It may be the holiday season, but the spirit of peace and goodwill has not infected the streets of Los Angeles. More drivers seem to be rolling through stop signs (even the word “rolling” puts it too kindly) and running red lights than ever before. Everyone seems to be in a tremendous hurry.

I watched a car aggressively weave in and out of lanes the other day only to end up waiting for the light to change with all the rest of us more cautious drivers. What is so urgent that it’s worth saving those few seconds, a few minutes at the most, and risking your life and the lives of others? Why is everyone in such a hurry? Where are they rushing to?

I think perhaps the answer lies in answering this question: What does that round of parties and meetings and frenetic dashing from place to place allow all of us to avoid confronting? I think the answer is clear – ourselves.

There is an experiment where subjects had to choose between being alone with themselves and their thoughts for approximately 15 minutes or receiving electric shocks. The majority chose the shocks; a reflection of how painful, frightening, threatening, confusing, boring (!), you name it…we find to be alone with just ourselves and our musings.

Not exactly a good place for society and individuals to be. If we don’t spend time alone pondering who we are and where we are going, we will never grow. If we don’t spend time alone, trying to connect to the Almighty and develop that relationship, it won’t flourish. This time alone is crucial to our spiritual, psychological and emotional well-being.

Our desire not to confront our innermost thoughts is so great that we create or find distractions. In the car, we can make phone calls, listen to music or talk radio or audio books or podcasts. We live in a world of endless opportunities for distraction. We are only limited by the boundaries or our creativity and imagination. In fact, these tools work in most places where we would otherwise, and in other times, have been alone.

I understand the desire and I use many of these avoidance tools myself. But I also understand the cost. Life is hard work. Dealing with the messiness takes a lot of strength. Growing is a painfully slow process with the proverbial one step forward, two steps backwards always dogging our heels. To keep moving requires determination and strength – and giving up seems so much easier (as do those electric shocks!). Just when we think we’ve conquered one test, a new one jumps up (spiritual whack-a-mole) or the old one rears its ugly head again. We may win some skirmishes and even some battles, but the war is never over.

Sometimes we are just too weary to fight. Sometimes we need that music or that book or that podcast just to rejuvenate us. Sometimes it educates us. Sometimes it’s even a tool for growth. But we need to make a conscious decision about it; otherwise we slip into avoidance mode. I just instinctively turn on the radio when I get in the car; I don’t even give the quiet a moment to sink in. Perhaps I’m just too afraid of what I will discover if I do.

But it’s time for a reality check. It’s time to slow things down. I know it’s hard. I know it’s challenging. I know that a good podcast is a good distraction - and I know that we can be creative in our rationalizations, why we “had to hear it” – and maybe even sometimes we do. But let’s make it a real decision. Instead of rushing from house to car to meeting to groceries to…let’s take a moment to stop and think before each activity. And each car ride or errand or alone moment. What do I want to accomplish now? And what is the best way to do that?

Maybe I could check in with my spouse or my children, or work on another relationship that needs attention. Maybe I could listen to a Torah class. Maybe I could decide which character trait I want to work on and devote my attention to it. Maybe I could think of ways to grow, to change, to connect. Maybe I could even pray or just talk to the Almighty. Like I said the possibilities for distraction are plenty – but so are the possibilities for growth.

likewise, if we slow it down, we are safer physically and have opened up some many spiritual opportunities.

I usually love this time of year in Los Angeles. In general, the streets are emptier and the city moves slower. Reflection is in the air. We just have to take advantage of it – and hold on to it when the people and traffic return.