If we imagine that we are drivers, then being depressed is to be driving deep in a ditch. Forward movement is a struggle, traction is bad, and we’re moving over too many obstructions that perpetually threaten to overwhelm our momentum.
It’s all slowed our lives to a crawl, where some may even have had suicidal thoughts about just shutting off the car altogether. Plus, the nature of the ditch means it’s really hard to get any perspective. All we can see is ditch and sky. So we should trust the sky and head towards the light.
As we do this we should also avoid mistaking the driver for the car. A car can have a very bumpy and unpleasant route to a very rewarding destination for the driver. One of the immediate advantages is that those experiences make us better drivers who can more confidently navigate our way to better routes in the future.
This week, in learning to drive our intentions forward, we shifted out of that slow and threatening pace and we just angrily stomped on the accelerator to build some speed. It’s hard to maneuver without forward motion.
But anger is blind. Using it, we’re not really steering so much as we’ve just sped up enough to be able to bump, and jump and skid our way roughly up one side of the ditch.
In that anger we might be out of the deepest mud, but now we’re bouncing even more violently. And we still can’t see past the edges of the ditch to see clearly. And on top of that, we’re driving on a dangerous angle that could lead to disaster. It’s better than the bottom of the ditch, but it’s still not where we want to be.
Yesterdays move into frustration was to use our awareness to identify holes in our angry arguments. We wanted to take some speed off and to make some tiny course corrections that are more logical about steering, and less blind about pure speed.
We can also now start to notice which angle we’re on and therefore where the road and smooth travels might be found. And as we moved over from the angry bumping of four wheels on the side of the ditch, we can find ourselves with only two wheels in the ditch, and two on the rumble strips of frustration.
But look at how much we have accomplished already: we’ve got unstuck, we gained speed, and we increased our altitude. Then we built speed, on dryer land, but we were still bouncing all over the place. And that meant that we had a greater chance of rolling out of control, which drove us to seek out frustration.
From frustration we can now see the road ahead. From here we want to shift from the rumble of frustration into the buzz of irritation. ‘Frustration’ is the desire for focus, with frustrating intervening issues. ‘Irritation’ is when we’ve gained increased focus, with less of our attention on distractions and more on driving.
When we needed speed to get us going, the anger and frustration were useful. Now that we feel slightly more secure, we wouldn’t even feel any frustration if we didn’t sense that better was possible.
See how hope’s crept in there? That’s a long ways away from the hopelessness of the deep ditch.
With more and more logical assessments of our reality, and with more and more meditative journey’s into what we really believe, we can start to steer with more precision. In fact, we can do so to the point where we can shift to having two wheels on the road, even if that leaves us with two still on those irritating rumble strips.
It’s important for us to see the generosity in the universe, so we should keep in mind; those rumble strips are there as a kindness. They warn sleeping drivers that we are wandering off course. Likewise, ‘irritation’ suggests to a human being that we are not fully on conscious. We can view it is equally helpful.
If we were going into the ditch rather than leaving it (and we will), those rumble strips are our first chance to react and alter course, so they are extremely helpful. It isn’t hard to see that we can learn to start shifting our thinking as soon as we feel irritated, and even if we only succeed 50% of the time, we will have drastically improved our lives.
Steering our irritation is like steering while we’re still on the road. If we fail to do it, we’re likely to soon drift-off into something worse. And if we still don’t use those ‘louder’ feelings to steer with, then we can find ourselves going through a bumpy angry ride back down to the bottom of the ditch, where misery lives.
And yet the nice smooth road is always beside us, just waiting for us to use it.
Don’t waste irritation. It’s a gift. Nature put those rumble strips there to help us stay on course. And, if we’re coming upwards, from frustration, then irritation is an achievement. Once we get better at driving our consciousness with intention, that can often be as far as we go into the ditch in many cases.
Human survival has long depended on the ongoing work of optimists. If we weren’t all naturally tuned to have the tools to be happy and productive, then humans would have never made it this far.
We’ll all still have some road conditions force us into ditches. But in essence, ‘being wise’ is not the ability to completely avoid ditches, it’s to be able to steer well, it. After all, the ditches define the road.
As I’ve often said here and elsewhere, without a not-path there is no path. We need not lament the ditch’s existence. We need it. We should just use our feelings surrounding it to our fullest advantage.
Watch for our next driving lesson tomorrow. Until then, take good care of you. And don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.