Saturday, October 6, 2012

Road Rage and Creating a Personal Sense of Peace

Lion Statue staring aggressively at the Camera

Sometimes I wonder, just like the chicken and egg dilemma, which one comes first: a calm and soothing situation that translates and leads to a peaceful mind or whether it is the mind itself that creates the calm state and situation. If you consider the state of happiness, this issue may become clearer.

What is the cause of happiness? Often we relate it to one or various external events or situations. For example, you just received good news via call, mail or email; it is a nice and sunny day; you have finished Friday (thank God) and are ready for a weekend of relaxation and / or parties. Other factors may include a general sense of gratefulness, accomplishment or blessing with one's life, the status quo. You enjoy your family and your work, a job that you love with an overall financial status that is better than can be expected.

In all or any of these cases, we have specific reasons to feel happy. Yet this is not always guaranteed as a causal relationship; we often demand more than we have, so we could quite easily imagine having a better and more satisfying job with a higher income, more days off, living in a more pleasant climate and so on. Some people, in fact, will never pause to feel true happiness as they keep pushing themselves mercilessly ahead like a stubborn mule-driver toward what they perceive to be a state of happiness. Others are never happy until they die.

When it comes to feeling happy, it is usually linked to reason; we are rational beings or at least grow up and live in a society that considers rational thinking as an important trait. Anything irrational is deemed inferior, such as superstition or fantasy and as such, those ideas or beliefs will be attacked on logical grounds and assumptions.

As a result, we often put our feelings under close scrutiny and doubt and double-check our feelings by running it through a logical filter. Feeling sad without a reason puts us at risk of becoming or being depressed while feeling happy without a reason may make us look foolish, or worse, insane. We ask ourselves, how could the poor be possibly happy with all their turmoils and unsatisfied needs?

A peaceful mind can be approached and evaluated from similar angles. A person living in a war-torn place has neither peace nor happiness and the same may apply to the one struggling daily for livelihood and survival. When your world lacks any vestige of peace, it becomes difficult, if not downright impossible, to have peace of mind. Yet there are situations where people in the most wretched situations still manage to feel and even project a sense of peace, which is rather the exception than the norm.

Could it be merely a personality trait then? Are we dealing with Type A versus Type B personalities? Are some people simply more attune with peace? Do they have a serious lack of or an empty slot in the aggression department? If we look upon ourselves as helpless victims of our brain and mood swings, then the answer may be yes; it is part of our personality; you are simply born with it.

However, others are able to control their aggression, to deal with stress without erupting in a mighty all-engulfing tantrum and manage to see the positive side of things or the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Whether you are born with it or you learn how to do it, I do not know. But I do think that we have the capability to learn to guide and control our feelings, at least to a certain degree.

Road rage seems to be a common enough situation in which anger tends to win the upper hand. If you find yourself in a serious road rage incident, there are a number of choices you have to vent and release this building and bubbling anger. You can honk your horn, you can shout obscenities at the other driver or, and this is the worst and most problematic case, you can step out of the car and “take it outside” by engaging in a fist fight I presume.

When you are swarmed by those feelings, your reason or rational side will be out-manned (though road rage wreaks havoc with women too!). More likely, your anger will win the day, but all throughout there is a little voice that tells you to “take it easy,” not to escalate the violence and that all of this simply makes you look foolish. Easier said than done. We often throw caution to the wind when we get caught up in this emotional whirlwind.

As Buddhists claim (and often they lead by example in this department) there is a way of cultivating and fostering a sense of peace, and it is through mindfulness and meditation. Yoga has become a more accepted and popular choice, at least for middle and upper classes these days, but to me mindfulness is more than a regular scheduled esoteric activity during the week.

I believe that mindfulness ought to be practiced and reinforced constantly. It should be a state of mind throughout our daily lives. I am aware of the fact I should meditate more (I rarely do), but as my own personal side experiment, I try to be aware of my feelings when they arise, a meta-awareness of how I usually behave, think and feel in the day. Imagine a silent Big Brother watching you from the inside.

This (type of insanity?) falls into place rather naturally with my inquisitive and analytical mind; I simply try to observe myself without commenting on anything. In fact, judgement would make it only worse and perhaps even amplify those feelings. But to return to our case of rage (whether on the road or not) I simply look at myself and my “presence” or awareness affects me in certain ways. Put differently, I have created an awareness that looks at my consciousness. (I am not the first, Descartes did something similar except that he kept judging and evaluating his thoughts.)

Just by shifting my attention, I find that my rage diminishes. The voice of anger and destruction tries hard - but to little avail - to reason (!) and bargain with me, giving me a canister of fuel for actions I would most definitely regret an hour or a day later. Yet by merely being attentive to one's mind, by shifting one's focus inward in a wordless and perhaps compassionate way, one can learn to deal with these negative emotions and consequently create a sense of peace within the confines of one's skull. To boot, it is a much cheaper and more accessible home-brewed tool of psychoanalysis.

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