My commute takes me through scenic countryside.
Coming out of retirement, I am in a different location with the same company. The commute in is about an hour now. And many of the roads I travel are twisting, turning narrow country roads. I am always on alert for wildlife. I don’t want to hit any and I really enjoy seeing them.
Recently, I saw a weasel crossing the road.
Very colorful, long tail. It looked a lot like a fox with very short legs. I see many foxes; some I look for at certain spots on my trip. They are often there. I have seen hundreds of deer, wild turkey, turkey vultures congregated over a carcass (I can hear one of them saying “good food, good friends, it doesn’t get any better than this”), ground hogs, and the occasional possum.
Every possum I have seen looks unkempt. I have nothing against possums, but with their spindly tails and random tufts of hair, they always look like they need a trip to the barber or beauty parlor.
Depending on when I leave for work, the odds of getting stuck behind someone increases or decreases.
Being farm country, there is the occasional Farm Use Only tractor pulling huge bales of hay. These farmers are aware of traffic behind them and always seem to find a place to pull to the side enough to let cars behind them get by.
I always wave as I pass.
Other times, I can get behind a slow poke driver who seems to be unsure of his or her path. This uncertainty about moving forward translates into sub speed limit trajectories. These drivers appear to the untrained eye to be nervous and can be observed edging to the right every time an oncoming car approaches. They seem to hit the brakes often, when approaching curves, when leaving curves, when approaching hills, when cresting hills, when going down hills.
And they don’t seem to be able to read speed limit signs which indicate the allowable speed for a specific portion of the highway.
Or they are so focused on the actual act of driving that they cannot put the posted speed into the equation. Perhaps they are distracted, trying to text, over and over and over again, creating long stretches of time where they are traveling below and sometime substantially below, the speed limit.
Maybe they are new drivers, not yet confident enough in their abilities so they travel at a sub speed limit velocity. Or maybe they cannot see as well as they once did and going slower gives them more reaction time should an impediment to their forward progress appear.
Until I get very close to work, the roads are all two lanes.
Being twisty-turny back country roads, the opportunities to pass these drivers are limited. Many stretches can be fraught with long sweeping curves, or tight switch back types curves. There are many short straightaways, but many do not provide the space to safely accelerate, pass a slow-moving vehicle, and then return to my lane of travel before the next curve.
I am in a hurry but am not looking to cheat death by passing where it is not safe and there is not enough clear road in front of me. This leaves me chomping at the bit to find a safe place to pass.
Worse, I feel tension, anxiety, and even anger rising in me.
Years ago, while living in New Jersey, I had finally come to grips with bad, unpredictable drivers. Instead of getting mad when someone would cut in front of me, I would say to myself “that was pretty stupid.” And I would let it go.
It was a description of a question the Buddha was asked that gave me a new way to look at myself and my attitude.
For years, there was a person who went everywhere the Buddha went. And he would try to engage the Buddha, yelling disparaging remarks and accusing him of being a fraud. One of the Buddhas closest supporters asked the Buddha why he allowed that man to do that for all those years. The Buddha, said “If a person offers you a gift and you do not take it, then you are not responsible for it.” (Or words to that effect)
The point was, you can’t control other people, but you can control your attitude towards things that happen.
I noticed that after many years of applying that to driving, I am slipping. I am accepting their gift, their actions, their driving slow. I am feeling anger and frustration about their actions. And this is not healthy.
Traffic is one of the Triggers I wrote down in my personal Wellness Recovery Action Plan.
Triggers are “unplanned things that happen that make you feel uncomfortable, upset, or distressed.” I made a list in my WRAP booklet of my list of triggers. Opening the book to that page this morning, guess what I found in my list? TRAFFIC.
It has been almost a week since I first noticed this trigger. And last night, I was keenly aware that I needed to do something about it. I passed a slow-moving car where I could not see any oncoming traffic, but there was only a short space to pass before the next curve. As I accelerated and got past the slow poke, I could see headlights in the oncoming lane from a car in the curve.
I was committed to passing at that point, so I continued to punch it.
I merged back into my lane long before the oncoming car appeared from around the curve. But I noticed I was doing almost 80, and my hands were sweating, my chest was a little tight, and I was clearly not in control.
So, this morning, I am reviewing my Triggers Action Plan.
It turns out I have listed 17 things I can do. The instructions for this list are to: make a list of Wellness Tools from your Wellness Toolbox that you can use to help yourself feel better when a Trigger happens. Include plenty of choices, so that you have a lot available that you can easily do in any situation. Mediation and deep breathing are on my list.
I know last night, after I passed that car, I was breathing deeply. I also breathed a sigh of relief that I had made it without injury to myself or others. I am adding the Buddhas comment to my list. Beginning this morning, I will no longer accept from slow drivers, their gift that I have turned into “anger, frustration, and contempt.”
I will accept what I cannot change, which is how others are driving and at what speed they are driving.
I will focus on what I can control, which is my attitude towards these drivers. Not getting angry for years has left me feeling much better and keeps me from arriving home agitated. This made a big difference in my ability to be a better, more open person when I arrived at home. Not accepting these thoughts was part of my Triggers Action Plan even before I acknowledged I have depression.
Today, I will test out my new-found attitude as I commute the twisty, curvy backroads to work.
I am confident my attitude will be more in keeping with my plan, and I will be promoting positive self-care as I do not accept other drivers ’gifts.”
READ MORE: It wasn’t me this time – Road Rage Part III