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When I began practicing Sitting Zen, my best aid was an occasional temple bell. Its beautifully ringing sharpness and clarity created that same resonance within my mind, pulling away any stray thoughts with it as its tone gently faded.

The temple bell is also the best aid for my practice of Active Zen. That is, trying to bring that same quality of receptivity and non-judgment to all parts of my life, not just the quiet times. In particular, my practice of Driving Zen.

I don’t have a terribly long commute in the morning, but it is 30-45 minutes of generally heavy, somewhat dangerous traffic. While I try to focus my mind within the Zen state upon awakening, it’s during this drive that I most dedicate myself to this practice. I have a whole day of many, many issues to tackle, so it’s important to center my awareness.

My practice of Driving Zen involves trying to be aware of all of the cars around me: ahead, behind, and to the sides. I also focus on being aware of the sky, the trees, and other landmarks that I pass. If anything has changed about the environment, I try to be aware of it, and welcome it into the otherwise familiar space. I also stay mindful of how I am feeling, without allowing those feelings power to control my thoughts. Through all this, I focus on retaining a joyful receptivity, taking it all in without judgment or hangups.

This can be pretty difficult some days, and not just because Rush Hour on the Florida Turnpike is a Master Teacher. I’ll have interesting dreams I remember snippets of, memories from the day before, or even problems to resolve at work that try to pop into that space I’ve cleared and demand attention. Often, they’ll get some of that attention for a little while, until I remember to return to my practice.

At those times, I let my mind ring with the sound of the temple bell. I let the clarity wash through me, and allow the sounds to gently fade from my mind.

Refreshed, I turn my awareness back to the road I travel, joyfully receptive to all it may bring.

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