Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mountains, Lakes, and Filters

Why is traffic so infuriating?

I've asked myself that question many, MANY times over the years. I am a relatively level-headed and sane person--- until I get onto an interstate. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the type of person who is going to chase down drivers who cut me off... but I will admit that every once in a while, I've been known to raise my hands in frustration and say loudly (within the confines of my car), "you've gotta be frakking kidding me!"

I think everyone has their own personal reasons for this road rage transformation. I decided in my case, it centers around my frustration with selfish people.

Example: as soon as I see that there is a line forming to get off at my exit, I will move over into the lane as soon as I can. I will then proceed to wait for five to ten minutes in stop-and-go traffic trying to get off at this exit. Inevitably, there's always some jerk in the next lane who speeds his way to the front of the line and forces himself over in front of me JUST as I'm about to exit... and that's when I become incensed (not to mention the fact--- if EVERYONE moved over when it was time to get off the exit, we would get off the highway sooner. The reason the line backs up is because of the jerks who are forcing their way in instead of just following the rules of common courtesy).

So, the first thought that goes through my head when I encounter this EVERY DAY: what makes these people think they are so much better than everyone else that they don't have to wait in line?

My blood pressure is rising just thinking about it. And that's the problem. I've now come to expect this in my commute (because it happens every day) which makes the thought of getting on the road less than desirable.

I have to admit, though.... if it weren't for traffic, I wouldn't have reconnected with my surroundings this past week.

I work about ten miles away from where I live. Yet, on an average day in typical rush hour--- it can take 45 minutes to get to work. What makes this more difficult is that there are really only two ways to get to my workplace (and one of them is very much out of my way). Both routes involve bridges over a large lake. That's usually where the height of the traffic jam takes place... all of those cars trying to get across the lake at the same time is
not good.

This past week, I was sitting on the bridge in stop-and-go traffic... when all of a sudden we came to a complete stop. A check of the radio indicated that there was an accident ahead. When that happens, all traffic comes to a halt--- because there are no shoulders on this bridge. So I sat. And I looked at my watch. And I realized that I was going to be considerably late to work. The blood pressure started to rise.... :p

So, since I was sitting in one spot anyway, I turned and looked southward. I saw something I see almost every day (weather permitting) just sitting there. It's always been there... even before people settled here.

Mount Rainier rising above the lake.

I've seen it hundreds... if not thousands of times before. It's just part of daily life in western Washington state.

But this time, it hit me like a whack in the head.

Why in the world do I complain about sitting in traffic when I have one of the most beautiful commutes in the world?

When I first moved to Washington state, I fell in love with the natural beauty and couldn't imagine myself living anywhere else. I stayed connected to that beauty for a long time... but eventually it started to move its way into the background. I can't tell you when or how it happened. But---- as I realized last week--- it definitely happened.

This brings up a recurring theme for me lately. Filters. We all have them. We all use them to block out certain aspects of our lives... because there is way too much going on. We can only handle so much input at once.

IMHO, filters aren't necessarily a bad thing. Again, too much input would be overwhelming and exhausting. But I think many of us are letting too much of the bad through... at the expense of the good.

There's a LOT of good out there. We just have to recognize it, and let it come through. Even if it means RE-connecting with something you've gotten used to.

A little stressed as you head into work?
Along the way, notice the flowers and trees along the highway.
As you walk from your car to your office building... listen. Are birds chirping? Perhaps there's the subtle sound of leaves rustling as the wind hits the trees...?
If you are fortunate enough to have an actual lunch hour where you don't have to sit at your desk.... sit outside. And while you're eating, think about nothing. And notice everything.

Live in the moment.

As I noticed last week, this helps me handle stress throughout the day. Things that would normally seem REALLY stressful... aren't quite as troubling.

I should also mention.... since I started doing this, my commute has been much more pleasant. :)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Importance of Grey

Grey, n., any of a series of neutral colors ranging between black and white.

Our society is set up to make us believe that we have to have opposites in every situation... black vs. white, good vs. evil, Republicans vs. Democrats, the hero vs. the villain. Meanwhile, those of us who choose not to view the world in black and white are accused of being indecisive and dull.

The truth is, looking at things in black and white--- by definition---is limiting. Those who choose to stick to black and white are missing an incredible world full of infinite shades of grey.

Grey can be beautiful. And eye-opening. And inspiring.


Case in point: Susan Boyle of Scotland took YouTube by storm when she tried out for “Britain’s Got Talent.”

I know many people consider her 15 minutes of fame to be over, but I still think hers is a heartwarming story... because it's a good lesson in the importance of grey.

The 47-year-old church volunteer had spent all of her life with her parents, taking care of them as they grew older and eventually passed away. People who view things in black and white would most likely apply certain negative labels to someone with her life story. Labels like “spinster” or “old maid.”

And as we saw in the video, people in the audience had preconceived notions of her before she even opened her mouth.

The black and white conclusion: [older woman] + [always lived with her parents] + [doesn’t look like a singer you’d see on a Broadway stage] = obviously can’t sing.

The moment she sang her first line, it was clear the assumptions were wrong. Her appearance and age has nothing to do with what she is capable of accomplishing. She forced many people to shift their focus from black and white to grey. It IS possible for someone with her appearance, age, and life story to have a beautiful voice.

In my opinion, there are several reasons this story has been so captivating.

For those who view things in B&W, it proved that labeling people without actually knowing the person is deceiving... in a good way. Looking at the audience in that video, I’ve never seen so many people (including the judges) so happy to be wrong.

Also, her story shows that when you stop viewing things in B&W the world is full of infinite possibilities and opportunities.

We don’t have to be what society perceives us to be... or tries to force us to be.

(Change your Perspective: Many people think of dandelions as a weed. My 6-year-old views them as beautiful flowers and picks bouquets of them for me.)

So much of our B&W-based society tries to pigeonhole us at an early age, whether it be from teachers, coaches, parents, etc.

I spent much of my childhood education convinced that grades weren’t that important, because my teachers didn’t expect good grades from me (I'll talk more about that another time).

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was limiting myself. And my possibilities. I was viewing things in black and white.

You see, when you look at things in varying shades of grey you realize all things are possible.

Viewing it in terms of stereotypes from high school:
The “jock” can become an artist....
The so-called “computer geek” can eventually become a rock star....
The cheerleader can become a software development engineer....
And the drama club devotee can get a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

Likewise, an 11-year-old can all of a sudden come up with the solution to world peace.
And a 96-year-old can all of a sudden decide to take up skydiving.

Anyone can do anything. Shades of grey are infinite. There are no limits or restrictions.

Take some time to celebrate the grey.
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