I’ve written two blog posts inspired by a place I dubbed mindfulness intersection. It was a stretch of road I drove regularly, giving me plenty of opportunities to practice mindfulness.
My first lesson was about my rage at another car cutting in front of me.
My second lesson had me being the cutter, at a different, but similar, intersection.
My third lesson—I’ve stopped saying final because life keeps surprising me—I tell here.
This lesson captures the essence of Don Miguel Ruiz’s second agreement—don’t take anything personally—in his book, The Four Agreements.
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
This third lesson, surprisingly, happened while I was walking. Having had a disagreement with Bubba, I was outside, stomping up the street, trying to clear my head and make sense of what had just happened.
Somehow Bubba was distressed by something I had done, although, from my perspective, I hadn’t done anything. I was feeling falsely accused of something, and was swimming in my inner pool of righteous indignation over being blamed by him for some imagined unkindness. As I slogged along, clenching and unclenching my teeth, I could feel my frustration and anger rise; in my head, Bubba was responding completely out of proportion to whatever misstep I might have made.
Letting go of my anger didn’t seem possible. I hadn’t done anything, yet here I was being blamed. That wasn’t right. The possibility that I might be responding out of proportion wasn’t even on the radar. I was attached to my emotions and my perspective; my version was the only possible truth I could imagine. I was personally affronted.
And then, my third lesson happened. Uninvited. Unexpected. Yet brilliantly insightful.
Clearly experienced: don’t take it personally.
Challenging to explain: a change of perspective can change an experience and produce new understanding.
My mind revisited Road Rage Lesson #1.
In that story, I was driving through an intersection, when another car pulled out to merge in front of me. Their action startled me, and, feeling threatened, I got angry. I flipped them the bird. Waved my arms. Became agitated and full of vitriol for their threatening action.
That scene appeared in my head as I walked down the street, distressed at being falsely blamed by Bubba for something.
Only in this version, I was the other driver, the one inside the threatening car, not the one being threatened. I had just pulled into traffic, and I was observing this other driver, their face in a rage, flipping the bird, waving their arms, demonstrating distress, anger and fury. All at me.
As the driver who had just pulled out in what I thought was a safe and legal move, this anger lobbed at me was unexpected. And, from my perspective, unwarranted. I felt falsely accused of doing something I certainly hadn’t done. The other driver’s response made no sense; it baffled me.
Then it occurred to me: my pulling out may have scared them; made them afraid for their well-being. From that place of fear, they were lashing out. Blaming my driving for their emotional response.
Whether my driving had actually put them at risk or not didn’t matter. Not really. They felt fear; and responded from that place.
I suddenly imagined Bubba’s reaction to whatever I had done earlier. What if he was responding from fear; from a place of feeling threatened. Not because I had actually done anything wrong, but because his lens converted whatever I had done into a threatening action.
In that moment, my entire body softened. My jaw relaxed. I felt empathy toward Bubba, the way one would feel empathy toward a scared friend or child. I didn’t want him to feel fear in our relationship. If something I had done triggered fear, I wanted to know. Whether his fear made sense to me or not didn’t really matter.
There was something sublime about that moment. I didn’t take his response to whatever I had done personally.
I felt as if I was suddenly witnessing my disagreement with Bubba from a drone, looking down on it, similar to the road intersection. One driver—Bubba—was experiencing distress; the other driver—me—was bewildered by this expression of distress.
Each of us was in our own bubble, having our own emotional experience, responding to our own internal agitation. Actual stuff was happening in the relative world; the world of cars and intersections and relationships. But the experience of that stuff was happening internally, in our own heads. The things happening were being interpreted and imagined by two separate people, each with our own lens of experience.
Bubba’s lens, in truth, had nothing to do with me personally.
I didn’t need to believe, and suffer, as if it did.
1 – From a web page about a Four Agreements weekend workshop.