Many years ago, I had an experience while driving that I’m sure would be recognized and shared by many people: I got caught behind a slow driver.
I immediately looked for a way to change lanes, but it was already too late. The traffic in the next lane was dense, and everyone was going so much faster than the car in front of me that there was no hope of me escaping the trap.
As I continued driving slowly, I became increasingly impatient. Then, impatience turned into frustration, then anger. Who was this idiot in front of me? Did he have any idea the inconvenience he was causing me?
I thought furiously: If you can’t drive, you should just stay home! Stay off the roads!
After a while of this, steam started coming out of my ears. Then I noticed in my rear-view mirror that there was a gap in the traffic pattern approaching from behind. Okay, this was it – my one chance for freedom!
I hit the turn signal and my head whipped back and forth. I checked over the shoulder, checked in front of me, looked behind again, snapped to the front again…. Soon, the opening drew near and I swerved into it. Yes! I’m out of the trap! The clouds parted and angels descended to sing a chorus of heavenly melody.
But I was still angry. The greater speed of my lane lets me pass the slow driver, and as I was passing him I turned my head to glare at this villain who caused me so much pain and misery.
His profile was very familiar. Wait, I knew this person! It was Father Montgomery.
I was not of his creed, but I knew Father Montgomery quite well. He was a kind and gentle soul. He worked tirelessly for his community and was a great mentor to young people. I considered Father Montgomery a good friend.
Then I noticed something strange. All that anger, all that bottled-up rage, vanished into thin air. Father Montgomery was concentrating on the road and did not see me, but at the sight of him all my negative feelings of impatience and frustration were gone, replaced by fond memories, warmth and goodwill.
It was as if all the negativity I experienced was but a powerful illusion. When the truth emerged, the illusory mental suffering and misery cleared up in an instant.
So… what if this was not Father Montgomery, but someone I did not know? Then the illusion would probably persist. I would in all likelihood continue to cook myself with the flames of anger. But… this meant my road rage was dependent on whether I know the driver or not. That’s silly, no?
What if this was someone I didn’t know, but would get to know at some point in the future? Suppose this person is destined to become a good friend, just like Father Montgomery? In a large city, it is of course unlikely that a random stranger on the road turns up in a social situation later on, but it’s definitely not impossible. It can happen.
We can also push this thought process another step forward. All the drivers who get on my nerves when I drive — every last one of them — have the potential of becoming friends. When I contemplate that and realize the truth of it, I discover it is simply impossible to get mad at them. Any of them.
A major characteristic of Tao cultivation is that there is no need for suppression, only clarity. Negative emotional poison like anger, fear, and hatred need not be suppressed by an exercise of willpower. They disappear naturally, with no coercion or strife, when we see reality clearly.
In fact, the more clearly we perceive, the easier it is to hold on to the state of calm happiness. The amount of anger, and the difficulty of holding it in check, are inversely proportional to how well we perceive the myriad levels of existence. Thus, total clarity means zero-effort serenity. This is the Tao of the Road Without Rage.