Posted by: Banta | November 30, 2015

Rocks in the road

Rocks in the roadHe was an otherwise mild-mannered man whose wife wanted him to deal with his “road rage.” Getting stuck in traffic or at a RR crossing made his blood boil. If another driver cut him off or caused him to miss a light, he became apoplectic. He gave the finger to anyone who rode his bumper too closely, and flung curses at whoever dared pull into a parking spot he had earmarked for himself.

When I asked what expectations he had about his daily commute, he eyed me as if I had two heads. Maybe this was a trick question? He shifted in his seat. “Well, I expect traffic to keep moving at a reasonable pace,” he ventured warily. “I expect the slow drivers to stay in their lane or move over if I come up behind them.”

“And in a crowded parking lot? What might you expect there?” I asked.

“That’s easy,” he said, warming to the subject. “I expect people to be courteous and not horn in on a spot when I got there first and am clearly waiting for it.” He sat back, folded his arms across his chest, and looked at me expectantly.

I let the silence settle in for a few beats. “So when other drivers act in ways that run counter to your expectations, it really, really frustrates you.” He nodded with vigor and unfolded his arms.

“Every time that happens,” I went on, “it’s like having a rock kicked into your path. You didn’t ask for that rock. It’s in your way. And somebody is to blame. You’re mad as hell about that rock and you want it handled right now. That rock has no business being in your path. You expected a rock-free ride and now you have this obstruction to deal with. You didn’t deserve this. It wasn’t part of the plan.”

He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Ok, I get it. I’m acting like an entitled bastard, aren’t I?”

I let that pass. “Here’s the thing,” I said. “We humans have an uncanny ability to create our own suffering. We forget the simple truth about the rocks in the road. Every single day we will encounter rocks in our road. The rocks come in different sizes and shapes. Some are just pebbles that get between our toes; others are enormous boulders we must navigate around or blast our way through. To expect a path free of rocks is a surefire recipe for suffering.”

He opened his palms and studied them. “Suffering,” he said in a soft voice. “You mean like me getting so impatient in traffic, or carrying around my resentment all day about the guy who stole my parking space?”

He was a quick study.

The rocks in the road are a given. We can get angry; we can flail at the rocks; we can take on the role of victim; we can retreat down a helpless-hopeless hole. But resistance is futile. The rocks remain.

David Richo, psychotherapist and practicing Buddhist, would probably liken the rocks in the road to any of the five “givens” he identifies in his book The Five Things We Cannot Change and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them. (Shambala, 2006) Richo reminds us that these givens are immutable facts of life, and we humans are powerless to change them.

  1. Everything changes and ends.
  2. Things do not always go according to plan.
  3. Life is not always fair.
  4. Pain is part of life.
  5. People are not loving and loyal all the time.

Ironically, the best possible response to the rocks in the road is an unconditional Yes.” By accepting and embracing the givens, we open to the lessons they have to offer—lessons in courage, compassion and wisdom. In effect, we clear the path to a more lasting and authentic state of happiness and contentment. To do otherwise—to resist the givens—all but guarantees a chronic cycle of disappointment, frustration, cynicism, anger, resentment and sorrow.

Richo’s book takes each of his five givens and illustrates how saying yes to each one frees us from self-imposed suffering. The process has the power to transform us from the inside out.

Saying yes to the rocks in the road feels much different from saying yes to new adventures or to stepping out of our comfort zone. Saying yes to the rocks in the road—the things we cannot control or change—puts us on a personal growth path from which there is no turning back.

When we cease our ego-driven protests that life isn’t fair, when we let go of our need to control the outcome, when we set down the grasping and the complaints and the fear, only then does the suffering fall away and make space for true freedom.

I circle around again to the words of Dag Hammmarskjöld, “For all that has been, Thanks. For all that will be, Yes.”


  1. Lovely reflection. I will share it with a few people!

  2. Wisdom once again. Thank you for what you bring and share my friend.

  3. i so love reading these grounding and inspiring what we all need to think about lynn

  4. Very powerful, especially after Thanksgiving, when everyone seems to have their personal rocks in the road. Very well written, and thought out. I will forward it to some in the “rockiest” places. It gives hope. Well done!

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