I don’t love the maze of similarly numbered freeways that dissect parts of California, but there I was with GOOGLE Maps taking me along the I-880 on my way to a hotel in San Jose. Even with the map APP talking to me I was concentrating on the road, the various exits and the flow of traffic. So, it was a shock when the low fuel icon flashed on to the gauge in front of me.
Driving is an area of my consciousness where pride and arrogance remain in need of loving awareness. Believing myself to be a good driver includes things like, maintaining tire pressure, oil levels and of course fuel. When the low fuel flashed on, my mind replied – I DON’T RUN OUT OF GAS! The idea of being low on gas flooded my system with fear and shame. “How could you forget to gas up,” “What an idiot.” My mind was racing, my breath was erratic, and I was having a hard time thinking clearly – fully triggered.
I was frantically looking for a sign indicating a nearby gas station, wondering which exit to take and in the middle of that, my mind cleared enough to see that the entire reaction I was caught up in was out of proportion to the situation. Running out of gas is just that, no big deal. And, I wasn’t even out of gas yet. I found myself in two places at once. In one place I was in reaction and in the other I was witnessing and releasing. Off the freeway, I pulled over and sat, trying for some internal calm. My mind whip-sawed from calm witnessing to self-recrimination.
That inner voice was so harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving. It’s a voice I would never turn on anyone else and yet there it was inside my mind. I sat on the side of the road with that voice rushing at me, flowing around me like a raging river, but I stayed present. I could hear my mother shouting at four-year-old me, “What’s wrong with you,” when I didn’t know what was wrong with me, only that something must be wrong, that I must be wrong in some way.
There’s no way I can know how accurate that memory is and it’s not important. What matters is what I internalized – it’s scary and dangerous to be wrong, to make mistakes, to misunderstand how things work, and to forget to do what you are supposed to do.
I say to people, “Everything is perfect medicine if we will let it be.” It is a radical statement. Everything that life brings us, no matter how horrible or how wonderful, has the power to be our perfect medicine. It’s another understanding of the teaching to “Accept what is.” For me it goes beyond accepting “what is” to embracing it, seeing that “what is” in this moment is exactly what is needed.
Sitting on the side of the road, my breathing slowed and steadied, the mind cleared, and I received an inflow of insights into long-standing patterns of fear and reaction. How could I ever have guessed that (almost) running out of gas would be perfect medicine? Medicine, because it heals.