I traveled to Washington, DC, yesterday evening, July 12, to participate in the Kalachakra Initiation being conducted by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. I travel quite frequently for business, and thereby have encountered just about every travel situation imaginable. On the basis of that experience, I feel safe in concluding that the true intention of the ever-prescient Dharma was to guide modern travelers.
Was there ever a thing that cried out more loudly for heaping helpings of patience, wisdom, love, compassion, and understanding than traveling by plane or train? Especially in the post-September 11 world? I rest my case.
If find that traveling is a never-ending opportunity to exercise compassion for my fellow beings. To be truthful, I used to be as angry and uptight a traveler as anyone. Every little delay, gate change, slight inconvenience I viewed as a personal affront. What did the travel gods have against me? What devious misdeed did I commit in a past life that I should have to suffer such outrageous indignities in this life? Is this ridiculously small bag of pretzels a sick joke? Imagine what I was like when flights were canceled, baggage was lost, or my aisle seat reservation was mislaid and I was re-seated between two very large, very sweaty men!
Obviously, nothing that ever happened to me while traveling was personal. My delusional view of the world, blended with my unreasonable expectations, guaranteed that I would always be disappointed with the actual turn of events. Is there anything more delusional than expecting travel to go off without a hitch?
My travel experiences began to change when I abandoned my expectations and approached each trip openly, prepared to accept whatever happened. Delays ceased to be ordeals and became opportunities. Airline employees ceased to be enemies and became fellow beings who suffer and yearn to be free of suffering and, most importantly, whose suffering I might be able to help alleviate. (A big smile and an enthusiastic “thank you” can work wonders on the mood of a gate employee. Try it out some time.) Flight crews and other passengers ceased to be objects of derision and became focal points for compassion.
My flight to Baltimore last night was delayed 90 minutes or more. The consequence? I had time to get a much-needed 30-minute back and shoulder massage. The flight arrived so late that I missed my Amtrak train to DC. The consequence? I caught a MARC train instead and saved $17.
When I arrived in DC, the taxi line was quite long and I was not in the mood to stand and wait in the heat (still 90 degrees at 10 pm). So I walked the mile or so to my hotel from Union Station, pulling my suitcase behind me. (In what reality is walking a mile with luggage in heat and humidity preferable to standing still? None.) The consequence? A very large blister below my left big toe. One that is likely to remind me over and over these next few days that I should have held onto my patience just a little while longer and exercised a modicum of wisdom.