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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Hartney, LPC NCC

Who's driving this bus, anyway?

Imagine that you are a bus driver. All your thoughts and ideas and inner voices are your passengers. Maybe they are future plans and dreams and wishes, dressed in sparkly garb, glitter sprinkling as they enter through the folding door. Next are fears and concerns - Let’s dress them in 90’s grunge. Plaid shirts tied tight around the waist, heavy boots thundering up the stairs.

Next we have insecurities and self doubt. To try and feel secure, they enter cocooned in big puffy down coats and moon boots. Now, imagine that they all pile into your lap. Wait, what?! How can you be expected to drive the bus of your life if all your passengers have dumped themselves on you, blocking your sight line, and making it impossible to reach the wheel?

In addition to these present day passengers, you likely have regulars who never got off the bus-trauma histories, old heartache, grief, and shame. You hardly notice these passengers anymore, but when they are crammed into your driver’s seat, they are just as big a source of distraction. So, even though you may not have crashed yet, it’s easy to see how the course you thought you wanted to plot for your life can veer off-course.

What do we do with these unruly passengers who want to drive, when they want to take over and make us reactive? We move them to the passenger seats. We don’t need to abandon them on the side of the road-in fact, doing that would just lead us to worry about them, and we’d have their ghosts in our laps. So now, in addition to everything else, we’d be scared!!

Here are a few strategies to help you move your passengers to their proper seats, and move them out of the driver’s seat.

Feel the weight of them. Tune into where your body holds discomfort. Are your legs tight or aching? Shoulders? Back? Now, focus on that area. Thoughtfully shift your focus now from the sensation of the discomfort, and as you softly touch, tickle or rub that area, imagine your thoughts loosening their grip, as you soothe them, and assure them that they can ride in the bus, just not in the driver’s seat. Use a mantra of your choosing as you comfort yourself. “Easy, easy, easy” is an option, or “Okay, I’m okay, I’m okay."

Engage the senses! Have you ever felt like just staying home, but then you get to where you’re going and the mood of the room or the music makes you happy to be there? Your mood was changed by how your senses experienced your surroundings. Create an environment your senses are nourished by. Low lighting, scented candles, music you love, even a favorite movie can all help. When we feel overwhelmed, focusing our attention on our senses, and how we perceive of our space can really help. On a smaller scale, think of the sight of a flame flickering, the scent of an essential oil, or soft hand of a blanket-all these sensory stimulators work to calm our minds, and get the passengers out of our driver’s seat.

Finally, grounding is a powerful tool, and when regularly practiced can help to derail a passenger who attempts to thrust you out of the driver’s seat. Doing these exercises as a regular practice delivers benefits similar to a meditative practice. It is basically retraining your brain to believe that you are safe. Grounding uses our wise minds (thinking+feeling) to regain control. Start by firmly placing your feet on the floor. Your goal here is to stay in your body, in the moment, and connected to your surroundings. Feel the floor under your feet, know that you are solidly connected to the earth. Then with deep belly breaths, nice and easy, quiet your internal voice by focusing on the breath feeling. Feel your body in the chair. Now, count something in the room while your nervous system re-regulates. Tiles on the floor or ceiling, outlets, things hanging on the wall, leaves of a plant…slowly, 1,2,3.

It is okay to have passengers on our buses. It’d be boring going through life with no passengers! What is key, is that they sit in the passenger seat, while you maintain clear line of sight, and can reach the steering wheel as you navigate life’s challenges.

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