The other day I witnessed a traffic jam on my street. I must tell you that maybe on a busy day 2 cars will pass in front of my house, so this is actually a very rare and special event. Let me describe what I witnessed. It was a sunny, sultry afternoon; I was seated outside on my veranda reading, a nice cup of fresh lemongrass tea in hand, when I heard the sounds of an approaching vehicle from the left. Not all that unusual, however I did look up to see the make and model of the vehicle. Perhaps it was UPS coming to deliver me some unexpected package! (yeah right) At this very moment I also began to hear sounds of a vehicle coming from the right. Now my interest was piqued. Two cars on the road simultaneously? What did the gods have in store? From my perspective I began to see the tail end of a black truck emerging from a shady turnoff on my right just as the front of a white taxi appeared on my left. My mind immediately raced to the obvious conclusion that these vehicles were going to collide! While driving on streets where there is never other traffic I would imagine that one habituates to these road conditions and begins to dismiss the possibility of seeing other vehicles. Therefore the thought of an impending collision was in all probability far from the realm of possibility in the minds of each respective driver. I watched the unfolding situation with a mix of horror, curiosity and that primeval animalistic feeling of wanting to see violence, like asteroids colliding or big things burning.
One important factor in this story that up to this point I have omitted to mention, is the fact that my street is very sandy, think beach, which makes for difficult driving conditions permitting a car to only travel very slowly. So taking this into account now, our story appears even more absurd, because this situation is unfolding in slow motion. Accidents usually happen in the snap of a finger. A wrong step leads to a fall, too fast on a corner leads to a skid; speed is usually present in many accidents. So therefore to watch an accident unfold in slow motion is a real treat for the curious mind. The mind has time to contemplate all possible options, make predictions, develop expectations and just generally watch the accident unfold with a level of awareness not usually experienced.
Now with both cars in view, one in reverse, the other moving in a forward direction, it would seem obvious that someone would stop to let the other pass. As we learned in my last blog entry, nothing is obvious anymore. Having become habituated to low traffic volumes, the drivers were probably doing everything except actually paying attention to the road; eating lunch, braiding their hair, talking on their cell phones, messing with their radios etc. So both vehicles continue in their slow motion descent into the basin of attraction that is their impending collision. I had time to set my book and tea down, stand up and walk to the other side of the veranda to get a better view. Ten meters, eight meters…both vehicles still moving unperturbed and apparently unconscious….six meters….four meters…..”Yes! do it, DO IT!” I thought to myself…three meters!… two meters!… when suddenly, both vehicles abruptly stopped. In an indulgence of some violence craving sadistic part of my being, I felt my heart sink in disappointment. They had seen each other, there would be no collision, everyone go home, the party has been canceled.
If you were thinking the story ended here, you are quite wrong, however, as the gods were in quite a playful mood on this afternoon. The vehicles stopped in such a way that neither one could pass without the other giving up some ground and reversing direction; the tail end of the black truck blocking the passage of the taxi, and the taxi blocking the reverse trajectory of the truck. And so they sat like this for perhaps ten to fifteen seconds, waiting for the other to reverse directions and let the other pass. I witnessed frantic gestures being made through the windshields and heard muffled shouts as the heated negotiation raged in the street. Like two New York City taxi cab drivers performing their own village version of Times Square gridlock the drivers refused to give up their positions.
Ide like to interrupt this tragic comedy to say that the male ego was clearly at work here, impeding any type of agreement that would allow for safe passage of either vehicle. I could just imagine the enraged drivers cursing the other in resolute stubbornness to heed way to the other vehicle. It struck me as a grand metaphor for much of the problems that we face in the world today. The drivers each clearly wanted to just arrive safely at their destinations yet their egos impeded a utilitarian solution that would allow for this to happen smoothly. They each had to maintain this big man dominator status and in turn each driver lost. It was easy for me to sit on the sidelines and see the absurdity of the situation, but how many times in my own life have I surrendered to passion and ego indulgence? It takes a real bodhisattva to turn the other cheek in the heat of the moment. Thanks to the chemical nature of our physiologies, when those fight hormones are dumped into the blood, reason and rational thinking are quite effectively mitigated against, and in a split second, actions can be carried out that under normal conditions are unthinkable.
Compounding the matter of ego is that I actually knew each driver to be from a different tribal background as the truck driver was my neighbor and native to northern Moçambique. I could imagine the taxi driver spewing all sorts of racial slurs and stereotypes in his ego driven attempt to assert himself. “I am a changana!, it is my right to drive here! I am from so and so clan, the first people! I am a Christian! Etc and so forth”… being his imaginary internal dialogue. The same for the driver of the truck, as his ego built up by years of cultural and religious conditioning asserted its false self-identity in the face of this challenge. “I am a Muslim! Allah made this street for true believers and the Macua clan to pass safely!… again more imaginary dialogue. Of course these illusory false identities are concealing the brute fact that we are all human beings and that we all just want to be happy. We all want to be satisfied, however our current social organization mandates that we try to make ourselves happy by standing on each other’s shoulders and kicking each other’s teeth in. Our egos simply facilitate this societal organization by providing rationalizations for our actions built up by false identities and self-defined boundaries that isolate and alienate ourselves from achieving any peace of mind and sane civilization. Look at Israel and Palestine, those people are still killing themselves and each other for an insane culturally conditioned ideal. A problem in the world today is ego. There is just too damn much of it. But back to our story.
Finally, I heard the clunk of gears switching, as someone finally took a huge evolutionary leap and had the utilitarian idea to just reverse and get it over with. The egos had been dismantled! Or so it appeared, as simultaneously, both vehicles began to reverse direction, yielding the right of way to the other. “A giant step for mankind” I thought, now absolutely fully engaged in the drama unfolding in front of the house. However to my horror and disappointment, each driver, seeing the other begin to yield way, quickly switched tactics, and gears, and commenced to take advantage of the others good will. The taxi was thrown back into forward, tires spinning in the traction less sand, while the truck hastily resumed its reversal out of the driveway.
At this point I was in a state of emotional confusion. Insights into the ego and pondering the tragic comedy of mankind on the one hand, conflicting with my own self-admitted desire to vicariously see destruction! There was still hope of senseless violence as the drivers now desired to exploit the other, demonstrating that the ego had in fact not been vanquished. And so the cars lurched towards each other, in slow motion, only to reach less than a meter of separation before coming to an abrupt sand sliding halt into their prior gridlock position. I was foiled again.
At this point I became worried that this situation was going to escalate out of control. The egos were just too strong, the positions too far entrenched. I prepared for the worst, already mentally thinking how I was going to separate and calm two large, enraged black men trying to kill each other. The tension hung in the hot, stagnant, humid afternoon air. Not a papaya leaf moved, as each driver no doubt contemplated his next course of action. Then, as if it were his intention all along, the driver of the truck smiled and gave a friendly wave, before putting his vehicle in forward, entering back into the driveway and pulling out of the street. The driver of the taxi smiled, waved back and continued on in his intended forward direction until he slid out of sight behind the hedge. The truck reversed, entered the street and was gone. And just like that it was over. A situation that had built up over a period of minutes and appeared to be a freight train headed for brick wall at 100km/hr simply diffused itself in the span of 10 seconds.
Why? The minds, intentions and will behind the physical actions made a decision to diffuse. And so it was. We can drop our egos at any time, we can change our civilizations at any time, simply by changing our mind, we have that power once the power of the mind is recognized in its role in shaping reality.
My recipe for a human reality is this; take a raw and clean human mind directly from birth and begin to sprinkle with a dash of language, while constantly mixing in culture, tradition, habit and a variable ambient terrestrial environment. Throw in some genetically inherited physical realities complete with all of their bodily vicissitudes, strange secretions and fickle pains, while remembering to continuously keep mixing in culture and conditioning. Depending on what recipe book you use, and the local availability of your spiritual ingredients, put a dollop of religious or spiritual belief into the mix. Now set the whole conglomeration of humanness into the cultural incubator for about 17-21 years, constantly adding information about the world and personal experiences that will serve to leaven and form the growing mass. The cultural incubator, with its stratified levels, tightly regulated temperature and pressure controls, and well defined insulated boundaries serves to guard the gestating human spirit from existential angst and rampant questioning while at the same time inculcating the forming pupae with a value system that serves to maintain the security and promulgation of the incubator at all cost, even to the detriment of the individual. Depending on the unique composition of each human reality within the cultural incubator, at some point the human mass may achieve a terminal state in which the incubator can no longer provide the necessary nutrients for satisfaction and the amorphous mixture will forcefully explode from the ontologically secure, insulated cocoon of the incubator. In human culinary terminology this end state is called self-realization, which is an irreversible process. Once the mind, body, soul interphase of a human being has exploded from the boundaries of the cultural incubator it can never fully envelope itself back within the sedative, larval state of incubator being. Like caterpillars contemplating pupation, no longer satisfied to chew on the undersides of leaves, the humans emerge from the incubator in new form, seeking to establish a personal value system usually far different from the conditioned incubator reality. Although possibly physically appearing similar to the prior form, this new, self-realized form brings with it a universe of possibility, as the limitations and barriers put forth by the incubator have been dissolved. (Note from the chef: this process of self-realization could take anywhere from on average 16-86 years, with the very real possibility of the material body expiring before leaving the cultural incubator.)
This self-realized form of humanness has the possibility of shaping reality to conform to the will and intention of the mind, because this form fully realizes the power contained in the mental perspective. The simplest example of this power being “the glass is half full, or half empty” analogy. Obviously not a perfect form, the self-realized individual is not an omnipotent faultless being, but when mistakes are made and passions indulged, this form of humanity has the equanimity, patience and discipline to deal with situations in a manner much different from those human lumps still contained within the cultural incubator. This self-realized human form is the necessary ingredient in the larger recipe of planetary salvation, without which, will never occur, as the cultural incubators will eventually consume all available resources and leave an environment degraded and devoid of life sustaining diversity.
To return to where we began with this story, I was left standing on the veranda stunned. “Did that really just happen?” I asked myself. To this day I question myself about the events that unfolded that day. Did these men really have this flagrant outburst of ego, or was it a simple misunderstanding with neither one taking it personally nor really giving it any thought at all. Is it simply my own desire to sensationalize a rare and unusual Manjacaze traffic jam and bestow profound philosophical and metaphorical significance on an otherwise mundane event? I quote my favorite author Aldous Huxley as saying “a thrilling falsehood always trumps a mundane truth”. As I never talked to either driver about the occurrence, nor obviously did I hear the internal dialogue of each, I don’t think I will ever know the answer. But what I do know to be true is that this traffic jam inspired something inside of me. Something that needed to come out. So, reader I ask you, have you been inspired by a traffic jam lately?
Photos: Recent trip to the beach with some great South African visitors.
It would seem that philosophy didn’t come into existence until the invention of a proper porch to be combined with a good cup of tea and a slow afternoon.
Evan… Don’t know WHY this epistle just appeared in my computer, but then… I hate computers for lots of other reasons, so it doesn’t really surprise me. Let me add that I LOVE computers, especially my Nellie here, when she’s acting nice! But sometimes the computer’s ego gets in the way of my trying to do reports and Grant Requests and I just get bogged down in the sand, like your sparring vehicles! Love your stories… you’ll have to turn your ramblings in your diaries into a REAL book, when you return!!!