A few weeks ago, a lightbulb went off in my brain at the most random time...
I was driving home with my little guy in the backseat. Dinner time was creeping up on us, so we had to get home fast. Almost as soon as we hit the road, I realized I'd forgotten one thing: rush hour. (I blame the fact that I don't work in an office and hardly leave my neighborhood anymore.)
We turned our first corner and got caught in a riptide of traffic. All at once, a bus behind us started beeping, a taxi driver to the right tried cutting into our lane, and the baby's whining quickly escalated to yelling. My stress levels skyrocketed, and my mind began a whirlwind of curses and frustration.
"Why didn't we leave 15 minutes earlier? Honestly, who even taught that guy to drive?! He needs to turn his lights on. And you, baby in the backseat, need to calm DOWN please. There's nothing I can do to get us home faster!"
And then it hit me.
"DUH. There is nothing I can do to get us home faster ... but I can do something about his crying."
So, I pulled a Preston Meyers and "harnessed my chi." (If you haven't watched Can't Hardly Wait, go load it on Netflix please.) I took a few deep breaths, pulled out my best Spotify playlist, and gave the best rockstar impression you've ever seen. Professional entertainers got nothin' on a momma trying to keep a baby happy.
And it worked!
We got home (eventually) and every baby whine was beat with some good ol' fashion singing. But I couldn't have done it if I was all riled up, mentally hating on all drivers in sight. Guess why?
Fighting reality starts a downward spiral of suck, creating an even worse reality.
When I was cursing everyone in sight with my stress levels through the car roof, all I was doing was resisting reality. I was resisting what was happening right in front of me, as if thinking about all the "what ifs" would magically clear traffic and change the world for me.
Talk about ridiculous!
All I was missing was acceptance.
This isn't a new topic for me, but ever since I first wrote about acceptance, I just can't get the ridiculousness of this out of my head because it keeps happening again and again...
... in line at the supermarket
... in my seven-year-old relationship
... at church when its sweltering hot
... at the beach when its windy
... at a party that's too packed
... and, yes, even in traffic with a screaming baby.
It could happen anytime with anything, really. Some days, I'd give anything to take off to a coffee shop and write for hours on end. Other days, writing feels like pulling teeth.
The trick is knowing the difference between what's actually happening and your perception of it. Nothing is good or bad. Reality simply is.
And I'm not the only one who's fighting an ongoing 24/7 boxing match with reality.
Every single person I've encountered today has uttered some kind of objection about something happening in their lives (myself included), ranging from a frustrated huff-and-puff or a full-blown complaint.
Every last one of us fights reality. All. Day.
Why are we all so ridiculous?
I have a few theories about why we do this, actually. Here's the first one...
Reason #1: Fear!
Part of me thinks secretly we're all scared to know the truth—the truth behind why we do things, why we react a certain way, why we are the way we are.
Mostly, we're scared to know the truth because the truth hurts. It means facing the ugly parts of ourselves, the parts we usually try to ignore. Like how we unconsciously say things we shouldn't or gossip as a way to get closer to people. (Or is that just me? Oops, my bad!)
The only way to improve the parts of ourselves that we usually try to deny is to look straight at them instead of away. The path to better is through.
So that's one theory. Here's the other...
Reason #2: Oblivious!
Most people are absolutely oblivious to the workings of their own minds. We don't take Emotional Intelligence 101 in school (though we probably should.) We walk around giving in to our moods and our whims as if that's the only way.
Self-awareness is a skill we don't know we don't have.
I'm the perfect example of this. The reason I hadn't "woken up" to the ridiculousness of fighting reality is because I didn't know another option was available. When I realized there was another way (a better way), I was bewildered, wondering:
"How did I live like that for so long?"
I was clueless—absolutely unaware of my self.
It takes a ton of constant self-awareness to realize what's going on in your head and snap yourself out of it, which is very difficult. Every time I have bouts of anger or sadness or worry, it happens because I've forgotten (even for a moment) that there's another way, that fighting reality isn't my only option.
But I think there's a way to work at it...
How to stop the ridiculousness for good
Like I mentioned, the traffic incident happened to me just a few weeks ago. I'm no expert at this, and I'm still working at how to accept reality as it happens in real time. There are times when I rock at this, and times when I suck.
Compared to a few years ago, I've come a long way. I can feel it in the peace of mind that I enjoy most of the time. (It's delicious!)
I'll summarize the "big picture" steps I've taken to make it happen. Here goes...
Step #1: Wake up!
Taking into consideration that we spend 24/7 inside our own brains, you'd think that we'd have a good grip on what happens inside our mind... Not so! Most of the time, we have no idea we're even thinking. Our thoughts and emotions just kind of ramble on like a river that can't be stopped.
But just because that's how we've done things in the past doesn't mean we have to keep doing it!
It's time to wake up and start paying attention to what's going on in your head and your heart. In the words of yogi Swami Kripalu:
"The highest spiritual practice is self observation with compassion."
The easiest way to do this (especially if you've never really tried to be self-aware in the past) is to ask yourself why—all the time, about everything.
"Why am I reacting this way?"
"Why did I just say that?"
"Why does this bother me?"
"Why am I feeling nervous?"
"Why did I just remember that?"
You get the picture!
By asking yourself the reason behind what you do, say, feel, and think, you'll start digging deeper into what you may have been hiding from in the past.
Step #2: Accept!
This may be the more difficult step. At least it is for me!
Sometimes, after we become more self-aware, we run into things we're ashamed of or embarrassed by. A rite of passage, I'd say! But I love the concept that, no matter what we find hiding in our closets, we're not stuck being the same person forever.
That's why I love this quote:
"The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become."
So, if it's your choice, what are your options?
Once you've become aware of what's going on inside you and what's driving your reactions, it's time to look around you and identify your best course of action. You have two options:
- Accept what's going on around you, or
- Change it by taking action.
Honestly? That's it. Our entire humanity could be improved we if agreed upon those two options. But, instead of those two, most of us focus on a false third option: resisting what's going on by feeling stress / anxiety / depression / anger / etc. Pretty useless if you ask me!
Don't waste your time resisting reality. Either roll with it or change it.
Follow these two steps, and the ridiculousness in your life will surely nosedive.
It won't be easy, of course. I have many more traffic jams and rush hours to get through in my lifetime, but it's up to me to face them with peace of mind.
I challenge you to do the same—traffic jam, or whatever other frustration you're facing.