We had arrived at the cabin. Finally! I was mentally exhausted. My shoulders tense; my eyes stinging tired.
I was 15 years old and had recently acquired a driver’s permit. A licensed driver had to be in the front passenger seat, presumably as a resource and guide. Today it is my dad.
We are headed up north: Just my dad and me. A two-hour drive up to the still-under-construction cabin. I insist on driving even though I haven’t much highway experience. This will be a two-hour road trip.
The tough part is an hour-plus stretch on a narrow, two-lane highway with no shoulder. I focus my attention on the northbound lane that looks only inches wider than the car. My hands grip the steering wheel, constantly making minute adjustments to keep the car between the lines. I find success by aligning a mark on the hood with the centerline, but it is exhausting to keep up such attention. My eyes are fixed on that one spot. The dynamic between the car and the road must be maintained. My attention is critical, but is the focus helpful for the safety of the ride? I am keeping the car in the lane, but would I notice an oncoming car crossing the line? Would I see a deer in the road up ahead?
Sometimes people understand the practice of awareness—the effort of returning to right here, right now—as something like my inexperienced-driver-self trying to keep my car on the road: Me directing my attention to this activity in this moment, as if it is a narrow sliver of life, and I am outside observing. This is to analyze and measure the success or failure of being present. It is striving to get to the moment where life is taking place—sandwiched between past and present. Misplaced effort. See related post, Arriving.
This misplaced effort is where we begin, because we are accustomed to a dualistic understanding of life. This interpretation is our entry to practice, and this entry is the foundation for waking up. Awareness is to notice attachment to dualistic assumptions. Noticing dualistic assumptions is exactly the return to the moment. No need to step outside the moment again, and judge the effort.
My dad watches me drive. He can see my intense concentration, its narrowness of attention. He suggests I try to expand my view of the road. Stay on it by seeing its course and adjusting to traffic. He says it’s hard to explain, but with more experience I will see the road in a different way. I will know how to drive rather than stay between the lines.
Now I see driving as a fluid and dynamic process. The road, the traffic, the weather, the time of day; any and all of these are expressions of the ride. They inform my responses as I attend to safety and destination. Every ride is an adventure, distance short or long, route routine or new.
Practicing awareness is always full of life.
© 2015 Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.