Driving Yourself Mad*
Last week, on one of these beautiful country roads, the person in the car behind me drove up so close, I could only see their headlights in my rear-view mirror. Uh oh, I thought. I held my breath and waited a few moments to see if they were going to back away. They didn’t. By then, I didn’t need to look in the mirror to feel how angry they were. I could feel it through the ether. The frustration. The impatience. The rage. And I fell right into it.
My own anger came on quickly, my own sense of indignation piling on. I scoffed, “Who is this person with their car so close?” [Actually, I said, “Who is this ****** with their car up my ***,” but this article was for a friendly town paper. They can’t print that.]
At any rate, back in the car, I’m completely off balance. I’m trying to figure out how to get back at this person for putting me in this position, for making me angry, for having absolutely no understanding of the world. As I’m really digging into the many ways I can enjoy hating them, I hear myself yelling at them, ‘Hey, you want a fight?!” Then immediately afterwards I hear my teacher’s voice say, “If you want a fight, you’ll find one. The exterior circumstances are irrelevant.” And the bubble bursts.
What is happening is not what it looks like. And I’m coming back to my senses.
From the surface, it looks like I’m going too slow and making the driver behind me angry. It looks like there’s something I could do (i.e., go faster, pull over, not exist) that would make the other driver happy. But that is entirely untrue. The driver behind me wants a fight. And they’ll find it with the next person if they can’t find it with me. I was just their next opportunity.
Now, I may have initially taken the bait. Anger, rage, derision — all negativity — is very addictive. But I know that no one makes me angry. No one makes me happy. That’s all my responsibility, as their inner world is their responsibility. So, when I felt their resentment coming my way, had I been more attentive at that moment, I would have ignored it and actively worked to keep my own inner world peaceful and harmonious.
Not that I would have ignored them. But, I would have ignored the low vibration and not connected myself to it. Because then I put myself in the same boat as them. I made myself part of the problem. I added more chaos and misery to the situation - like a stone in a tight shoe. And the only way to resolve chaos and misery – the only way out of that shoe -- is by approaching it with balance and order. Not particularly easy once you’re off balance.
No, I couldn’t ignore them. They were there. They were there with their belief that I was making them miserable, yet it was they who were unconsciously playing the role of the victim in the scenario. They were there with their belief that they could free themselves from inner misery by changing outside conditions, although that is an illusion sold to us by the media, by our culture, even by our family and friends. They were there wanting to be in control, to be in power, to be safe — yet they had lost their control, given away their power and clearly felt threatened.
And all I was doing was driving on the road ahead of them.
I needed a moment to think. I needed to take all of my attention, time and energy off of them and on to myself so that I could regain my own sense of calm. Only then would I be able to see the path that would bring back beauty, balance and order to this moment. This was the only way out of that darn shoe. As I took a deep breath, it becomes clear:
First, I had to stop trying to make the other driver happy. If I can’t make them happy, and I know I can’t make them happy, why am I trying? Because I have my own habits that are being revealed in this situation. In fact, this is part of what our challenges and suffering and misery are here for — to show us where we still trip into habit patterns of thought, speech, actions or feelings that don’t serve us and bring us off balance. In trying to make them happy, I’m looking for their approval to make up for my own lack of self-approval. That attitude and concern had to go. I needed to connect with my own self-approval and let go of my desire for outside validation. It’s either that or misery. It’s my choice.
Second, I needed to understand what I truly wanted in that moment, what sort of experience I wanted to have right then, and then I had to bring that experience to myself. In this situation, I wanted kindness, compassion and patience from them. So, I had to find kindness, compassion and patience in myself. I had to bring up and feel that energy in myself.
Third, I had to make myself my first priority. I had to direct my kindness, compassion and patience to myself first. So, I asked myself: If I were being kind, compassionate and patient with myself right now, what would I do? Forgetting about them because there is truly nothing I can do about them, if I really honored what I needed right now, what would it be?
And that answer was easy: I would get away from this person whose rage is so compelling.
So, I pulled my car over and waved them by.
As they passed me, they didn’t wave back or honk or in any way acknowledge what I had done. They probably were swearing at me or rolling their eyes or calling me an idiot as they sped by. But, by now you know, that didn’t even matter.
*A version of this article was printed February 2, 2023, in the Redding Sentinel, Redding, CT.