Traffic jams are an excellent opportunity to exercise mindfulness and flick away those unhelpful thoughts as if they were annoying flies. Of course, I seldom remember to do that. My mind generally goes into catastrophe mode spinning a complex web of all the possible consequences of being late to wherever I’m going.
I am getting better, though. The first time I remember the light dawning that traffic jams aren’t a sign of a coming apocalypse, I arrived more than half an hour late for a rehearsal in Davis, California due to a clogged causeway coming out of Sacramento. I had my apologies all composed in my head, because I do try to be not only on time but early for music events. There was, of course, no one there to receive the apology. The conductor was stuck in traffic behind me.
Last August, I drove the Beartooth Highway at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone Park, from Red Lodge, Montana to Cooke City with a friend from Tennessee, just to show her our spectacular scenery. We passed some construction, but the flagman waved us through immediately. On the way back, we had just missed the pilot car and had to wait over half an hour to continue over the pass. We were stuck in traffic at one of the most beautiful spots on earth–and I had to remind myself not to be annoyed!
Clearly I was not fully enlightened, because the universe gave me another poke on the issue. Recently I hit a traffic jam caused by a serious accident while on my way to meet a friend to carpool to a music lesson. This time I realized that he would also be held up, so I didn’t stress about that, and we could easily call our teacher if we knew we’d be late. But while I was breathing mindfully, trying to lower my blood pressure, I noticed the sign on the truck in front of me. Instead of the common “How’s my driving? Call this number…” often seen on commercial vehicles, this one said, “Am I safe?”
“Am I safe?” Yes, I am, I thought, unlike the people in the accident that caused this mess. And those three, simple words have stuck with me to use in many crises. “Am I safe?” Yes, I just have to get through this latest obstruction, and I will.
Patience, appreciation of the beauty around us, and self-confidence. Even traffic jams have gifts to give those willing to receive them.