The Spirituality of Driving

The Spirituality of Driving

Special Stage one Rally Tennessee 2005

In his book, The Power of Now, one of the examples Eckhart Tolle uses of people who naturally live in the moment are people who drive race cars. Being in the moment is how he defines a spiritual process.

Having driven in automobile races and rallies, I understand what he is saying. In order to be competitive and to drive safely, you need to have your mind clearly focused on the task at hand when driving a race car. If you are thinking about what you did last week, or what you plan to do after the race, you will loose time on the track and in the worst case, you will crash the car.

I have also found that driving off road makes me focus on the moment almost as much as racing. While the time pressure is not always there in the off road environment, the need to be clearly alert to my surroundings is. I have to know where my tires are at all times and be keenly aware of the amount of traction available. I can’t do any of that if my mind is distracted or focused elsewhere.

Often as we drive our daily commutes, we do not have this keen focus to the task of driving. We sometimes put driving on mental auto pilot and allow our minds to wander through all sorts of thoughts – some that make us happy and others that bring us grief.

We can however choose to use any time behind the wheel as a deeply spiritual time. By simply focusing on driving the car and paying attention to the surroundings, we can bring our focus in to the eternal now and block out thoughts of past and future.

Often it is easier to bring back attention to driving by taking a different route. For example, instead of taking the interstate, take the old US highway that parallels it. It may take a few minutes longer but just notice the feeling of release that you feel as you look at the scenery and focus on the details of driving the car.

Even a familiar road can bring release if you focus on feeling the contact of the wheels to the pavement through the steering wheel. Listen to the sounds of the engine and the whirr of the gears turning making the car go forward.

I like driving my Jeep because it gives me a great feeling of being in contact with the road. A quieter car does not give me this same feeling of connectedness. I also get this feeling form driving sports cars whose stiff suspension keeps me in touch with the road surface.

It is easy to make driving a spiritual experience. Just focus on the things that are happening right now in the moment. Forget about all the things in the past that you are driving away from. Stop worrying about the potential future that may or may not happen when you get there. Just focus your attention to driving the car right now where you are.

Why I can’t meditate

I have read about and been told repeatedly about the benefits of meditation. However, no matter how hard I, try I just have not been able to do it for more than a few seconds at a time.

The leader of the Unity Church I attend simply says, “Begin again.” But I end up getting frustrated with all the beginning again and I don’t feel I benefit from the meditation that way.

I think I have found my answer in a book of Taoist exercises. In Internal Exercises by Stephen Chang, he explains that people who think a lot – I am pretty sure I qualify – can have disastrous results if they force themselves to empty their brains for meditation. He warns that they will experience confusion, illusion and frustration. In worst cases it can lead to schizophrenia. But mostly it leads to a worsening of the stress and tension one is trying to overcome through meditation.

The solution he recommends is a balancing between the brain and solar plexus. He mentions that the symptoms of cerebral brain over use are headache, stiff neck, confusion, forgetfulness and spaciness. He offers a simple exercise to help balance the mind and body.

The Solar Plexus Exercise:

Begin by sitting or standing with both hands placed on your stomach. Face forward and inhale. Feel your stomach expand with you hands.

While exhaling, push in and up with your hands on you stomach. At the same time, turn your shoulders and head slowly to the left as far as possible without straining.

Face back to the front as you inhale releasing your stomach and feeling the air push your hands out.

This time turn to the right as you exhale.

Repeat up to 36 times or as often as the flexibility of your neck and shoulders will allow.

I have found that after only a few days of doing this exercise, my mental clarity has greatly improved. I have not yet tried to meditate. I will give it a few more days before I try again. I was able to complete a mental focus exercise last night that I have been having trouble with however.

For more information on the solar plexus exercise and many other wonderful Taoist exercises see Internal Exercises by Stephan Chang.

Ford Tractor and Bush Hog

Driving my Ford Tractor and Bush Hog – A Meditation

Operating an antique tractor can be a very spiritual experience. By spiritual I mean it causes you to focus on the present moment with great clarity. Ekart Tolle talks about how race car drivers are focuses on the present moment by race driving. I have experienced that as well, but I find the present moment focus required to safely operate my Ford 601 and bush hog is right up there with Rally Racing for being present in the moment.

The spiritual journey begins with preparing to crank the old tractor. My old Ford runs well if it is used often, but like any mechanical device it tends toward entropy when neglected. This tractor is often particularly hard to start when it has set a spell.

The normal procedure is to add gasoline because the old gas has leaked out even with the valve on the bottom of the tank closed. The next step is to use the screwdriver that I store in a hole in the dash to open the gas valve. If I am extremely lucky, the battery will have enough power to turn over the engine. Normally just the added enrichment from the choke will not be enough to start my 601. I usually have to give it a shot of starting fluid to bring it to life. This is done by disconnecting the hose from the air cleaner to the up draft carb and squirting the ether into the hose and quickly refitting it before the starting fluid runs back out.

Hitting the starter then usually results in the tractor roaring to life with lots of black smoke out the exhaust. A few tugs on the choke lever will normally stabilize the idle.

I have made a few upgrades to this 600 series Ford since I have had it. I found it on my grandfather’s farm after he passed away. The story is that he rebuilt the engine and then was never able to start it. I found it in a shed that had collapsed around the tractor. I found that he had installed the plug wires on the wrong plugs. Once I corrected the firing order, I was able to start the tractor.

The original generator was missing, so I installed a GM style single wire alternator on a fabricated bracket. I later got tired of filing points each time it sat a while so I added an electronic ignition. This was by far the best upgrade I have made to the tractor. I used to have to carry an ignition point file in my pocket when I used the tractor because some time during the day the points would ash over and stop firing. The electronic ignition has really helped with starting up as well.

This past weekend I decided to do some bush hogging. I made the mental and emotional preparations for the normal battle to crank the tractor. I was prepared to systematically work my way through the normal corroded electrical connections of clogged fuel passages until the tractor came to life. However this time, I hit the starter switch and the tractor simply ran. I was almost disappointed. The hydraulics even worked the first time I pulled the lever to raise the bush hog.

The brakes on a Ford 600 series tractor are good for some excitement on my very hilly land. The left brake works much better than the right so I get used to making most of my sharp turns to the left. But going down the steep hill behind my barn to get to the land on the other side of the creek is always an adventure. Even with my full body weight on the brake pedals, I can’t stop it going down the hill. So, once I start down, I am committed. It is best to scout the route before I start down.

To make the decent as safe as possible I stop at the top of the hill and lower the bush hog to the ground for maximum drag. Then I drop the throttle to the lowest idle speed. I ease the tractor forward and let the engine hold back the forward progress. Also, because in a few very unnerving events in the past, I keep firm pressure o the shifter holding it in 1st gear so that it does not pop out of gear. Since it take both hand to handle the steering wheel on the uneven slope, I have to hold the shifter with my knee.

While my Jeep has no trouble dropping into the creek, the ledge is too high for the bush hog to follow. I have to drive along the creek bank and drop in at a gentler slope. I then drive along the creek bed and back up the other side of the crossing.

Now I can finally engage the PTO and get the bush hog blades spinning. If the grass is tall like it usually is, I have to watch for fallen trees and limbs as I drive along.

I recently put new rear drive tires on the tractor. The old ones had quite a few cuts in them and I had to be very careful what I drove over. Now with my new tires, I am much more confident in driving over logs and limbs.

While driving over the rugged terrain, I am constantly monitoring the feedback of the pressure on the steering wheel as the front tires make there ways through the ruts and over fallen limbs. I listen intently to the sound of the spinning blades for any signs of choking or hitting a more solid object than they can cut. My nose is sensitive to the smells of the cut grass, the hot engine and monitoring for signs of unburned fuel or burning wood. I am constantly watching my line as I guide the tractor through the uncut weeds and driving as close as possible to the trees to cut as much as possible with each pass.

Once I have finished mowing, the next challenge is to get the tractor back up the steep hill to the barn. I always have to make sure I have left enough fuel because the steep grade allows the fuel to move to the back of the tank and away from the outlet in the middle. And, I sure don’t want to run out of fuel part way up the hill.

In order to cross the creek, I have to drive down into the creek and drive downstream a bit to a less steep place to come out and the return along the creek bank to the trail up the hill. I have to set the bush hog at just the right level so that it does not drag the ground but rolls on the rear wheel. If it is too low it will drag too much to climb the hill. If it is too high, the front wheels will come off the ground making it hard to steer.

As, I open the throttle and head up the hill, I have to resist the urge to lean forward as if somehow my weight shift will help the tractor go up the hill. Once safely at the top, I can close the throttle to the normal position and drive back to the barn.

I shut of the ignition and lower the bush hog slightly so that it is low enough to cover the blades but still has some pressure o the hydraulics. This seems to help the hydraulic system come back to life quicker next time the tractor is used. I use my stored screwdriver to close off the fuel cock in the bottom on the tank.

As I listen to the cutter blades slowing to a stop, I can once again begin to think about things outside the mowing experience. I make a pass around the tractor to make sure all the parts are still in place and there are no new oil or hydraulic leaks. Time on the tractor is one of complete focus almost the point of overload. I love the experience and find it very refreshing.

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