When I first moved to a small southern town almost two and half years ago, driving on the narrow, winding roads terrified me. Used to the wide relatively flat roads of the west, I cringed every time a truck came whipping around a bend, hugging the middle line. I would instinctively tap my breaks and inch as close as possible to the edge of the road without pitching into a ubiquitous ditch. I found myself constantly on high alert, gripping the steering wheel, eyes scanning the road for any potential accident situation.
One day I was chatting with a friend, and casually remarked, “I have to drive so intentionally here. I can’t zone out at all.” I have been practicing mindfulness for a number of years. Focusing my attention on the present moment has helped me to be more aware and appreciative of the ordinary events I used to daydream through. But I hadn’t realized that I still had been driving in a mental fog until fear kept me focused.
My casual remark also made me realize that familiarity is often the cause of mindlessness. We’ve driven the road a thousand times and could do it blindfolded. We know exactly where our common grocery items are located in the market. We can predict how a friend/spouse/partner is going to react to a certain word or topic.
We’ve done it all before – all the humdrum, every day, boring actions that keep our lives running. We can put our bodies on autopilot, and let our minds wander. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in this daydreaming. It allows us to mentally sit on a sunny beach while getting the oil changed. It provides a diversion while cooking dinner or doing dishes. But it also creates a divided life – physically here, mentally anywhere else. And it breeds dissatisfaction with the ordinariness of life.
Now, over two years into driving these roads, I find myself more relaxed as I navigate the familiar curves and angles. This is great for my neck, but as my shoulders have relaxed, so has some of my intention to be present. I catch myself slipping back into daydreaming habits.
This is where being intentional is key. It’s a decision, a commitment, to focus my attention on the here and now. Being intentional allows me to notice changing seasons on the tree lined roads, horses grazing on golden hay, and yes, maneuvering away from speeding trucks.