You honking at ME?! Confessions of a road warrior

Road warriors. I see them everywhere. And all too often, I must confess, I’m one as well.

An epidemic of rage

The headlines scream that road rage is an epidemic. A recent study by AAA concurs, stating that 80 percent of drivers admitted to expressing aggression, anger or road rage behind the wheel.

This increased hostility isn’t surprising. The roads are crowded and, in many places, in poor condition. We’re often stressed, over-extended and over-caffeinated, and so are the other drivers.

a stream of brake lights ahead
Row17, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even worse, we’re all distracted. We talk on our phones, eat meals, and even groom ourselves behind the wheel. And then there’s texting.

320px-USMC-111104-M-YP696-003
Texting while driving, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the safety campaigns, the huge fines if we’re caught, and the grisly news images of mangled cars and grieving families, many of us still text and drive.

No wonder we’re so angry. Like I said, I feel that anger and aggression, too. I get impatient with the lousy roads, the traffic jams, and all the drivers who aren’t actually driving. And yet…

Publication1

Looking in the (rearview) mirror

Road rage isn’t a “me-versus-them” dynamic. I’m not blameless here. I also participate in this culture of rage:

  • I honk.
  • I make crude gestures.
  • I tailgate slow drivers.

I, too, am a road warrior. I’m in that eighty percent.

18924624265_5d6e553952_z
Teen checking rearview mirror, CC BY 2.0 via flickr

And truth be told, I sometimes let myself get distracted, whether by a phone call, the weather report, or that new store that just opened up. I’m causing other drivers to slow down, or maneuver around me, or honk, or swear, or gesticulate. I’m part of the problem.

Kindergarten for drivers

Sharing the road isn’t a new concept. But this week it took on a new meaning for me.

While driving through a construction zone, I suddenly remembered a lesson from kindergarten. We all had to share the toys at play time. This rule was gently but strictly enforced. Not sharing meant having to sit by yourself, watching everyone else have fun.

What if I applied that rule to driving, I wondered. After all, the road does not belong to me. It belongs to everyone, including other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. To earn the privilege of driving on that road, I must share it with them, just like I shared those toys at play time.

I’m working on being mindful of sharing, and putting the road warrior in a time out.

car and bike next to each other on sign saying share the road
NYC Share the road sign, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You can read about the study here: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

The Zen of meetings: Remembering to listen

Sometimes being in the moment means being bored. That is the uncomfortable reality of attending meetings.

I’m not a big fan of meetings. If they go on too long, and what meeting doesn’t, they release the squirmy preteen who lives in my head.

bored looking preteen girl
My inner squirmy preteen

She flicks her gaze back and forth between the clock and whoever is speaking. She scribbles nonsense in the margins of her legal pad. When she has exhausted all socially acceptable diversions, she resorts to that middle-school favorite, criticism.

“Let’s think outside the box,” she fumes silently. “Really?!”

Of course she’s not the only person who finds that cliché, or any cliché, distasteful. After all, clichés indicate a certain laziness in the speaker, right, so it’s okay to heap scorn and mockery on their heads, right?

Simmer down, I tell my inner brat. It isn’t that simple.

Sometimes using clichés is a mistake. But sometimes using them indicates a code, a common language indicating common goals, a way to get to the point faster. In those instances, a cliché can be an effective communication tool. So what’s really going on here, I ask my inner tweenster. Why the eye roll?

The ugly truth

The truth, it turns out, is very unflattering. To me. The truth is that when I’m bored and fidgety, it’s often because I’m not truly listening. I’m using boredom as an excuse to disengage and think snarky thoughts. Rather than tuning out, I need to tune in.

Listening is a skill. It’s an active process requiring not just my attention but thoughtful consideration of the message. It requires setting aside my own impatience and extending the courtesy of my full attention to the speaker. In short, it requires mindfulness.

Coming home to mindfulness

It all starts with the breath. I begin silently counting my breaths, from one to four. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count one. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count two. When I get to four, I start again.

Four Leaf Clover
I count to four and start again

This return to mindfulness helps me engage my listening skills. And once I do,  the meeting transforms. Or rather, my experience of it transforms.

I feel more connected to the others in the room. I start to understand what it is they’re saying, or trying to say. I’m more actively involved. This sense of connection is a good clue that I’ve tuned in again.

Do I still get fidgety? Of course. And I still think no meeting should last more than 20 minutes. But I’m getting better at reminding myself to listen. One meeting at a time.

zen garden
Zen garden

I forgot my cell phone yesterday – or did I?

Yesterday I discovered that being without a cell phone all day can be a relief.

I didn’t intend to find this out. I fully intended to take my purse and cell phone when I left the house. And then I forgot.  Continue reading “I forgot my cell phone yesterday – or did I?”

Tracking the neighborhood wildlife: My photo safari

One of my favorite adventures is a photo safari. I’m on a tight budget, so I book my safari close to home — very close. I take a walk in my neighborhood, cell phone or camera in hand, and document the local wildlife.

What I found right in front of me the other day was fascinating.

close up of praying mantis head
Anybody recognize this guy?

Continue reading “Tracking the neighborhood wildlife: My photo safari”

Mindfulness: Can I squeeze meditation into my hectic schedule?

The short answer is — yes!

Even if you only have a few minutes, you can practice meditation and reap the benefits.

In fact, some experts say it’s more beneficial to practice for only 10 minutes each and every day than to practice for an hour once a week. I’ve found this to be true. Although I would love to sit in quiet contemplation for an hour every day, that isn’t realistic right now. I take whatever serenity I can get!

lady in meditation
My  ideal meditation: An hour every day

Meditation provides many benefits and strengthens the mind-body connection. One benefit I’m especially grateful for is that meditation also improves mindfulness.

So how do we find the time? How do we practice? And what the heck do I mean by mindfulness?

Mindfulness

What I mean by mindfulness is a state of relaxed awareness in which we relax control of our conscious mind. We let our thoughts drift through our consciousness like fluffy clouds drifting across the sky.

Clouds drifting across the sky
Let your thoughts drift like clouds across the sky

We don’t hold on to them. We don’t try to change them. We just let them go. In this way, we still both our bodies and our minds. Not perfectly, of course, but enough that some of our tension, anxiety, and distractedness drift away, at least for a while. Over time we can learn to apply mindfulness to situations that occur outside of our meditation. When I do this I feel more centered and less prone to distractions.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. But first we need to find the time.

Finding the time to meditate

I was surprised by how easily I found openings in my day, once I decided to do so. It turns out there were many moments waiting to be filled with a little bit of serenity and calm:

  • in line at the grocery store;
  • at my desk between tasks;
  • washing the dishes.

I find longer stretches in these kinds of moments:

  • on walks in the park;
  • in the early morning when everything is still quiet;
  • when I turn off the TV and computer.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. I’m going to describe how I do it, but if this doesn’t work for you there are many other methods and a wealth of information online. I provide links to some free online resources below.

7 steps to practicing mindfulness

  1. Start by taking several deep breaths. If you’re feeling tense, roll your shoulders or clench and unclench your fists a few times.
  2. Decide how long you’re going to meditate, whether it’s 2 minutes, 10 minutes, or longer. (Some people set a timer. I just peek at my watch from time to time.)
  3. If you’re comfortable doing so, close your eyes. If not, find something to look at and soften your gaze so you’re not staring. Some people like to gaze at a candle flame.

    A candle flame
    Gazing at a candle flame can help with meditation
  4. Focus on the physical sensation of breathing. Follow each breath in and out, from the very beginning all the way to the end.
  5. Scan your body for tension, and where you find it, relax your muscles.
  6. When thoughts pop into your head (and they will!), just let them go (you might visualize those big fluffy clouds drifting by), and gently bring your attention back to the breath.
  7. When the time is up, slowly bring your mind back to the present, and take several deep breaths.

That’s it. That doesn’t seem too hard, does it? You could even try it out right now.

Free online meditation Resources

UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free guided meditations on their website.

The Free Mindfulness Project offers mindfulness meditation exercises you can download free of charge.

For beginner’s, here’s a video on YouTube produced by AudioEntrainment that offers 5 easy steps to meditation.

When I can, I sit in mediation for longer stretches. Sometimes for 20 minutes twice a day, sometimes for a longer period once a day. It all depends on what else I have to fit into my schedule. With all the other things I have to worry about, finding time to meditate doesn’t have to stress me out. Remember, even small doses of meditation are helpful.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you meditate? How do you find time? How do you practice?

The Oregon coast at sunset
Sunset and serenity on the Oregon coast

An Attitude of Gratitude

On Facebook recently a friend challenged me to name 3 things I was grateful for every day for a week. I didn’t make it. Does that mean I’m an ungrateful wretch? I hope not.

grumpy cat staring straight at you
Ungrateful? Moi?!

The truth is that I was frustrated by trying to come up with 3 fresh items for my gratitude list without repeating myself. But if I felt blessed to have such wonderful friends on Monday, surely I felt the same on Thursday. Since the point of the challenge was to open my mind rather than make me cranky, I gave up in frustration and embarrassment.

Luckily I found this article on the website for the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California. It offers 6 sensible and easy tips for keeping a gratitude journal which made which made me feel better about the whole stupid challenge. Here’s a quick summary of their tips:

6 Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal

  1. Easy does it. Don’t expect to write in your journal every day. Let go of expectations that can snuff out our good intentions.
  2. Decide that you really want to feel more grateful. Just writing stuff down won’t magically change your attitude. The point is to become more mindful.
  3. Go for quality over quantity. Instead of making a long list, stick to just a few things, or even just one, and then explore that in depth.
  4. Yes, things are nice, but thinking about the people we’re grateful for will result in a greater change in our outlook.
  5. When something good happens unexpectedly, write it down. These happy surprises can touch us deeply if we slow down and let them sink in.
  6. If you’re stumped, think about what it would be like if you didn’t know certain people or have certain things.

Number 3 really resonated with me: quality over quantity. It’s easy to say, “I’m thankful for my friend Lucy.” But to take a pause and dwell on what makes Lucy so special, what my life would be like without her friendship (see #6 above), that to me lays the groundwork for a practice of real gratitude.

So I rushed right out and got myself a small notebook in which to jot down the people and things I am thankful for.

gratitude journal
My gratitude journal

One of the things I am very grateful for is photography, especially outdoors. I love approaching a subject from multiple angles and trying to capture a mood, or a meaning, that I might otherwise have just walked by. And I’m thankful for the magic that happens when a shot that I thought was terrible turns out to be good. That’s what happened with this photo, which I took on a trip to Seaside, Oregon with my family.

heron in the river in Seaside, Oregon
Heron in the river in Seaside, Oregon

I had fun editing this photo and applying different effects. I wanted the image to feel dramatic, and I wanted to emphasize the rhythmic element of the ripples in the water. Looking at this picture reminds me of the fun we had on that vacation, walking on the beach, cooking each other meals, and watching Mel Brook’s movie Young Frankenstein. I guess photos are another way to chronicle who and what we’re grateful for.