Driving while stuck in a traffic jam ordinarily would not be the best place to practice mindfulness meditation. I found out today while rushing to a doctor’s appointment, it was the “only” way to travel.
There I was, bumper to bumper on the Schuylkill Expressway, one of only two major highways heading from the suburbs into Philadelphia, as the 15 extra minutes I gave myself to “be on time” evaporated, and I now faced being late in just a short period of time. No cell phone to call someone about the delay. No alternative route to get me there; all would take more time, not less.
And just as the fuzzy feeling of frenzy threatened to form, I realized the truth of that moment: I have no control over what is going to happen. Nothing I could say, do or wish could alter the inevitable. You’re going to be late, Michael. We all know how you pride yourself on “always” being on time. You believe it’s a show of “disrespect” when a person repeatedly fails to be prompt. Particularly, when meeting a professional, one who himself may have a good reason when he is running behind schedule. He’s a doctor, a surgeon with the concerns of a dozen, if not more, patients and their families who depend on his faithful appearance and reassuring confidence in their good health.
You could bang the steering wheel, curse at the drivers around you, and try some illegal manuevers by driving on the shoulder of the road to get ahead. But knowing your luck, a cop would be sitting just around the bend or be watching you from some “stealth” helicopter above you. You’d be held back even more. And the ticket you’d get would probably call for suspension of your drivers’ license.
Now is the time for all of your meditation training to kick in, one of my “better angels” seemed to whisper to me. “Let go.” Accept what you can’t change. Give in. Surrender.
Such a calm descended upon me when I quit fighting and silently acknowledged the traffic mess had won. I threw in the towel, bowed to the Fates, and eased up not only on the accelerator, but also on my Self. I felt a warm “glow-like” tingle start at the top of my head, kind of like a low-grade goosebumps, but without any shivers. My brow smoothed out, my jaws unclenched and my shoulders gently sloped down. The relaxation spread to the chest, unwinding the tight sensation I had begun to feel. I breathed more deeply, feeling my stomach push forward as I let out a sigh and focused on nothing but the car in front of me. My mind shifted into “automatic” as I slowed more, falling further behind, allowing more and more distance to separate my vehicle from the one ahead.
Travelled a tenth of a mile without braking, and then another slightly longer distance, each time allowing no thoughts or worries to take control. I started to enjoy the ride. When was the last time, if ever, you could say you enjoyed driving in heavy traffic? But here I was, smiling like I had not a care in the world.
Until the guy driving in the right lane speeded up, turned to his left and cut in front of me, with almost nowhere to go for him or his car. Anger reared its ugly head. First reaction: retaliate, tailgate him, turn on headlights and flash high beams at him, and give him the proverbial finger. The second reaction: take no action, and it is what prevailed, but the smooth flowing calmness began to slip away as I stayed closer to that car to prevent another from pulling in front.
“What are you doing?” I said, and wanted to slap my Self upside the head. You’re letting some ugly outside force wreck your beautiful inner force. I paused. And then I slowed. That’s when I noticed that the new driver to my immediate right had also slowed, perhaps with the same attitude to combat these traffic jam blues, as we both allowed more “space” to develop toward the front of our cars, and toward one another. We held these positions for a good 15 minutes, time enough to inch toward our respective destination, and lose a feeling of any “quiet desperation” we may have normally developed.
I was 20 minutes late as I got to the eye clinic at the Veterans Administration Hospital at 11:50 a.m. Wednesday. A hospital official said my appointment to examine a detached retina was not scheduled until 2:15 p.m. Someone must have changed it without telling me, the patient. Relieved, I signed in and told an attendant I was going to go from the third to the first floor for a cup of coffee, joking how nothing has changed with the military, and its “hurry up and wait” policy, when I do a complete “about-face” on seeing my “team” of surgical doctors exit the elevator I was about to enter, and hear them tell me I was right on time for their examination.