Much of what we see as burdensome is the result of our subjective perspectives. Joy and suffering are not always objective facts, they are often the results of the interpretation of events in our lives.
By Nabi Raza Abidi
We spend a lot of time driving. According to one study conducted in 2016, Americans on average spend around 293 hours driving every year. This is the equivalent of seven 40-hour work weeks. Many of us in the Bay Area commute from very far meaning that our yearly commute hours may be substantially longer.
If driving isn’t enough, almost everyone spends some substantial amount of time in traffic. Traffic is also almost universally hated. People are tired from work and just want to get home, or they just want to get to work in the morning without having to deal with the added stress of waiting aimlessly with other cars. Put simply, many people suffer as a result of traffic and long commutes.
However, it is important to note that suffering is often not an objective fact. Suffering is an emotional reaction to an external or mental stimulus. In other words, much of our suffering is born out of how we interpret the events of our lives.
Consider, for example, how we deal with our children. In some cases, some parents may see their children as unnecessary chores, something which one must bear with until they move out when they are 18. Others may see children as blessings from God and a fact of life to be celebrated and overjoyed with. Both parents may put the same amount of work in raising their children, but their perspectives may be radically different.
Consider another example. Many people see solitary confinement as an extreme form of punishment. Indeed it is, but it may be that some Buddhist Zen monks may consider it enjoyable.
A lot of our joys and suffering depend on how we interpret the events in our lives and how we use disadvantages to our advantage. There is nothing we can do about our commutes. We need to get to work and/or drop off our kids in school or run some other errands. There is little we can do about traffic as well. What we can do though is change our perspectives.
Instead of seeing traffic as a burden, we can learn to see it as a chance to enter our little “monastic cells.” Think about it, it is one of the few places where we can spend a significant amounts of time alone and closed off from the world. In this little box of privacy, we can pray to God, listen to religious lectures, listen to audio books or the Holy Qur’an. In fact, driving while listening to audiobooks at the same time every day in one area of specialization may give you the equivalent knowledge of a college degree in the field.
So think of traffic as your means to disconnecting from the world where you can grow in knowledge and spirit. If audiobooks don’t work for you, you can always save your favorite lectures offline on your phone and listen to them while you drive (yes, you can do that with Youtube Red for a negligible price). You can also shift between listening to lectures and immersing yourself in the silence of your car by contemplating God. Remember that you must make sure that you remained focus while driving. If you feel that lectures, audiobooks or even praying distract you and endanger your life, please avoid it by all means.
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California