On September 1st, 2017, I took the required behind-the-wheel driving test at my local DMV and passed on the first try, earning my driver’s license at the age of 23.
It’s been about a week since then, and in that time, I’ve been thinking a lot about all that happened before that moment — how the mere thought of driving sent waves of anxiety through me just a few years ago, how I berated myself for any and every mistake when practicing behind the wheel, how I let myself procrastinate into letting three (yes, three!) driving permits expire.
To put it bluntly, I was a mess…
Until mindfulness helped put me on the right path.
Yes. Mindfulness: the practice of being aware in the present moment rather than being stuck in the past or the future.
As I wrote back in February, I challenged myself to meditate for the 28 days of the month, recording my progress along the way. I’ve been meditating every day ever since, which amounts to… *looks up date calculator* 221 days, and I don’t intend to stop now — not when it’s given me so many benefits like reduced anxiety, calmer reactions, and better problem-solving skills.
Which brings me back to the topic of driving.
Yes. Mindfulness and driving go hand in hand quite well. For one, mindfulness reminds me to breathe if I get nervous behind the wheel. Second, it also reminds me to keep my eyes and mind on the road so that I’m not distracted and cause an accident. Thirdly, it helps me evaluate myself and my driving skill in a less critical manner than before.
In fact, in the days leading up to the behind-the-wheel exam, I was debating whether or not I should get some extra practice in. It was the logical, practical thing to do, but as Sunday become Monday, Monday became Tuesday, and so forth, I ended up not going out to practice.
And old fears and anxieties started creeping back in.
Hey, remember that time you tried to turn into the right-most lane and didn’t? Oh, what about that time you almost collided with that car in the intersection last Thursday when you were trying to turn on a red light? Let’s replay that over and over in your head so that you feel guilty about it! Yay! Now we can stew in self-loathing!
Yeah. No mindfulness there.
So, I hunkered down, watched some more videos on how to make turns and right-of-way scenarios as well as asked my friends for some last minute behind-the-wheel test tips. But there was also another thing that I did:
I realized that many of my recent driving mistakes weren’t the result of poor technique, but poor mindset.
I mean, poor technique was certainly a factor in some of them, and that technique would grow better with experience and knowledge. But one thing I noticed over and over again was my emotional state interfering with my driving ability. On some days, I was driving like I was on top of the world, making no driving mistakes at all. Other times, I was trying to turn into the proper lane and missed it. And in those moments, I realized that my mind was elsewhere — angry that I didn’t make a proper turn before that one, criticizing myself for a past mistake or having an uncontrollable heartbeat.
Again, I was a mess in those moments, but mindfulness has taught me that it’s okay that I was a mess in those moments.
Don’t misread me, though. I’m not condoning my behavior; I can’t allow it to continue. No one should drive under emotional duress of any kind, including me. It’s very dangerous to do so, and I’m very fortunate that in all my time practicing driving, I have never hurt anyone or gotten into a collision due to technical errors or lack of emotional control on my part. I’m very glad that during those times, my father or mother was there to advise me and prevent me from potentially doing something reckless and causing irreparable harm.
(Okay, I’m probably making it sound more dramatic than it really was, but driving is serious business, to me.)
What I’m saying here is that I forgive myself because I deserved to struggle and to be human then, and I deserve to struggle and be human now. But if I’m going to make sense of my struggle and grow from it in a productive manner, then I have to be mindful about it. I have to be aware of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I have to be aware of what I feel and how I feel it.
And just as I have to be aware of what’s ahead of me, behind me, and beside me when driving, I have to be aware of what’s ahead of me, behind me, and beside me when writing.
Yup. Even writing.
Because on some days, I wrote like I was on top of the world, typing at thousands of words per hour. My mindset couldn’t be clearer and more positive. Other times, I’d barely eke out any words for days, weeks, or months at a time. And in those “down” times, I’d mistakenly start to believe that writing “wasn’t for me” or that I should quit. But more likely, it’s probably because my mindset was garbage. Low enthusiasm for the project, perfectionism, envy — you name it.
And in the same way that I forgive myself for being a mess while driving, I forgive myself for being a mess and not getting any writing done. I’m not going to tell myself to smile or act positive or be something I’m not, though. That’s not what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness is all about the power of recognition — stepping back to view oneself from an objective observer’s perspective and detaching yourself from the irrational emotion that hijacks your ability to perform at full throttle.
Which means, it’s time for me to put the key in the ignition, rev up the engines, and get out on the road —
The road called “My Life.”