My wife and I were headed out to a week-and-a-half vacation one Wednesday about 10 years ago. I had dropped her off at her work and gone home to wrap up a few things and get the dogs to the local pet spa that transports the dogs to a boarding kennel. We had exercised this exact routine frequently in the past: Drop Rover off at the spa and they schlep him down to the kennel about 26 miles away. Very handy. (The spa is less than a mile from our house.)
“The best laid plans…,” as they say. A couple of loose ends and complications remained: First, I hadn’t confirmed my seats on the flight; second, it was pouring rain and had been all night. But the third was the straw that broke the camel’s back: When I arrived at the drop-off door, the sign read:
We are closed on Wednesdays.
“What?!? I had this all timed out! Now I have to drive the 26 miles to the kennel and get to Margaret’s work and get us to the airport. I had not accounted for this little scheduling burp.”
I completely flipped out. Phoned my wife. On the phone with the airline. Driving in the pouring rain to the kennels twenty-six freakin’ miles away! And I know this just won’t work out. Speeding (yes, I was speeding—in the rain… on the phone). I crested a little rise on Elm Street to see a huge black pickup stopped in the middle of the road preparing to make a left turn into a driveway. Needless to say, I collected the back end of said truck (well, the hitch anyway, right into my radiator and hood). The dogs flew under the dashboard. This was going downhill fast. Ever had one of those days?
Upon examination the irate pickup driver decided there wasn’t a scratch on his precious black beauty, and I decided my radiator was not punctured, so we agreed to let bygones be bygones and I renewed my panicked trip to the boonies to try to launch our vacation, now another 15 minutes behind schedule. By this time I was just furious: There’s no way I could possibly make this!
Entering I-44 I noticed the damaged hood jiggling up and down and something snapped me back to rational. I remember thinking that the next thing to attack me would be a hood flying up over my windshield. I then did the first calm, organized thing I’d done since seeing the closed-Wednesdays sign. I pulled over and discovered that, indeed, the hood latch was open and the hood could have smacked the windshield. I secured it to my satisfaction, took a deep breath, and continued cautiously down I-44.
The moment had moved me from a dangerous emotional state into a productive and rational one.
I’m a rally navigator. The basic premise to rally navigation is the concept of time/speed/distance. If you know any two of those variables, you can calculate the third.
I knew when the plane was leaving (time). I knew how far it was to the kennel and from there to Margaret’s work and on to the airport (distance). I had reasonable estimates of the delays involved (dealing with the kennel, picking up Margaret, parking the car, checking in, getting to the gate, etc.) and started calculating that if I averaged 82 miles per hour (speed) down I-44 (and back), I could positively affect my scheduling deficit. I also remember telling myself that getting pulled over for speeding was a distinct possibility and that I was willing to take that risk.
I phoned the kennel, who prepared all the paperwork while I was en route, so the turnaround there was under two minutes. So far, so good. I actually picked up a minute or two from my early estimate. Picked up my wife and made it to the airport (risking speeding fines all the way) and ultimately got to the gate as the door was closing! Victory!
What had happened? Knowing that my decision about how to deal with the damaged hood could have either saved the dogs and me or killed us, completely changed my understanding and reaction to the situation. Since then I’ve explained it using principles I learned from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.
Tolle suggests that there are only the following three reactions—which is really just one at three grades of intensity—to any negative situation:
- We all have things in our lives that we’d rather not deal with: traffic jams, snowstorms, tedious chores, difficult people. But we have a choice because what is, is. We can bitch and moan and complain and carry on either mentally or even physically, but that just disperses and wastes our precious energy. Accept what is. Do what you can (as quickly as possible) and move on. Don’t waste your precious resources and energy by mentally and emotionally fighting reality. When you fight against reality, you lose—but only 100% of the time.
To Tolle, acceptance means this: “For now, this is what this situation, this moment, requires of me to do, and so I do it willingly.”
- When you can actually enjoy what you are doing, you bring a sense of aliveness to yourself and to the world. Be present with what you do. Life and living are not in the end result or designated at a future time, but life and living are in the journey. Now.
Zen thinking reminds us to be one with what we do. When we sweep the floor, we need to be sweeping the floor, moving the broom, and gathering the dust rather than getting caught up in next week’s challenges or turmoil from 10 years ago. Now is the only time you can live your life. Be one with Now.
Tolle says this: “When you make the present moment, instead of past and future, the focal point of your life, your ability to enjoy what you do—and with it the quality of your life—increases dramatically.”
- When you inject an inspired vision or goal with excitement, your creativity soars. There is deep enjoyment and an enormous intensity and energy behind what you do. Enthusiasm takes over and you resonate with the creative power of the Universe. This happened to me the moment I made the rational decision to secure the hood and calculate what had to happen for us to get on that plane.
Tolle: “Sustained enthusiasm brings into existence a wave of creative energy, and all you have to do is ‘ride the wave.’”
I suspect everyone has those days when nothing seems to go right, the world seems to have it in for us, and we just want to crawl into a hole. My experience tells me that this momentary realization/ transformation can be used as a template for future “bad days” and hopefully lessen the struggle. I tell myself this tale often. It has a marvelous effect.
One thought on “A Better Response to Chaos”
I love it!
“When you fight against reality, you lose—but only 100% of the time.”