Can new age spirituality help with the stress commonly known as road rage? Please don't get turned off by the concept before you find out what I mean by that. I promise you won't have to start worshipping a snake-headed goddess or dance naked under the full moon. Unless of course, you want to.
Is Road Rage Really Necessary?
Often when we rage at another driver who cut us off, it is because we are already stressed to the max and angry due to other reasons. That inconsiderate driver is just the straw that breaks the back. We also feel safe venting because we are isolated inside our own little world. The same way we sing when alone in the car but would not if someone else was with us.
I worked for many years in a job that required me to travel ten months out of the year. I spent a lot of time on airplanes, and trains, but mostly behind the wheel of a rental car driving between Philadelphia and the Washington DC, northern Virginia area. That's 3 hours each way with no traffic. Anyone who has ever traveled the DC beltway can verify that that doesn't happen very often. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in traffic. And a lot of time surrounded by people who were no stranger to road rage.
I was cursed at, flipped the bird, and cut off more times than I care to remember. Make no mistake, I also did my own share of cursing and bird flipping. That is however, until I learned the secret to an anger free commute.
What if that other person were your grandmother?
One day I was driving with my teenage son who had recently gotten his driver's license. As if that wasn't stressful enough, another driver in a very large truck stopped in front of our car and started raging at my son. My son was terrified. Josh really hadn't done anything wrong so I don't know what was going on in this man's head. He was getting ready to get out of his truck and come over. My son kept asking what he should do. I said do nothing. Just sit there. I smiled and waved at the man and did it again and again until he finally just drove away. We were both shaking. But I guess he felt like a very big man in his very big truck yelling at a woman and a teenage boy.
I felt so bad that my son had to experience that. But it made me realize that the people I curse at while driving are not just some anonymous face. That face is someone's husband, wife, mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, son, or daughter. How would you feel if one of those close to you came home and told you they were the victim of a road rage incident? Well, that person you cursed out, flipped off, or cut off is doing just that with their own significant other and you are the villain in the story.
Maybe you don't care about that, but I know how I felt when it was my son and how scared he was. I decided I never wanted to make anyone else feel like that. People make mistakes. I have made plenty myself. It made me think twice before I act out of anger. That was step 1 in my road rage recovery.
Zen Your Way to Work
You are right. That's not as easy as it sounds. Although I was much better at not reacting, I still found myself giving in to temptation every now and then. Especially when I was already stressed out about something else. I needed to find a way to deal with the underlying stress of my work life and my home life so I could have a peaceful journey to and from work.
One day I was sitting in traffic listening to the classic rock station that I enjoyed when a more heavy metal song came on. I became more tense and realized that the music was responsible. It wasn't just the pounding rhythms, but the lyrics as well. I turned it off and immediately felt better. I needed more than the sound of traffic however.
That's when I discovered “New Age” music. Some might not consider it cool, but it worked for me. You see, a lot of this music is designed for mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation. It is mostly instrumental and very soothing. There are no lyrics to think about so your mind can relax as well.
Don't forget books on tape. The idea is to keep your mind from thinking about work, family, traffic, and all of the other things that keep you stressed.
Pillar of Peacefulness
I began experimenting with other techniques to quiet my mind that wouldn't interfere with my ability to drive like breathing exercises. This can be as simple as inhaling through your nose to the count of 4 and then exhaling slowly through your mouth to the count of 4.
When focused on your breath and counting, your minding isn't worrying or thinking about anything else. Your breathing becomes relaxed, your mind quiets and your blood pressure lowers. This is great to do when stuck in traffic or at long stop lights. It only takes a few breaths to feel more relaxed.
Another technique to stay focused in the now. Take note of the things around you both inside and outside the car. Notice how your seat feels, how the air blowing out of the vents feels against your skin, the sound of your engine. Open the window and notice if the birds are singing. Are there flowers along your route? Just take note without judging or thinking about what you see and feel. You will probably notice things you pass everyday and have never seen before. It's all about quieting the mind and not allowing thoughts that make you stressed dominate.
After practicing for a while it will come naturally. I often had to sit in traffic both coming and going from my office in Philadelphia. Practicing these mindfulness techniques allowed me to mentally adjust from family to work and then from work to family. My goal was to completely shed the stress of my work day on the drive home so I was ready to devote the next hours to enjoying my family. When there was no traffic I often got home too soon.
I learned to appreciate traffic. I used it to my advantage and became a pillar of peacefulness amidst a sea of stressed out people. And you can do it too. People will still curse you and cut you off. It's how you react that determines the quality of your life. Choose mindfulness over road rage and you will see a difference in all areas of your life. Of course if you have serious anger management issues, professional help is always recommended.