A car can get us places, but we need to know where it is we want to go, and how to drive it. Not only must we be aware of the conditions of the road, oncoming traffic, and our present location in reference to our destination, but we also need to know whether we have enough fuel to take us where we’re going, the vehicle’s capacity to accelerate or brake when necessary, and whether it habitually veers right or left, stalls, or heats up in traffic.
If we get in the car and turn it on, step on the gas, and then become distracted, or if we disregard wet surfaces, bumpy roads, and traffic signs, the probability of making it safely to our destination diminishes substantially.
The mind can also be a wonderful vehicle that can take us from point A to point B, but we must drive it. We need to know how it works, how to keep it functioning well, and how to avoid crashing into stationary objects, pedestrians, and oncoming traffic.
Some roads are narrow, and some are broad. Sometimes we drive in the dark of night, and other times in blinding daylight. We can have the road almost all to ourselves, or find ourselves in heavy traffic. We may have a full tank of gas, or be running on fumes. Our car may be old or new, powerful or wimpy. It may be a stunning feat of modern engineering, or a rattling piece of junk.
Some cars pull right, some left. Some accelerate slowly, and some go from 0 to 60 in no time flat. Some are “all terrain”, and others can only handle well-paved roads.
While on the road, we must constantly make corrections: stop or go, right or left, speed up or slow down. And we must keep the car in proper working order: mechanically sound, fueled, oiled, and with sufficient coolant. If we don’t account for all these variables, we can’t really blame the car if it fails to get us where we’re going. It’s up to the driver.
The mind is no different. We’re always on a trip. The road (the environment) may be different; traffic conditions (the people we encounter) may vary. But we must always drive with skill and care.
On-the-road corrections are like the on-the-spot mental antidotes we must apply to protect us from developing afflicted emotions and wrong views. Regular car maintenance is like meditation: training our minds for peace and clarity. We won’t get where we want to go unless we do both.
Just like on the road, we need to drive our mental processes defensively. When that initial like or dislike arises in the mind upon contact with a person, object, or situation, the mind will take us on a trip to attachment, aversion, or indifference unless we set and hold a different course. To counter attachment, we need to check if we’ve disregarded some important negative qualities that we’ve not yet noticed. To counter aversion, we do the opposite. To counter indifference, we just need to pay more attention.
But none of this is possible unless we’ve got the capacity to step back from our afflicted emotions and wrong views. We’ve got to have the peace and clarity that comes from the regular practice of meditation, the proper maintenance for the vehicle of the mind.
Some trips are easier than others, but a prepared and attentive driver can handle most situations. That driver knows when to steer right or left, reduce speed, accelerate, or come to a full stop, and when it is necessary to take the car in to the shop for a tune-up.
And yet, most of us take better care of our cars than of our minds.