Thursday, January 29, 2009

Happy Trails to You

Someone asked the Dali Lama how he reduced stress in his life. One would think the answer would be esoteric, or so impossibly spiritual that regular folks wouldn’t be able to do it. His answer (and I’m paraphrasing) is he leaves early for appointments.

While it is true he doesn’t have to worry about a lot of things – like what to wear – the man has a busy schedule. How could leaving early for appointments reduce stress? So, I decided to follow this simple advice. My normal routine for a morning appointment on the other side of town would be to determine the time it would take me to get there, and maybe an extra minute or two to park the car. After I come up with that number, I calculate how long it takes me to eat breakfast, read the paper, do morning prayers, take a shower, get dressed, fix my hair and put on my makeup.

Assuming there are no mishaps (spilled coffee, an unexpected phone call etc) I go through my routine and I have time to spare. So my normal thought is, “I have time, let me check my email.” Or, “Maybe I should clean the rabbit’s cage before I go.” There’s always something I can do, or some way I can multi-task my way through my morning. Before I know it, I’m either running late, or I’m on time, but have left no leeway for an unforeseen problem.

In my old routine, as I begin my drive I’m already worried that I should have left a little earlier. I love to sleep, so I base my “getting ready” calculations according to the average (or minimum) time I need to get where I’m going. Most of the time, I arrive to my destination right on time. Of course I always forget it takes time to get from the parking lot to the office, so I wind up dashing to the door. I consider it my version of cardio exercise. A really organized person would have built in time to exercise, but hey, I’m a work in process.

But back to my typical drive to an appointment. About six minutes into my commute I am ready to merge onto the freeway. “Hmm,” I think to myself, “I am probably a couple minutes behind schedule. No problem, I can make it up.” I decide to drive a little faster. Not speeding exactly, at least not much. But I am navigating the highway more aggressively than I would have if I had built a little cushion of time into the process, or stuck to my plan to leave 15 minutes earlier.

Before I know it, the traffic is backed up, the radio is blaring annoying music, and all the commercials are driving me mad. To make matters worse, I’m stuck behind some wahoo from Nebraska who is leisurely driving his Cadillac like he’s plowing a row of corn. I’m murmuring obscenities and angry at all the cars on the road blocking me from my destination. It feels like the world is out to get me and make me late for my appointment. But who is really to blame? Now I’m exaggerating this scenario a bit, but does any of it seem familiar?

Now let’s consider the Dali Lama’s alternative. We build in an extra 30 minutes – okay 15 minutes – and we stick to the plan. We leave with plenty of time to spare. And because we Americans hate to waste time by arriving too early, we bring a book or magazine to read once we have arrived at our destination. Can you imagine what a more enlightened journey would be like? Since I have done this, I can tell you that the drive is more pleasant (with or without chanting), the other drivers don’t seem like goof balls anymore, and because of the extra time factor and the fact that my brain isn’t in panic mode, I usually remember to bring a couple nice cd’s to listen to on the way. It’s a simple change in routine, but what a difference!

When Jackie and I wrote our upcoming book, “Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within” we wanted to concentrate on simple things people can do to make their lives a little easier. We’re not saints, sages or enlightened. We’re two women who have learned (and are continuing to learn) from our bad habits and want to help others. Some of the best changes we can make are simple. But don’t take my word for. Ask the Dali Lama.


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