Driving and the self

If “self” is our conscious will – which determines our experience of reality – I count two aspects to exercising this will: how well we pay attention, and what we pay attention to. If self has a condition of fulfillment, it lies in the perfection of these two things, just as the fulfillment of anything is measured by how well we use it, and what we use it for.

Take driving, for example. At its best, it takes us from one place to another in speed and comfort. To do this, the driver must learn how to use the car, and spend time and effort practicing its use. In the early stages, because of unfamiliarity, he spends at least as much attention on the car itself, as he does to the road. This division of focus hurts his ability to drive, but is a necessary part of learning. So although the goal of driving relates to the world outside the car, much of his initial attention is fixed inside, on becoming familiar with the car’s workings. It is a curious paradox, but from it comes the end result of effortless driving.

The self1 must go through similar stages. If its function is awareness, it is an awareness of. Of what, and how to use it, is the point of education. Initially we might pay as much or more attention to the process of awareness per se as we do to what we’re becoming aware of, but when the self functions smoothly, focus moves away from the process to its intent (not in the sense of a specific goal, but rather like art, whose intent is the full experience of creation, and not just the resulting artwork).

This well-functioning self experiences life in a much different way than its earlier stages. As with driving, the beginning is fun and exciting, but also anxious and overwhelming: the skilled driver enjoys a peace and depth of satisfaction absent in the student. This is because his consciousness is fully directed outside the car, while he unconsciously operates it. In the same way, when our awareness becomes fully conscious of its Intended One (baqá) and ceases to be conscious of itself (faná), it will really eat up the road…

  1. I do not mean “the self that acquires”, but rather: When you look at the world, what do you see? This kind of self exists only in the moment, since it is the act of perception. The other kind of “self” is a sort of fiction used to abstract our perception from the process of its operation.