A story worth repeating
Wednesday evening my friend was driving to visit me. She left her home a few minutes late. You see, she chose to finish a conversation with her husband rather than leave in a timely manner.
As she came out of the side road they live on and turned onto the main road she found herself behind a particularly slow driver. She was a little frustrated at their slowness knowing that she had a few minutes driving time to ‘make up’ in order to be at my home when expected. As the two cars approached the village my friend’s mind came up with the story that this ‘slow driver’ would likely pull into the shopping area getting off the main road. This story filled her head as if it was inevitable! The slow driver did not turn in.
Past the village, around the corner, up the hill to the second shopping area; of course the slow driver would pull in at this shopping area. No. Now frustration shifted to judgment and blame. New stories about the slow driver appeared in her mind. The slow driver was the ‘reason’ my friend would be late. The slow driver was to blame. As frustration and judgment heightened there was mental name-calling.
Past the golf course, up the hill to the next intersection; still no change in the speed of the driver and no opportunity to pass the slow car. Making a left turn at the intersection and heading exactly the same way as my friend, the saga continued, tension increased. Stress chemicals (adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine) flooded my friends body.
Somewhere a few blocks before arriving at my home, my girlfriend’s awareness shifted.
A new mental image appeared. It was the vision of an elderly driver in front of her, someone timid to be driving at night. She imagined a cautious, light-sensitive, elderly person driving ahead of her. Her heart softened.
My friend shifted from frustration and judgment, in her head, shoulders and belly, to a softening at the chest and heart. She felt more relaxation and recognized that being a few minutes late wasn’t the fault of the driver in front of her. The fault and the blame wasn’t to be placed on this ‘slow driver’. She realized that if she had truly wanted to be on time she would have finished her conversation with her husband in a timely manner, left the house with the extra minutes to spare, as she usually does. Furthermore, being a few minutes late in this situation was also not extremely important. Certainly not important enough to flood her body with stress.
I love that my friend was able to tell the story in its entirety. In the 10 minute drive she experienced multiple mental and physical states. Frustration built to judgment and blame, then at some point a pivot happened. She shifted as a new idea came into her awareness. The new idea gave her a new perspective.
She may never meet the driver of the other car. And it doesn’t matter. One thing that’s profoundly important is what was happening chemically within my friend’s body.
Stress chemicals flood the body
During the times when she was frustrated, angry and going through blame, her body was releasing stress chemicals.
When she shifted to feeling curiosity and compassion her body relaxed, the surge of stress chemicals ceased and she stopped hurting herself! She stopped increasing the likelihood of disease that is caused through stress and anxiety.
This story is an example of the everyday ways we help or hurt our own health. Most of us understand that being in a state of stress, frustration and judgment releases a cocktail of chemicals which are hard on our body. Yet in the moment we still get frustrated with the driver in front of us. We still blame others for things that we could take care of ourselves.
The chemical benefit to the body being in a state of compassion and gratitude is the polar opposite of the detrimental effects of the stress. Once my girlfriend switched to feeling compassion, the increased available serotonin supported a healthy body function. She was taking better care of herself by ‘cutting the other driver some slack’; by making up a story that could have been equally true to story number one.