Driving school saved my life. I grew up on dirt roads with little traction, driving a manual Honda Civic that I had learned to drive on my own. One afternoon, driving my friend home I took a corner too fast and my car started to skid out of control on the gravel road that was framed by hedgerows of large, sturdy trees.
A few months before at a race track in West Virginia I was put into a spin by my driving instructor and had learned in a safe environment to turn into the spin in order to gain control over the car. I think in some ways my parents sent me to driving school because my Dad wished he could drive around in police cars on a race track all day and sent me instead.
But that afternoon on a curvy gravel road in Northern Virginia, I went against my intuition to fight the spin and crank my wheel in the other direction. While my friend gripped the edges of her seat, both of us holding our breath, I turned into the spin and regained control of the car, missing the surrounding trees by an inch.
I don’t think that the driving school in West Virginia meant to teach me any other lessons that day other than how to safely manuver a car but a decade later I return to this idea of turning towards a skid on a different level.
On a metaphorical level, the idea of turning towards what might seem to be the opposite of what one wants to feel is important. Not allowing emotions to control behavior but turning towards what one feels and what might be difficult or uncomfortable can be life saving.
As a sixteen year old new driver I was able to save the spin out because I knew what it felt like to be in one. On a metaphorical level, it is important to be able to experience all of our emotions in a safe environment and learn how to identify them so that we can choose appropriate responses to what we feel. It is important not to be afraid of fully feeling emotions so that one can experience life and grow– it is important to learn how to drive when one lives in a rural area so that one can experience life and grow (and go to the grocery store, and see people, etc, etc).
I was frightened that day but if I had allowed my fear to control my behavior I would probably have collided with a tree. Because of driving school and learning to drive in a safe environment I was able to feel my fear, recognize quickly that we were going into a spin, feel which direction the spin was going and turn towards it, miss the trees and stop the car.
I am still working on the next level– still metaphorically in driving school but I think I am more in control of my car, at least I am better aware of where the gears are and when to shift. I am learning what different emotions feel like, and learning how to sit with them rather than pushing them away or being impulsive with my behavior. Shame, fear, guilt, anger, happiness, love, joy, boredom, sadness all feel a little bit different if I pay attention, and just like how the appropriate response to a skid is not the same as the appropriate response to an obstacle in the road, there is an approriate response for each emotion and each feeling as well. There are still blind spots and unforeseen curves in the road as there always will be but I’m still here, I can feel my hands on the wheel, I stall less often now and I’m happy to be driving along.