Driving into Awareness

I am teaching someone to drive – again – no, I am again teaching someone to drive. There, that’s better, more accurate.

The same process of correction, of attention to exact explanation is required of me as the driving teacher (not driving the student hard, but teaching the student the art of driving). And it is as much art as science. Getting the feel of the vehicle, of the wheel, of how the car wants to straighten itself out from a turn so that trying to do the straightening produces an over-correction. Learning to position oneself in the lane, noticing important warnings of the intentions of other drivers, processing what one sees and hears without needing the time to consciously think it all through. Driving, especially in traffic, requires quicker responses than conscious thought permits.

I am, again, teaching someone to drive, and valuing this opportunity to become conscious of what I do instinctively. Valuing, also, this occasion to notice not just what I do right, but what I’ve gotten a bit sloppy about, and don’t want to continue to do, now that I need to be a role model of safe, defensive driving.

My daily spiritual practice is essentially an exercise in shutting down thought, in order to become aware of the subtler levels of my being. Very close to what I must do to teach someone a skill at which I am so practiced that I conduct the activity beneath the level of awareness and thought. When I come out of my daily contemplation, I often bring a new insight with me, into consciousness, then do my best to put into words and actions what I’ve been gifted to perceive. Very much like the way in which I am opening to the subtle habits ingrained by so many years of driving, and attempting to give voice to them in order to instruct my student.

So teaching someone to drive is a spiritual exercise! Or at least it can be, if one chooses to make use of the experience for one’s own growth in understanding. And in patience. And in trust.

The vehicle being used is my ‘second’ car – the back-up GMC that serves as my guarantee of transport should my trusty and trusted and much loved VW Rabbit ever fail me. (It has not done so, as yet, in ten years and nearly 220,000 miles of mostly solitary driving). I’ve realized already that I would be far more tested were I to be giving the lessons in the Rabbit. Not just because it’s a stick shift whereas the GMC is automatic. I have virtually lived in the VW; it’s packed with all that’s necessary for me to survive through a snow storm, hunker down to wait out a dust storm, take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to camp out overnight, be appropriately dressed for sudden changes in weather, provide roadside first aid in case I come across an accident… you get the idea.

Resting at Home

Resting at Home

My Rabbit has become far more than reliable, reasonably inexpensive transportation. It’s home away from home, an important means of connecting me to the world, a key element of my ability to earn my living and, because Rabbits remain relatively uncommon on our roads, a distinguishing mark of my presence. Not so long ago, I needed to let a mechanic drive the Rabbit so he could feel in the steering what I sensed was a developing problem. Sitting in the passenger seat as we went around the block was one of the harder things I’ve done recently.

Sitting in the passenger seat of the GMC has not been difficult. I don’t have much history with the Envoy, and my student is both a quick learner and a careful driver. The challenge for both of us is that he grew up using public transportation, not riding in cars, so he still has to acquire the non-verbal, body sense of what driving a car is all about. It’s not at all the same as riding a motor cycle, which he has done.

I’m also familiar with riding cycles – not driving them, but happily sitting on the back, free to enjoy the wind in my hair and the scenery flashing past with an immediacy totally lacking when one is shut inside a car or truck. I used to get the same sense of connection with my surroundings when I rode my horse out through the gate of my property and into the extensive acres of my neighbor’s ranch. A brisk canter to the far fence shut down thought and opened up my inner world. Yet another form of spiritual exercise.

Perhaps I should suggest to my student that he do a short contemplation before his next turn behind the wheel? Most physical skills come more easily when one relaxes into them (think of learning to float in order to swim). Those same skills suffer when one over thinks them (tensing up in the water, and sinking). Riding behind on a motorcycle, one has to relax and let one’s body bend with the curves in concert with the driver. Up on a horse, one must become one with the rhythm of the horse’s gait. Behind the wheel of my Rabbit, I feel in tune with every nuance of the vehicle, I know that car as if it were alive.

How does one teach that sort of awareness?

Hearing one’s True Voice in contemplation and then living from one’s Divine Self are, like driving a car well, skills which cannot be mediated through the mind. These skills cannot, therefore, be taught. They must instead be caught by the student, who first observes them being modeled by a teacher and who then, by trial and error experience, learns to shut down the mind and respond from a wise and capable Soul.

Inner commune, connection, inspiration, followed by action – the sequence of a spiritual exercise – is also the sequence many artists describe as their process of creation. Learning dance choreography many years ago, I was told by Miss Widener to stop thinking about my composition and instead to just feel my way through it. Yesterday I asked my student if he could feel how to respond to the impact of wind on the Envoy’s steering. Today I am challenged to create, with words, a feeling of intuitive understanding in my readers.

Do I evoke an “aha, yes, I am aware of that part of me?”
Do you go there, learn, trust, respond, live from that core? Yes? Then I’m happy for you.

If not, or not yet, teach someone to drive – or ride a bicycle, redecorate a room, weave a rug, or work with wood. As your student learns a new skill, you’ll gain a new level of awareness, and enjoy a new way of Being.

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