End of the Year Equanimity

Can you feel it? Beginning the day after Halloween, the frenetic pace and energy builds, rumbling like a volcano about to erupt. Events, trips, dinners. Shop, chop, drop. As November slides into December, the to-do list takes on a life of its own; the calendar explodes.

Or you have none of that. While everyone else is caught up in happy events and celebrations, you can’t wait for all the hoopla to end. Bah humbug and get me out of here.

At this time of year, expectations reach unrealistic highs and demoralizing lows. So…you might consider brushing up on equanimity.

Equanimity means inner calm no matter what happens. Equanimity means being able to take a step back from your emotions so you can respond instead of react. You can observe instead of getting pulled into fight or flight. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Planning ahead helps too.

Equanimity and people you see once a year

Aunt Marie, who you haven’t seen for a year, hugs you. Her perfume lingers on your skin and clothes for the rest of the day. She asks, just as she does every year, “So, when are you going to lose a little weight?” Or “When are you going to get married?” Or “When are you going to have a baby?” That’s the same Aunt Marie who gives you gifts you know she dug out of her closet: a reindeer sweater two sizes too big (you have lost weight), a wool scarf (you’re allergic), or kitchen utensils (you never cook). You smile and say thank you to the gift and “Not sure” to the questions.

Uncle Rob slaps you on the back. He starts, just as he always does, talking about sports or hunting or politics or any other topic you vehemently disagree with him about. You squirm and smile hoping he’ll stop.

Running into what can best be described as the difficult people in our lives can cause stress. These people (never us!) can be difficult in many ways. Asking intrusive questions is one of the more insidious.

The questions seem genuine, the person interested and concerned, but really, these people are either hoping to hit the mother lode of entertaining information they can later share with someone else, they feel uncomfortable socially, or they are genuinely interested. Whatever their motivation, just because they ask, doesn’t mean you have to answer!

Just say no

Narrative therapy gave us many gifts, one of which is a change in the paradigm of questions and answers. In Narrative Therapy, the choice to answer a question or say “No, I’d prefer not to answer that one” can make you step back for a moment to consider how automatic this response is for you.

Most of us will answer questions, any questions, if they are asked with the expectation of an answer. Questions can seem innocent enough. But is the answer something you want to share with this person, other people you don’t know who this person will tell, or even Facebook? FB is a stretch, but you cannot be certain that what you say to Aunt Marie will stay with Aunt Marie. Besides, we’re all entitled to a little privacy, even from well-meaning relatives.

How are you?

How do you respond when someone asks “What’s new?” “What’s up?” “Waddup dawg?” or “How are you?”  Those wide open question can leave you swirling inside wondering where to set the limits on your answer. Do you talk about your work? Your relationship? What if there is nothing new? What does this person want to know? “Not much,” is the usual response. “And you?”

If you are quick-witted, you might be able to respond by making the other person laugh or smile. “New Mexico.” Ha, ha, old joke, not funny, but the other person may laugh anyway.

Most of us just say, “Not much,” “Same-old, same-old,” or something similarly uninteresting and unrevealing.

Practice equanimity

Here I go again with the mindfulness suggestion. But honestly, it really works for many, many people. Practice being calm and you will be calm. Not quite a fake it till you make it approach, this is more of a practice to change one habit or state of mind to another.

That’s right. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Do that for five minutes a day from now until you run into Uncle Rob at your mom’s for a family get-together. Then notice. Just notice how you feel when he starts his monologue. You might notice, even after only six weeks of continuous practice, that you don’t get the usual get-me-out-of-here feeling. You might notice that you can think more clearly and find a way to feel and show gratitude and appreciation. Or you might find a way to excuse yourself from the conversation before it gets too uncomfortable.

Plan ahead

You know these people. You know you’re going to see them. Plan a response to the usual questions they ask. If you are swimming through life and you have nothing but good news to share, let it rip. If you’ve run into a few snags, you might talk about your pet or a hobby. Plan for the tough questions. Plan a kind, but firm refusal answer. Most people will respect your desire to avoid certain topics. “You know, I just don’t want to talk about that now,” or “I’d prefer to keep that to myself.”

When you feel overwhelmed or cornered, excuse yourself. The bathroom is always a good reason to leave a conversation!

Preparing for the holidays includes taking care of yourself. Practicing equanimity is one way to do that.

Ah Sleep…Zzzzzzzzzzzz

It’s 10:30 PM. You climb into bed, pull the blankets up to your chin, and lay your head on your pillow. Before you know it, your body slips into a heavy, relaxed state. Your mind drifts into a place between consciousness and sleep. Pure bliss. By 11:00, you’re in a deep sleep. Seven to eight hours pass and you wake refreshed, ready to take on the day.

A good night’s rest restores body and mind. But for some of us, 10% of the U.S. population according to the UCLA Sleep Disorder web site, sleep is not that simple. Sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs, and interrupted REM prevent the body and mind from getting this essential recharge.

Because many sleep problems are medical issues, it’s best to consult with your physician if you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. After your doctor rules out medical conditions, consider that you might be too keyed up, stressed out, worried, anxious, depressed, or have too much on your mind to drift into sleep.

In those cases, you climb into bed hoping that tonight will be different. You pull the blankets up to your chin and lay your head on your pillow. Then nothing. No heavy relaxed state, no mind drifting. Instead, mind races back and forth from your to-do list to future plans, rehearsing, reliving, remembering, regretting, problem solving, imagining. You replay conversations from the past or rehearse conversations that haven’t happened. Instead of pure bliss, you toss and turn, left side, right side, back; left side, right side, back. You repeat this restlessness until the blankets and sheets are wrapped around you like a twisted tortilla.

Sleep deprivation

Enough nights of tossing and turning leads to sleep deprivation. According to this WebMD article, sleep deprivation can cause grumpiness, heightened reactivity, interruptions to “…attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving,” health problems, lowered sex drive, and accidents. In other words, not getting enough sleep can turn your life into an unpleasant experience.

Depression and sleep deprivation have a back and forth snowball cause and effect on each other. If you are depressed, you probably have trouble sleeping; not getting enough sleep leads to symptoms of depression, a lower quality of life, or just a dullness that makes life less enjoyable. That in turn leads to more trouble sleeping.

How much sleep do you need?

A common question people ask is, “How much sleep do I need?” Studies indicate that the healthiest sleep range is 7-8 hours a night. According to Jerry Siegel, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and Chief of Neurobiology research at VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, whether you sleep 6 hours or 8 hours doesn’t matter as much as the quality of your sleep. [Huffington Post, March 29, 2010]. Keep in mind that all the articles that you read, and the study results the articles are based on, report findings from a bell curve. That is, the conclusions apply to MOST people in the study. You could be an outlier who feels rested after 4 hours of sleep and a nap in the middle of the day. Or you are physically active, or work at a physically demanding job, and you need 9 hours of sleep a night. Like everything else in life, remember to try on the scientific data for yourself. Then ask, “Does this work FOR ME?”

Sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is one of the first suggestions professionals make to people who have trouble falling asleep. The same WebMD article lists some obvious and not-so-obvious sleep hygiene habits. Keep in mind, that these are suggestions and may or may not work for you. Try one for a week and see what happens.

  • Avoid all activities but sleep and sex in bed. No heavy emotional topics, no television, laptop, video games.
  • Make your bedroom sleep friendly. Reduce light, noise, and other distractions as much as possible. Make sure the temperature is comfortable for you. Temperature can be challenging when more than one person sleep together. One wants it cool; the other wants it warm. You might have to sleep in separate rooms, especially if one of you snores or tosses and turns in bed.
  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, caffeine, and other stimulants.
  • Avoid drinking and eating anything at least an hour before bed.
  • Have the same bedtime routine each night. This lets your mind and body know it’s time for sleep.

That’s a lot to consider, isn’t it? So try making one change at a time and see what happens.

Waking from sleep

Now that you’ve mastered falling asleep, how do you get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night?

What you do during the time you’re awake matters. Watching television, reading email, checking FaceBook, watching YouTube videos, surfing the net, reading your favorite book on an e-Reader, and playing Smartphone apps or video games have a few things in common. 1) they’re fun and stimulating, 2) they all have lighted screens, and 3) they fool your brain into thinking it’s daytime and daytime means time to be awake. So avoid all that, as tempting as it seems.

Try meditation. I know, I know. I sound like a broken record sometimes. But it might work for you if your mind jumps around like a monkey when you try to fall asleep. In the mindfulness groups I lead, people fall asleep all the time. Why there and not in bed? Probably multiple reasons, but my guess is, they feel safe, relaxed, calm, and my voice lulls them to sleep.

Although playing apps and games when you want to fall asleep is not recommended, listening to CALM music or even a sleep app might help you drift away. You can find everything from rain and ocean sounds to gentle-sound alarm clocks that wake you from a light sleep rather than jolting you from a deep sleep (Sleep Cycle). Sleep Cycle also analyzes your sleep quality!





After you read the next sentence, close your eyes for a few seconds.

How would you feel if an important someone in your life said, “I wish you happiness?”

And how would you feel if that person said to you, “There are no strings attached, I expect nothing in return, not even a thank you.”

Wow, right?

Maybe you don’t have someone in your life who would wish you happiness without strings; maybe you do. While it is deliciously wonderful to have that kind of relationship with another person, it can be surprisingly rare. Most human beings are so caught up in their own lives, they can’t wish you happiness, or they want something in return. No worries. You don’t have to live without.  You can give yourself permission to wish yourself happiness.

I am very serious about that.

Managing the inner critic

For some of us, the judgmental inner critic will spring to life and say, “What do you mean wish happiness to yourself? You’re so selfish! What about your poor, sad, struggling [fill in the blank].” We’ll get to her in a second. For now, be aware that you might have an inner critic and that critic might not like your wishing happiness to you. We are conditioned to put others first lest we be labelled narcissist, self-centered, or self-absorbed.

So, you will have to tell your judgmental, inner critic in as kind a tone as you can manage, “No, I’m not being selfish at all. I’m taking very good care of myself.”

Many cultures and religions encourage compassion for others. But, when the focus of your attention is always on others, you can develop an inner longing that can feel like a garden that has no water or sunshine. Wishing yourself happiness can help reduce the longing and feed your spirit. Don’t believe me, though. Try it for yourself.

Kindness for you

Lovingkindness or simply kindness is a Buddhist meditation for developing compassion, first for yourself, then for others. Most people love this meditation. It goes like this:

Sit comfortably. Breathe naturally. You can close your eyes or not. Then just take a few breaths to settle into yourself.

You can say the words out loud, or you can think them. Whichever way you choose, bathe yourself in kindness as if you’re standing under a gentle shower of unconditional love. Pause between each sentence and embrace the wish.

May I be happy.

May I be safe.

May I be healthy.

May I live with peace and equanimity*.

May I love and feel loved.


Repeat as often as you like.

Kindness for others

Remember that poor, struggling person your inner critic wants you to focus your attention on? When you’re ready, and not a moment before, think of someone you care about and send kindness to that person.

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be healthy.

May you live with peace and equanimity*.

May you love and feel loved.

Smile. Pause.

In meditation groups, the leader will sometimes suggest that each person wish to the others in the group:

May you be happy.

May you be safe.

May you be healthy.

May you live with peace and equanimity*.

May you love and feel loved.

In the Buddhist tradition, you would repeat this wish for someone neutral in your life, then for a difficult person in your life, and finally, to all sentient beings. This exercise can have a profound effect on your happiness.

Kindness for someone difficult

You might resist sending kindness to someone who has hurt you or someone who is hurting so much they have nothing to give. That’s a healthy response. Don’t force it, and don’t make it a goal, but leave yourself open to the possibility that as your inner garden grows and your heart opens, you might find yourself doing just that.

*inner calm

Steven Smith’s description of the lovingkindness meditation
Sharon Salzberg’s guided lovingkindness meditation on YouTube
Sharon Salzberg’s book Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

Anxiety…it’s everywhere

Anxiety. You know it when you feel it. From mild discomfort to immobilizing panic, anxiety is a fear-based response to a person, place, thing, or experience. Sometimes, though, anxiety seems to come out of nowhere. One minute you’re fine, the next trembling or frozen or worse yet wondering if you need to get to an ER for medical treatment. Anxiety can be based your biological makeup–some of us are more responsive than others–caused by a medical condition, or felt as a side effect of some medications. Anxiety can be the symptom of another psychological issue, or simply another word for stress or overload.

Stress, Anxiety, or Fear

When you say, “I’m anxious” do you mean “I’m stressed out about getting all of these work projects done on time,” or “I’m afraid to tell my boyfriend I don’t want to see him any more,” or “I’m anxious because I am worried I will run out of money when I’m 75”? The effects and symptoms might be similar, but for the purposes of this article, let’s differentiate the three feeling states.

Stress is a response to over-stimulation, too much work, too much traffic, too long a to-do list, or too little down time. Ignoring stress and hoping it will go away on its own can lead to burnout and physical problems such as elevated blood pressure and other cardio-vascular health threats, unhealthy eating habits, sleep disturbance, relationship conflicts, and a profound dissatisfaction with your quality of life. You can reduce stress by changing lifestyle habits. Read more about stress at NIMH.

Fear is an emotional response to real or perceived danger. Fear elicits the fight-flight-freeze response. During this state, the body releases hormones, cortisol, adrenaline, and about 30 others as it gears up to protect itself or shuts down to protect itself. When you are hiking and see a rattle snake, you might feel fear and consider avoiding the snake or running away. You might freeze and not be able to move or think. Most people won’t fight with a snake. You’ll notice a heightened sense of awareness, a focus on the dangerous stimulus, and something like an electric current running through your nervous system. That’s a natural response to fear. When the threat is gone, so is the fear. The hormone levels and body returns to homeostasis.

Anxiety is worry or fearful anticipation of a future threat or what if thinking. Ask “Is the sky going to fall, Chicken Little?” and CL will anxiously run in circles saying the sky is falling. There is nothing real to fight or run away from, no object or situation to avoid because it’s “what if.” In other words, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself from the future threat. You are in an unsolvable state of fight-flight-freeze holding the bag of hormones, fear, and worry. You may be able to reduce worry by changing your thinking. “The sky going to stay where it is, CL.”

Anxiety might follow a recent loss or change in living conditions, health, or relationships. You might read about or see a story on the news. Or you might just wander into worry territory. Scientists don’t fully understand anxiety and continue to study its possible causes. Some forms of anxiety may be biological or genetic and require psychiatric evaluation and medication.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Therapists use the term “normalize” when we frame a person’s responses and symptoms within the context of a situation. If you feel anxious, and you want to normalize your feeling, remind yourself that we live in the Age of Anxiety. The environment we’ve created for our human existence can feel like it exceeds our capacity to adapt. The result is an unpleasant set of symptoms that are called stress or anxiety. You feel worried but may not know why. Or you feel afraid and know why but cannot stop feeling scared. Without some form of awareness and intervention, everyday anxiety can grow until it interferes with your ability to function. Why wait that long?

You might not recognize symptoms of anxiety or stress, so here is a list of the most common:

  • Feeling powerless
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Mind racing.
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Jumbled, bizarre, rapid, slow, methodical, obsessive thoughts
  • Memory impairment
  • Disassociated from reality

Body sensations:

  • Feeling “nervous,” jittery, or on edge
  • Restlessness. Can’t sit still.
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Stomach discomfort, nausea, diarrhea
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Muscle tension
Morning anxiety

Many people feel a sense of panic or anxiety when they wake up in the morning. According to research, cortisol levels are highest at that time. We’re not sure why, but some thoughts are: your alarm jolts you out of a deep sleep instead of gently nudging you from light sleep state; your alarm would cause fear or stress whenever it goes off; you feel anxious during other times of the day but upon waking, the feeling is more obvious; you would rather stay in bed than get up and go to work; sleep is an escape from real worries you have while you are awake.

What can you do about stress, fear, anxiety?

You don’t need this article to learn what to do to reduce stress or anxiety. The internet, family, and friends will give you plenty of well-meaning advice:

  • Exercise more.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eliminate caffeine and carbonated beverages.
  • Smile.
  • Add self-care to your daily routine.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Spend time with the activities, pets, friends, and family members you like.
  • Turn off the television, smartphone, tablet, and computer.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Meditate.
  • Journal.
  • Sleep more restfully.
  • etc.

Ahhhhhh!!! That list can add stress rather than take it away, especially when you think “I should…” So, instead, let’s slow the process down.

  1. Take an objective look at your habits. Which ones cause you the most stress, worry, or fear?
  2. Pick one habit that you think you can change without a lot of effort. Change can mean eliminate, modify, or add.
  3. Practice your new habit for a week.
  4. Look back on the week. What was that like?

Let’s see what that looks like with Jake, a 35-year old software engineer.

  1. Jake says that the habits that cause him the most stress, worry, and fear are: eating fast, eating drive-through fast-food at most meals, working too many hours every day, commuting to and from work in rush hour traffic, fighting with his girlfriend, finances, and because he’s worried about getting laid off, he doesn’t get enough restful sleep.
  2. Jake wants to change all of these habits at once so he has no stress, but he’s willing to practice changing one habit for now. So he chooses to slow down his eating, which he usually does driving to or from work.
  3. Jake made a promise to himself that he would eat breakfast at home every day for a week and even though he’s not willing to cook for himself, he is willing to bring takeout food home and eat there while listening to calm, gentle music.
What could happen?

We can imagine three outcomes. 1) Jake would not be able to continue this new habit for the entire week. 2) He would continue the new habit for a week and learn that it made no difference in his stress level. 3) He would do this for a week and notice a  big enough change in his stress level to continue this experiment for another week.

If he didn’t continue for the week, he could try again the following week, or pick up mid week and continue trying until he made it through a week without a break. If he learned that changing this habit did not change his stress level, he could move on to another experiment, such as using sleep hygiene to improve his sleep. If he noticed a big enough change in his level of stress, he could continue until this practice became a solid new habit and then add another stress reduction experiment to his week.


The point is this: life is an experiment for each of us. If you approach your life and your challenges with the curiosity of a scientist doing experiments you can learn what will work for you, not what works for most people or what authors of articles, your mom, or your best friend think will work for you. When the process of change is slowed down, you give yourself an opportunity to truly experience the results of your experiments.



Relational mindfulness

Mindfulness is, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment”–Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness as a solitary practice

Mindfulness is usually taught as an individual activity. In class, surrounded by other people, you sit, close your eyes, focus on breath, sounds, or body sensations, and then observe what happens inside you. Thoughts and feelings come and go. Difficult thoughts stay like a broken record. Chronic pain and stress, persist. Sounds might draw your attention away from your internal activity, but, for the most part, you are riding solo. Even with eyes open in standing or walking meditation.

Breath…mind wanders…you become aware that mind has wandered…and you bring your attention back to your breath. Like practicing fartleks* or scales on a clarinet. Working toward mastery. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes neutral or even boring, practice takes determination, dedication, self-control, self-motivation. Unlike a child whose parent wants her or him to excel at T-ball, though, no one is going to monitor how often, how long, or how “right” you practice. By the way, there is no right way to do this.

You can see that the process, the practice, is solitary. There is no talking or interacting with others. You can sit in your office, in your car, in your bedroom, anywhere really, and practice mindfulness. In your own world, your own space, your own pace, you breathe, mind wanders. At some point, you become aware that your mind has wandered. With kindness, acceptance, and patience, you bring your attention back to your breath. In and out of your nostrils, chest expands and contracts, abdomen moves in and out with the breath. Doesn’t matter where you notice the breath, the important part of the practice is that you do it. Just like training yourself to run faster, over time, you will notice a difference, an ease in the practice, an acceptance of whatever comes up, increased equanimity or inner calm, less reactivity, a step back from emotions, thoughts and feelings, an ability to let go of mind chatter. Like a waterfall, or ocean waves, the moment-to-moment experience flows through you. Without attachment. Without avoidance. Without apprehension.

Merging with life

And then, your formal practice time ends and you merge with a different moment-to-moment experience. Sensory overload, driving in traffic, noise, motion, other people, to-do lists, dinner, work…shoulds, shouldn’ts, and have-to’s. You feel the calm sift out of your body. You sense your mind building momentum, planning, thinking, remembering. Then something happens, a conversation, a disagreement, and you get activated..again. And not in a pleasant way. No matter how much you practice.

Practicing mindfulness with others

That’s life, right? We don’t control moment-to-moment experiences. We might be able to control how we manage our mind and nervous system so that when a difficult situation arises, we  respond with some level of equanimity. But, honestly, relationships are messy. So we practice equanimity, in vivo. Here’s how.

  1. Plan to have a calm conversation with someone you like. Go so far as to agree to talk about a neutral topic. Instead of focusing your attention on what you want to say next, where you have to go next, what happened this morning, yesterday, or ten years ago, focus on the person in front of you. What color hair does he/she have? Eyes? What is she/he saying? How is your body responding to the conversation? Is this pleasant? Are you agitated? Can you listen with most of your attention? What did the other person say?
  2. Cultivate awareness by paying attention to what’s going on around you. Notice how you feel when you’re in the presence of other people. Notice how much you listen. Notice sounds, colors, textures, faces, tones of voice.Do this without judging your performance. You’re just paying attention.
  3. Set aside time with someone you care about to practice mindfulness exercises. Here’s one that Marv Belzer, Ph.D. at UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center teaches. Pick a partner. Get in a comfortable sitting position facing each other. One person is designated the listener. The listener asks one question. The talker thinks of someone she/he likes and answers accordingly.

Listener: What do you like about this person?

Talker: I like her smile.

Listener: Thank you. What do you like about her?

Talker: She makes me laugh.

Listener: Thank you. What do you like about her?

Talker: She loves animals and takes good care of FOO, her Frenchie.

 You look each other in the eyes with as much focused attention as you can stand.  This continues for two minutes. You take a short break and then switch roles. Afterwards, you can talk about the experience with each other. You can also spend time in your own space appreciating the person you did the exercise with, the person he/she was thinking of, the person you described, and yourself for doing this exercise in the first place. This may not be an easy or comfortable task.

In intimate relationships, equanimity can fly out the window when triggers and hot buttons get pushed. If the exercises above are difficult, you might start with this exercise from somatic therapy.

  1. Stand at opposite sides of the room facing each other.
  2. Check in with yourself to see how you feel. Calm? Safe? Something else?
  3. Share that with your partner.
  4. Take one step closer. Stop. Check in again. Talk about it.
  5. Repeat until you are as close as both of you can tolerate without having to do anything (i.e. hug, kiss, walk away).
  6. Look at each other.
  7. See what happens.

For couples, this practice can take some time, but it’s well worth the effort. If your relationship has gotten difficult, you would do this in the safety of a therapist’s office with the therapist guiding you.

*fartlek — Swedish word for speed play. Used by runners to increase speed and performance.

Julio vs. the 105

You might be wondering what  traffic has to do with mental health. If you travel on the freeways in Los Angeles County, you know. Traffic affects your mind, your body, and your spirit.

Urban living
Traffic affects mind, body, spirit
A light traffic day on the 405

Living in urban areas strains the calmest of nervous systems. It seems that something is always intruding the peace and quietude:

Noise: from vehicles in the air and on the ground; lawnmowers and other machines; barking dogs; car horns honking; rap and hip hop played loud enough to shake surfaces 100 feet away

Visual pollution: endless billboards, signs, and buildings selling goods and services; too little organic green, too many hard edges and gray / black surfaces

Over-stimulation of olfactory system: smells from fast-food restaurants, diesel exhaust, barbecue lighter fluid, chem-logs, and smog in general

Heat and sunshine: yes, too much of anything can be stressful, even warm, sunny weather

And then there’s traffic: too many people trying to get to the same place at the same time.

Traffic in LA

Here in Los Angeles County, as in many other parts of Southern California, we talk about traffic the way people who live with seasons talk about weather.

I live in Santa Monica and work in Hollywood.

I live in the valley and work in Santa Monica.

I live in PV and work downtown.

Without hesitation, comes an empathetic “Ugh” from the listener. Everyone who drives knows traffic patterns on the 405 freeway, the 5, the 10, the 110, the 101, and the 105. Don’t get on the freeway going south [or east] after three. Don’t travel north [or west] between 6:30 and 10:30 [AM].

The freeway’s congestion problems are legendary, leading to jokes that the road was numbered 405 because traffic moves at “four or five” miles per hour, or because drivers need “four or five” hours to get anywhere. Indeed, average speeds as low as 5 mph are routinely recorded during morning and afternoon commutes…–Wikipedia

When cars collide on the freeway, all 10 lanes, five south, five north, back up for hours. If you’re on the side of the freeway with the accident, cars squeeze around the wreck backing up the limited accident-free lanes for miles until a tow truck arrives. If you’re on the other side of the freeway, you and everyone else slows down to see what happened. Curiosity killed the cat and stopped the traffic. Traffic reporters call it rubbernecking.

Julio and the 105

When Julio* told me that he lives in Norwalk and works in El Segundo, I understood that as code for the 105 freeway parking lot at rush hour in both directions.

Ugh. My body slumped and my jaw dropped.

He explained that one year ago, after working in management “5 minutes from my home,” the company he worked for was absorbed by another larger corporation.

“They gave me a choice. I could keep my pay and seniority, but I’d have to move down out of management and work 17 miles west of where I live. Of course I accepted. I’m 56. I felt fortunate that I still had a job. I thought how bad could the commute be.”

The first day on the freeway, Julio regretted his decision. He began sending out resumes to find a job closer to home. “I was on the freeway an hour to work and an hour to get home.  Sometimes I might sit in my car for an hour and a half,” he said, “I was willing to take less pay and give up my seniority.” Go to sigalert.com and click on a camera on the 105 to see what Julio is up against.

Stress from any stimulus causes muscle tension. Arms, hands, shoulders, neck and jaw are stress magnets. When the body is tense, the mind is rigid. Driving in rush hour traffic can be unhealthy for body, mind, and spirit.

The gratitude attitude wins

Julio had a talk with himself and made a gratitude list. He enjoys the people he works with; he enjoys his new job. He likes just about everything that came with this unplanned change.

He just does not enjoy his commute.

“I realized that I was fighting reality. I wondered what I could do with my time in the car. Instead of getting frustrated and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to use the time to catch up with my children. I call them on my way to work and on my way home. We’ve gotten closer.”

He also uses his commute time to prepare for and digest his day. Not unlike meditation, Julio lets his thoughts flow like clouds in the sky, or cars on the freeway. He problem solves and works through his responses and reactions to interactions that happened during the day or at home. He has no attachment to any particular thought or feeling. He has no expectations about how slow traffic will travel or the time it takes to get where he’s going.

He smiled. “This change has been good for me,” he said. He’s become aware of his need to slow down and cultivate patience.

In Julio vs. the 105, Julio wins! By changing his attitude and accepting what is, Julio is gets peace of mind, body, and spirit. When acceptance is the only path to health and happiness, fighting reality only makes a bad situation worse.