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2014 has been a year of travel for me. I found myself flying domestically and internationally very often, and taking long cab rides to and from airports. If you travel much, you know that most taxi drivers do not notice much about their passengers, but there is a small group of drivers that represent the village elders of our society. These are the drivers who spend their entire workdays listening to people and observing their behavior, and over time model their collective stories into insightful life-perspectives. If you are lucky (as I have been on several occasions), such drivers will share their advice with you, and anchor it in a good story that will help you pass the time on your ride.

Here is some free advice I was able to gather from taxi drivers that I decided to adopt as my 2015’s New Years’ resolutions:

  1. Be mindful of change and adapt to it

Last month, I used Uber for the first time, going to Logan International Airport in Boston. When the car arrived, I was greeted by a cheerful driver who introduced himself with a big smile. It was my first time using Uber, and I was curious about the way it works, so I asked a few questions. The driver was happy to share his experience, and to lay out his view of pros and cons. The taxi business is changing rapidly, and that new services like GetTaxi and Uber offer more possibilities to drivers, but at the same time introduce competition. “The main thing though”, he said, “Is to be flexible. To understand that things are changing and not to cling to the old way things used to be, or to the way you would like them to be”. His motto in life, is to always be on the lookout for changes, and when change happens, “embrace it ride it like a wave, and never resist it.”

Being unattached to outcomes, is clearly a major principle in many wisdom traditions [1], and in several modern streams of psychology [2]. When I was riding from coast to coast four years ago, I met with different authors and scientists (Ride of Your Life) [3]. In our conversations, this the topic surfaced several times. Deepak Chopra shared a favorite saying that comes from the Yoga Vasistha: “Infinite flexibility is the secret of immortality”, and Coach Caroline Miller told me a story of how awareness to change can save lives:

“Many of the people who survived the Sri Lanka tsunami were the fishermen who move slowly and cast their nets deliberately. They saw and felt the water rising before anyone else because they live so mindfully, and they went to higher ground. To be aware, we have to get quiet.”

  1. Identify the negative, so you can push it aside

Earlier in the year, I took a taxi to JFK Airport in New York. Leaving around 4pm, we got caught in rush-hour traffic, and the ride ended up being two hours long. The driver was a young father, and we started talking about parenting and about what it means to be a father. After one hour of chatting, we reached the Van Wyck Expressway, and traffic came to a complete halt. It felt like we’d exhausted our topics for conversation. Then, after a few moments of silence, the driver said “children are pure, one really has to remember this”. I responded, saying that I agree, but I felt a little puzzled by this sentence, coming out of context after a long pause. And then, he started to cry. I am usually not disturbed by strong displays of emotion, but I was completely unprepared for this to happen. Nothing in our conversation seemed to go deeper than small-talk. In the hour that followed until we reached the airport, I learned that the driver was molested as a child. He felt surprised that he allowed himself to talk about this to a stranger in his taxi, yet something in the combination of the traffic, the long ride, and the topic of the conversation must have created a moment of deeper connection that evoked it. The strangest part was that after a few uncomfortable moments, we continued to talk about it naturally, as if it was no big deal.

We had the entire conversation without looking at each other, with him staring at the road with his back to me. Then, we arrived at the airport, he got out of the car and we finally looked at each other, and he said “I am 44 now, and this was many years ago, and a lot of other things happened in my life since, both good and bad. The one thing I learned is that there is a lot of good in life, and you have the slide the bad sideways, just like a curtain, to see all that is good. Once I’d done that, it brought a lot of light in my life.”

  1. Use your money

On another cab ride to Logan Airport, I asked the cabbie about the fare, and we started talking about money. It was a sunny Saturday morning, and we were both in the mood for a good story. The driver told me about his co-worker who was known for being frugal. He lived in a tiny apartment in one of the worst neighborhoods in Boston, wore the same old clothes for years, would walk for miles in the snow to save gas, and never went on vacation or out to a restaurant. At some point, he stopped seeing his adult children, because he was reluctant to spend any money on them. One day, this man did not show up for work, and a few days later, was found dead in his house. He died of heart failure, and left over a million unused dollars in the bank. He did not leave a will, and the court ruled that his estranged children were not entitled to his inheritance, since they had not seen him in a number of years. The state ended up getting all that he had saved. Hundreds of unused vacations, meals, and outings that he could have spent with his kids, hundreds of lost hours of driving a luxury car in the snow, and many lost evenings spent quietly in front of the fireplace. All gone. The moral of the story was clear: it’s best to use your money wisely, but better to use it poorly than not use it at all.

  1. Imagine there’s no countries

On a chilly Saturday morning, taking a taxi from Santa Monica to LAX, the driver asks me where I’m from. I say that I’m from New York, trying to avoid the question, but he insists: “no – I mean originally”. When I respond that it’s form Israel, he pauses for a few tense seconds. This has happened to me before, and I am guessing that the driver is originally from an Arab country. And indeed, the he is Lebanese. Forced to share the same small space together, we are compelled to conduct a conversation, and of course, in conversation all of the boundaries and hesitations are quickly gone. These taxi rides are my favorite. Within ten minutes, we discover that we love the same music, enjoy the same food, have children at similar ages, and have similar goals for their education. The driver is surprised to find out that my parents are Iraqi Jews, so I grew up listening to Arab music, and that my parents spoke Arabic at home. For a few moments there, there are no countries and no politics to get in the way, and the simple realization that we are all human becomes a reality rather than a concept.

  1. Love your family

This last taxi ride did not take place in 2014, but it was pivotal on my life and resulted in the most important resolution of all. After spending five weeks on the road in Ride of Your Life, I shipped the motorcycle on a truck and flew back home. I landed at JFK just before dawn, still unadjusted to being back in the real world, and painfully missing my wife and my kids. The taxi driver saw that I was a bike-less biker (motorcycle jacket, bags, and holding a helmet, but no bike), and asked me what happened to my motorcycle. When he heard my story, he immediately said “Oh my. Let me get you home then!”, and by 7am I was there, reunited with my family, and starting a new chapter in my life. The Ride has taught me many insights, and forever changed the way my perception of the experience of life. Yet the single most important lesson, distilled from the knowledge of the experts, the experiences of the people I met, and the silent wisdom of the road, is that one’s love for one’s family is an unending source of joy and of inner peace. Ask any village elder in any society and they will confirm, taxi drivers included.

And always remember: a taxi ride can be a unique opportunity to take a step back and reflect, especially if you are guided by the right driver. In 2015, resolve to listen to the wisdom of others. Embrace change, push the negative aside, put your money to use, be a part of a single nation of humanity, but most importantly remember to love your close ones fiercely and devotedly. As any cabbie will tell you, they are the best source of your inner peace.

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detachment_%28philosophy%29

[2] Kabat‐Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness‐based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 10(2), 144-156.

[3] Ride of Your Life, a Coast-to-Coast Guide to Finding Inner Peace http://www.RideofYourLife.com