We continue to find ourselves mired in lots of Big News these days,and I want to share some ideas that have been helping me. First, I courageously decided to turn away from the news media yesterday, even though I spent two hours in my car. I reached for podcasts instead, and learned so much about brain science and resilience, AND got to hear from people I admire.
It was perfect that I was driving my car while listening, because my first meditation teacher often used driving as a way to test yourself when you’re working on a new yoga skill. For example, when we learned about Ahimsa, non-harming, we students generally wanted to believe that we didn’t hit or shout or even swear at other people. However,if we’d had the hidden camera of memory filming us when we last drove in Bay Area traffic, we would have seen and heard a very contradictory story. Even when my kids were little enough that I didn’t want them to hear me swear, I would shout, “Dude! Jerk! WHAT are you doing? GO! Get out of the fast lane!” and other G-rated accompanying violent outbursts. The kids knew exactly what was happening.
I’m going to borrow the environment of driving to propose a way forward for all of us. When I’m driving I want to feel safe! I couldn’t buzz along at 80 if I didn’t trust the other drivers to stay in their lanes, obey the rules, and use precautions to help us all trust that we weren’t about to be crushed or ejected onto the asphalt. If I were anxious while driving and my sympathetic (fight-flight-freeze-submit) nervous system had been pumping adrenaline and acetylcholine into my bloodstream for even a short drive, I would arrive exhausted or perhaps not arrive at all. This is why I don’t drive in snow storms – I’m beat after 30 minutes and my shoulders are shrunk up like a vulture’s. I need to be able to relax while I drive so I can access the higher functions of my brain, and maybe even have the capacity to let another car into the flow of traffic, or forgive folks who drive too slowly for my taste. Take away – I want to feel Safe.
When a zippy, road clinging, loud, sporty-sports car cuts me off, then passes the car on their right, and keeps hopping, fly-like lane to lane, I want that driver to be held accountable. I want someone to be in charge of noticing when folks don’t obey the rules and to do something about it. I need to know that these drivers will be stopped and that I can go back to feeling safe. I want those drivers to do their part (follow the rules of the road) or be barred from joining the rest of us on there. When I misbehave, I want to be held accountable as well. (more on this later) Take away – I want Accountability.
It’s easy to forget that every double-cab king-sized truck is driven by a human being, just as the Smart Car and lowrider are driven by people. I guess I forget this human part when I’m doing my swearing and eye rolling, because I’d never act that way with a person standing before me. They are humans and, just like me, they make mistakes sometimes. Dehumanizing opens the gates for reprehensible mistreatment and allows us to behave in ways that don’t gibe with our moral philosophies otherwise. If I can remember that the driver, whose face I cannot see through the tinted windows, is a human, and will therefore make mistakes, I can connect as one of those same flawed beings. Our brains learn and grow so much more when we make mistakes than when we do things well, so this might be another frame for those situations when we screw up: I may be embarrassed, but look how much I’m learning! Take aways – I want to remember we are all human, and humans make mistakes so they can learn.
There is a famous John Lennon quote about being motivated by fear versus motivation from love. Here’s where my accountability story comes in. Long ago, when my kids were little, I was speeding through the school zone by Whatcom Middle School, and I got pulled over. Before kids, I would’ve silently cursed the cop and vowed to pay more attention to those sneaky buggers in blue, who were waiting to get me. I really couldn’t play that same fear-based victim game in front of my children, and somehow my girls got me to thinking about rules and laws in a bigger picture way. It was kind of forced, but I said I was so glad the officer reminded me to drive slowly where there might be children in the street. When I accepted the possibility that I could actually have hit a middle-schooler with my car, I believed my own words. I was then motivated by love, wanting to protect life and think of others instead of always preferring myself and my needs. The policeman really did save me from a lifetime of grief and guilt, had I hurt or killed a pedestrian. Take away – I want to be motivated by Love, not Fear.
When I’m driving, I want to feel safe, to trust in the accountability of other drivers, to see those other drivers as human, and to find motivation in my love rather than my fear. This is also the way I would like us all to go forward, politically, in managing the pandemic, and in every other context. I want this for me, for you and for all of us.
I have a practice to offer you, if you want to bring my ideas or your own notions, into life in a committed way: Breathe! Breathe with a longer exhalation, breathe into your belly. This creates a physiological feeling of safety in your body. It allows you to feel compassion, selflessness, and patience (all helpful for driving!). Pay attention to your breath, practicing accountability. When your mind wanders, remember that you’re human and you must make mistakes to maintain membership in this club. With kindness and love, return to attending to your breath.
Take good care of yourself and everyone else!
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