Most traffic systems are remarkably clever in their design. If people used them as designed there would be almost no accidents. But people do a lot of things while they drive. They get mad at other drivers. Their thoughts drift to important events in their lives. They re-live arguments from hours-weeks-months-years ago. They experience health challenges. Their children or car mates present challenges. Even when we sneeze we are forced to close our eyes, so there’s a lot imperfect about the operators using these otherwise clever and near-perfect systems.
If we hit the road assuming that every driver is going to maximize every safe opportunity and not make bad calculations that create unsafe conditions, then we’re simply being unrealistic. It’s like saying that just because a team could beat any other team, that it automatically should beat them every time. The world just doesn’t work that way.
Some great, conscientious drivers will have to drive to a children’s hospital for an emergency. Is it realistic to hold them to the same standards? Sure, a lot of them might even achieve those standards. But if they didn’t, is that really a problem or is it just something we don’t want to accept? Because if we accept it, then we stop talking to ourselves and others about it. But if we think we have a problem, then we have all kinds of stories about our victimization and/or potential vengeance.
Several years ago I had a client from northern Europe. He was a very particular fellow. He dressed dapper, he ate well, and he went to the gym religiously. Before he’d met me, he’d been driven nearly insane by a situation at work. He talked to a few other professionals but he felt they weren’t respecting his position.
A year previous to him calling me he had been up for a promotion from within his department. Numerous people had applied for the job and my client felt it was pretty obvious who the best candidate was—and that’s not to say he thought he was. He thought a co-worker easily had the best collection of relevant skills and he was happy for him to get the job. Except he didn’t. Another guy got it. But that guy was last choice for my client. He couldn’t imagine anyone respecting the ultimate winner.
Interestingly, he did not come to me because he was upset about his new boss. He came to me because his wife told him she was leaving him if he didn’t stop being so obsessive about the subject. She was literally being driven crazy having to listen to what amounted to essentially the same stories over and over and over. He just couldn’t drop it. It was the boss’s fault he explained.
I couldn’t blame her. Within 10 minutes of meeting him I was already tired of the story. I explained to him that his marriage was fine, he was just blind. He couldn’t see that he was choosing to be miserable–that it wasn’t forced upon him. He had to create it. He had to tell himself those stories as a way of summoning those neurochemicals.
Fortunately for me he was a cyclist. I found this out because he told me he used to race. He still liked to ride long distances to relax, but the older he got the less relaxing that was. That got my attention, so I asked more questions. Then I explained to him why he came back from a ride madder than when he left.
The reason babies don’t have egos is because they don’t have words to talk to themselves with. They don’t have language available to help them build a castle in the sky. They can’t imagine with words how the world could be. They can only accept now. So they’re happy a lot of the time. But by the time we’re adults, we’re yakking so much in our heads that we don’t even hear it anymore, even though an important part of us is listening—namely the part of your brain that assembles the appropriate chemistry to create your emotions.
So if we were to say that words were like rotations of the peddles on the fellow’s bike, then we could say that he would peddle 10 or 20 times in order to create a sentence. And the distance he would have covered would be created by the words which formed the argument about how the world should have been. And then more peddling of words will create a justification for the rider’s reaction. And then more peddling would compare what happened to a much better thing that otherwise might have happened. Each of these little stories—just like a book or movie—will be thoughts within your head. As a result you will get the associated chemistry. Watch a scary movie, feel scared. Think about being wronged, get angry. Simple.
So this guy would ostensibly ride his bike to relax, when in fact he was peddling agonizing chemistry for himself, word by word, sentence by sentence, story by story. He wasn’t on a bike ride. He was just sitting on a bike as he told himself a bunch of bitter stories. No wonder he came back angry.
Without you peddling it your ego goes nowhere. Without all of the words, you can’t torture yourself with angry, frustrated, or worried narratives. Your agony requires your effort. You must participate in your abuse. You must create your tales of woe. Because things are as they are, whether you speak of them or not. So set down any unrewarding idea at the first possible conscious opportunity.
Do not peddle thoughts of suffering. Go quiet inside and observe, and you will see much to be grateful for. Not the least of which will be your more peaceful experience of life. Enjoy. 😉
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.