Rush Hour, Anxiety and Meditation


I listened to a short dharma talk before starting meditation one morning. Our teacher was speaking about how meditation could relieve chronic anxiety.

The teacher described a morning routine of leaving home with our mental to-do and worry list already being rehearsed over and over in our thoughts. From the sidewalk, we could can the rush hour traffic jam building. We get in the car. Join the line up. Progress comes to a full stop. Ahead we see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, drivers are hitting their car horns hard. Children are firmly strapped in their car seats before arriving a pre-school. Mom’s are on the smartphones saying they will be late. In the other lane, a tow truck is pulling a stalled, damaged vehicle.

The day has only started and we are already feeling the tightness in the chest that is anxiety itself.

Our meditation teacher suggested a different approach. The race of thoughts in our minds is like this morning driver encountering rush hour. And the anxiety from all these conflicting thoughts:

1. I’m getting old.
2. My muscles are stiff.
3. I can’t cross my legs like all the other meditation students.
4. How am I going to meditate and still get to work on time?
5. I need to login, check my bank balance, and pay bills.
6. I wonder what she meant last night in reply to my question when she said, “Maybe”.
7. What will my doctor find in my annual exam later today?
8. I need to stop coming here to meditation, and tackle all these issues first thing in the morning.
9. Fast, so I can be at peace the rest of the day.

Except for number 5 in my list, none of these thoughts, and the resulting anxiety could be stopped by leaping into action.

So the alternate approach my teacher suggested was to sit “metaphorically” on the side of the road filled with all this rush hour traffic of worries and to-dos. Close my eyes. Breathe. Just count the breaths. As the to do and worries scroll in my mind, I should just note them and move on and return to just breathing.

Pretty soon, the traffic starts to clear and when I choose to rise, just maybe I might start my day with some peace.


Out of Focus

As I sat in the rented car across the street from my childhood home, I remembered how I had cleverly disguised the real purpose for asking my employer to pay for my travel and attendance at a telecommunications course just outside of New York City. My true purpose was to meet my younger sister and bury the ashes of my mother at my father’s gravesite I had not visited in over 20 years. I had carefully attended to all the details of having the grave opened. I even had written on a scrap of paper an idea for a graveside service. Yet now, after all that careful planning, I found my thoughts inchoate. I stared at my childhood home with that thousand mile away look of PTSD sufferers. It was now owned by someone else who did not know I had grown up in that house.

I had poorly exposed snapshots in my memory. The camera flash had not quite worked well and the images were too dark. I remembered sleeping in the twin bed in the room I slept in with my father. Before sleep, I would remember staring out at the dark pine trees in the back of the house. They always gave me a sense of an unknown that was somewhat frightening. Adulthood maybe. Why my father slept in our room in the second twin bed had been unknown to me. It was a fact, but confusing. My mother slept in her room with my younger sister. Only later in life, would I hear stories from my sisters of the painful and scary birth of my younger sister; Dad’s banishment to the other bedroom. Fear of another, maybe life-threatening pregnancy. Roman Catholic Birth Control. Was that the sum of all reasons? My sisters tell stories now my Dad protested, was sad and angry.

My father was a photographer, and quite a good one. He was known for his sharp focus, deep depth of field, and uniform exposure. He preferred a mirror finish on his prints. All surfaces in the house were usually covered by glossy black and white 8”x10”s. So I grew up with an expectation of clarity in photographic images. Remembering in pictures was a given.

Yet, now as I stared across the street at my old childhood home I couldn’t precisely recall what I traveled across the country and 35 years to recall. Too many indistinct memories. Indeed, I could not summon the courage to walk up to the front door, introduce myself as the aging younger boy who grew up here. While I had some of my father’s clear eyed photographs back home on the West Coast, why and how his and my life unfurled in this place was not exposed in the pictures.

-written in response to

The Daily Post Challenge by Krista Stevens: Inchoate