Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Heavy Traffic

For much of my life, I've been able to position myself such that I avoid the rush hour traffic. I was able to time shift, get short commutes or simply avoid the beaten path. My shortest commute was 8 minutes. That was a cool commute, but that was in Utah, not in Southern California.

In SoCal, everything is spread out. In 2007, I bought a new car and in that first year alone, I put 24,000 miles on my car. Long commutes, grilling in traffic, running errands, visiting family. It all adds up.

I used to commute from Costa Mesa to Carson, California, every work day. It sucked. From Costa Mesa to Seal Beach, everything was fine. Pass the 605 and then I join the line of people going to a county where the Board of Supervisors admitted that for the previous twenty years, they had no coherent plan for transportation. And it showed.

Sitting in traffic is boring so when I'm there, looking at the next car, my mind is looking for something to do. So I play this guessing game, pretending that I'm using my intuition to figure out which lane will go faster. I was commuting alone so I smiled with glee when the diamond lane got clogged. But when that was clear as the sky, I got busy guessing lanes.

I was a lane changer in heavy or slow traffic. I did this to pass the time. Eventually I got to my destination, but it really was a slow moving detention. It wasn't made any better by listening to NPR, or what I like to call, "resentment radio". I call it resentment radio because they talk about the stock market as if most people own stocks. Here? In America? Not really. And if we do, our 401k is going sideways.

Then NPR goes on and on about American foreign policy. Every day, they're talking about Israel as if Israel is always right. What about us? Why aren't they reporting on US? Well, they are. They're talking about who just got appointed to that plush job with the FCC in DC. What is the Fed going to do next? Who cares? But if I want to hear about us, I will have to wait for This American Life.

Anyway, I'm sitting in traffic and guessing lanes and feeling the frustration. Then for what seemed like an eternity, I'm in lane 3 and I'm stopped while watching 30 or 40 cars go by in lanes 2 and 4. What is going on up there? Did someone drop a quarter and stop to pick it up? I was furious that I could not get out of the lane that was stopped!

Then something clicked in my head. I don't know exactly what happened, but I heard a voice or something like that say, "This isn't working. Let's try something else."

So I took a few deep breaths to decide what to do. This is important. The brain uses 10 times more oxygen than any other organ in the body. When under stress, remember to breathe, everything follows.

Then I said the following words: "I accept everything exactly as it is right now." 
And again.
And again.

I started repeating that sentence over and over, like a mantra. A few minutes later, I forgot what I was pissed about. Traffic started flowing again. I could see my exit. I was done.

There is something about acceptance that calms the mind. Once we can accept our circumstances, we can do something about them. Until we accept them, we can do nothing but bitch and complain. But once we accept it, well, then the brain goes to work, meaningful work.

The brain operates in two modes. The first one, the one we're really familiar with is the left side, the side of judgement. Left and right, right and wrong, black and white. The left side uses logic and words to make sense of reality. There is no grey area.

The right side is that gray area, with more than fifty shades. The right side is a continuously adjusting targeting system. You pick a target, a goal, and the right side will get you there. Did you miss? Don't worry, the right side doesn't get upset about missing. The right side will adjust and try again until the target or goal is achieved.

My goal was to stop the torture in traffic. The left side was too busy judging the situation and the right side was listening to music. Neither side was fully engaged in reality until I said those magic words, "I accept everything exactly as it is right now." Once I accepted reality, I became fully engaged in my existence. I didn't even have to click my heels.

Now I could make some meaningful choices. I could change how I think about my situation. I could change my behavior. Funny thing about changing behavior, other people tend to change in response to that behavior. It's not like they have a choice about it. Input and output are related. Change the stimulus and you will change the response.

Whatever change you want to make in your life, it must start with acceptance of everything in your life exactly as it is. You don't have to like it, acceptance is all that is needed. From that point on, harmony with the world around you is a lot easier to find. Even when sitting in traffic.
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