Last weekend we headed out of town to meet up with some dear friends in Richmond Virginia. Because of travel schedules and work commitments, we weren't able to leave as early in the day as we would have liked, but we set out full of excitement to reconnect with friends, escape the city, and expose our daughter to new surroundings.
Shortly after leaving the District, however, my spirit flagged as traffic stopped. Literally. When we moved (which was infrequently) we traveled at top speeds of 15 miles per hour and never for more than one full mile. Compounding my frustration was the unchanging view through the windshield: miles and miles of cars. Sitting still. With no relief in sight. Every time we crept to the top of a hill or crawled around a corner, I strained my eyes, hoping desperately to see movement, or a few feet of open road, but each glimpse produced a disheartening, seemingly endless stream of taillights.
Rather than passing the time by conversing with my husband, diving into a book, or simply closing my eyes, my mind began agitating: What idiot PLANS to leave DC on a Friday at 1? Why didn't we choose another weekend when we could have left at a more reasonable hour? What am I going to do when the carseat phobic babe wakes up? What if we are still here at dinnertime? What if we run out of gas? What was I thinking?
We did, of course, finally reach our destination, and none of the worst-case scenarios came to pass. And as I reflected on my agitation, I began to recognize an unhelpful pattern in my thinking. Whether faced with a traffic jam, physical challenge, or contentious discussion, I have allowed my imagination to trump reason, manufacturing scenarios far beyond worst case realities.
I recalled running my first marathon and nearly giving up - not because of fatigue or discomfort in the moment, but the certainty that one of the other would escalate beyond what I could endure. I remembered being in labor with my daughter, nearly paralyzed by fear - not because of the pain I was experiencing, but the expectation that it would continue to get worse. I thought about the months I agonized over leaving my job to spend more time with my daughter and pursue a different path - not because I didn't know in my heart what I needed to do, but because I feared failing as a mother and a businesswoman. In each of those scenarios, I had someone to encourage me to press on and the end result redeemed the struggle, but what if I were able to provide the necessary encouragement myself? Would it look like for me to stop the cycle before it spiraled out of control?
Is it possible for me to sit still, experiencing life's discomforts and frustrations without projecting a dire outcome? Can I let go of outcomes and circumstances I cannot control? Am I capable of following the instruction I so often give to my students to turn off the "monkey mind" and be present with whatever arises? Can I, simply put, think less?
Let the experiment begin...