The other day while driving, I became conscious of how often I glance in the rear view mirror. In an all too rare, 100 percent “present” moment, I realized that my eyes shifted from the road ahead, to the mirror showing what’s behind, then back to the road ahead constantly. This quick focusing and re-focusing occurred so often, so automatically, that to stop in the midst and suddenly notice was awkward. I’d never even paid attention before.
Years ago, when I was learning to drive, I was told to look in the mirror every ten to twelve seconds. I’d thought this was excessive and recall being terrified that I wouldn’t be able to manage it that often along with everything else I was trying to learn. During the first few instructional sessions,things were pretty hectic. I simply couldn’t imagine ever getting it all straight, especially the part about remembering to do something every few seconds.
But, I realized the other day, during my moment of awareness, that this regular glance in the rear view mirror while driving is simply what you do. A basic, “is what it is.” And the “doing” has become such a habit, that the gesture done over and over and over goes utterly unnoticed. There is a rote “paying attention” to all that is around me as I pilot my vehicle, behind, beside, ahead, that forms a trusted system. It is fluid and cohesive and it gets me where I am going every time. I don’t get trapped in “what’s behind me” as I head to my destination. I just get there.
It’s an odd feeling to suddenly become aware of an action that your mind and body have been doing over and over for years. Sort of like suddenly putting your hand on your chest and realizing how often it moves up and down with your breath. You took it all for granted seconds ago, but suddenly you panic. “Holy crap, what if my brain forgets to keep doing this?” And for the next few minutes all you can think of is how much you hope to feel it continue going up and down. You can’t relax though until you take your hand away and simply trust it. After all these years of driving, thirty two to be exact, I never stopped to think of how automaticalIy I maneuver my vehicle and the roads it is on.
Ignition key, mirror check, remove parking brake, reverse, mirror check, back up, stop for traffic, pull out, drive, mirror check, avoid pot hole, slow down, turn left, mirror check, stop sign, pedestrians crossing, drive, mirror check, red light, U-turn, mirror, speed bump, slow down, mirror, watch out, yield, mirror! It all happens in a tried and true manner, this practically subconscious doing, that all begins as soon as the key is turned. When I start my engine, it is critical to concentrate on now, on “this” drive. And so I do.
Whenever I glance in the car mirror, my eyes somehow know to get back quickly to the road ahead. My conscious understands that if I don’t focus in front of me I am very likely to crash. I chuckle for a second as I write this, because I think of the rear view mirror of the car I drive now. Its base houses a few lanyards (one with the NY Rangers logo), my mom’s scapula, and a pair of Maui Jims. I can’t tell you why hanging things there comforts me, but it does. In an odd way, they remind me of my independence.
Back, many autos ago, my ex-husband and I played an unspoken game. He hated having anything to distract him when he drove, so whenever he got in my car, even before he fastened his seat belt, he took down everything hanging from the mirror. Back then it was always things my son had made in school, a macramé necklace or braided yarn, as well as either a cross or medal of St. Christopher. As soon as he’d put the parking brake on back in the driveway, I’d put everything right back up. Today, I like my dangly objects and I especially appreciate that they hang because I decide they do. They keep me company when I drive, and remind me of my independence too.
Anyway, when I look in the rear view mirror of my life, outside the car, somehow I don’t always have the ability to snap back to what lies ahead. At times it’s not so easy to have that same nonchalant “it is what it is” attitude. A “road block” ahead can lead to fear of finding a detour. At a “curve in the road,” I can falter, wondering what’s around the bend. A “stop sign,” may bring with it a nervousness that I won’t get moving again if I slow down. A “red light,” if long enough, can distract me from where I was heading as I wait for it to turn green again. A U-turn, “oh man, what if the best things were up ahead and I miss them by turning around?”
Often, I glance back in my thoughts (outside any vehicle) and can stall going forward. It’s not typically just a quick peek and a letting go in the next breath. There is often a holding on that would never work in the car. If I waited for my next move while driving, I’d crash. I wish that outside, in the day to day, I could always trust that what is in the past is barely relevant. To remember that what is in front of me is what matters on life’s drive.
I remember when I first started my career as a Financial Advisor years ago. One of the trainers told us, “A stock’s past performance is not a direct indicator of future results.” We were taught to absolutely look back at what a company had done before, but not to base whether or not we put our clients funds into their stock on that information. We had to focus on what was forecasted to decide.
Over time, in “on the job training” I learned that charts and prior earnings were important. But, to keep in mind that this information is only a very small part of deciding whether or not to invest. What a company had planned down the road was more a factor in whether or not they were a good bet.
What I also learned “during life training,” outside the job, is that this idea holds true in other areas. The past is there to glance at, to check once in awhile as a guide. To see what worked and what didn’t. To remind us to sometimes turn left instead of right, again, or to simply appreciate being “parked.” But, it is the road ahead that matters.
What does any of this have to do with today? Sunday? Maybe nothing. But I will say that thinking about all of it gives me a spark of inspiration. And today, when I get in the car for the girl’s road trip I am heading out on, I will simply enjoy the ride.