On the Banality of Practice

Yesterday, while driving through the perennially maddening traffic of the metropolis, it occurred to me that I was missing out on a major opportunity to practice yoga “off” the mat.

To explain: most people associate yoga with the execution of physical postures (the practice “on” the mat). But the physical part (called asana) merely constitutes one of the eight components of yoga as a spiritual discipline. Most of the other components are practiced “off” the mat—including the component that focuses on ethical behavior (called yama) and that includes the yogic injunction toward nonviolence (called ahimsa). The yogic practice of vegetarianism, for instance, is motivated by the injunction of ahimsa.

Now, it occurred to me, while I was mentally cursing the third idiotic driver of the hour to the pits of hell (either of the Christian or Buddhist versions will do), that I was flagrantly and ostentatiously violating the injunction toward nonviolence. As tranquil and gracious as I was capable of being when I was teaching either yoga or philosophy, all that high-minded serenity tended to fly out the window the minute I sat behind the steering wheel. After all, it’s hard to see the Christ or the Buddha in others when you’ve got tinted windows between you and barely an inch between your bumpers.

Which is precisely why I realized that driving in Metro Manila traffic is a perfect spiritual practice: it’s regular, it’s mundane and it’s thoroughly unrewarding in every material way. In a fifteen-minute interval alone, it gets hard to keep track of all the instances where one’s been a good Samaritan, turned the other cheek, done something for the least of one’s brethren, been meek, been merciful and been a maker of peace. And those are just the Christian practices—I haven’t even touched on the Buddhist ones.

So in the spirit of a new year that still happens to be fresh, I’m making a resolution to drive like a saint. As banal and trivial as the resolution might seem, I’d say that Metro Manila traffic can test the patience of any sage—which simply means: there’s a lot I’ve got to work on.



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