Zen, Politics & Garage Door Moments


Every once in a while, a person will reflect our own statements back to us (in this case, mine back to me), and it brings about what I call a ‘paradigm check’.  A moment of introspection revealing an inconsistency between a statement made (the paradigm) and one’s ‘life philosophy’ and self view.  This discovery can be rewarding if we wish to grow a little as perspectives that do not serve us (or others) are identified, and self-correction creates expansion and growth.  In my case, pulling down a Facebook post (along with its assumptions) from  the social network ‘news feed’ and as importantly, the news feed in my mind.

I have no discomfort with self-correction.  We operate under the principle every day (at times every moment) of our lives.  Driving is a worthy example. The job of steering a car produces conditions under which most of our operating effort (and survival) depends upon our capacity to identify the need for ~ the timing of ~ and the degree to which correction is applied.

The call to self-correction has a lot of components, and may be more or less frequent in the varying departments of our lives.  To torture the driving metaphor a bit further;  The necessity for ‘correction’ may depend on the vehicle type, the terrain, our skill at the particular equipment, where we learned to drive (and from whom), distractions, traffic, urgency, focus, judgment – all of these things and perhaps more.  But most of all, it depends on being engaged in the present moment…. even above the destination one has in mind.

The need for self-correction can go unnoticed.  Whether because we are alone and there is no contrast to illuminate the need … or that we are within the comfortable terrain of similar ideas, and ‘preaching to the choir’.  The need for correction may also be denied if the contrast between us and the messenger is too great.  Ideas delivered by someone deemed foreign, unenlightened (by ourselves or the proverbial choir) serving only to reinforce us, to leap us ‘quantum style’ beyond that sweet spot of fine tuned self-adjustment.  Almost always however, there is ‘something’ we can extend of ourselves if fairness is our goal.

abhor missing the opportunity for this ‘calibration’.  It’s more useful than a pay increase, being right, smart or recognized.  It may even be the last bastion of peace, however illusive and at first uncomfortable.  It is conspicuous (this opportunity) if one is willing ~ especially if it is delivered by a loved one, a valued neighbor, or respected friend.  We then tend to give the subject of our own behavior and words more considerate review and importance.  It has us slow down a bit as we near home, among bicycles, mailboxes, pedestrians and addresses we recognize.

‘Politics in an election season’ – It’s a lot of roadwork, and the detours it takes us on can draw motorists down to a single lane all at the same time.  Fear we won’t reach destination on time – unscathed – or that we will be buried under a pile-up of social condition, resulting in injury or irrecoverable loss can compel us.  Yelling out the window…. gestures, honking and cutting someone off can feel justified and even bring a sense of relief – especially in the chaos of politics and traffic.  No matter our destination – the road belongs to everyone.  I realize I would rather not honk so loudly or so often that it feeds the congestion, intensifies the chaos and reduces the courtesies and judgments (or lack of them) that I normally consider my driving style.

I think all of us can relate to that unconfortable moment in the throes of ‘front seat fury’….the other guy’s of course.  I’ve found myself giving a little ‘extra attention’ to my own behavior after honking (waving furiously), pantomiming lectures on ‘driving habits and road rules’ – only to discover someone I know (with his or her window rolled down), is looking back at me, blank stare of disbelief meeting mine If  this were an ‘actual’ rather than ‘fictional’ (eckhemmm) accounting of my behavior….I would certainly be under some level of self-review.

Small thing?…big thing?……depends.  One hand on the wheel – one hand raised towards the traffic,  an edge of frustration framed on my face….barely restraining a wellspring of expletives. Then the familair face comes into view….a face I recognize.  All of a sudden the ‘ffff’ or the ‘jeee’ postured definitively on my lips doesn’t sit there so comfortably–  freeze-framed in view by a neighbor whom I care about….who’s children I have seen….who’s interests, integrity, neighborhood street and local market are among the things we share in common. 

Will this affect the friendly wave we exchange on the occasions we come and go from home at the same time? – Probably not.  Will it permanently change the neighborhood, what I think of them, or they of me?  Not terribly likely if I have been a neighbor for a time, with pleasant and sincere exchanges, genuine affection within authentic community that seems enjoyed by all.  These moments and gestures may not be so egregious, perhaps ‘laughed off affectionately, or may not have been given a second thought.  It certainly will not command the same consideration you or I would give it, should we be the one ‘out-of-character’ in the moment.  Lowering our (hopefully gesture-free) hand from the interior headliner, discreetly wiping a crease of contempt from our lips – A contortional-reflex morphing a scowel into a familiar friendly smile, and a gesture into a ‘wave hello’ passing slowly into the driveway.   Urgent for the salvation of a garage door closing behind us.

Whether or not it was ever thought of again, thought of at all, laughed off entirely, forgiven or forgotten – I am somehow (and for the better) forever changed.  Traffic, weather conditions, snowbirds or fender benders – these are not the things of which my neighborhood is comprised.  Rush hour or Sunday morning – come rain or come shine – politics or potholes…..my neighborhood is comprised of me and by that which I bring to it.   This is true no matter what goes on in the distance and false anonymity of traffic, politics or the ‘rest of the world’.

It occurs to me as I draw back the curtains in my mind, letting the fresh air and sunshine of small moments blow through me, lighting the room where my core awareness sleeps,(sometimes, too late into that day).  The clarity that ‘the rest of the world’ is not in the distance, and what’s ‘out there’ is what I bring to my small corner…. It’s a million small corners just like mine….just like yours.

……it occurs also that revelation can seem corny – too cliché for sincere conversation, or for serious print in a name brand greeting card.  But the message remains just as relevant, if not ‘burning bush and tablet’ clear.  I will drive better this month…perhaps even into the next year.  I will treat the other motorists with more consideration, not be so rigid or random at assigning blame.  I will remain aware still that there are careless drivers- with self interest and blatant disregard.  But that judgment should not be issued so broadly or by assumption…..and may not so often be for me to assign.  I can neither see character nor destination so definitively by a narrow glimpse of right and left turns – in traffic or in politics. 

I will drive for myself and for my neighbors today…. especially when traveling out of town.  I’ll remember how important the streets are, as though I were driving closer to home.  I’ll remember the surprising importance of the reflection I am to the world…. bring a little less tension to the road where it narrows, looking for spots where both cars can considerately pass.

Introspection is vital and regenerative.  Philosophers, teachers, leaders, change-making humanitarians and the higher order of judges and attorneys know this.  It fosters the simple yet emancipating ‘change within’ ever influencing outwardly.  Often, politicians can’t afford to demonstrate this type of self-review and the visible fine-tuning it demands – not publicly anyway.  Which means we can’t afford not to, nor overlook the calibrations that follow.  Not in a season such as this.

There is nothing so productive as competing ideas, different maps with alternate destinations in mind.  As long as we honor the rules of the road… and know coming home is part of the drive.  Sometimes it is necessary to put a distance between one and another to contribute, and even persuade effectively for those things in which we believe.  Just as sometimes the safe thing to do is ‘not’ wave someone through. How we define that distance, and how we go about expressing it, we will live with in our neighborhoods, governments and even schoolyards – perhaps for years, generations or a lifetime.

No one divides us but ourselves I’ve realized….in the moment of simple introspection.  If someone honks back, ‘take a listen’.  It may be your neighbor, your friend, or your awareness, from your not-so-distant corner of the world.  And mostly watch for children…. they share the road as well as our ideas in that wave to a neighbor coming home. 

Whether the subject is our vacations, our politics or our lives – Whether the line of respect is crossed half the width of a tire, or the entire center divide – Whether it’s a life on track or one spiraling out of control – It is the small and important self corrections we make that set both course & condition –  and a safe arrival with peace and room for all.