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This past Monday, our family loaded the trappings of college dorm life into our two cars. It was time to move Nathan back to campus for his junior year.

As we prepared to leave home, the three of us bantered about how this road trip would come off without incident. That’s because, on our last half-dozen road trips, we’d experienced . . .

  • three flat tires
  • a dead battery
  • a blown alternator
  • two accidents in wintry conditions
  • two winchings out of a ditch
  • a late-night tow

Six trips in a row.

It hadn’t mattered which vehicle we were driving or which of us had been behind the wheel.


Thankfully, nobody had been hurt in any of these episodes—just inconvenienced and vexed. So, the three of us could laugh about our streak of bad luck. In fact, it had turned into something like a family joke.

Six trips. In a row.

Practically a tradition.

“This time,” we said, loading the cars, “will be different.”

This time, no flats. This time, no wrecks. This time, not the slightest mishap.

Three hours later, I rear-ended Nathan’s car at a stop sign.

Sometimes in life, we seem to be jinxed, caught in an inexplicable run of bad luck.

If we’re not careful, our run of bad luck can so infect us that we begin to suffer from a sense of foreboding or anxiety. When will the next tire go flat? When will we hit the next patch of black ice? When will we wreck again?

Without being aware of it, we might even begin to behave in such a way that helps bring about another bout of trouble—the very definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The instant I hit the back of Nathan’s car, I wondered if that was exactly what I’d done, merely by joking around before we’d hit the highway. Don’t ask me to explain, but I felt that my humor had planted a seed ahead of us on the road. As in the fairy tale, that seed had grown magically fast into a towering beanstalk—just waiting for me to smack into.

I’m not saying that our thoughts fully determine or control reality. Nor am I saying that whenever something bad happens to us, it’s entirely our fault—that we attracted trouble to ourselves by “thinking incorrectly.”

What I am saying is that thoughts are forms of energy. As such, they affect what we do, just as they influence what we say. They also impact the world around us.

How we direct our thought-energy is a powerful creative act. Over time, full-blown mindsets can develop from such acts . . . core attitudes or perspectives . . . habitual ways of perceiving and interpreting our life as well as the lives of others . . . tendencies to expect certain things to happen (like vehicular problems!).

Some mindsets help us. Some mindsets hinder us.

Therefore, if we want to change our life (or our luck), we might do well to change our mind. To channel our thought-energy in fresh ways instead of ones produced by habit.

Do we really want to joke about possible troubles on the road as we set out on a trip?

Do we really want to recite the stories of old wounds and traumas, over and over again?

Do we really want to act (or not act) on the basis of doubts and worries stemming from previous bad experiences?

Twenty-one years to the day that I rear-ended his car, Nathan was born. Jihong and I blessed him with two names. His English name means “gift of God”. His Chinese name, LanTian, means “wide open blue sky”. That’s the kind of sky that our boy was born under. More importantly, it was the kind of life that we hoped he would have: spacious, calm, and clear.

We wanted Nathan LanTian to live from “big sky mind,” as the Buddhists call it.

Big Sky Mind is always within us—boundless, limitless, luminous. It easily gets obscured by our noisy thoughts and turbulent emotions. But with practice we can learn not to cling to the clouds passing through. We can learn to live from the wide open blue.

The more we practice Big Sky Mind, the more able we are to travel the highway through our days with constructive thought-energy. It doesn’t magically eliminate all our suffering. Rather, it changes our relationship to our suffering. It helps equip us to address the problems that inevitably arise on the road. It changes our relationship to the journey itself.

Flat tires, dead batteries, blown accelerators, patches of ice, getting buried in snowbanks . . . these aren’t ridiculous at all.

They’re chances to practice.

Practically a tradition.

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash
Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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