Prior to last Thursday, it’d been about 4 years or so that my ride: a ’94 Subaru Legacy, sounded akin to a small jet engine prop plane, due to a rusted out muffler. The fortitude of the car was such that when, alas, I pulled over upon getting off the interstate in town, directly following our local spring retreat back in April, to find my muffler adangle on the asphalt, I had to wrench and claw at the dang-blasted thing for 20-minutes to pry off what remained of it. And even then, I was only able to get about 80% of it off. I wound up having to send out the bat signal to Mike, so he could swoop in as the roadside cape-crusader and wrestle out the last 20%, which was both greatly appreciated and a large disappointment, given the fact that I really wanted to be victorious on my own accord.
I found it entertaining that the noise emanating from my car, pre muffler falling off, sounded absolutely no different than it did once it was gone. But, as I’d both gotten used to the rumbling and have a policy of not putting any money into the car that isn’t crucial to its functioning – given that at 337,000 miles, any day could be its last – the fact that everyone could hear my car in a 2-block radius didn’t really bother me. Besides, I mostly fly solo in my car and my love for loud music tended to drown out the ruckus. The only times I really noticed and was off-put by the muffler’s cacophony was when I’d have passengers riding along with me, as holding a conversation meant upping the volume of your voice, in regards to someone riding shotgun – and was pretty much a total lost cause all together if you were kickin it in the backseat – or when I’d start my car early in the morning or come home late at night: sorry neighbors!
Perhaps if I’d ridden in my own backseat more often, I would’ve been propelled to get a new muffler 4 years ago. A couple of weeks ago, I rode in the backseat from Spokane back to Missoula, to afford the dynamic duo: my husband and 18-year-old stepson, the chance to chat about all the things they wonderfully love to geek out on together, and I have little interest in, such as: science fiction related audio books, gaming, dark TV shows, politics, and, most recently, the art of magic, and was able to marinate in my car’s muffler musings on a much more intimate level. When we got home, the first thing I said when we walked in the door was: I think it’s time to get a new muffler.
So, last Thursday, I was the first appointment of the day at a place called the Muffler Bandit. I was told it would take about an hour, so I brought along a book and supplies in which to fashion a letter to my friend Daniel, who’s incarcerated at Montana State Prison. But perhaps because it was only 8:00am and things were still pretty quiet around town and in the shop, or perhaps it was due to the fact that there was nothing for the mechanic to take off of the car, my Sube was saddled up with a shiny new muffler in just 20 minutes. My car was serviced in such a short amount of time that I was even a little sad to have to vacate the premises, as I was just getting into the flow of writing my letter to Daniel. It also happens that I thoroughly enjoy writing in new and exotic places and I’d never had the chance to write in a muffler shop before (see pic above). But, I reluctantly packed up, paid my $160, and headed out. When the mechanic gave me the keys, I delighted in how he framed my new quiet vehicular stead. He said: Now you’re back in stealth mode. His declaration reminding me both of my secret longing to be a ninja and the time my stepson and I got busted trying to pull a prank on my friend Jennifer at 11:00 at night, last winter. We had parked 2-3 blocks away from her house, on account of my car’s loud rumbling, but it wasn’t the trademark sound of my car that tipped her off to our shenanigans. It was the fact that we managed to time our hi-jinks with the same time she was cruising home from the grocery store – which taught me, for future reference, that she seldom parks her car in the back by the garage.
I used to feel really self-conscious about the sheer volume of noise that poured out of my ’94 Sube. But, as I mentioned, I’m not terribly motivated to invest money into the car, given it’s age, unless it’s a matter of the car actually not working. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten used to a fair amount of things not operating properly, at this point. I imagine it’s a rather similar process with many of the folks I meet with as a hospice volunteer. Advanced aging, whether it involves a vehicle or a human body, is an unfolding journey of letting go. My passenger window is stuck in the up position. My heater only works on full tilt – anything under the maximum fan-blowing level of 4 fails to produce even a sliver of warmth. The locking mechanism to all doors designated for people to enter and exit from are non-functioning – though, in a pinch, I can unlock the back hatch and crawl in over the backseat to unlock the doors, in the rare occasion when locking the car is necessary. Let’s see…what else? Oh! Right. So, when it rains, the seal on my driver side door leaks like a sieve, causing the cushion of my seat and/or my lap, depending on whether I’m in the car or not, to become saturated with water. That one is my least favorite. My back struts are blown out, which can sometimes make even the slightest variance on a road surface sound like I’ve just hit the largest pothole in the free world. And my AC doesn’t work, which is only troublesome on multi-hour trips during the months of July & August, especially given that my passenger window doesn’t roll down.
But, as one of my favorite personal mottoes states: it could be worse! I mean, my passenger window could be stuck in the down position, my heater could not work at all, my doors could spontaneously lock themselves at inopportune moments (which I’ve heard from a few people now can be a thing that happens), it could be my roof that’s leaking, instead of just a door seal, it could be that my tires just, like, fall off at random intervals, and it could be that none of my windows roll down, causing my lack of AC to really be a hardship in the summertime months. As a side note: technically, the full motto is: It could be worse. You could be on fire.
Back to my mentioning of feeling self-conscious, when my muffler first started becoming an audible part of my vehicular experience. After a quick consult with dictionary.com, the textbook definition of self-conscious is as follows: excessively aware of being observed by others. What often accompanies feelings of self-consciousness, is negative internal dialog and a tendency to alter our behavior. We all experience self-consciousness at times, but some people spend a vast majority of their time in this state, which, I might add, is a hellscape to live in, based on the observations I’ve made of certain friends.
As someone who used to be super self-conscious: constantly worrying what others were thinking about me, ascertaining that people were always judging me, and closely monitoring how I showed up in a crowd, in hopes of appearing a certain way at certain times to certain people, I decided to use my noisy car as a practice of not being self-conscious – because everything takes practice. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches: we’re always practicing something. And I’ve been working on fully stepping into myself without reprieve for some time now, so this muffler situation was right up my alley.
Some things can sound too simplistic, when it comes to adopting new behaviors but, really, a lot of stuff does come down to making a relatively basic choice in regards to how we spend our time. Since I was interested in discontinuing my feelings of self-consciousness, I used my loud muffler to make a different choice – to not feel self-conscious about it. And that is a thing – self-consciousness is a choice, whether we’re aware of it or not. Everything is a choice.
And while this used to overwhelm me – the fact that everything was a choice: my actions, my speech, my thoughts, my views, my habit energies, my emotions, everything – it’s now the most liberating way to live that I can possibly imagine. Because it means my quality of life is up to me. As long as I put my happiness and okayness in the hands of other people, places, or things, I will continue to experience an onslaught of inner & outer conflict, because it will be dependent on the stars aligning in all the ways I want them to. And that is not a thing, ever. So, the key to contentment and joy is to cultivate an internal well-spring of acceptance and ease, so that we are able to carry it with us wherever we go.
There are sort of two types of joy. The kind that is temporary and fleeting and the kind that develops on the inside and is un-wavering. There exists a quality of joy that is like a flame that never extinguishes, even in the midst of sorrow or fear or confusion, it stays lit. When we decide to stop being so self-conscious, this translates directly to watering seeds of that kind of joy.
So, get your joy on and stop being so concerned with what you think others are thinking about you – because it totally doesn’t matter. Much of the time, people aren’t even aware of us, let alone thinking negatively about us, and even if they are, what difference does it make? Not only are you enough, but you are a collage of everything, there’s no one else you need to be. Everything you’re looking for is inside of you already.