Just after the 2013 Universal Medicine retreat at the Lighthouse, I remember getting into the hire car, driving up to the junction at the top of the road and immediately feeling my calm and serene self being challenged by a palpable energy of aggression and intolerance.
I’m referring to a phenomenon that seems to exist but need not.
The rather mundane business of human transportation in individual capsules has always been sold to us by the manufacturers of such devices as a passport to freedom. We can become ‘masters of our own destiny’ sort of thing.
Have you ever noticed that in advertising material the featured vehicle is always alone on some coastal highway with vistas to die for and there is not another single vehicle in sight! This clever piece of marketing seems to try to tell us that this particular car stands alone, head and shoulders above all others, bestowing its individuality upon its driver and magically taking us away from the Hurly-Burly of traffic to some far flung Shangri-la of our imagination.
How this can be applied to someone driving down Clapham High Road or the M25 is difficult to grasp, but nevertheless the sales people know they are on to something here!
Technological advances have created vehicles with such comfort and refinement that the very sensations of motion and the world outside us seem to have been suppressed. Have you ever opened an electric window at seventy miles an hour?
But is the feeling of being insulated from reality necessarily a good thing?
The British have always been noted for their patience and tolerance while queueing. When the sales are on, there’s a queue round the block but it’s generally good-natured.
However, put those people into cars and create a queue and note the difference! ‘Road rage’ is a phrase frequently heard used, but who ever heard of ‘pavement rage’ or ‘platform rage’.
I can recall being with the most mild-mannered people who, after a few minutes behind the wheel, became judgemental and expressed regular disapproval of their fellow road-users, becoming quite worked-up in the process. Why is this?
The motor car is certainly one area where each of us, confined to a bubble of isolation, can, if not checked, let arrogance reign supreme and become like Mr. Toad in ‘The Wind in the Willows’, who became a tyrant behind the wheel, terrorising the local population. Perhaps we start to believe the advertising blurb, that our chosen vehicle gives us superiority over others, and that it’s therefore necessary to remind everybody from time to time.
As drivers we seem to inhabit an almost virtual world, with the image on our windscreens a mere projection of the reality outside. Perhaps because of this, our human instincts for danger are blunted, with the result that when we do react to a situation, and where there is a clear and immediate danger, it is too late to be calm and civilised and panic takes over, resulting in a reflex or knee-jerk reaction.
Motor-cyclists are by definition, very in touch with their immediate surroundings. Their awareness is sharpened by their perceived vulnerability. Although it only takes one or two silly riders to give them all a bad name, they are generally hugely capable, aware and intelligent road users. Perhaps car drivers should take to two wheels from time to time for a ‘reality check’.
In France where I live, ‘tailgating’ is more common than in the U.K. and the yearly road casualties are significantly worse. When a French car arrived ‘on my back seat’ recently, I noticed, (as my driving mirror was rather full of it), that the man driving was in deep discourse with his passenger, and using both hands to amply make his point!
It wasn’t that his driving was aggressive, it’s just that he wasn’t present! He had allowed himself to disengage from the concentrated activity of driving and act as though he was at home in his living room!
Nobody likes people speeding past their house or through their village, but how often do we speed past other peoples’ houses or villages? Behind the wheel we somehow become disconnected with what is happening outside.
I too was ‘fortunate’ to be caught speeding in a 50kph zone, snapped by a camera positioned in an empty, anonymous car used by the gendarmes or French police. I lost a point and paid a 90 euro fine.
I say ‘fortunate’, because now I make sure that I am consciously present when driving.
Leaving the Lighthouse in 2013, after the concentrated exposure to all that wonderful energy, I felt in good shape to tackle the negative energy ‘out there’ on the roads. I really concentrated on what other people were doing and tried to anticipate more. Making an effort to be more considerate by, for example, giving way and letting people out of difficult junctions seemed to have a good effect. I would like to imagine this behaviour spreading like a virus!
If there is a downside to my increased awareness and heightened conscious presence, it is that I am not my usual chatty self once behind the wheel!
But hey, surely that’s a small price to pay!
By Jonathan Cooke, France
This blog originated as a comment in response to: Caught Speeding