Take The Long Way Home

Take the Long Way Home
by Jake Block

When one becomes too involved in the work-a-day world and too concerned with “getting ahead,” there is a tendency to forget that our span of years on this planet is limited. We throw ourselves at problems, insuring, at least in our minds, that our security and survival needs are met. The paycheck keeps coming in and the food is on the table… if we are ever at home to take time to eat it. Most people put life on hold to succeed, and feel that there will always be enough time to enjoy life, perhaps in their “golden years.” Few people realize that the golden years are actually brass and, while retirement may seem a glorious goal while one is working 12 to 16 hours a day to become successful, it is seldom the carefree time that is imagined and rarely the posh and comfortable time of our dreams.

If we wish to make it to those “golden years,” we must learn to relax and to become attuned to the world around us today. There must be time to shut out the cares of the day and savor the freshness of the morning dew on sweet grasses and to walk alone on the shores of a quiet beach at sunset. Now, I’m no advocating that we return to the dubious mentalities of the 60’s, when the height of personal expression was to “tune in, turn on, and drop out,” since neither isolating oneself nor clouding the mind with drugs is an acceptable answer to the pressures of life. There’s a solution that’s much simpler and much more close at hand. Take the long way home.

Being from the San Francisco Bay Area, I became accustomed to the traffic jams that are a part of daily life. I spent many hours in that purgatory of chrome and steel and asphalt on my way to and from appointments or functions, and have felt the frustrations that can boil to the surface when some idiot causes traffic to grind to a standstill. Before you know it, the body begins to respond, instinctively. The pulse quickens, breathing becomes labored and angry and the blood pressure begins to rise. Horns honk, setting the nerves on edge. The heat from the engine begins to erode the air conditioning and even the normally relaxing music from a favorite radio station becomes and irritant. It’s time to take the long way home.

Some time before I reached that point, I’d have journeyed the backroads of the area, trough restful stands of mighty oak trees, and down highways where the omnipresent Mt. Diablo, with its stony peaks stands as a silent sentinel to the Concord-Hayward fault lines. I’d explored the bay on roads roads that welcome the weary, offering vistas of beach and sand, or climbed the winding highways through the mountains, peering into the semi-darkness, enjoying the sight of a family of deer grazing on sweet grasses and clover.

Being that I know it’s going to take “X” minutes or hours to get from point B from point A, I will many times choose one of these more restful roads over the “convenience” of the freeway. I may spend an extra half hour on the road, but it’s on MY terms.

On this journey to or from my destination, things change. I intentionally vary my musical selections. Normally, I like driving music that mirrors the “uhrsong” of my life. You’ll hear music with a strong and compelling beat; hard rock, speed metal, heavy metal of acid rock pouring from my car (ask your kids… they’ll know the difference.) When I need to take the road less traveled, I might choose Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, or the smooth strains of a Cole Porter tune. I’ve deliberately slowed things down; brought things into a more even perspective that will allow for more introspective thought. Even here, there are alternatives.

From the moment a child is sprung unwillingly from the womb of its mother, it is subjected to a world hostile to its needs. Where once nourishment and a warm feeling that would someday come to be known as love were instantaneously granted, there is a strange and cold place of rough hands and rougher fabrics scrubbed against the skin. Sleep becomes the first escape from the trauma and, separated from the only world the newborn has ever known, the mind begins to soothe formed psyche with the soft whooshing memories of “mother sounds,” warm darkness, of floating and the muffled murmurs of human speech through the walls of “the world.”

For those who enjoy this type of escape, tapes of these sounds are available and, while this barrage of “white sound” is usually employed to soothe anxious and sometimes sleepless babes, many adults find peace with these tapes as well. Others opt for sea sounds or forest sounds or, “if the earphones fit,” Indy 500 sounds. It’s all up to the individual.

It’s remarkable in this age of personal freedom and demands for privacy that the only places we are normally alone is in the bathroom or in our cars. This is one of the major reasons that most people reject mass transportation, even if offered to them in an attractive package, such as BART in the San Francisco Bay Area. They need the solitude of the commute… being alone in the confines of their own auto. It’s a validation of personal space and personal freedom through and expression of privacy and control.

Sure, we’re concerned with the environment, and we know that extra cars clogging the freeway will mean extra pollution, but we need to be alone, no matter how open and gregarious we might seem, and all need the time and space to decompress.

The mind is like a pressure cooker and, when the effects of job stress and overpopulation begin to close in, the cumulative effects quite often are seen in neurosis. “Burn out” is a common, everyday manifestation of overcrowding and stress. It can be seen in laboratory rats, in seals crowding the rocks in the Galapagos Islands and yes, boys and girls, in us as well.

What’s the answer? Can we find solace in a prescription from the local Dr. Feelgood? He’s trapped in the same cage as you and I. Granted, his cage might be a bit better, but it’s a cage, all the same. Drugs and alcohol have long been “recreational escapes,” but when you come down, the stresses will still be there and the hangovers only compound the pain.

My answer is the long way home. Solitude on one’s own terms.

Driving in a storm is a minor example of compartmentalism of thought, in which one allows the mind (or one should) to focus its concentration on the task at hand because of its rather complicated and hazardous nature. Think of how driving is in really bad weather… peering intently through the windshield, acutely aware of the traffic, the pouring rain, sleet or snow. You know where and when things are happening around you. The radio may be on, you children may be screaming, but unless they’re a major distraction from your major task, they’re ignored. At times like these, the stress or work, a shaky marriage, and even the heartbreak of psoriasis fade into inconsequence. The task is driving… the need is survival. Once you’re reached your destination, the mind allows for realignment of priorities and a decrease of adrenaline levels… you relax.

Ok… now picture a drive in which you leave the stresses of the freeway, traveling down country roads. There are pastoral scenes to see… horses grazing on succulent grasses, flocks of sheep, like a white cloud across the meadows and even a family of deer, alert and aware, making a rare appearance from their forest home.

During your drive along this peaceful path, you may allow for a positive refocusing of thought. Allow your mind to take in the sights and sounds around you as you drive, enhanced by alternatives to your normal musical selections. Ease the seat back into the comfortable position you’ve found for long trips. Relax. Let the miles speed by as your subconscious takes control of the manual operation of the vehicle.

You’ll notice a distinct difference by the time you arrive at your destination, and if you allow yourself to carry over that relaxed feeling once you’re arrived, you’ll find that the stress and problems of the day will be much easier to bear. So you may have to leave a few minutes earlier… or you may arrive a bit later. You’ll have redefined the journey on your own terms and will have gained just a bit more control of your life. Isn’t that worth a few moments?

Take the long way home.

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