Driving Lessons

My twins turned 16 this spring, and this summer is time to begin their driving lessons. I had anticipated that their driver’s education class would do the heavy lifting, but little did I know. A student must complete 40 hours of parental supervised driving before graduating from driver’s education. In others words, at least where we live, if you are expecting driver’s education to teach the awkward first hours behind the wheel, guess again.

Thankfully my wife took charge of the first outing. This morning was my turn; and little did I know, my twins were to provide me life lessons as they each took their turn behind the wheel.

First, my son was about to drive off before fastening his seat belt. I reflected—how often do I begin an activity before fastening my own metaphorical seatbelt? How often do I transition to a new activity without setting my purpose and centering myself? It only takes a moment to buckle a “seatbelt.”

Continuing with my son, he next went through a stop sign without stopping. We were driving on Sunday, in an empty parking lot of a medical center, so no harm was possible. I don’t know where his mind was, but he was ignoring a warning from his environment. But what about me? I often joke with my wife that some days I feel like I’m working with a metaphorical check engine light on. I need to slow down, but I’m determined to plow through doing what I think needs to get done.

My son also needs to work on actually looking when he stops as opposed to just stopping and then going on his way. Ok, I’m guilty again. I often engage in a spiritual practice while not paying full attention to the practice. I may be listening to an mp3 file of a spiritual talk, for example, while pausing to check my email. Is not listening with my full attention the wiser course of action?

Both my son and daughter are at the stage of driving where they tend to over steer. It is not yet grooved into their muscles or into their minds that a car needs small turns of the wheel to stay on course. No need to constantly steer from right to left and back again.  Yes, I can drive a car without over steering, but I often over steer my life. If I react to each new bit of information with a sweeping gesture, I find myself driving off the smoothly paved road that is my life and onto the shoulder and into a ditch. My life does not depend on my steering.

And leave it to my daughter to provide the lesson of the day. Once she thought her foot was on the accelerator when it was on the brake. Once she thought she was steering right when she was turning the wheel left. Ok, rookie mistakes; but each time, her initial reaction was the same—she was doing the right thing and the car was reacting in the wrong way.

I explained to my children about sudden acceleration syndrome which occurs when a driver intends to press on the brake and instead puts their foot on the accelerator. When the car reacts as it should, the driver redoubles their efforts often with deadly consequences. Their mind does not accept the feedback that their foot is on the accelerator, and they simply press harder on the accelerator when the car does not stop.

There lies a life lesson—often when something is going “wrong,” I am doing or thinking something “wrong.” Far better for me to stop what I am doing and reflect, than to redouble my efforts in a futile attempt to prove that I am right.

Indeed, I freely admit to suffering from sudden acceleration syndrome of the mind. I have a thought, an undesirable consequence occurs as a result of my thought, and I use the undesirable consequence as evidence that I need to bear down and speed up my thinking.

After all, my ego reasons, I arrived at my thought after careful analysis. Are not my thought and the feeling that goes with the thought “correct”? Often in exact measure to the intensity of my thinking and feeling, the answer is “no.” The reality of the event and how the event is occurring to me is entirely different.

The cure for sudden acceleration syndrome of the mind is simple, and as in driving, easily deployed if we value doing so: We must consider the possibility that we are wrong, take our foot off our mind’s accelerator, and apply the brake. In our practice we must be willing see how addicted we are to defining ourselves, in part, by our misery and insisting it is someone else’s fault. In other words, the “brake” is becoming more aware of our thinking without identifying with our thinking.

I’m already looking forward to the next driving lesson with my children. In the meantime, I’ll practice taking my foot of my mind’s accelerator and applying the brake.

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