“F’n move it mister” I yelled from inside my car, or was it just inside my head?
I was once again running late for a meeting and in need of some mercy from the traffic lights if I was to make it on-time. I questioned myself for why I hadn’t been ready sooner and allowing myself ample time to arrive without needing to experience the staining of my shirt from the stressful sweat that pours from my armpits.
Since childhood, I’ve sweated profusely anytime I feel stressed which significantly adds to my stress to which anyone with a similar struggle can relate. I remember hearing my sales manager say, “don’t let ’em see you sweat” as if I had some control over my pores. Instead, the desire not to sweat led me to sweat that much more. I noticed over the years that it was especially troublesome at the worst of times so that while I could explain away tardiness due to traffic or meetings overrun, I had no excuse for my stained pits without the heat and humidity bailing me out. As a kid giving a presentation to the class there was no escape, neither for the teenager on a first date, nor the intern at his first job. I was cursed.
Funny though how life takes us for a spin, often while sitting idle. As I grew ever more impatient waiting for the car in front of me to get up to speed so we might make that light, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. My body was tense, very tense, with shoulders raised, jaw clenched, and belly tight. As I became more aware of this tension, I noticed that all of my muscles were contracted and I felt like a hair-raised dog baring my teeth at some imaginary threat. I was of course very safe inside my vehicle with it’s restraining devices and airbags, idling at the light.
This little epiphany led to many more. First I noticed that about half of the other drivers appeared late for a meeting or otherwise irritated by the lack of forward momentum like I was. Then I noticed some drivers that did not seem upset. I categorized them in two ways: 1. people already “on-the-clock” that were being paid to sit in traffic, which included mostly work crews in their pickup trucks or business people yapping away on their phones, and 2. people “without-a-clock” that included many older people more concerned with a safe journey than a final destination. With the latter perhaps they gave themselves plenty of time or didn’t need to, which in either case was not my story.
I live in a very busy world. I awake to the digital chirping of my alarm clock earlier than I would have liked and yet I’m already playing catch-up. There are emails to answer, kids to attend to, and oh yeah my own cleanliness, nutrition, and attire. Barely enough time to hug a kid, hear a story, or stretch out for a minute. Everybody has a schedule to keep and mine is no more remarkable than my pre-teen son’s. My ability to organize and produce will define my success story in this life. I feel terrible that it will define his too.
My epiphany drifts back into my car as I see the knuckles on the hands gripping my steering wheel turning white, and as I release their hold they are clammy with sweat. I grab a paper towel that has a few drippings of butter from this morning’s bagel and wipe my hands with it and then slide it up under my shirt to soak up some of the armpit drainage. After doing my best I toss the paper towel onto the dash so that it can “sun-dry” and offer me more absorbency further down the road. Gross.
I wonder how I get to be like this, how we all did? I remember my mom, always anxious about our on-time arrival and acceptable appearances. She would become a bit of a monster, yelling at me and my brothers, and especially my father. I cannot imagine she would choose this, something else did it to her. Dad was always early to work and late to return, but didn’t seem to be bothered by all this racing around. He must have thought it petty compared to the responsibility of financially supporting the family and all the big important meetings that happen in conference rooms or behind closed doors. I remember him quietly laughing at mom’s hysterics and only becoming monstrous when rallying the troops for the football game. He drove like a lunatic to get there and then debated about leaving early to avoid traffic. My role models often acted like a addicts looking for a fix. My profuse sweating made me feel and must have looked much the same.
What was I addicted to? My dad had this sweaty armpit medication that burned when applied and worked pretty well. Turns out it was some high content aluminum-based ointment similar but stronger than the over-the-counter anti-perspirants and that much more toxic. As I learned about the dangers of heavy metals in the blood I chose to sweat instead. While this medication worked for the symptom, it may have come at a heavy price, and did nothing to resolve the source of the problem.
Sweat is the body’s natural response to stressors. The most obvious being the physical stress of being too hot and sweat acts to release heat keeping equilibrium or homeostasis. The less obvious was the source of this heat. Exercising and physical exertion create lots of heat, as do weather patterns and the sun, but I was in my air conditioned (auto)mobile not exerting myself in the least. In fact, I didn’t sweat as profusely as some others when working out. So what was going on in my body?
Turns out that sweat is also a way to connect with others through our body odors. It’s natural to break a sweat if sexually attracted to and/or wishing to sexually attract others. No wonder teenagers are so sweaty and smelly! Once again, I am not sexually attracted to people picking their noses or eating their breakfasts on their way to work. So what is going on in my body?
My body is responsive to it’s environment and driving is a stressful environment. You are in control of a large mass moving at rapid speeds and everyone else around you is as well. Accidents are the norm and you are likely to avoid a few on your daily commute. That is stressful, but again I’m not sweating this as I’m sitting idle. Something else is occupying my body. Something else snuck in, crossed some wires, and changed the lock.
My body was built for a natural world that I was not born into. I was designed to run, jump, climb, dig, carry and throw in an effort to sustain my life. I was designed to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with others to sustain our lives. I was designed to acquire and share wisdom so that others my survive after my time is up. I was designed to feel joy and sadness, fulfilment and despair so as to come to know my spirit and the magic of life.
My body was not designed to sit behind a desk, a wheel, or a screen for hours on end. My body was not designed to make a living, it’s already alive! My body was not meant to purchase and consume things it does not need. My body was not designed to eat non-organic foods. My body was not designed to experience life alone or in constant competition.
The traffic light tells us when to go, slow down, and when to stop. We are “slaves to the traffic light” as the band Phish brings to harmony. Why isn’t it a “Go” light, haven’t we all been told to “Stop” enough from our parents, teachers, and societies as whole?
I started thinking about how nice it must be to live in Europe or Asia where rather than Stop Lights they have traffic circles or round-a-bouts where traffic flows in and out vs.stopping and going. What appears so chaotic from a logistics standpoint turns out to be very humane and reasonable when put into practice. Amazingly people will slow down as they approach, yield and allow others to merge, and exit without “stepping on it” all at their own accord. Why did these places choose this system when a grid-like design with on/off buttons is so much easier to design and control? Or did this system choose them? Interestingly, as the US introduces more and more round-a-bouts the rest of the world installs more and more traffic lights. Please don’t follow us, we don’t know where we’re going. Which brings me back to me…
Where am I going? It must be really important if I’m so stressed out about it. Is my ability to “make a living” on the line? Is my wife giving birth in the back seat? Is there an anti-Semetic terrorist on the loose?
Our bodies receive inputs from many sources including the 5-sense organs and disseminates these messages with great efficiency through our nervous system. The nervous system helps stimulate the endocrine system that controls hormones and other internal alchemy to help regulate our lifeforce. In the face of stress, our heart rates increase, adrenaline is released, the breath becomes shallow and rapid, and blood moves from the organs to the muscles. This happens whether the threat is real or not and the body trusts the mind to discern these truths from fiction. This was likely easier to do in more natural times where it was obvious if our lives were in danger from a stalking predator, lack of food, or dangerous elements. If I’m not being chased, starving, or freezing to death why does my body act as if it is? It’s as if its been betrayed by our brain which acts as the commander-in-chief of the central nervous system. It appears that our brains have been commandeered by the systems and cultures of our upbringing and lives.
Culture here in the US is driven by competition and individualism. We believe in the ideals of self- made, bravery, and innovation above concepts that ring of socialism or worse(!). We competitively celebrate July 4th, Independence Day with explosions of light and sound louder and brighter than our neighbors and neighboring towns. We look for ways to lift ourselves even at the expense of others in academics, sports, and professions. We consume (way) more than we need and are still unsatiated. We try to accumulate power and aim to control our environment with it. We are raw ego without a sense of belonging to this Earth or each other. At the traffic light, we race off the line, speed up when we should slow down, screech to halts, and curse the elderly pedestrian trying to make it across the street.
As much as I wouldn’t and don’t chose this way of being, it has chosen me. I live in a world filled with stop lights. They obstruct my flow and I am given very few opportunities to yield to oncoming traffic and offer a bit of kindness to other drivers on my daily commute. Of course, too much of that makes me look (and feel?) weak and subjects me to being cut-off and honked at. Maybe stop lights are better equipped to handle our emotions than I thought?