On merging into traffic


We learn from the scriptures that consciousness is permanent and everything else is external to it. We talk about the body acquiring consciousness at the time of birth, remains inseparable as the life continues and till the end is reached. Isn’t there so much likeness of all these with the driver and the car? Until the driver steps into the car, they are two entities. The car remains inert and the driver is alert and active. As soon as the driver steps into the car, it becomes active and engaged. As one drives around, the driver and the car are seen as one and the same. They travel together and undergo all experiences together. When the ride is finished, the driver and the car become distinct and separate from each other. This is even truer for a rental car, where one can consider each car rental as a life cycle. Then the cycle of “life” and “death” is much shorter for a rental car, than the car you own for 100,000 miles! You have to forgive me. I got carried away. That was not the direction I wanted for this essay. So, let me take a turn to my original thoughts on merging into the traffic.

Those of you in North Eastern part of USA must be tired of seeing so much snow already on the ground, with a good chunk of winter yet to come. May be the feeling is the same for most readers in many parts of USA. For those who are not familiar with the situation, the continuous series of snow storms, each dumping more snow after the previous one is the folk lore for this winter. All of this snow has left such huge mounds of snow, every where. The end of the drive way is like the end of a tunnel, with the main road squarely in front, with little view of cars coming from either side. The same goes for street corners. The roads intersecting at acute angles and the intersections where five and seven roads meet – of which there are many in New England – and the hidden nature of the on-coming traffic are beyond description. Add to this, the narrowed width of the roads, the hilly roads with up and down slopes and the icy conditions due to over night freezing or the freezing rain. It is under these circumstances, you need to imagine the cars trying to merge into the main traffic. That is the scenario I would like you to visualize. Oh, there is so much parallel between this experience of merging into the traffic in this winter day and our merging into many aspects of life!

When you leave the drive way, with clear visibility of the main road on both sides, it is a simple matter of getting to the edge of the road, looking on both sides and driving off into the main road. Merging into it is never really a serious matter. I have done it thousands of times – no exaggeration – and can’t remember a single “merging into main road” event. Now, each entry into the main road, on and off the driveway is a carefully orchestrated event. You nudge ever so slowly into the junction, creeping with caution to get the best view and assessment of the situation. You know the mounds of snow on either side are not going away. So, you adjust to the obstacles and give allowance for their intrusion in your view. Despite the difficulties you make it through. But, one can be certain that as the spring thaw comes and all the snow has melted away, I will be back to my old ways of zipping into the main road. My hope is that the teenagers who are used to such excursions at warp speed have learned to slow down under the new set of impediments imposed by the winter snow.

I guess by now some of the readers are already ahead of me! You can see so many parallels between this simple act of merging – getting on and off the driveway into the main road, in a snow filled winter day – and the many things we have to do, to get into and out of our individual comfort zone into the larger theater of life. Generally we do this routinely, like getting in and out of the driveway on a normal day. Then there are times or periods of time, where obstacles accumulate, as natural as the snow of the winter season. Some times the obstacles are larger than normal like the heavier snow fall in this season. These obstacles do take time to dissolve like the melting of snow as the season wears on. We do slow down and are cautious at these times. Some times we re-arrange the obstacles, just as we shovel off the peak of the snow mounds to gain better visibility. Age and experience teaches us to slow down, just as the speeding teenager – which we all were (those in my age group!) – slows down in the driving habit with time. In all of this experience of getting on and off the drive way, I am alone, the single driver facing the obstacles of merging into the main road.

Now, as I start driving on the road, I find myself on the road, with another driver in another house, trying to get off his drive way and enter the road. Do I let him come in or let him wait his turn for a better time with more space between the cars? That depends on my situation: Am I in a hurry? Am I safe to slow down? May be I am better off to keep going, so that the driver waiting in the drive way,   can use more of the space behind me? It also depends on who is behind me as well as who is in front, their safety and driving habits. In an instant, my mind has to span all circumstances pertaining to me, pertaining to the one in the drive way and the so many around me. This is part of objectivity in driving. I could also be unconcerned about all these and keep my thoughts to the road ahead of me. That may appear good for the moment, but is certainly not a safe driving habit.

One can reflect on all of the above with reference to our life in general. I am doing my “thing” using common resources (like road). There are others who need the same resources to do their things. We need to share. This is part of the co-existence of life in a family, in a community and in a society. As long as there are no constraints such sharing of resources happens almost as a matter of course. But, when we face the constraints – like the huge mounds of snow or the icy road – as they invariably happen, what do we do? Shall we just keep going unmindful of others, like the driver minding his road ahead, oblivious of those around and their needs? Or, do we constantly reflect, care and share? There is a whole spectrum between these extremes. Each of us is an “individual” in this spectrum, with our preferences and choices.

Now, I reach the highway. There is the traffic speeding at the high speeds. I nudge ever so slowly, more cautious than ever. I am about to enter the highway. There is a huge splash of slushy snow and ice from the passing truck blasting on my wind shield. I am blinded for the moment. I am thankful that my windshield wiper is working. Yes, I had changed my old worn wiper, only a few weeks ago, anticipating the bad winter. I am thankful for my stars, since it would have been a matter of seconds between my being hit by the truck, blinded by the slushy ice on my windshield. None of that happens. I recover my composure, mindful of the road and the traffic that I am merging into. Slowly I am in the main traffic also cruising at high speed. The journey continues.

All of the above goes for life on the high speed lane as well! As we do the right things – like nudging the car slowly into the highway traffic and with preparation as needed – we find ourselves actively engaged in so many aspects of life. Getting into and out of them is like the merging into the highway at most normal times. Then on occasion, on those difficult days, when we are about to launch into something big, we are hit by something unexpected – like the splash of snow on the wind shield. With the life skills – which most of us have – we regain our composure. Earlier preparation and preparedness (like changing the windshield wiper ahead of the winter season) also are helpful at those moments of crisis. We recover our composure and forge ahead. Slowly we are in the main stream – high speed lane – of our activities. The journey of life continues!

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7 Responses to On merging into traffic

  1. latha says:

    Really liked it. Very practical.

  2. Kumar says:

    A very powerful analogy, skillfully milked, to yield so many rich insights about life. A few more thoughts on the same: On such days when the roads are awful, we also have the choice (not always, but more often than we think!) to not get onto the road at all — stay home and not get into the usual routine of going out for work or errands or whatever. This frees up the road for those in more dire need, those who have to be out driving under these trying conditions. We can defer our errands and use new technologies (phones, conference calls, video conferences, etc.) to keep up with our work. The point is we have the choice to consciously engage (or not) in the traffic, when the driving is rough and our need to be out there is not so critical!

  3. Kannabiran says:

    Excellent and timely analogy. Kumar’s point of conscious engagement is a good one. While the consciousness or “jeeva” is permanent, scriptures invoke another factor, called super consciousness, “God” for the successful interaction like driver not only enters the car but decides to start the car with various actions.

  4. Nandita Murty says:

    More “down to earth” than anything I have read so far! Delightful analogy!

  5. pushpa says:

    A very nice and practical analogy indeed! Being aware of the surroundings is so crucial for the daily activities of life. I always ponder about the act of breathing which we all do not even think about at all. All it takes is a few seconds of blockage in the throat to realize how the life can end in seconds.

  6. Kavita Murthi says:

    Loved the simple to understand analogy. Must get my kids to read this article.

  7. Like u have expressed,
    One could also be unconcerned about all these and keep the thoughts to the road ahead. That may appear good for the moment, but is certainly not a safe driving habit.
    in this world everyone is concerned about self only. We need more social mindedness, empathy, altruism.
    Even marriage itself is seen in selfish point of view, more like a contract: do what is needed to be helpful to satisfy the partner or better divorce, etc.
    Getting a child is also a form of selfishness, unless one looks at the larger picture. With out that the couple keep looking at each other, it is boring. if a kid is around there is some happiness, some purpose in earning, living —- then at last when we become old, our product – the children – will take care of us and the cycle continues.
    So, what is the need of the hour? It is INTROSPECTION, as RAMANA said WHO AM I?

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