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On The Road Again

I don't like cars. Nope, never really have. If I never had to get into the driver's seat again I'd be delighted. But, for most of us, it's unavoidable right? I mean, let's face it: either you commute to work, run errands during the day or somehow need your car (or, in our case, minivan). Heck, some of us may even drive for a living. There are exceptions, of course. when I lived in New York City I didn't drive (I didn't even own a car) but since moving south driving has become unavoidable. For the first few years in the South I worked from home (bliss! – but that's another story) so my wife took the car and I had a scooter, now a motorcycle.


Why is that I don't like driving? I think it has something to do with the confinement of a car and the fact that it's harder to see clearly from inside a car than it is from a motorcycle. Now, some of you may be thinking about the fact that a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than a car, and without doubt you are right. But my comfort level is so much higher on a motorbike than it is in a car, so there is some mitigation. Aside from the obvious safety issue, there are some downsides to riding compared to driving: it takes longer to get going, as you have to put on all your gear; it can get chilly during the winter, even here in the South; the gear, if it's of good quality, can get expensive. But to my mind, the pros far outweigh the cons. For one, it's a heck of a lot easier to find parking for a bike than it is for a car! But the riding experience itself (I now commute to an office) is so much more pleasurable. Yes, there is the stereotypical feeling of freedom as you ride, but there is also a marvellous sense of unity with the motorcycle itself: riding requires that you move with your bike as you ride, which gives the sensation of being “one” with your bike. And there's more: I usually don't even get off my bike when filling up at the gas station (laziness or efficiency, take your pick); there is a sense of camaraderie with other riders; my bike gets better gas mileage than most cars; and then there's riding on a virtually empty road, often at night, when you can open her up and lean into the curves … amazing! There's also an undeniable “cool” factor that I forget about most of the time, until I'm on the elevator in full gear and someone else starts a conversation about riding, or until a kid stops and stares while I'm cruising along – the look of awe when I wave is delightful.

But whether you ride or drive, and no matter how much you may enjoy driving, there's always that one aspect of being on the road that gets in the way of enjoyment: other drivers!

Wouldn't it be lovely if the roads were always clear? I know, certainly, that when I'm riding my motorcycle, clear roads are the ideal! No cars in my way? Shoot: it's like a dream come true! But a dream it must remain (most of the time). I mean there's always that other driver who drives too slowly, doesn't signal, follows too closely, cuts you off, doesn't stop fully at stop signs (okay, that last one is a pet peeve I attribute to my Aspie/OCD). No matter where you go, there's always that one other driver who drives you (pun fully intended) round the bend! It seems you can't run even an errand or get to work without some jerk doing something stupid, or dangerous, or both. And of course it's always the other guy, right? I mean, we all drive perfectly well, don't we? I know I do (ahem).

But seriously, folks: don't other drivers sometimes (okay, frequently) make you mad? It's hard sometimes, isn't it, not to let frustration or anger take over, what with the number of people who must have gotten their driver's license through a correspondence course. Other drivers will either make you turn inward or explode outward; either you withdraw completely, such that driving is all but impossible, or you let the frustration out and flip them off or worse. This is where we lose control, having a meltdown or going into full road rage. And that's not good. Not good at all. But haven't we all been there at one point or another?

Let's look at what happens when we let other drivers get to us. Getting mad or having a meltdown requires a great deal of energy: your adrenalin rises, your blood boils, you want to scream. Heck, a lot of the time we do scream – at the other driver! That much anger or a serious meltdown can leave you drained, can't it? So, yeah: it takes a lot of energy. And it's our energy that's being expended, not the other driver's. Unless we make a point of letting the other driver know how pissed off we are, they probably aren't even aware that we're so upset. What happens to all this energy that we're throwing out there? Does it make the car in front of you go faster? Does is make the other driver signal at the next turn? Does it make the car behind you back off? Let's face it, no, it doesn't. When you stop to think about it, it's as if we think our energy is going to make a change to what's happening outside our car, as if we've got super telekinetic powers or something. But in fact, the only thing all that negative energy is going to affect is us. And it's not going to affect us in any positive way because it is, without question, negative energy that we're throwing – not “out there” but right back at ourselves. So, bottom line: we've exhausted ourselves by using negative energy on ourselves. Good plan, huh?

So what can we do? There may well be any number of techniques, but let me share with you what works for me, in the hope that it will work for you also. First of all, the most important thing is to be aware of yourself; be aware that you can, and probably will, get frustrated while driving. Start by doing no more than noticing that you are getting frustrated. Even if nothing else changes, and you end up angry or having a meltdown, if you noticed that you were going there before it was all over, you've made progress. Baby steps. With practice, you'll be able to notice right as it's starting to happen, and that's where it gets good. At that point, when you see your energy starting to rise, you can exercise some control, some restraint. Before things get bad, you can stop yourself and say “doesn't matter”, and, with that level of awareness you'll find, all of a sudden, that is doesn't matter! Yes, I know: you doubt that you can do this. So did I. But I thought about what happens to that energy. I thought about how it really only affected me and how that's not a Good Thing. I visualised myself trying to be some sort of Jedi master, moving the car in front of me with my telekinetic powers, and it became kind of funny. Once I could see the absurdity of using so much of my energy, and for nothing, it became easier. Now, when I start to see it happening, and I say, “doesn't matter” (saying it out loud helps). That's it, it's over. I realise that I'll maybe arrive three minutes later than I would have otherwise, but at least I'll arrive in a good mood, and that's a darn good trade off, don't you think? Yeah, it's not going to work every time; I lapse, you'll lapse, but you'll get better and better, and so will I.

Most of us drive cars, some of us ride motorcycles, some of us bicycles. Whatever the vehicle, the situation is the same: there are always going to be drivers on the road who do stupid things. And we have a choice: either we can allow the other drivers' antics to get to us or we can step back and realize that it “doesn't matter”. Remember that the only person who controls your reaction to any given situation is you. Ask yourself: do you want to get agitated? Do you want to get frustrated and angry? My guess is that your answer is, No, you don't. So, take action. Start to practice saying “doesn't matter” whenever some goof-ball driver does something stupid. I've found that my ability to enjoy a drive (or a ride) has increased dramatically, and you can do the same. Start small, just by becoming aware of what you're reacting to and build from there. Practice. You'll get better. Eventually you'll get to the point where it “doesn't matter”.

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