Road rage can be a precious thing. Hear me out.
Have you ever ridden your bike just behind a souped up SUV that’s swerving slowly towards the right side curb as the driver text messages? And after you pass this effer (delivering a steely stare as you go by that says ‘you’re an effer,’) he peels out to catch you at the next stop sign and screams that you’re the reason why people hate cyclists.
I have experienced this.
Afterwards, I white-knuckled my handlebars, thought of all the things I should have said, and muttered epithets all the way to -funny enough- my yoga class. I regretfully admit that a base part of me fantasized about taking a bike lock to his glittering paint job. Of course, that’s horrible.
Point being, I seldomly feel the 9.1 Richter Scale anger that road rage inspires.
In a car, I also feel similar anger when I get cut off and given the finger by a spidery hipster who leaves me with the harassing last image of his gaunt, pasty butt cheeks, like bread dough failed to rise, peaking out of skinny jeans. (And I’m the one who usually think hipsters are quite adorable with their lattes and ironic ’80s flair.)
Road rage. Everyone has a story or 50 similar to the above. The boiling anger and seething ferocity that froths up around these incidents totally sucks. I despise feeling all my bristles standing on edge and like my nails are about to spring into claws. In these situations, adrenalin dissolves all of my fear, and I kind of feel like a werewolf.
I am a cyclist, motorist, and pedestrian, so I can’t demonize “those cyclists!” or “those car drivers!” But I can see how other people do. That dynamic builds hate, perpetuates the enmity that divides us, and does no good. To blame one group is surely to miss the truth of the matter.
(And, everyone makes mistakes. Maybe give the SUV the benefit of the doubt. Why not? He’s the one who has to drive around in a car all day.)
Coming back full circle to yoga and why road rage can be precious. Imagine an evening meditation class about compassion, patience, and tolerance. The Dalai Lama is quoted:
“Out of [all afflictive or negative emotions,] hatred and anger are the greatest obstacles to developing compassion and altruism, and they destroy one’s virtue and calmness of mind…Our power of judgement becomes inoperable…It’s almost like you have become insane.”
This meditation class is taught in a tank-top-warm yoga studio, equipped with trendy loft-style windows and “Serenity” incense burning unobtrusively in the corner. Rosy-cheeked yoga students perch like happy Lululemon sparrows on fluffy Feng Shui-arranged cushions on a hardwood floor spotless enough to lick.
In comparison to a space designed for optimal chakra balance, the site of a near collision at busy intersection presents a distilled situation incredibly prone to causing rage. A perfect Incredible Hulk scenario is created, and it can be a lazer sharp opportunity to make yourself a better (less angry) person and not unleash a raging beast.
Trying to calm yourself down and finding equilibrium after a road rage incident is like hand-to-hand combat, whereas seeking calm in meditation is like non-contact sparing with bottle of mineral water nearby. Dealing with road rage is a heavy-weight, double-diamond way to hone skills -that you’ve learned in meditation or otherwise- and cultivate positive action.
“Hatred has no benefit at all. It is always totally negative,” says the Dalai Lama. In the spirit of turning an instance of hate or anger into a learning moment, road rage can be an ugly little gift. By raising awareness of your emotions after a road rage incident and not giving into the negativity, you participate in a grand form of transportation activism by not perpetuating divisiveness. Go you.
It’s not easy to give the person who almost ran you over the benefit of the doubt. (And by not easy, I mean damned hard.) Maybe they were just laid off or dumped or had a rough night. Maybe they are just an ignorant fuddly-dink, and you try to have compassion for that. Maybe you don’t think about it too much and just let it go because the anger only harms you. However you want to frame it is your own business.
Road rage sucks. But I’m not quite satisfied with leaving it passively at that. Road rage is also like Robert Frost’s fork in the road, for better or worse.
* Quotes from “The Art of Happiness” by HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler