When I learned the rules of the road, back in the state of Missouri, I remember the yellow traffic light meant one should "slow down." Now it has been over 25 years since I took the written driving exam and my memory could be failing me. What I find interesting though, is that my husband's definition of the yellow light is "proceed with caution." In the driving world, proceed is quite different than slow down. If the traffic light that is used to control traffic is stop, slow (or proceed) and go, then I want to suggest a new traffic light to control our life: stop, slow and listen.
Red Light - Stop
The red light stops the traffic from moving through the intersection. If we didn't have red lights, we would have chaos on the road. Can you imagine all the honking, angry shouting and swerving of cars you would encounter? I compare busy traffic to all the mind chatter that goes on inside each of us. We are thinking about all the tasks that need to be done. We are fretting over money and other issues in our families. Conversations are taking place in our mind; words we should have or should not have said or comments we want to make sure people hear. According to the National Science Foundation, "the average person thinks about twelve thousand thoughts per day. A deep thinker, according to this report, puts forth fifty thousand thoughts daily."
How would the quality of your life improve if you could use the red light to stop the mind chatter? You can significantly cut back on the chaos in your mind by making a few simple changes. Refuse to entertain any negative thoughts. Think about the past only long enough to learn any valuable lessons. Remove your worries about the future. Stay focused on the present moment. One of my clients recently shared with me her experiencing with stopping the mind chatter. She said, "I decided to change my thinking and change my energy so for the last two weeks I practiced positive energy. When the negative would try to slip in there I would say to myself - no - you no longer think like that. Wonderful things have been happening - I mean really wonderful things. Holy Cow! It is sort of like I have won the "life" lottery since I started practicing this."
Yellow Light - Slow Down
For this analogy, let's assume the yellow traffic light means to slow down. While I am quite aware that most people proceed with caution, or speed up and race through the yellow light, I am not advocating this approach to life. Think about the anxious feeling you get when you are trying to make it through the yellow light before it turns red. Your body experiences the same anxiety when you maintain a frantic pace in life. Not allowing enough time to get out the door or to a scheduled activity creates stress for you and your family members. Taking on more activities than your schedule can handle leaves little room to relax and unwind. Being too busy competes with the time that is needed to nurture relationships in your life.
Use the yellow light to slow your life down. Do less and enjoy your activities on a deeper level. Maintain balance in your life so there is time to take care of yourself and your relationships. Make whatever changes you need to simplify your life. Casting Crowns, in their song American Dream, talks about the importance of slowing down and the ramifications of living the busy life. Part of the lyrics say:
Green Light - Listen
We sit at the red light, waiting patiently or impatiently for the light to turn green. When it turns green, we get to go. Going and moving forward is good, but only if we stop long enough to listen. Are there any vehicles coming? Do we hear any emergency sirens? If we have the music turned up too loud, or we're busy talking on the cell phone, we may not hear what we're supposed to hear. We just go, justifying our movement because the light is green. What if the green traffic light for your life meant to listen before you go? Listen deeply before you speak. Listen to that nagging inner voice before you make a decision. Listen to the guidance and wisdom that comes from God.
Stop talking or thinking about what you want to say. Listen instead to what your child, friend or family member is trying to tell you. Dig deeper and listen some more. When we truly hear another person, we are giving her an amazing gift. A gift that says "I care about you". To give the gift of listening, you must be fully engaged in what a person is saying. You pay attention to the body language and search for the deeper meaning. You clarify when you don't understand, and you acknowledge the person's thoughts and feelings. Then, and only then, does a person feel heard.
When our mind is filled with chatter or our life is too busy, we can't possibly hear the voice within us or the grander voice of God. Take some quiet time to listen. Reflect on what your body might be telling you. Pay attention to your dreams and what they reveal about your life. Listen for the negative thoughts and banish them from your mind. Keep an ear open for the subtle messages that are being delivered to you. Stop, slow down and listen. The new meaning of red, yellow and green - the new traffic light for your life.