The last few weeks I’ve done quite a bit of driving. Not only driving but driving through Connecticut. For me, traversing Connecticut seems to involve a lot of traffic. I’m not sure if WAZE letting me know, moment to moment, exactly how long I am going to be in traffic helps. On my first drive, through the Constitution State (also known as the State of Steady Habits, according to Wikipedia) I was annoyed and frustrated as it rained AND the traffic added on an additional hour to my drive.
Anyone who drives knows that feeling of frustration and it doesn’t take much to be in the red zone of road rage. Not on this particular drive but in the past, I certainly have found myself saying unkind words towards another driver. Interestingly, according to safemotorist.com 66% of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving. So why do we get so angry and aggressive about driving?
Someone once told me it’s because we have no control over the situation. We are stuck in traffic or get cut off by another driver, or some other situation where another car is in between us and our destination. That made a lot of sense to me. Most of us like being in control. But life and traffic do not work that way.
In the practice of mindfulness, the work is to be in the present moment with full acceptance. On my drive home today I just so happened to be listening to Eckhart Tolle’s, Stillness Speaks, a short book I would recommend. In the chapter, Acceptance and Surrender, he mentions the acceptance of what is, in every moment as a key element of having peace in life. I had just sailed through Connecticut without a hitch and was celebrating as I was delivered right into the standstill traffic at the approach to the George Washington Bridge.
This part of mindfulness has always been hard for me —accepting what is in every moment. Does that really mean EVERY moment? How about 80% of the time? Would that be good enough? I’ve tried to wiggle my way around this one for years. Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Grandfather of mindfulness and Tal Ben-Shahar, one of the pioneers of Positive Psychology all write about this in slightly different languages. The seed idea is the same. We suffer when we resist what is.
Accepting what is needs a little further explanation. Accepting does not imply that you necessarily like what is happening. No one likes traffic, or a relative dying, or getting cancer, or making a mistake at work. No one. Tal Ben Shahar talks of giving ourselves permission to be human for when we make mistakes and having the ability to learn something, forgive ourselves, and move on.
Accepting what is, is about having what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls a “not-judging orientation.” At every moment, our brains are like an activity sorting machine, deciding within a split second if something is good or bad. Sunny day = good day. Rainy day = bad day. But is that really true? No rainy days add up to problems also. This sorting and judging takes a lot of energy and it triggers reactions and in some cases added drama and resistance. Over time, the patterns of thinking, for example thinking that traffic is bad can create a lot of negative energy and resistance which increases the fight or flight chemicals resulting in a negative physical impact on your body.
Accepting everything as it is still feels like a big task for me. Because I was steeped in Tolle’s words, when I hit the George Washington Bridge traffic today, I thought that perhaps I could use traffic and driving as a kind of workout for this component of mindfulness. When I readjusted my eta to get home a bit and took a deep breath I was able to avoid the frustration and enjoy the ride, even with the added time.
A practice of acceptance
It was a good start so this week I’m going to use driving as a mindfulness practice to accept what is, with a few guidelines to set up my success. First, I need to leave extra time to get where I am going. I’m going to anticipate some delays. If they do not materialize then awesome. It feels so much better to get to a destination a bit early I won’t be trying to manage the fear of being late.
Second, I am going to treat every other driver as if there were my mother or my teenage daughter behind the wheel. If I were following one of them while driving I would be considerate and conscientious about their safety.
Lastly, I am going to smile at every other driver that I can and maybe even throw in a wave. Putting on great music that I love also helps create my own environment of relaxation in my car and that too will help with acceptance of the obstacles.
Perhaps you want to use driving as a mindfulness practice of acceptance this week. Or maybe you practice acceptance in your yoga class. Can you accept where your body is today, in this moment?
Maybe there is an ache or pain, could you practice a non-judging orientation. You can notice it, “oh, a sensation in my shoulder,” and modify it as you need to. Or perhaps you can’t touch your toes in a forward fold? Can you notice your thoughts and be kind to yourself?
Maybe your practice is to notice your emotions? I feel sad today, or lonely, or frustrated. Even with emotions, we can accept that is how we are feeling and not go into a story about why that feeling may be good or bad or an even bigger story to blame another person’s actions for why we are experiencing that feeling.
Any of these practices or accepting what is in your driving, your yoga practice or your emotions are challenging. I’m going to take it one drive at a time. For each moment of acceptance, we are building the muscles of mindfulness. That is a workout worth investing in.