- Driving Meditation
Master Thich Nhat Hanh
When we do
walking meditation, the point is not to get somewhere, but rather to
practice, using walking as the object of our attention. Even when we
do have to get somewhere and must drive to do so, there is an
opportunity for practice. Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen master and
poet, has written a number of
gathas, or brief verses, for enhancing our mindfulness during
everyday activities, even driving a car.
starting the car,
I know where I am going.
The car and I are one.
If the car goes fast, I go fast.
If we are mindful when we
start our car, we will know how to use it properly. When we are
driving, we tend to think of arriving, and we sacrifice the journey
for the sake of the arrival. But life is to be found in the present
moment, not in the future. In fact, we may suffer more after we arrive
at our destination. If we have to talk of a destination, what about
our final destination, the graveyard? We do not want to go in the
direction of death; we want to go in the direction of life. But where
is life? Life can be found only in the present moment. Therefore, each
mile we drive, each step we take, has to bring us into the present
moment. This is the practice of mindfulness.
When we see a red light or
a stop sign, we can smile at it and thank it, because it is a
bodhisattva helping us return to the present moment. The red light is
a bell of mindfulness. We may have thought of it as an enemy,
preventing us from achieving our goal. But now we know the red light
is our friend, helping us resist rushing and calling us to return to
the present moment where we can meet with life, joy and peace. Even if
you are not the driver, you can help everyone in the car if you
breathe and smile.
A number of years ago, I
went to Canada to lead a retreat, and a friend took me across the city
of Montreal. I noticed that everytime a car stopped in front of me, I
saw the sentence, "Je me souviens" ("I remember"), on the
license plate. I did not know what they wanted to remember, perhaps
their French-speaking origin, but it gave me an idea. I told my
friend, "I have a present for all of you here. Every time you see a
car stop in front of you with the line 'Je me souviens,' you
can see it as a bell of mindfulness helping you remember to breathe
and smile. And you will have plenty of opportunities to breathe and
smile while driving in Montreal."
My friend was delighted! He
liked it so much that he shared the practice with more than 200 people
in the retreat. Later, when he came to visit me in France, he told me
that Paris was not a good place to practice driving, as there were no
signs "Je me souviens." I told him that he could practice with
red lights and stop signs. After he left Plum Village and went back to
Montreal, he wrote me a beautiful letter: "Thay, practicing in Paris
was very easy. Not only did I practice with red lights and stop signs,
but every time a car stopped in front of me, I saw the eyes of the
Buddha blinking at me. I had to smile at those blinking eyes."
The next time you are
caught in traffic, don't fight. It is useless to fight. If you sit
back and smile to yourself, you will enjoy the present moment and make
everyone in the car happy. The Buddha is there, because the Buddha can
always be found in the present moment. Practicing meditation is to
return to the present moment in order to encounter the flower, the
blue sky, the child, the brilliant red light.
Taken from Present
Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living
(1990) by Thich Nhat
Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.