Are you like a car in an automated car wash?
I ask this question because I drove my car through one of those super-fun automated car washes today. If you live in New England, you know round about mid-January you're desperate to drive your salt-encrusted ride through a car wash, even if it is 10 degrees out and the things gonna be a big icicle coming out the other end. Anyway, I found myself in the middle of a car wash this afternoon and noticing how it's a lot like life in there.
Think about it. You line your wheel up, start driving forward, and sure enough, there are two or three people there to help you get started. First, someone greets you and asks you what you want so they can help you get that. Next there's the guiding person who gestures to you, to go a little left or a little right. After you've followed his instructions he puts his hand up to say, Good, you're on your way. Then there are the couple of people who are circling with hoses, trying to clean off the worst of the grime to get you ready for the big show.
Okay, so that's a funky metaphor for your youth and young adulthood. But here's where it starts to get good. Now you enter the Mystery of Life. Mystery, yes? Because you never really know what's going to happen to you in life. You think you have an idea of what you'd like to happen, or what you think is going to happen, or what you're planning hard to have happen. But still you have to admit that you never really know. Just like in the car wash. Stuff's flying at you, you get drenched, big random hanging things keep whapping at you, then lovely multi-colored foam covers you, but then wait, more whapping, and... It's kind of wild and chaotic in there isn't it? Or at least, it would be if you were strapped to the outside of your vehicle.
Okay, now stay with me on the wacky metaphor, because I do have a point. Consider this: the person you think yourself to be is your vehicle. (It actually is, in a strange way. Once, on a fantastic retreat with a rockstar meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, he told us we're basically in our bodies like they're Rent-A-Cars. But I digress.) Who you actually are is the aliveness itself, consciousness that has for a time come to incarnate and inhabit this body, in order to try out the Human Life thing. Perfectly peaceful and along for whatever ride is provided, consciousness inhabits this life you call "yours" and experiences all of the beauty and also random whapping of your life from a place of utter stillness and peace, within. Just like you, sitting in your car, quietly and peacefully observing the chaos unfolding as you proceed through the car wash.
So here's the important question for you: Do you identify yourself as the vehicle, or the life within that experiences what happens to the vehicle? As strange as it sounds, this is a really important question, because the answer determines whether you are experiencing life as though you were strapped to the outside of a car moving through a car wash. Do you feel battered by big, sloshing events? Do you feel occasionally blessed by multi-colored foam, but more often splashed in the face with cold water and storm-tossed by big, uncomfortably hot wind chutes? Or have you figured out that you are the peaceful one, inside the vehicle, experiencing and enjoying the fascinating ebb and flow of drama and calm, all from your solid, steady seat?
In meditation, with mindfulness, you're invited to see which of these ways you approach life with. And which one you'd like to adopt now that you see there's a different way. I guess some people really like the sensations of life experienced strapped to the vehicle. For me, I have fallen in love with the quiet place inside the car. Funny thing is, it's more exciting now, more joyous, living out of this quiet place. There's a kind of trembling aliveness available now, rather than the sort of fear-based excitement I understood back before silence grabbed me by the lapels and showed me how life could really be felt. So I have to recommend that you try out looking at things from inside the car. Meditation will show you what I mean. Try it.