Rumbling for all the right reasons
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
Many years ago, I was out with the girl I was dating at the time. As often happens when you’re young and dating, we didn’t want the night to end, so we kept finding new things to do or talk about to delay having to go home.
Somewhere around 2AM, I could barely keep my eyes open anymore, so I dropped my girlfriend off and got on the highway to head home.
The next thing I remember, I heard a loud rumble and my car started jerking and bouncing around. It was then that I realized I had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Luckily for me, I hadn’t yet gone off the road into the median. The jerking I felt was from the “rumble strips” that you see paved into the side of most highways. I quickly came to my senses and was able to get back on the road. Needless to say, I was pretty wide awake for the rest of the trip home!
It wasn’t until many years later that I saw how my experience that night can help us see the emotional struggles many of us face – whether it be stress, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or worry – in a new light that’s truer to how we actually work and ultimately liberating. And the answer is staring us right in the face – we’ve just been looking in the wrong direction and innocently misunderstanding how we’re designed as human beings.
Here’s something I think trips many people up on the road to mental freedom and peace of mind:
People think feeling bad is bad.
Makes sense, right? After all, we’ve been conditioned for generations that certain feelings and thoughts are good, others are bad, and we should have more good and avoid the bad at all cost.
But take a moment and consider this:
What if we’ve had it backwards when it comes to understanding our feelings?
What if our negative feelings are trying to tell us something different than we think they are?
Let’s go back to my experience: Rumble strips exist for the exact purpose they served me. If we’re starting to go off the road because we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel or gotten distracted for whatever reason, the rumble strips are there to warn us. They give us enough notice that we’re starting to go off the road and alert us that if we keep going in that direction, we’ll likely end up crashing or incurring some serious damage.
I imagine that most people reading this have driven over a few rumble strips while driving. The feeling of being jerked around in the car by the rumble strips isn’t exactly pleasant! But boy, does it sure beat what we could have experienced if we kept going the direction we were going, right? I still remember settling down into bed after I got home that night, reflecting on how grateful I was for the rumble strips. Who knows what would have happened to me if they hadn’t been there?
Well, luckily for us, we each have our own rumble strips built into the system: our feelings. Take pain, for instance. If we touch a hot stove, we feel an uncomfortable pain to make us pull our hand away and prevent us from feeling a lot more pain if we leave our hand on the stove. The pain isn’t telling us anything about us – it’s telling us the thing we’re touching isn’t good for us.
It doesn’t occur to most people that our mind works in the exact same way. But when you remember that our feelings come from thought in the moment, not our circumstances, it makes total sense. If we feel our thinking, then our feelings are a reflection of our thoughts – not us or our life.
When our thoughts are flowing, we’re heading in a good direction, or we’re seeing things clearly, we feel more at ease. When we’re jammed up in noisy thought or losing our way, we feel more unsettled. Those unsettled feelings are simply letting us know that we’ve got a lot of thought going on, and we might want to step back and avoid making any judgments, assessments, or drawing conclusions while we’re not seeing things clearly.
I often put it like this:
Our feelings will let us know if we can trust our thinking or not.
The temptation for many people after hearing this is to try and examine their thoughts in order to figure out what specific thought is taking them off course. But that’s kind of like leaving your hand on the hot stove to figure out why you don’t feel good! And it’s not really necessary either; trying to make sense of our thoughts when we’re jammed up with thought is like trying to see in a pool of murky, muddy water. Anything we see will be tinged with mud as well. When you start to see THAT you think, WHAT you think becomes less and less important.
The other temptation is to try and change our feelings through mental techniques and strategies. If what we’re feeling is something wrong or bad, this might make sense. But with a clearer understanding of what our feelings are actually trying to tell us, we realize that all our feelings are on our side. They’ve never been our enemy. If anything, they’re a sign of how perfectly our mind is functioning and how we’ve always got our back.
If we touch a hot stove, we want to feel pain so we don’t do serious damage to ourselves. If we fall asleep at the wheel while driving, we want rumble strips there to wake us up before we go off the road. If we’re overthinking, getting caught up in noisy thought, or straying away from who we are, don’t we want something to wake us up to that fact before we really take our thoughts and run off the road with them?
The same feelings we’ve spent so much time and effort fighting are in truth an incredible gift. Trying to numb or fix them through strategies stops making sense when we see that. And as we allow our naturally self-correcting mind to work as it’s designed, the innate wisdom and intelligence within each of us rises more to the surface, helping us see what we need to know or do in the moment.
So, reflect on these questions:
What if your feelings ARE on your side after all?
How does your relationship with your feelings change when you know you’re feeling bad for a very good reason?
Notice what you see as you consider those questions. And who knows – the next time you’re driving and hit the rumble strips, maybe you’ll smile and be a little grateful for the jolt.