As it turns out…

…curbing the violent thoughts which run rampant in my head while driving is extremely difficult.  (In case you didn’t read last week’s entry, I have decided that conquering my violent thoughts is the new frontier.)  On Saturday, I grumbled about another driver in the Barnes and Noble parking lot, realizing only after I verbalized my thoughts that I had a passenger — and she had read my blog entry only that morning.  We looked, startled, at one another then burst into laughter.  Embarrassed laughter, on my part.  Humbling moments, such as this, serve to either convince me that a resolution I have made is hopeless or to recommit to it with greater vigor.  Which direction will I go?!

A few years ago, I read several publications, and watched some interesting films (What the Bleep? and The Secret) on the concept of the “Law of Attraction”.  The basic concept, and I am seriously simplifying here, is that we give off energy that attracts like energy to us.  I have experimented with this concept, and while my experiments have been limited, I have found that it works — to a point.  It’s all about focus: I need to focus on what I DO want, not what I DON’T want, to attract.  Behind the wheel, I am always focused on what I don’t want — a slow driver, or a tourist, or someone who doesn’t use turn signals, in front of me.  My friend, Sara, can vouch for the fact that I seem to be a magnet for unsure and infirm drivers.  This is one of the reasons that I am certain that I will have a better experience when driving if I somehow curb my thinking.

But it goes deeper than wanting a more pleasant driving experience.  Many minds more gifted than mine, from theologians like Pierre Theilhard de Chardin to visionaries like the woman who became known simply as Peace Pilgrim, have written about the need to take a close, hard look at what we allow to exist in our hearts and in our heads.  That these thoughts have real consequences in the world.

Many years ago, I was introduced to one writer who has had a profound impact on my understanding, if not my actual behavior. Etty Hillesum wrote extensive diaries and letters about her spiritual transformation during the period leading up to and culminating in her death in Auschwitz.  She had many offers from admirers and friends to go into hiding, however, she chose to work openly to try to relieve some of the suffering of her people — and to share in their suffering herself when the time came.  Before she was sent to the death camp, she gave her diaries to a friend for safe-keeping, with the instruction to publish them if she died.

In her diaries, which were finally published in the 1980s, Etty speaks eloquently to the point of managing your inner dialogue.  “I see no other solution…than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we have first changed ourselves.  And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned from this war.  That we must look inside ourselves and nowhere else.”  By February, 1942, when Etty wrote this, she had seen enough inhumanity that she could easily have been forgiven for vilifying the Enemy.  But she took another route.  “By our own hatred…our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves…True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself; when we have all vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings of whatever race–even into love one day.”

You may be thinking it is a far cry from rising to noble heights while living through one of the greatest human atrocities of the modern world to training oneself not to curse at other drivers.  But that’s not really true.  How can I root out and unlearn my own ingrained prejudices if I can’t even curb this petty vitriol?  That is the real question behind my desire to get a grip on my driving problem.  Which takes me back to the question: decide its hopeless or recommit with renewed vigor?  Taking my cue from Etty Hillesum, what other choice is there if I value peace in this world?

Anti-Rage Road

My alarm went off at 5:50 this morning, and I only hit snooze once.  I quickly dressed for the gym, grabbed my water bottle and bag, and headed out the door.  It was crisp and cold, very dark with a barely orange line on the eastern horizon.  Inside my car, heat blasting and radio up, I heard several hateful and factually incorrect campaign ads (from both ends of the political spectrum) within minutes.  I drove as if my speedy arrival would save a life, when in reality it merely ensured I would arrive on time for my morning fitness class, “Whole Body Torture”.  Other drivers kept getting in my way, moving slow, braking when the wind picked up.  I caught myself thinking the most terrible things about them — name calling in my head in a way I never do unless driving.  I mean, really vicious thoughts about people I would never voice under any circumstance…except when they piss me off while I’m driving.  The environment in my silver Saturn was toxic with the invisible smoke gushing out my ears like an old Yosemite Sam cartoon, a telltale sign that my head was about to explode.

Now, some might say this was an inauspicious start to the day.  Others that I need to exercise better self-control. Still others might just consider this normal, workweek angst.  I took it as a sign that today would be one of those days: the kind where external messages coming toward me from the world get magnified, and reflected back.  Vile and hateful messages on the radio, viler and more hateful messages in my head.

Today many people chose to wear purple as a statement against anti-gay bullying and the recent suicides of youth who couldn’t live with the bullying any longer.  Though I was heartened by the number of people I saw sporting purple attire, I was discouraged by the need for such a gesture.  I couldn’t shake the many images that came to mind of young people I have cared for who have lived with these experiences.  I couldn’t shake the anger that flared inside me — nor could I stop myself from resorting again and again to violent thoughts and name calling toward the bullies.

As I was leaving work for the day, my friend Sarah mentioned her intention to go for a bike ride and I weaseled my way into her plans.  I ran home, changed, and within minutes our bikes were in the back of Big Red, Sarah’s truck, headed for the Boyson Road trail access.  The trail was sparsely populated with a mixture of runners and cyclists.  The first four miles are paved, winding through suburban back yards and crossing streets busy with families returning home after work and school.  Once we flew through the tunnel beneath County Home Road, we hit the unpaved section of the path, otherwise known – tonight at least – as Nirvana.  If I could have gotten the camcorder on my phone to function, I would have taped the road ahead of me.  Sun trickled through orange, red and yellow leaves still on the trees and scattered on the trail.  Suddenly, the view would open to rolling fields still being harvested and a sky first blue, then pink and blue, then pink and gold.  Sarah rode on ahead as I fumbled with my phone/camera, leaving me alone and surrounded by beauty.  I rode in silence, soaking up the sights and smells and quiet sounds of the woods and fields.  Geese honked overhead, my tires hummed below me.  When I turned around, heading back only because of impending darkness, I marvelled at the sunset on my right hand, the moonrise on my left.

In his treatise on beauty, John O’Donohue writes, “The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us.  With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.”  And that is what happened, beauty cracked me wide open.  All day I had been like a balloon, filled with gas almost to the breaking point, impermeable mylar skin causing me to be buffeted about.  Whenever I entered a space containing some external emotional currents I would float in that element and become part of it.  At last, the stale air inside me escaped and dissipated in the cooling breeze.  Any lingering morning rage, any purple haze remaining from the day, disappeared.  And I became permeable, no longer reflective like a mirror.  I could feel gratitude, and hope, and love.  I could feel the beauty surrounding me, and knew that I could take it inside myself and use it to learn the art of thought control — because violence done inside my head is still violence, still adds to the measure of rage and unrest in this world.  And I don’t want to be part of that anymore.  I prefer to add to the beauty of this world, and am making that my path through the woods of this life.