I find myself on the freeway, a few times a week, driving home from work, and I've changed the ceremony.
Here's how it used to work: I would get on the freeway, anxiously squinting ahead to see what the traffic would be like: how many people were blocking my way home. The freeway was a thing built by a stupid people, who were willing to destroy real walkable neighborhoods for a few minutes' commute time out to their achingly ugly and stupid suburbs; and I was falling into the trap too, pitching myself into a concrete cauldron to get out to my own ugly and stupid house. Ugly and stupid all round.
And all around me the ugly and stupid were driving foolishly and recklessly, ignoring the obvious plain facts of physics, following the cars in front of them so close that even a tap on the brakes would necessarily cause a pile-up. Idiots. Others checking their damned phones: their desperation for validation easily outweighing their mild interest in not dying, not to mention their total indifference to me dying. What a bunch of fucking clowns. And there I was. If we all drove attentively and reasonably, we could move along at the speed the road was designed for. But no, they bunch up, accordion-style, coming almost to a halt and then jerking forward. If they left enough fucking room for people to get over, then they could all just flow through: it's the stickiness of the particles, not the volume of flow, that's the problem. Jesus. Does no one ever think?
After twenty or thirty minutes of this spiritual practice, I pretty reliably get the results you might expect: I feel isolated and persecuted: I hate my fellow human beings passionately, and my contempt for them is limitless.
So here's the new practice. I begin by thinking of the building of these works, which were among the world's engineering marvels when they were first built. Built by the financial contributions of millions of people for the good of the nation, and having served for a couple generations. All those people working in the rain or in the sun; all that expertise marshalled to make these soaring, curving ramps. They really are kind of amazing things. They have downsides: of course they do. But they make possible the daily respiration of a great city that I love.
That, to set the stage. Now: my project for the next twenty or thirty minutes. It's not to get home as quickly as possible. Who cares about clipping off a minute here or ten seconds there? Will I be an ounce happier? will I treasure the few minutes I've snatched away from others?
No, the project is to read the traffic so as to detect the knots forming, and do what I can to stop them. Notice when someone wants to get over, and make it possible. Speed up or slow down, so as to mitigate the bunching-up. We're all trying to get somewhere: home to see loved ones, to the store to pick up a prescription for a grandparent, home to prepare for a date. This is a project we're all in together: and my mission is to help us all achieve it. Maybe I understand the physics of this problem a little better than most people, and I can put that understanding to use.
It's a totally different twenty or thirty minutes, if I spend it that way, and I if I arrive a minute or two later than I did when I was struggling against the idiots, it's well worth it: I live in a nicer world.