The koan of the 183 overpass
I've been working on this one for quite a long time (but not during zazen, Jundo!), practically since I first became interested in Buddhist practice. I do most of my thinking in traffic.
On my commute to work, there's an overpass that connects two major highways. At its peak, it splits in two directions, funneling people either north or south toward downtown. In the morning, the southbound side of the overpass backs up for several miles. People inch their way along in a line of cars waiting bumper to bumper to pass over onto the highway toward downtown Austin, where many people work. The northbound lane of the overpass is always clear as could be, with a car or two whizzing past at 65mph without delay.
As you can imagine if you've ever been in a similar traffic situation, there are some people who get in line for their correct overpass lane early and wait in line, accepting that their turn will come. There are others, though, who speed up in the northbound lane, slow down abruptly right before the split, and cut into the southbound lane in front of someone. They effectively "cut in line" - an affront we're all taught to resent since kindergarten. Someone always always lets them in.
This angers me to no end. The person who ignores unspoken rules of society always angers the people who follow them. When I started practicing Zen, though, I stopped wondering why those people were such assholes and I started wondering why it upset me so much. I have been thinking about this exact thing (crazy as it may sound) for the past 2 years as I waited in line on this overpass.
Today, as I sat in line, watching the few darevdevil "cutters" whizzing ahead on the left and then cutting in front of people up at the peak of the overpass, something happened to me. I don't know what happened. But I just sort of realized that all those people are me. Those are the people who are late for work, who don't have the flexible job hours I have, who have kids who made them late, but all those people are actually me, with different causes and circumstances. I imagined the stress they must feeling weaving in and out of traffic, trying to make up any spare minute they could. My heart hurt and I started to cry. I have absolutely no idea why I was crying.
So now I think I'll sit with that for awhile.