I drove a lot this week. I drove from the south of England to the northwest, to the northeast and then back south. Best part of a thousand miles. Some fourteen or fifteen hours over three days. I knew the plan and timings before we set off. Everything worked pretty well.
It was a lot of time to sit. And a lot of time to think. And a lot of time to talk. I had my daughter with me most of the time – on her way back to university. I had my phone with me all of the time. Talking to people passes time very well when I drive. People in the car or on the phone. Or listening to people talk – talk radio for example. Talking to myself (well thinking really) works as well.
I work hard on being present when I drive. It sounds obvious. The road. The traffic. The weather. My speed. My self. I take regular breaks. I stay refreshed. I talk all the time to someone, but I work to stay focused on the drive as well. When I arrive that I remember much about the conversations I have had, but little about the actual drive. I worry about that from time to time. Was I really present whilst driving? Was I talking too much?
We missed my daughter’s train on the last morning. We gave ourselves lots of time, but the traffic near the station was awful. One mile in fifty minutes rather than the normal five. Those are the moments when it is harder to stay present and yet even more important to make sure we do. It is so easy to end up looking backwards – what we should have done to avoid the current situation. Or for that matter forwards – what we will do when we eventually arrive.
But both forwards and backwards miss out on what is going on around us. Self-evidently we can’t change the past. All we can do is take the learning for next time. Planning what to do when we eventually arrived often feels very positive – the future is something we can still influence after all. But it was also wishing that time away. I was present with my daughter. We had been together for our road trip for two days. This was my last time with her for weeks. It was precious time to savour. Not time to wish away. I held her hand.
And there was traffic everywhere. Drivers rushing and pushing. Stressing and gesticulating. And cyclists. And pedestrians. All more reason to be present. Both hands back on the steering wheel. I focussed. I relaxed. I enjoyed the moment.
Being present allows us to notice more and to appreciate more. We what is happening around us. There is such a strong urge for us to focus on getting somewhere. In doing this, though, I know I miss out on seeing what is going on around me. And more importantly we miss out on the people around us. Their needs and desires. Their conversations. Their presence. Their ideas. And they miss out on us. And everything we could give or offer them.
Yes we missed the train but yes my daughter caught the next one. But more importantly we had another hour together. We talked and we laughed. We looked at people and at buildings. That hour passed very quickly.
And then she was gone. I called my wife as I walked back to my car. She wanted to know we had made the train. I wanted to hear her voice. I was present again. And content. And fortunate.