What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas?

Not necessarily so, as this blog demonstrates. Originally the humiliation I felt was sufficiently powerful to inhibit me from writing about it but time and understanding is a great healer.

The incident occurred during a recent road trip through the southwestern USA. I was in day 16 – driving from Santa Fe to Mammoth Lakes. (You can read all the fun stuff on this trip at www.hangin.wordpress.com) The trip is almost 1,000 miles and at least sixteen hours so I planned an overnight stay somewhere around Vegas. I thought I could either camp at Lake Mead about an hour south or stay in a $20 a night motel I discovered last year in Indian Springs, about 30 minutes north of the city.

I made good time and pulled into Lake Mead just before five but found a ranger demanding a park fee as well as camping fees. When I realized it would be just as cheap to stay at the motel I decided to drive on. I should make Indian Springs in daylight and it would save all the hassle of unloading and packing up camping gear.

Little did I realize what a mistake I was making. Somehow I have never fully experienced a Las Vegas rush hour. Perhaps on this day it was particularly bad or I encountered one of the shift changes at the casinos but it was horrendous.

I have not commuted for eons; I don’t mind driving long distances on open roads but this was entirely different. Bumper to bumper, crawling at a snail’s pace, exacerbated by a sun that refused to set and hovered between my visor and the dash the whole time. I was blinded, I could not see where I was going and got to the point where I had no idea what road I was on. The signs were invisible to me.

I developed a sense of frustration, anxiety and hopelessness. It is difficult in hindsight to comprehend how distraught I became. Almost in tears, I suddenly pulled into the HOV lane exclaiming, “I don’t give a **** if I get stopped, I just can’t stand it anymore.” Gripping the steering wheel like a frenzied maniac I sped past the idling traffic to finally find myself clear of the gridlock with no flashing blue and red lights behind me.

I felt a deep sense of shame at my reaction. It seemed to make a mockery of all the personal growth and development I had done. In hindsight I realized that I was in the grip of some complex or another and it fascinated that in that moment I was unable to make an adult decision like pull off the freeway.

Today at the gym, I was listening to Jim Hollis’s lecture series from What Matters Most and I heard these words:

“In any given situation any particular story of the past can be reactivated and show up. That’s scary because one would like to think I have left those behind, I am beyond that, I am a grown up now. Given the right provocation, and our psychological disposition in the moment and a particularly charged situation one might feel literally paralyzed.”

As I reflect back I can see the characteristics of my story that led to the encounter with the “overwhelming other”. I was fatigued; I had made an error of judgment; I had anxiety about reaching my destination before dark: I could not see and I had potentially lost my way. In that instant I felt paralyzed, my reactions were those of a panicked child and I could no longer think as an adult.

I have written many blogs about control and its impact on my life. Once again losing control brought me face to face with the overwhelming other and the resulting anxiety.

While depressing that these old patterns can continue to haunt me, Hollis’s words bring a great deal of solace. He goes on to say that we may never eliminate the primal archaic story but we can learn to live with it and to some degree grow out of it but this requires awareness. We can perhaps learn you avoid the combination of factors that like a stack of dominos rapidly tumble over and create chaos.

Chastened and humbled I feel a lot more compassion for those who apparently lose control unexpectedly. A friend who after a long, tiring day travelling from ferry to ferry was faced with the possibility of another extended wait exclaimed, “ I would rather die than wait another 21/2 hours.” It sounded like a five year old’s reaction and now I understand why: – an old story had been evoked.

It seems appropriate to recall the words of the great teacher and psychologist Jean Houston in her autobiography, A Mythic Life: “All of the hurts and failures, wanderings, losings, dyings and forgettings were but part of the gaining of the rich material of your life.”

I seem to be gathering a lot of rich material.

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