusasanam. Atha is aword that invites us to be present. It is like an invitation to stop what we were doing before and begin our new task with our full attention. As in, when we are driving a large, heavy, powerful piece of machinery, we could actually take that responsibility seriously and stay present in mind and attention. (A-hem.) Anusasanam says that we follow (anu) experiencial teachings (sasanam). We have to be involved and engaged with the yoga that we practice and actually experience all this stuff that we are learning about in the yoga classes and books we read. It’s not just theory. This stuff is meant to be lived out and experienced.
So, I was thinking how much of a yogi this guy was AND reflecting on how un-yogic I was. Not only was I totally thinking about my class instead of my driving, but also, in the situation just encountered, I really don’t think I would have thought to pull over and let a tailgater pass. Based on my historical driving record, it’s much more likely that I would have carried on at my preferred speed, offering the other driver an opportunity to practice patience. Or if the person was really on my tail, I might have done one of those driving-slow downs, to send a message that I don’t like to be crowded and they should stop doing it. It’s like I completely forget all yoga behind the wheel and I get testy and very self-involved and I attempt to influence everyone else’s behavior instead of affecting change on how I’m driving—something I actually can change. Because what? Annoying the shit out of people is a great way to inspire someone to change their driving patterns or something?
This was not this other guy’s M.O. and here’s what I discovered. Because he didn’t try to teach me a lesson and he wasn’t aggressive or annoying, I felt really different as I drove the rest of the way to work. He was courteous, and paid attention to me in my car. When he noticed that I was in a hurry, he moved over so I could be on my way. Because of this thoughtful gesture, I felt respected and cared for and considered. I felt like he trusted me and my reason for being in a hurry. And then I felt open. Just like that. I appreciated the guy and because of his example, I wanted to be better and to change. I wanted to be like this driver. I wanted that feeling out there on the road more often.
Yoga really does have the right idea. One of the best things that we can do to make the roads safer and better is to be courteous, attentive and careful drivers ourselves. If we take good care of our own behavior then the impact is much greater than we can imagine. Plus our work is much more simply defined. I no longer have to teach a lesson to every annoying driver I encounter, I just have to respond with courtesy. Take care of ourselves and trust others to do the same. Simple enough.