It took me over an hour this morning to drive my daughter somewhere, a journey that should have taken 15 minutes, due to gridlock traffic. By the time I turned round to make the return journey, things had got even worse on the roads and it took me another hour to get back again…though would have been considerably longer had I not known so many back routes. I’m still looking at vehicles that aren’t going very far outside my house and it seems like the whole county is at a standstill because the motorway has been obstructed; the classic knock-on effect of our world.
So how did I manage to get back at all? Well, once I noticed the first signs that the main drag to my house was also backed up, I turned around in the road and started off on a network of country lanes and backwaters to get to my house the most “rustic” route. Over the hill and along a zig-zagging maze of narrow farm lanes I went; a route that most people seem to be completely oblivious to and, though I had to rejoin the main carriageway near to my house, I saved a huge amount of queueing and a vast amount of time. My route was anything but direct and even seemed to take me a little backwards to, ultimately, get me where I was headed yet I was able to clearly see the progress I was making rather than just sitting there hoping for something to shift and it was a lovely drive. It could have been the story of the last ten years of my life…
The reason I know these back routes so well is the fact I walk them with my dog and have had the curiosity and the time to explore them since giving up conventional work. Back in the days when I worked full-time and walked my dog “like clockwork” in the same convenient handful of parks where most other local people walk, I wouldn’t have had a clue. This last ten years of “health challenges” has taken me off-piste in more ways than one and I see what the metaphor was telling me; it was a godsend this morning.
And isn’t it a truism that, just when you think you’re almost there, something happens to slow things right down again…or seemingly so. When I had almost reached my house, I was forced to queue for the final 20 minutes in direct view of my own front door and it was that classic “so near yet so far” scenario that we all know so well yet it was the keeping centred, in extremely good humour and in perspective that got me that final few yards in the end. I knew that, in no time, I would have that coffee maker on and would be getting on with my day in my seat by the window…and, in the meantime, it gave me time to slow down, to think things through, to breathe deeply and just appreciate things. I was so grateful for the great music in my car and for many moments of early morning sunlight beaming down in thick ribbons through the branches of trees on the back of the mist that was now lifting; it transitioned into a truly glorious day before my eyes while I watched it through the screen of my car. This was a timely reminder that the route itself is always littered with unexpected gifts; that the so-called destination isn’t everything and its the being “fully present” that allows us to perceive so much of what makes life worth living.
In my own life, without what felt like some serious curve balls, I would never have gone off the track I thought I was on, would have sat like all those other down-faced folk rammed in their bumper-to-bumper cars going nowhere via the conventional routes. Looking back, I see with great appreciation how I rose to the challenge and embraced those unplanned detours, fueled by the curiosity that never stopped wondering “what’s down here?” and wanting so eagerly to find out. These qualities helped me develop the skillset that now serves me so well, coming into its own the most at times when I might otherwise have “got stuck” in life’s mud. Its the skillset I relish sharing with others and allows me to be of service to those who want to get off the main drag but don’t know how to go about it or whether to take the risk. I find I have become something of a minor authority and cheerleader of the path least travelled and I relish this about myself, across all aspects of life…all because life once presented me with a huge gridlock traffic jam not unlike the one I just encountered this morning, if on the vastly bigger, if more personal, scale. Its all versions of the same thing and what we learn from the practice is how we choose to react to such an impasse; do we just sit there or do we go another way, a different way to other people but, perhaps, one where others might like to follow?
Then – another curve ball – my boiler broke down last night and the engineer can’t get to me for three days. Of course, last night was the first truly cold snap of the season with a touch of frost and thick fog when I set off in the car. Its not good news that my boiler is making this very strange noise that sounds like its on its last legs; and, to start with, I watched myself get triggered into a knee-jerk fear reaction: “what if we have to replace it this time; we can’t afford that”. Then, as soon as I noticed that come up, I knew why it had happened. If I could just pull back and watch myself, it had so much to tell me about any automatic fear reactions that still lurk in the depths of me, holding me hostage, paralysing me with their over-reactions and the helpless feelings those always whip up. After all, my boiler may need no more than a service or a spare part so why the catastophising? Or perhaps its time to upgrade to something that’s “greener” and more economic that will serve us better in the long run. In the meantime, having sat in my car for over two hours, I was mighty glad to get back into the relative comfort of my house, even with all the extra layers on…and it gives me the perfect excuse to light the first fire of the season if I want to, what a lovely prospect.
These little everyday things that happen are almost laughable in their triviality and yet I got such a lot out of them. They are also such wonderful reminders of how convenience-oriented we have become and how we have come to expect to jump in the car and “just go” or to flip a switch to have instant heating or light. When these things get challenged, our reactions can be a reminder (conscious or otherwise) of all the far meatier challenges we’ve already taken on before and, rather than trigger that old reaction, we can allow them to flag up to ourselves how well we have always coped, what we have learned, how many dire circumstances we have actually survived to be standing here today. Rather than be triggered, we can breathe in deeply and recentre ourselves to settle back and watch the show of our “automatic” reactions, knowing we get the say-so of which reactions to run with and that we are uniquely well equipped to deal with whatever life throws at us…and then some…since we are experts at our own lives. It helps us to get things in perspective and, rather than fall into the “here we go, more ‘bad stuff’ coming” mentality, we get the option to see how far we’ve already travelled via all those back routes, detours and off-the-beaten track journeys that life already took us through, like we have been rehearsing dance moves that make us ever more adept and seamless at being who we are henceforward.
In the strangest way (when I don’t allow the circumstance to be labelled “there was such terrible traffic this morning”), I enjoyed this morning’s drive. To be honest, I’d rather the path least travelled any day of the week than be part of the unquestioning herd who just follow the obvious routes, however the traffic is behaving, or beep horns and shout abuse when things aren’t going their way, locking deeper and deeper into the entrenchment of each other’s messy situations. When we are most challenged to consider “do I really want to be part of this”, we encourage ourselves to think outside the box and to seek the positive spin, to adapt in the face of unexpected circumstances and find insight and joy in the most surprising places, chosing our responses. We step up to drive ourselves instead of agreeing to be shunted along and that is so key to living consciously as a self-actualised being who takes an active part in creating their own reality.