My commute to work is a rather straight shot and usually takes around 25 minutes. Considering that I leave early, I tend to miss the morning rush and make pretty good time.
The other morning I was cruising along and saw flashers lighting up the dark. It turns out there was a bad accident and emergency crews were directing traffic down a side road I had never been down before, much less in the dark.
My first thought was one of panic, as my ability to directionally navigate is on par to Helen Keller’s in a maze.
If it’s not my normal route, there are no detour signs and it’s not light outside, you can pretty much expect me to end up four counties over, huddled in the backseat in the fetal position eating everything in my lunchbox for survival in the span on 20 minutes.
But I followed the cars in front of me and long story short, I realized where I was and made it to work with my mental faculties no more damaged than after accidentally hearing a snippet of a Nickelback song.
This would be a really boring story if I didn’t try and squeeze some deeper meaning out of it though, right? Let’s try, because while my first thought was one of panic, my second thought was a wee bit more centered.
“At least it wasn’t me in the accident.”
I was inconvenienced, yes, but I wasn’t a victim of some personal misfortune. There were people having a much worse morning than me—namely those in the accident—and the fact that I was stressing over finding an alternate route was actually quite absurd.
But don’t we do that more often than we’d like to admit? The screaming child in the grocery store, the traffic jam on our way home, bad weather—a lot of the stress and anxiety we feel comes from the internalization of external events and the feeling that they’re happening directly to us instead of around us.
The way we react to that misinformation is what actually intensifies the discomfort, not the events in and of themselves.
Now don’t get me wrong–crap happens, often directly to us. But we’re often victims of our old way of thinking and not some universal plot to destroy our inner peace (although I would argue that Comcast and people who drive slow in the fast lane are truly in on that plan.)
If we adjust our reaction to one of acceptance instead of resistance and adopt a new way of thinking about them—an emotional detour of sorts—we’re at least giving ourselves a chance to get where we need to go.
So much like my drive to work, I’m trying to stop my brain from operating on autopilot, aware that I can’t really practice contentment while continuing to identify with whatever darkness I’ve let cloud up my mind. I’m trying to remember that my internal reality doesn’t have to be dictated by external events.
Easier said than done—and I have five million half-posts written about this that will never see the light of blog—but the occasional detour can show us there’s more than one way to move on through the world. We can adjust or we can resist, and some days I do both in the span of 3.4 seconds. But progress not perfection and all those other used clichés.
I’ll get there one way or another.
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