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My hands are sweating as I clench the steering wheel despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside the car.
I nervously check the rearview mirror and note the car is still there.
For the past three minutes, there has been a black Subaru inches from my rear bumper. I look at my dashboard and note that I am still driving a steady 70 mph, exactly five mph over the speed limit. I keep a safe distance from the line of cars in front of me as I calculate my next move.
The “old” Karuna would have aggressively slammed on my brakes while simultaneously moving to the shoulder to let the driver pass. It’s an exciting move I learned from my mom back in the early days of driving. I would have flipped the driver “the universal sign” and I would have spent the next 30-60 minutes ruminating on the jerks of the world. My nervous system would have been jacked up for the rest of the day.
Instead, I found myself immersed in a state of metacognitive introspective awareness. I first learned about metacognitive introspective awareness, or the capacity of the mind to watch the activities of the mind, while reading The Mind Illuminated by John Yates, PhD. I use this book to teach students to meditate during our annual Mind Oasis Meditation Immersion.
I’ve been consistently incorporating this practice into my daily meditation, however, it wasn’t until I found myself navigating the Subaru that I fully realized the power of the practice as the path to love.
The practice of metacognitive introspective awareness, despite it being a mouthful, is relatively simple. After stabilizing the mind on our cushion, with volition, we “step back” with the intention to place our mind on watching the activities of the mind.
The Subaru “event” took place over a 10-mile stretch of road and lasted for about seven minutes. At first, the observing aspect of my mind, watched as my mind wanted to engage the driver through habitual hostility. Simultaneously, it was also watching the struggle between an aspect of my mind that wanted to do the “right thing” or the peaceful thing, which was to simply disengage and carry on with my day.
An untrained mind, most likely would have stayed in the world of hostility and habit, but my trained mind, through practice on the cushion, had opened up a bit and had offered another possibility.
It got more interesting when I realized that the driver wasn’t going to back off and I felt enraged for a moment that anyone would drive so unsafely. Which led to another aspect of my mind remembering how unsafely I drove to the hospital when I found out my mom had been in a motorcycle accident. Now my observing mind had a reason to get curious. What if the driver had an emergency situation and was trying to arrive somewhere before it was too late?
Through the engagement of this metacognitive introspective awareness practice, I moved beyond the paradigm of responding instead of reacting (a good place for us to start!). Spontaneously, I found I cared about this driver. This caring feeling was rooted in lovingkindness that had arisen by observing the inner workings of my mind.
As I turned left and the tailgater turned right, I took a slow cleansing breath and noted that my nervous system was already beginning to regulate. I wished them well and went on about my day.
Every moment, we are sending thoughts, actions, and words out into the world that have a ripple effect. Had I engaged the driver in my old habitual way, I would have exacerbated whatever was happening in their life. Instead, by leaning on my mindfulness practice, I found peace, and that peace incited deep love in a difficult situation. Not only had I de-escalated the situation for myself and my nervous system, I’d sent lovingkindness to the driver.
If we want love and peace in our personal life and to see that ripple effect out in the world, then we need a powerful mind and a powerful heart.
The path to love is peace and the path to peace is mindfulness. Each can be cultivated through a consistent meditation and mindfulness practice.
“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh