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Beware the Saber-Toothed Tiger

Dave Parker |


In late May, I was in the seventh hour of an eight-hour drive and I was heading into a stretch where I was warned, ‘construction, expect long delays.’

At that moment I was navigating a pesky little town that had strange intersections, the type where taking a left turn amounted to guesswork. As I approached one of these turns, several cars ahead of me and several cars behind me, there was insistent honking from a few vehicles in the vicinity. It startled me. Stress levels already heightened, I became even more seized up physically, and breathed even more shallowly, as I looked around, both annoyed and a bit scared. The odds of my deploying a hand gesture or two that I’d not want my mother or any of my kids to witness were increasing by the second.

As it happened, though, the honking wasn’t insistent in the sense that you’d-better-move-your-caboose-or-else; rather, the honking was coming from three buses full of kids that had just graduated from high school. The kids were clad in their gowns, leaning out the windows, hooting and hollering; celebrating the threshold moment that they were experiencing.

My demeanor immediately changed from poised-to-strike to heck-yeah, whoop it up kids! I actually laughed and waved out the window. And honked. A complete 180- degree about face from where I was, literally seconds ago.

As I reflected on this later, I realized that I was in a defensive crouch when the honking started. Sure, I suppose there’s some value in that, but mostly this defensive crouch is an artifact from a world long past. Eons ago, when saber-toothed tigers roamed. Today, more or less, the chances that any of us are going to be stalked and gobbled up by a saber-tooth tiger are really, really slim. Laughably small, actually. I’ve been conditioned to never say never, and I don’t want to unnecessarily jinx myself and be the first person in hundreds of thousands of years to be the prey featured in a “Man Gobbled Up By Saber Tooth Tiger”-type of click-bait news headline, but the odds are miniscule.

I further reflected: I was in the same car, I had the same body, I still had been driving for seven hours, I was still to encounter a long delay, the left-hand turn was still pesky but, my perspective was completely different after I realized the reason for the honking. And that made all the difference. It served to remind me that I had been in a mindless state, and that I actually had sovereignty over that moment, if I chose to. And if I can have it over that moment I can have it over this one. And the next. That’s what I understand mindfulness to be. It’s really just a fancy-pants way of saying in the moment, paying actual, full attention, as opposed to partial awareness. This is a practice, and not just a daily practice, but a moment-by-moment practice.


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