Snowy Owl captured by a traffic cameraPhoto by: The Ministère des Transports du Québec

by Susan Eirich, PhD

When I got out of the plane returning the States after living in a village high in the Himalayas on the border of Tibet, the first thing that struck me was straight lines everywhere. The walls, the tiles on the floor, the counters – everything was straight. Where I came from everything was homemade, rounded, organic. The contrast was startling.

I had a similar experience driving major highways down to Tucson from Idaho recently. Living here, there is no need to get on a superhighway. I spend much time on the land here with the trees and animals. The town has one traffic light.

I was driving my little Subaru in the slow lane at a respectable 85 mph, but SUVs and trucks were passing me at what had to be 100+ mph. As we approached cities the traffic grew heavier until all three lanes were full of vehicles rushing rushing rushing. They would be close behind me, lights on, hounding; pushing. They would never have been able to stop in time if there were a sudden need. The instant a space opened in the middle lane they would pull out and pass me. Trucks two and three containers long, in effect short trains, would pull out and pass in the pouring rain, in the dark, so close that my body would instinctively shrink away. At 100 mph they would pull immediately in front of me sending blinding sheets of rain to my windshield. (Annoyed as I was, I did have to appreciate the excellent reflexes and skill. And the probable excitement and satisfaction they were feeling to be driving such massive weight and size with such skill).

There were few places to pull off for respite to gather frazzled nerves not used to the frantic pressured pace. I had to keep driving as fast as I could because otherwise the drivers behind me would become angry and push even harder; cut in front of me even closer in a rage, honking or giving me the finger. This pace didn’t used to be so true. Everything is faster. We are all hounded, often so deeply “in” it we don’t even realize the stress. Accept it as normal. Too rushed to know we can step off and take time to be with ourselves to reflect and renew. It is the same with our decision making, sadly. Stress narrows our vison to “survival” so that we aren’t open to truly creative new ways of doing things.

I used to drive without concern in New York City; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey. Across the country coast to coast. It’s not that I am uncomfortable with long or difficult driving. But coming from the new eyes of time away the increase in pace; the sense of intensity, was startling. I want to share that perspective with you because I am not sure we realize it, like that tale of a frog not knowing it is in boiling water if you gradually turn up the heat so it doesn’t try to escape. Where were they all going that was so urgent? For what purpose? Did it make sense? An ambulance, ok. But everybody? It felt like a collective madness feeding on itself ever faster. For that matter could we have managed to devise a more inefficient, wasteful, frustrating, ecologically destructive transportation system? Really, we can’t do better?

8c5a7aa05c1819a84f6794d50f73c6fe Traffic Jam | Stock Photo

Mindful courageous leaders needed!!! More than ever we also need meditation and nature to bring us back to real reality. We may rush to satisfy some sort of human-centered immediacy, lost in human concerns. But if we don’t step back to evaluate what we are doing, where we are going; if the ecological systems supporting us crash, we are on the road to nowhere.

Plus our stressed nervous and immune systems would thank us.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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