…curbing the violent thoughts which run rampant in my head while driving is extremely difficult. (In case you didn’t read last week’s entry, I have decided that conquering my violent thoughts is the new frontier.) On Saturday, I grumbled about another driver in the Barnes and Noble parking lot, realizing only after I verbalized my thoughts that I had a passenger — and she had read my blog entry only that morning. We looked, startled, at one another then burst into laughter. Embarrassed laughter, on my part. Humbling moments, such as this, serve to either convince me that a resolution I have made is hopeless or to recommit to it with greater vigor. Which direction will I go?!
A few years ago, I read several publications, and watched some interesting films (What the Bleep? and The Secret) on the concept of the “Law of Attraction”. The basic concept, and I am seriously simplifying here, is that we give off energy that attracts like energy to us. I have experimented with this concept, and while my experiments have been limited, I have found that it works — to a point. It’s all about focus: I need to focus on what I DO want, not what I DON’T want, to attract. Behind the wheel, I am always focused on what I don’t want — a slow driver, or a tourist, or someone who doesn’t use turn signals, in front of me. My friend, Sara, can vouch for the fact that I seem to be a magnet for unsure and infirm drivers. This is one of the reasons that I am certain that I will have a better experience when driving if I somehow curb my thinking.
But it goes deeper than wanting a more pleasant driving experience. Many minds more gifted than mine, from theologians like Pierre Theilhard de Chardin to visionaries like the woman who became known simply as Peace Pilgrim, have written about the need to take a close, hard look at what we allow to exist in our hearts and in our heads. That these thoughts have real consequences in the world.
Many years ago, I was introduced to one writer who has had a profound impact on my understanding, if not my actual behavior. Etty Hillesum wrote extensive diaries and letters about her spiritual transformation during the period leading up to and culminating in her death in Auschwitz. She had many offers from admirers and friends to go into hiding, however, she chose to work openly to try to relieve some of the suffering of her people — and to share in their suffering herself when the time came. Before she was sent to the death camp, she gave her diaries to a friend for safe-keeping, with the instruction to publish them if she died.
In her diaries, which were finally published in the 1980s, Etty speaks eloquently to the point of managing your inner dialogue. “I see no other solution…than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we have first changed ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned from this war. That we must look inside ourselves and nowhere else.” By February, 1942, when Etty wrote this, she had seen enough inhumanity that she could easily have been forgiven for vilifying the Enemy. But she took another route. “By our own hatred…our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves…True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself; when we have all vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings of whatever race–even into love one day.”
You may be thinking it is a far cry from rising to noble heights while living through one of the greatest human atrocities of the modern world to training oneself not to curse at other drivers. But that’s not really true. How can I root out and unlearn my own ingrained prejudices if I can’t even curb this petty vitriol? That is the real question behind my desire to get a grip on my driving problem. Which takes me back to the question: decide its hopeless or recommit with renewed vigor? Taking my cue from Etty Hillesum, what other choice is there if I value peace in this world?