By Rupa T. Ward, MA, MFTI
Recently, I was driving home with my husband very late at night after a family gathering in Los Angeles. I had been "on the go" since early morning and my exhaustion was catching up with me. Anticipating sparse traffic at that late hour and hoping to get home quickly, we were shocked by the sudden traffic jam near Norwalk at 1 am! We discovered the reason for the jam only after crawling at less than 5 mph for one more hour. The entire freeway had been closed down north of Anaheim, and vehicles were being diverted into a detour.
Here in southern California, a commuter region, we spend a considerable portion of our days on roads and freeways often stuck in a traffic jam or dealing with various irritants and dangers posed by accidents, road closures, drunk drivers, or simply people who would rather be aggressive around you than be courteous. We often react with irritation or anger if we see something not going the way we want or consider fair. Why did the lanes close down just when I was coming home, exhausted after a long day of work and social obligation, and so looking forward to resting? We respond to such perceived indignities with a flash of anger, and we feel our stomachs getting knotted, our chests tighten.
At such moments, a built-in mindfulness sounds, and I remember to breathe easy. Rather than give in to the first impulse—cursing, shouting, or slamming the dashboard—I try the mindfulness approach. The Pali word for mindfuless is sati, which, like so many dharma words, has more than one meaning. One meaning of sati is remembering. In daily life, most of us simply do not remember to be mindful or attentive, but it is very important to do so. Bring to mind the critical need for being watchful, so that it does not throw you into a tailspin of misery as it is prone to do in moments of stress and negativity.
When something you do not want happens on the road, or for that matter in any sphere of your life, remember to sit straight in an alert and careful manner. Make sure your spine is straight and your chest feels unobstructed. Breathe deeply several times, feeling your breath all the way from its entry into your nostrils, passing through your throat and chest into your abdomen; then exhale feeling the breath energy inside your body. You can do this while driving or anywhere you can sit or stand. As you breathe in and out think of your breath as a kind of refreshing energy that's not confined to the air you breathe in. Visualize and feel the breath pervading your entire body through your blood and the nerves. Feel the breath energy in your legs, fingers, toes, in the pelvic area, in your chest, and throat, and head. If the mind wanders, simply bring it back to this soothing and pervasive breath.
This mindful breathing will bring you a sense of ease and comfort, so you can consciously let go of all tension. You will feel free from irritation, frustration, and all negative feelings. You will feel an inner calm establish itself, giving you the driver's seat in the true sense.
Rupa Ward has an M. A. in Psychology with Marriage and Family Therapy emphasis from Chapman University. She has both training and experience in individual, family, children, and group counseling.
If you want to bring more mindfulness to your life, call Rupa to make an appointment. Contact: 714-432-9857 ext. 5 or via email: Rupa@pathways2wellness.com