Mindfulness on the New Jersey Turnpike

The Turnpike opens before me, lane lines illuminated by dawn light, red tail lights blinking. I am on the road again, suspended between chapters. In meditation we talk about the space between the breaths, the breathing in and breathing out. Stillness holds the world together. Driving a car is freedom. It is the space between. On one end, home and my life there. On the other, wherever I am going today.

I used to dread the Turnpike and would do my best to avoid it. That has changed. Now I love the suspended moment, the bubble of here and now while moving, even with lots of cars. Driving supports my efforts to be present. The beauty of a stand of trees along a road is breathtaking. The other day I noticed a forest where only the trees at the top had branches. I realized moments later, after zooming past, that a large chunk of forest was down. The trees left behind had not had time to leaf out from their trunks. The New Jersey turnpike offers me it’s curving beauty.

One winter, I drove back from a week long program in New York State. The sun was at eye level, the sky illuminated. I couldn’t stop looking at it. The vibrant pink and gold clouds met the horizon at the Turnpike. The moving cars are stream of consciousness in my own little world of the car. Why do I love this time so much? Maybe it is easier to be mindful en route to or from and not where I already am. The sky is a giant bowl over our zooming cars or busy heads. There it sits in no hurry to go anywhere. Clouds drift, and the sun rises, sets, or peeks from behind clouds.

I love rest stops. I meet people’s eyes as I walk in and out of the building. They are also between chapters, en route.

I am not always in a mindful state. Recently, I was on I-95 south of Providence heading back to Baltimore. A guy zoomed right up behind me almost bumped my car. “What?! “I say to myself. “Hey!” I say out loud. So much for mindfulness. He speeds past on the left and gives me the finger. I see him ahead in his black sedan and am tempted to pull beside him. I’ll just wave at him. He’ll know it’s me. I’ll wave and smile. But to do that I’ll have to be going 90 mph. How much energy I have expended on this little drama. I watch him speed on and chuckle at myself.

In October I drove to Boston for a week long silent meditation retreat.  [Mindfulness on the Turnpike] The draw to stillness helped practical details fall into place so I could get out of town. The highway welcomed me. The October sky was as blue as it gets, not a cloud in sight. 

This was a pilgrimage to the stillness within, always there, no matter what.