December 21, 2011

“The health and stability of my inner state is so much more important than sticking it to total strangers who have bad driving karma.”

About a year ago or more, I tested a theory that honking my horn while driving only increased my stress level, rather than improving the overall state of the world, or on a smaller scale, the traffic I found myself in.  For a month I enforced a moratorium on honking my horn, flipping the bird or yelling obscenities at fellow drivers.

The unsurprising results found that I was actually a calmer driver when I didn’t add my own extra aggression to the festivities.

I’ve slacked off on that moratorium recently.  Maybe it’s because I’m driving more than ever.  Or because I’m not getting enough stress relief elsewhere in my life.

I was driving through a heavily trafficked circle entering into DC.  A car cuts in front of me as I was crossing into the circle.  Without signaling or even looking to see if a car had already claimed that spot in traffic.  And then, adding insult to injury, this driver shifts into the turn lane (my lane), but doesn’t turn.  Instead he waits for the light to change to green and then races ahead to beat several cars across the intersection.

And what did I do?

Well, I didn’t go quietly into the morning.  I honked, I yelled, I showed him my distaste with a very particular finger as I signaled to turn like a responsible adult and he went on his way.  Probably without caring one bit about me, my finger or my rage.

Instantly following this momentary display of bravado, I observed my body.  Before I left the house to teach, I had been working on my reflections of 2011 and my intention for how I’d like to feel on January 1st, including body, mind and heart.  In the space of 30 seconds I transformed from soft, receptive, happy and full from breakfast to tense, tight, angry and aggressive.

And I had to laugh, which was helpful because I also felt ridiculous.

My intention for 2012 is to feel grounded, healthy, nourished and connected to the sweetness of my own source of renewable energy.  Attending to the health and happiness of my inner state of being.

None of this remained intact after the extreme honking.

My body felt awful.  My shoulders were up around my ears, my upper back was rounded, my neck hurt–I felt hideous.  I thought out loud to my self in my car, “this is not the state I want to be in.  This is not how I want to feel.  This is not who I am.”

The truth of it is that no matter how much of a jerkface this driver was or how dangerously he behaved, no one got hurt.  I was the observant driver.

He didn’t affect my day enough to warrant that radical of a shift in my inner state.

Getting angry in that moment didn’t serve any other purpose than raising my level of stress which is not a worthy endeavor.  It’s not worth raising my blood pressure, or my stress level or even the level of intensity in my body simply to get angry at another human being.

A human being I will likely NEVER see again or even ever know personally.

So my practice of this week and of the rest of 2011 is to limit my reactions of aggression while driving, but also while engaging in the world elsewhere (if it exists behind the wheel, how can it not linger under the surface in the most benign places).

But the second piece is to consider this idea: “Do I entertain every conflict that drives into my path?”.

Can I simply observe those acts of aggression that confront me and challenge me to react OR can I allow them to wash away with the rain if they don’t actually injure me.  Does it cost me anything to simply let go of the need to react to every disobedient driver in DC?

Honestly, the health and stability of my inner state is so much more important than sticking it to total strangers who have bad driving karma.

I will keep flippin’ the bird.  It costs my soul nothing and of the 3 items on my list of aggressive behavior, it affects my state of being the least.

The yelling has also got to stop, because I’m fairly certain the yelling is the greatest perpetrator of my inner state shifting.

I think my dog will be happy about that too.

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