Book Review: Zen Driving (1988)

Be a Buddha behind the wheel of your automobile
by K.T. Burger

ZenDrivingFor many of us in America, sadly so I must admit, the act of driving a motor vehicle occupies our time almost as thoroughly as breathing. Eckhart Tolle, in his book The Power of Now, speaks of being content standing in line by becoming attuned to our inner bodies, to simply ‘Be’ in time without any other need. Tolle advocates to look at normal frustrations of being held up from immediate, reactive ‘goals’ as opportunities for spiritual connection. Perhaps in a subsequent edition Tolle will offer a similar cultivation practice for being held up in traffic.

Interestingly, I have taken a part time job as a medical technician driver for a firm doing XRay swallow tests for patients at rehab centers. We drive all over the bottom half of the lower peninsula of Michigan with a Ford 350 van, with which I am still unfamiliar. Thus it’s timely that I have once again picked up Mr. Burger’s[1] book for a third read, now. (The first was in the mid 1990s, then again maybe three or four years ago.) In addition to the act of driving, my new coach job carries an MD and a speech pathologist as passengers. Becoming ‘Zen’ (at one in  pure awareness) with it amounts to a new level of accomplishment for what K and T refer to as experiencing the natural self.

Accomplishment is not the correct word, though. At my age (66) I’ve become more and more attuned with watching my mind and body, watching and not judging one way or the other as I learn by fits and starts to automate the tasks that attend new skills. Many of such skills are subtle, for example, how to best mount a Garmin GPS device to the windshield such that if we get rearended it won’t strike any of us like a Nolan Ryan fast ball. When you really watch what you’re doing, however, the complexity of the skill of simple driving is truly amazing. Then you have to factor in the social aspects, figure out where we are, how much time we have, make the correct turns, make small talk, stop for lunch at a suitable location, etc., etc.

See if this early passage jibes with your own driving needs:

Driving has to do with, quite simply, awareness and experience. In driving there is only an unbroken but discontinuous stream of moments of experience and awareness—unbroken in that no moment, like no snowflake, is like any other.

If you can truly be aware of where you are at this moment and experience everything there is to experience within this moment of space and time called ‘now,’ then you are ‘seeing into your natural-self. And in Zen lingo, to see into our natural-self means to use it—to put it into action.

Natural self is what remains when you still your mind and ignore all the images of personality. Following this, the natural-self relies only on experience and awareness in its interaction with the world. Through experience and awareness you gain access to your natural driving ability, and through further experience and awareness you gain confidence in your natural ability, until, finally, you are that ability.

Experience and awareness may, in fact, be all that natural-self is made up of. No one is quite sure what natural-self happens to be….

Zen Driving is much like the high-level tennis professional Timothy Gallwey who turned to sports psychology with a number of ‘inner game’ books, applying to tennis, golf, skiing, and so on. Gallwey’s mantra was Performance = Self 2 minus Self 1, where Self 2 is the natural-self, the one with all the skills that naturally unfold in time when needed, and Self 1 is the ‘mind,’ the judgmental self, the one who labels and tries to control with concepts, labels, emotions, and “you’re not good enough.” Self 1 is what Tolle refers to as the egoic or reactive mind. Self 1 has its place but not in any area having anything to do with actual performance.

You will find a number of cultivation practices in Zen that are enormously helpful, e.g.:

Cure for boredom—”Now, driving along, be intimately involved in the action and be aware that everything around you is happening for the first time. Everything is constantly changing, each traffic situation requiring its own set of responses. Nothing is left to rote. Keep your mind, body, and senses wide awake, and as you drive along know that all that you see is as new as a baby’s smile, no matter how many times you think you have seen it before.” Page 42

A Samurai awareness—”Beginning with awareness, the discipline and practice is simply to focus on maintaining a 360-degree [3-dimensional, spherical] picture of everything around you at all times. Be aware that you are driving in a multidimensional reality where things are happening on every conceivable level. Sustain a full 360-degree watch. Be aware of any and all possible situations…. This awareness is always a here-now affair. Awareness goes from instant to instant; you never anticipate or assume you know what another driver is going to do, for that is slipping out of awareness and into troublesome thought, which is how you get bushwhacked! You cannot think your way out of a situation; thought is a thousand times slower that natural-self, non-action a thousand times quicker than deliberate action…. Page 47

The authors refer to such practices as Moving Meditations. The natural-self concept is a winner, too. Well worth the read, particularly for those who drive a lot. It helps to render a full experience to the act, making it constantly fresh, staying present and fully effective.

[1] The author name KT is actually for a brother duo: Kevin and Todd.



This post has been read 1557 times!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *