Welsh poet Dylan Thomas advised us “to rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but instead we rage against the changing of the traffic light.
We rage when it turns red before we can accelerate through or because the people in front of us don’t move fast enough when it turns green. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland — Oh, dear, oh dear, I shall be late — we check our watches — or cellphone — and clench of our teeth, because we always seem to be here when we we’re supposed to be there.
The traffic light is one of the many trivial and mundane things that fire us into an emotional stratosphere, whether it’s a lineup at Tim Horton’s, a flat tire, a seatmate on a plane who just won’t shut up, or the fact that the copier is out of paper again.
We don’t ask why the “loss” of a few seconds provokes us into fury. We never lose the seconds; we have our allotted 86,400 every day to do with as we please. It isn’t the time, we just can’t slow down. As long as we’re moving, rushing here, and speeding there, we feel alive.
We have to be doing three things at once: driving, texting and fiddling with the car radio as we weave in and out of traffic and around people who don’t seem to have anything better to do than drive the speed limit.
When our day is even more hectic than usual and we come around a turn and see a long line ahead of us, our usual reaction is: “No! No! I don’t believe this. Not today!”
We’re out of denial and into bargaining: We promise ourselves and the universe if the traffic starts moving right now, we’ll be more organized next time.
And when the heavens refuse to listen, and time tick-tocks along, we drop into depression and finally acceptance.
Acceptance is the place to be. Acceptance is near the top of the list of the many things we could do change our life.
We could use more peace and patience and less stress, but acceptance — of ourselves, other people and life — is a good start, especially when we encounter situations that get our heart beating faster than nature intended.
Anger is our default position, but there are other choices: we could observe what is happening — rapid breathing, increasing heart rate, tightening of the chest and stomach; or we could accept whatever is happening with equanimity.
Whatever is happening is our life, no matter what our plans are. We can fight it or accept it; see it as a problem or an opportunity.
When we step back from our instinctual reaction and accept it for what it is — right now unfolding — it’s an opportunity for growth, the resistance we need to build spiritual muscle.
We can learn to accept, without judging, whatever it is: loud music, the boisterous behaviour of others, the transients, squeegee kids; the toilet overflowing, the water tank exploding, the car breaking down and visitors leaving the water running in the guest bathroom with the plug in.
It’s easier to change our belief system about others than it is to expect them to change to fit our beliefs. It’s OK not to give money to panhandlers, but we don’t have to judge them or tell them to get a job.
They chose their path; we chose ours.
When we don’t accept, we’re whining about how the universe is not unfolding as we think we it should.
“You are living under a tyranny of shoulds,” said psychologist Albert Ellis. “Stop shoulding yourself.”
We oscillate between the poles of clinging and rejecting and in the process judge ourselves and others, backed by a running commentary of how the universe would work if we had been on the design team.
“The first thing to understand about the universe is that no condition is good or bad. It just is. So stop making value judgments,” Neale Donald Walsch writes in Conversations with God, Book 1.
“The second thing to know is that all conditions are temporary. Nothing stays the same, nothing remains static. Which way a thing changes depends on you.”
The Buddha preached that change is the only constant and wondered why we get hung up and stuck about something that will not be here long. Just because we always react a certain way, doesn’t mean we have to continue with that pattern.
We can always choose to break it.
“All of that mental energy you spend complaining about what is — to anyone who will listen — is a magnet for attracting more of what is into you life,” Wayne Dyer writes in the Power of Intention.
“You and only you can overcome this impediment because you’ve put it on your path to intention.”
It will require persistence, but once we become aware of our habits and realize that the original reasons for them no longer exist, we can change the patterns.
“Creative thinking involves not only generating new ideas, but eliminating obsolete ones as well,” Roger von Oech writes in Expect the Unexpected.
“Thus, when examining an existing rule, it’s always a good practice to ask, ‘Why did this rule come to be?’ then, follow this question with, ‘’Do these reasons still exist?’ If the answer is no, then eliminate the rule.”
Author Jim Taylor wrote about making — or failing to — the connection between our action and the bigger world.
“Only by making intelligent connections — between past and present, distant and near, individual and collective — can we hope for a better future.”
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.