The other day, I was headed downtown for an appointment. I go to this clinic frequently, and I have my route down to a science. I know to start in the inside lane and when to switch to the outer lane. I know which lane I need to be in to make the correct turn. I often take the earliest appointments that I can because I need to be back at my house by 9 a.m. to start seeing clients. Often, I leave early so that I can check into my appointment 15 minutes early with the hope of getting seen a bit sooner.
As I was making my way downtown, I started to see the traffic thickening. Red tail lights ahead of me forced me to stop, and soon I was completely surrounded by other stopped cars. As the minutes passed by, we slowly inched forward. I thought about trying to get into the outer lane to get off the highway, but I was still my miles from my destination and managing through blocks of stop signs and red lights likely wouldn’t speed up my trip. I had given myself plenty of time to get to the appointment, but my buffer was shortening. The clinic wouldn’t care if I was late, but I was more concerned with getting home in time for my client. Maybe I could reschedule (which I hate doing) or meet her a few minutes late.
At that moment, I realized there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t fix this situation, rather, I would have to live through it. I would have to let myself just be in traffic. I wouldn’t yet call my supervisor to discuss rescheduling the client, rather I would not meddle in the situation at all. I would just be, and then figure it out.
I recently read Michael Singer’s The Surrender Experiment in which he talks about his path to enlightenment and his insistency on surrendering to whatever life presents him. It’s a fairly good read, if you can get over the fact that much of the good that comes to him is less about the universe and more due to his privilege as a white male. The main point is that Singer gives up preference and embraces what’s been given to him. When someone moves on to his property that he isn’t thrilled about, instead of fighting them he helps build the house. When he is given work that he doesn’t think he can handle, he hires more people. He leans into the situation instead of forcing the option he would prefer.
My preference was to make my appointment on time, but I live in a large U.S. city and so traffic like this will happen. I can stress and worry about it for the next 20 minutes, or I can claim back my time. Maybe enjoy this forced break.
Sitting in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, I wondered where else in my life could I use to just give in and not fight the situation so hard. Part of the disappointment in life is wanting what isn’t ours—love, money, jobs, adventure. We are so embedded in our preferences of how we want things to work out that we waist hours, days, weeks with worry and stress. If we could just let things be, maybe our hearts wouldn’t be so heavy?
Within 15 minutes, the traffic cleared. I made my appointment on time, and I was able to get home to see my client. So, it worked out, however, that’s not what I took from this. By surrendering to the moment, I let go of stress and worry, and rather than a frantic and aggravating morning, and I was able to carry this calm moment throughout the day.