If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path
If you live in Los Angeles you are familiar with the worsening of its traffic conditions over the past ten years. And when you are caught up in rush hour, when, not if, you are presented with two choices: a) becoming impatient, angry, and miserable or, b) surrendering to the moment as it presents itself, making the most out of it.
For quite a long time, my reflex response to traffic has been, in fact, anger. Not only would I allow the intensity of the Angeleno streets to severely affect my day, I’d actually wait for drivers to make a mistake and hand me a reason, or an excuse, to act out and flare up.
I set out to write about the Los Angeles traffic because lately I’ve had to learn (again) the practice of complete surrender, in my personal life. While in traffic I tended to instinctively choose option a), out of the car I had no other choice than to go for b), handing over, that is.
One evening I was returning home to the Valley from therapy in Beverly Hills. I got on the 405 N towards Sacramento at approximately 5:00 pm, and the long line of sad faces behind the many steering wheels left no doubt of what waited ahead.
I didn’t want traffic to ruin my post-session overall wellbeing, and that’s why I genuinely tried surrendering while on the road, for a change. I wasn’t in a hurry, after all; dinner was ready at home, and my husband was still rehearsing.
What a relief I experienced when I stopped policing disrespectful drivers! What a relief I experienced, when I accepted that I had no power over the conditions of the freeway! What I had power over was my reaction.
This sounded familiar.
All of a sudden, my mind found room for observation, curiosity, and creativity. I wondered what the old woman in the grey Lexus had on her mind when I glanced at her; what was her story? Where did she come from? Was she going home to Reseda, or was she headed farther north, to Camarillo?
When she changed lanes, and drove out of my sight, I extended the same thought to the other cars around me: every driver stuck in traffic on the 405 N towards Sacramento held a story within. This simple realization was fascinating, and humbling.
That evening, when I was returning home to the Valley from therapy, and after making room for observation, curiosity, and creativity, I called to mind something I had heard a few weeks before at the local Episcopal church which my husband and I have started to attend on Sundays.
“Peace is freely given to us. Peace is a gift that we all already have within; we don’t have to look for it,” the vicar said, during the sermon, or words to that effect.
Similarly, Joseph Campbell believes that, at birth, we all are made of gold – that is to say at peace. It is by entering the experience of life that we gradually gather emotionally protective layers, which build up over our golden nature. These layers only hide our natural state of peace; they don’t replace it.
Have you noticed how every religion/ spiritual practice holds within the very same message? It is when human beings transform spirituality into the war of politics, that walls are raised, history manipulated, and bigoted extremism is born.
I bring this up, together with the metaphor of traffic, because my spirituality and relationship with God have evolved over the years. They have granted me freedom when I felt paralyzed by fear, and they have given me the gift of serenity over the past three months, a promising yet intense and challenging time in my life that resembles a lot a Los Angeles street during rush hour. One step forward is followed by a long pause; then, when the light turns green I can finally move ahead. However, only a few blocks from there, another light turns yellow – DO NOT BLOCK INTERSECTION, the sign reads. And then it’s red again, so I wait.
When I am faced with obstacles my first response is anger and isolation. During a crisis I can’t see where peace has hidden itself. So I have isolated lately, over these past three months of promises and hardships. When I am faced with obstacles I see them as a punishment, as my enemy, as something to fight in order to control the future.
I am tired of fighting, and if I take a closer look at what life is, in this very moment, the only war in sight is in my head.
Peace is freely given to us, the vicar said.
Before allowing my spirituality and relationship with God to grant me freedom and serenity, I looked for peace in impulse shopping, in obsession over my new book, in finding an agent, in fixing the house, in rigidly micromanaging every expense, movement, project, and emotion. Needless to say the result was nil.
So after days burdened by anxiety and depression, days of confusion and fear, I gave up attempting to control things, and I called a friend for help and advice. She shared with me her personal experience, and by doing so she shed a light over a different way of living, one that I thought already embraced, but the surface of which I had only scratched.
A few nights after the phone conversation with my friend, my husband went out for dinner; I stayed home, and sat in silence.
In silence I let my guard down. In silence I accepted my vulnerability. In silence I felt safe. And in safety I realized that peace was, in fact, already in its right place, my heart.
The obstacles didn’t vanish after silent meditation and a phone call. But what appeared before my eyes was a solution to the trouble they were causing, a way that I had not wanted to consider because it wasn’t my way. I gave life the benefit of the doubt – for the best things I have today in my life are actually those I have not planned, or obsessively controlled. Just as on the freeway, on that early evening when I returned home to the Valley from therapy in Beverly Hills, I surrendered to the moment that was, in that moment.
My return to a natural state of peace was immediate; I took a deep breath, and it radiated warmth from within. Even though nothing had materially changed around me, my perception had.
These past three months have been a lot like the 405 N towards Sacramento during rush hour. At times, I need to be reminded that everything is always in its right place, whether I understand the reason why, whether I like the location, or not. I write this down so that I hopefully won’t forget again.
I turned over the results of my work, of my hopes, of my efforts, and of my dreams.
That’s how I got home safe, and not even too late.