Driving, when I started, was a daunting task. The brake, accelerator and the clutch were more legwork than I could deal with. Then, I had to coordinate my hands as well. The gears had to be changed in the midst of clinging on to the steering wheel. It took a while before I could practice non-attachment with my steering wheel. It did not matter that I stepped on the accelerator instead of the break or that I changed gears before I stepped hard on the clutch. The steering wheel was my hold on life. The huge buses and the lorries did not make it easier for me. The cyclists and bikes constantly cut across. Couldn’t these guys be less irritating? The brakes and the steering wheel were my two life saving devices. My legs, at every instance, reached for the brakes and my hands held on tight. I slowly learnt that there were other parts to the car and to driving. I did not have as many knee-jerk reactions with the break. There were not as many crisis situations as I had imagined and I eased my grip on the steering wheel.
I moved slowly from driving in the second gear to the third. Moving to the fourth was definitely an achievement. I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone on the road was going to shout at me. Not that they did, but I was mortified of steering myself into what seemed like the gladiators ring. I had to not only avoid being hit, but also avoid banging onto anything. Each turn and road seemed different, though I had traveled by the very same car. The only difference was that, I was driving this time. I looked at each signpost more intently and all the landmarks suddenly seemed to materialize. I had not noticed them earlier. I looked at everything with a new awareness.
I had to keep an eye out for the potholes on the road, the traffic lights and the children who ran on some roads. All this was manageable when I was driving in the second gear. I learnt that I had to change gears, no matter how tempted I was to drive at one speed throughout. I understood not moving onto the next gear put unnecessary strain on the engine and consumed more fuel. I was hanging on to my pace, as I was comfortable with moving slowly. Yet, I had to see the damage it was doing to my system. When there was space to move ahead, I did not take the opportunity.
I was afraid of speed, as it seemed destructive. Yet, I felt inadequate for not being able to deal with it. I was in awe of those who could maneuver the skill that I had to develop. When would I be able to drive fast? When could I reverse straight? When I would not burst blood vessel when I drive, I thought to my self. The steering wheel gave many a sense of power. The thrills of speed are a thrill of the power they wield behind the wheel. It is like a gun in the hands of children. It was power without responsibility.
My conditioning was the reverse. I was somehow burdened with an excessive caution that made me take discredit for more than I should. I observed how I approached driving and saw that I’d rather place my life in someone else’s hands than my own. The auto guys were my regulars, though I had learned to drive. I never had problems with them though they were rash. The excuse, of course was that I did not want to deal with the stress of driving. Instead, I could escape by taking an auto or have someone else drive me.
I first had to acknowledge to myself that I wanted to drive. I had to stop feeling guilty about seeing the flaws in another’s driving. It was not condemnation, but an awareness of how things were. I had to be alert to not to pick up the very same things that were unhealthy. My energies were now focused on how to enjoy what I chose to do. Even, if I chose to just drive. When my focus was clear, things opened up.
First, I started driving a lot more. Every biker who swerved across was a test for my alertness. Every bus that brushed close was a reminder of my fears, and every guy who honked, helped me practice pratyahara (disassociate the mind from the senses). When I disassociated I could see the drama that was unfolding. Most times I would get caught up in it, but my lessons were in observing my reactions to the many teachers I had on the roads.
Every time someone cuts across, I learnt to replace my irritation with a smile. I gave myself brownie points for every so-called irritant that I managed to enjoy. Some must have even thought I was crazy, but who cares…. as long as I had a good time and let the other person have one too.
However, I soon learnt benign looks don’t always work. At 6.00 am one morning, a motorbike scraped my almost stationary car that I parked to pick up a friend. Despite my best natured look and intentions he started shouting. I was not going to let this one get away I told myself. Many times I had wondered whether shouting a lie from a rooftop made it seem like the truth to many.