Yesterday after work I had an appointment to get my nails done. There was an accident, so traffic was delayed for over an hour which is rare for Portland. I tried to find a clear road to get over the bridge to my appointment, but every road was gridlocked. This situation a year ago would have sent me spiraling out of control and ruined my evening. I would have called my husband and bitched to him about the traffic. I would have cursed the car in front of me, the car in back of me, and every other car on the road. I would have turned my music up to try and drown out my frustrations.
But I didn’t do any of these things this time. This time I didn’t turn my music up, because I wasn’t listening to music. I was listening to a Jay Shetty Podcast ironically called ‘The Shocking Ways We Spend Our Time and 8 ways to Invest it Better”. If you don’t know Jay Shetty, he grew up in London but his descendants are from India. As a young man he went back to India and spent 3 years as a monk. He has an enthusiastic engaging voice with an English accent, and amazing light eyes that look like if you met him in person he would be able see right through you. As I sat in traffic his voice spoke to me about not thinking about situations in terms of time, but in terms of energy.
Since I was sitting in traffic, I was thinking about it as wasted time. But what about wasted energy? How much energy was I willing to waste too? I had never thought about it like this. To me, time is time, and I was ‘wasting’ it. But how much of my energy was I willing to give away to a situation that I couldn’t control? The traffic was there, some poor person was in an accident maybe even hurt. The situation wasn’t going to change no matter how angry I got at other cars, or how much I beat myself up for not finding a clear road.
So I decided to accept the situation. I was going to be late. There was nothing I could do about it. It was beyond my control. So, I took a deep breathe and called the salon. They were understanding and switched appointments so that I could come later. Problem solved. I was no longer under a time pressure and so I started to relax. I listened to Jay’s voice as he listed off the 8 ways to use my time better. I was learning something while I was sitting in traffic. My mind was engaged and interested in what he was telling me. The gridlock slowly started to disperse and a lane opened up for me to cross the bridge. I was now driving at a steady pace, and managed to turn down a neighborhood and find a clear road.
Was the traffic moving faster, or was it just my perception? I was calm and managed to get to the salon early. Now I had to wait another 1/2 hour for her to finish with the client that replaced me. In the past, this would have put me over the edge; another waste of time. But because I was calm and in touch with my body, I realized that I was thirsty and I went and got a coconut water from the convenience store. As I sipped on my drink I called to check in with my husband. I told him about the traffic jam, but I wasn’t angry and out of control. I just let him know that I would be delayed getting home, and then I listened to him as he told me about his day. I was present for the conversation. I could listen to him and not just shout at him about my annoyances. I got off the phone, and got caught up on my emails and then got my nails done.
When I got home, I was tired but I wasn’t angry. I put on some meditation music, lit some candles and took a bath. The old me would have been angry and reached for a glass of wine. The wine would have ignited my anger and my mood would have spilled over to other areas of my life. This wouldn’t have happened consciously, actually completely unconsciously. I would have just reacted without thinking at all. I wasted an hour of my time stuck in traffic, but I would have wasted 5 hours of energy on it in the past.
I have changed. I now know that there are things I can’t control and I need to accept them. Life is always going to throw roadblocks, gridlock, and distractions my way but I can choose how to react to them. I can choose how much of my energy I give to any situation, whether it be a traffic jam or interactions with other people. Jay said in his podcast that when people ask to spend time with me they are really asking for my energy. They don’t want to watch me sleep or read a book, they want my attention and focus. Spending time with someone is meaningless if there is not an exchange of energy and attention. So, instead of asking myself if I have time to do something, the question should really be, do I have the energy?
I used to feel like a ping pong ball, getting pinged around depending on what came my way. I used to give my energy away to whoever happened to be standing in front of me. Because I gave it away so freely, the people that took it didn’t value it. I don’t blame them, I was giving it away freely, so why wouldn’t they take it and run. At the time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my behavior. I thought this was life, and so I thought life was hard. Giving away all my energy, I would completely exhaust myself and get angry. Every event that came into my life was an example of another person or situation taking from me. It was the story of my life, no one valued me and that was just the way it was. I didn’t even know that I could stop it. I didn’t know that I had control. I didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to stop giving away my energy to people and things that didn’t matter to me. I was taught at a young age to give whether I felt like it or not, and not to question it. This was so ingrained in me, that I didn’t even realize that it was a learned behavior, and wasn’t really who I was.
I have learned that I don’t have to give my energy away just because someone asks me for it. I have learned that I can say no. Not only to people, but to situations beyond my control.
Now, I use my energy to change the only person I can change; me. And I have changed!