I’m a Lake Woebegone driver: better than average, and I know it for absolutely certain. Some of you who may have doubts as to how much anger this librarian actually holds in reserve, sitting in my passenger seat as I drive from red light to red light past the strip malls of Route 1 would give you all the proof you needed that I have given myself an apt name. The fury I dredge up on the road heats itself from only two sources: lack of safety and lack of consideration. Of course, when driving a 2,000 pound vehicle in New Jersey, there are plenty of combinations of them both.
During grad school in particular, my road rage escalated. I was taking a full-time course load, working two on-campus jobs, and driving down Route 1 to a third. Among New Jersey drivers… The anger that I felt (and still feel) when the driver in the car ahead of me goes under the speed limit is the emotional equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, because I am no-passing trapped and likely going to be late. Like, come on man/lady/fellow human, why do you need to make me hate you? I don’t know you! I would like to like you, but I DO know that I need to get where I’m going and I didn’t allot sufficient additional time in my day to do so!
Note: this impatience is doubled during what some states call “extreme weather events,” or what THIS Midwesterner calls “rain” and “snow.” I understand that when it is raining, you do not want to tailgate someone, but it does not mean to drive 10mph slower. Barring a typhoon or broken wiper blades, these conditions occur OFTEN and SHOULD BE familiar to you.
Is this starting to feel like I am a compassionless know-it-all who lacks empathy for my fellow earthlings? Are you saying to yourself, “maybe the person is a new driver! Or maybe they are elderly!” Yes? I actually don’t know that those two exceptions make any difference to my opinion, because I generally think that if you cannot handle driving under safe and considerate conditions, you shouldn’t be on the road.
Well, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that this level judgment and anger, not to mention the muscle clenching, increased blood pressure and faster heart rate that occur simultaneously, just aren’t good for me.
I cannot emphasize enough the magical soothing effects of listening to a story or learning about an interesting topic, often read by the person who actually wrote the book. Focusing on the book’s content occupies the portion of my brain responsible for being cranky and annoyed. Listening to books as I drive also makes me feel uber-productive, because I’m making progress in consuming ALL THE BOOKS while doing something repetitive and boring I had to do. #winning #nerdalert
I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and mentioned many favorites in My Best Books of 2017 but let me take this moment to shine a little light on another one I read before last year.
10% Happier by Dan Harris made me think about meditation for the first time without rolling my eyes. I knew a thing or two about pushing my own limits, and about racing thoughts and often uncontrollable anxiety and anger. Listening to Dan’s newscaster voice was great, and his dedication to sticking with meditation impressed me. It impressed me because at no point during my time with his story did I attempt to meditate at all. I just thought, “huh. Meditation makes him 10% happier; that would be cool” and after I downloaded one app (Stop. Breathe. Think.) that had a meditation to help me fall asleep, I carried on my merry (or fuming) path of least resistance.
Enter 2017, a year I have most frequently seen referred to as a “dumpster fire.” Personal stuff and the news made me unhappy, and when I reached my 30th birthday, I knew I had to change something. There are plenty successful, well-adjusted people out there, some in my circle, who are not overcome by the news. They consume the same information as I do, feel just as strongly about it, but do not immediately spray obscenities into their surroundings, nor spike their blood pressure. I needed to be more measured.
I read another book: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.
This time…. I also didn’t do any of the suggested “practice” meditations as I read. But, I did put language to what I wanted: I want to control my emotions so that they don’t rule me.
It took pushing myself to attend a Kundalini yoga/meditation workshop at a local studio before I actually did meditate. And dang, people. It is not as hard as I thought. I don’t have to clear my mind or check in with every part of my body like I had always thought (and read). I just sit there and breathe (okay, okay, it is slightly more complicated than that). But it IS all in my head, all the roadblocks and the solutions. And the few minutes I set aside give me something to be proud of every day: I took the time to check in, to refocus, to decompress and lower my blood pressure. I took steps toward being one of those calm, cool people who don’t fly off the handle at the sound of 45’s voice.
I won’t start preaching, but I do think that we the (stressed) people need to take care of ourselves, and that meditation can help. It’s January and I’m still on the New Year/New Me train, but from here on out, I don’t want to rant, nor do I want to portray myself as a Pollyanna full of sunshine and rainbows. I just want to be 10% happier and re-gain my “edge.” Nerd/active citizen power!
And, if audiobooks and/or meditation and/or reading books about it still sound too hard, there are always tweets from the Dalai Lama.
Breathe easy, y’all. And leave 10 minutes earlier 🙂