In the gray dim of a pre-dawn workday and still groggy from sleep, I was travelling along a main highway with a large number of only what I can assume were regular commuters who try to beat the morning traffic rush by leaving home at the crack of stupid.
With my once-strong eyesight now becoming as temperamental as my body’s thermostat that goes from chilled to tropical moments in a heartbeat, I wasn’t overly concerned when my car headlights appeared slightly dimmer on the asphalt in front me. I chalked it up to my sleepy middle-aged eyes not making the visual transition with the dawn’s light.
But writing this off soon turned to a mild panic when my interior lights began to fade as well right before my headlights faded altogether.
I talked myself off my reactive panic ledge by saying “just calmly put on your blinker to get over to the right shoulder” as everything around me became less visible. That would have been stellar advice if my blinkers were actually working. That meant my four-way flashers were useless, too. Now can I panic? This gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘blind spot’.
As cars and large transport trucks whizzed by me, probably cursing the moron with the remarkable bedhead driving in the dark without her lights on, my momentary reaction was “my car is dead and so am I. There is no hope”. Way to stay calm in a crisis, Danette!
My accelerator did nothing to increase my speed but since I’d been hovering around the speed limit, I decided that I had enough momentum to get over to the side if I waited in the middle lane until the two lanes to my right were completely free of cars coming from behind me. Oh yes, this plan is flawless!
But then an oddly peaceful inner voice became clear. I realized that I could only control a minor portion of this situation.
“Do what is in front of you and let go of the outcome.”
The time pressure to get to my side-of-the-road destination before my car rolled to stop in the middle lane kept trying to incite the inner calm to riot. Those few moments felt like a bottomless pit of slow-motion moments.
With a deep breath, I drew myself back to the inner voice who was saying “Shoulder-check and wait. Mirrors and wait. Shoulder-check, clear now slowly move one lane”. I repeated this for many more moments until I got the far right lane and then I rolled the car onto the shoulder of the road. When I felt I was far enough over to be safe from the passing traffic, I hit the brakes.
Once the ignition was turned off and my shaking hands and voice had called for a tow truck, my short breath and trembling body revealed how much more panicked my body was than my mind had even let on.
There’s nothing like a full mind-body-engaging experience to get the two doing a tag-team wake-up call. While the body responded to some deep breathing, the brain began tucking away all sorts of wacky thoughts for me to develop into full-fledged manic stories later on. Even now, I have a short anxious mind-movie that plays in my head whenever I drive past the very spot on the highway where I had this experience.
Beyond the fear factor and the ensuing stories to uncover about how close I came to shuffling off this mortal coil, I do sort of know what an alternator does and have never been more impressed with the important task it performs. So that’s good.
But I also learned that my practices of meditation, yoga, deep breathing and uncovering my old and new stories are now an integral part of my resilient responsive repertoire in the face of crisis and panic.
Hmmm. Maybe that’s all I need to know.