The Unreal Other

Getting stuck in traffic can be a setup for losing mindfulness. I used to get really reactive driving during Washington, DC’s notorious rush hour— especially when the person in front of me was going more slowly than I would like or the driver behind me was tailgating. So I began the practice of coming up alongside the car (if I could) and looking inside to see who was at the wheel. This was a kind of wake-up practice: when I could actually see the faces of the drivers, they’d become more real to me—fellow humans—and my annoyance would fade.

One day I was late for a meeting, and there was a car in front of me going very, very slowly. I became really bothered that this old Buick was plodding along below the speed limit, and all kinds of stereotypes were circling in my mind about the driver. He must be ancient. She’s probably yakking with someone and not paying attention. I was completely into making that driver, whoever they were, an “unreal other.” I engaged my strategy, pulling into the lane next to the car . . . and had the most jarring experience. This was about a year after my dad died, and when I glanced over at the driver, he looked just like my father. In a single moment I went from irritated to weeping.

In that instant, the “unreal other” driving that Buick became a being to me—someone worthy of love and care. This incident deepened my commitment to staying awake whenever I was feeling stressed and making others unreal. I realized that in any moment when someone seems to be “in my way,” I can pause and deepen my attention. This will allow me to see instead a being with a heart and with consciousness, and then the armoring that creates separation can soften.


This article is an excerpt (pp. 129-131) from Tara Brach’s upcoming book, Trusting the Gold (SoundsTrue, June 2021). Preorders at SoundsTrue. Information & registration for Tara’s Trusting the Gold class here

Tara Brach is the founder and a teacher at IMCW. Her events, talks and blog posts can be found on her Teacher page.


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