It was two summers ago. I had sat with a group of 15 year olds through a Driver's Ed series (I was old enough to mother them all) and then my driving teacher, DJ, took me out for a spin.
That blog contained the seeds of freedom and glee. I did my written exam, got my permit and... two years passed. And not much driving practice occurred. I found many other things to do and practicing driving was very low on the list. Admittedly, our car also fell apart numerous times, which didn't help. Last month we witnessed the final death of our kind VW Golf. Its transmission sputtered its final breath. So we got a Subaru instead—complete with four wheel drive and a moon roof.
Today was the time to head out to the empty parking lot behind the Maine Mall again. To acclimatize myself with these new wheels. To attempt to master this mind-bogglingly difficult task of driving a car.
My kind and patient husband softly talked me through the turning on of the ignition, the turning of the wheels and out into the parking lot to circle it three times. Until the tension that was creeping into the back of my neck and fanning out across all nerve cells came to a climax and I cried out "I CAN'T DO THIS!"
I pulled over to a stop. I got out of the driver's seat and walked over to the passenger's seat, my head hanging low.
We silently drove off to Kettle Cove to look at the ocean. Well, Tim did the driving; I stared out of the window and attempted to deal with the enormous mess that had suddenly appeared in my mind. The huge rearing of delusion: anger, pride and impatience.
Since coming across Buddhism a decade ago, I've become quite good at dealing with my mind. I've learned all sorts of amazing postures to move the mind away from stress. To recognize negative states and move out of them. But learning to drive has completely disarmed me. And I haven't quite known what mind training opponent to throw into the mix.
I came home and out of curiosity, Googled: "I hate driving." I was amazed by all the blogs out there.
It turns out there are quite a few people dealing with this first-world problem of mine. Most of them come from big cities where driving was never needed. As I read those blogs, I started to feel for my fellow learner drivers. They were identifying with themselves as failures. I'll never do it, they said, and they identified with that and fixed it into reality.
But what have I learned about meditation—and how can I apply it to this?
How do we become good meditators? By sitting down and doing it. It's the only way.
We can't read our way or talk our way there. We have to just put in the time, pull out the mat and sit down.
And the first time we try it, if we find our mind is crazily busy and noisy. But we're not allowed to say, that's it, I can't meditate. We have to learn how to do it. We have to practice it in order to become it.
This evening, as I was standing in the kitchen washing potatoes another Buddhist teaching came to me, another slice of wisdom that I have learned from my teachers.
I suddenly thought: Have I ever actually visualized myself driving?
No, never in the slightest. Yes, I have visualized a wonderful home far out in the forests where I could have a garden with chimes and Buddhas. But I have NEVER imagined driving myself there. This made me think of something my teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, says in his amazing book, Eight Steps to Happiness:
So here's my plan.
As a 36-year old student driver picking myself up from the sidewalk and dusting off my knees, this is the direction. If I want to get there, I need to start imagining myself there.
Then, I need to let go of all expectations and get busy doing it. I need to be ready to be a beginner again, to identify with my great potential for becoming a kind and benevolent driver, and allow that reality to come into being.
I need to become a Bodhisattva-on-wheels.
(Post script: As my kind friends mentioned in the comments, I also needed professional help, And that's what I then turned to. In fact, it was Francine LaPorte, an amazing New Yorker-turned Mainer, who strode into our meditation class in Portland, found out I was still learning to drive, leaned in and said: "I learned to drive when I was 50 and moved to Maine from New York. Whatever you do, don't expect your husband to teach you. You need to get yourself a driver." She was right. A good lesson there on combining mind training with the skillful external changes we sometimes also need.)