You know that sensation you experience when you are cruising along in your car, perhaps singing along to the newest Taylor Swift ballad, (hey, they’re catchy) or thinking about a conversation you just had that morning with your spouse, or going through the list of a million things that you are hoping to accomplish on this particularly glorious day, when suddenly — HONK — you are brought back to “consciousness” by the driver behind you? Oops, the light has turned green and you are not moving. Funny you don’t even remember stopping. You slowly release your foot from the break and begin to move with the traffic once again, only to realize seconds later that you are nearly seven miles away from your house and you have no recollection of the drive you just made that has landed you in front of an impatient driver who is currently flipping you off for your delayed response to the changing light and who couldn’t wait for you to move your car so they could pull into the Starbuck’s parking lot to get their daily dose of a green tea, skinny latte, extra foam, SWEET at the drive thru.
This state of unawareness is an actual phenomenon referred to as “driving without awareness” (DWA), Highway Hypnosis and/ or “drinving without attention mode” in highway traffic safety circles. Others in the scientific community refer to it as performing in Alpha Mode, the state of being that produces brain waves that cause us to fall into a hypnotic state. The alpha state allows individuals to perform automatic patterns of habitual tasks or behaviors as opposed to the Beta Mode that causes us to be perform in a state of alertness. It’s a fairly common phenomenon and we experience it in a variety of different areas of our life.
Why am I sharing this brief science lesson with my devoted listeners? Because I feel as if I’ve just begun to awake from a two-week state of “highway hypnosis.” I came to at approximately 8:35 this morning as I was walking my dog along quintessential Main Street in the small New England town in which I grew up. I’ve walked this route a million times in my lifetime and today I walked the first half-mile completely unaware of my surroundings, much like I’ve been wondering through life the past couple weeks. I’ve had momentary states of awareness when my brain tries to cram in as much as it can — reading, writing, thinking, exploring my spiritual self — into a very short period of time, but then I lapse back into this meditative state of unawareness. Today … I was brought back to the present by a very eager puppy who wanted so desperately to visit the two dogs beckoning him from the other side of their fenced-in yard.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had been going about my most recent days in a sort of trance, paying little attention to my surroundings. So I made an agreement with myself right then and there: for the remainder of our walk, I would be completely tuned in to my surroundings and I would take silent notes to share on my blog later.
So here it is … my awareness post.
As I strode along Main Street taking stock of the ache in my legs, the slight stitch in my back and the 30-something-degree temperatures which produced small patches of “smoke” from my nostrils each time I exhaled, I began to see cracks in the picturesque neighborhoods of my youth. I saw a house with paint peeling from its trim. I became slightly jealous when I observed smoke rising from someone’s chimney, and I longed to knock on the door, beg for a cup of coffee, a warm blanket and some company to chat with by the fire. As I turned the corner onto the road I had traveled regularly from the age of three until I graduated high school, I took note of the house on the corner, home to a couple of young girls who briefly let me into their lives earlier this fall, and who continue to make me laugh with their serious sense of humor. Further on down the road I stopped at the river, and could almost feel the coldness leap up to the bridge and embrace me, and as I continued on, Murphy and I were met by a flock of birds and a few squirrels grazing at the bird feeders next door. As I ventured closer to my childhood neighborhood I saw a crooked shutter dangling on the side of the house where I used wait for the bus when I was in middle school, and I glanced down my old street at the quaint little ranches longing for a brief moment for a simpler life where my only worries included not falling from the branches of my favorite climbing tree, or making sure I returned home from playing in the neighborhood before dark.
Murph and I met up with another dog on the corner who barked at us from the end of his leash, and I realized it was the exact replica of the dog my daughter was trying to get me to adopt from the rescue where we got Murphy, earlier that morning. Murphy and I then ventured into the field where I grew up ice skating in the winter and playing hide and seek in the corn in the summer, and where the farmer yelled at me for climbing on his hay bales. Further along in that field I came across two gigantic piles of dog crap, and I gazed at the house across the street wondering why they hadn’t dumped these piles in the woods behind their house.
We turned left and traveled along the route that would take me to the last home that I would live in with my parents, and I realized that the traffic was much heavier on this road than the one before, and I saw the tension appear in Murph’s stance each time a truck would roar by, and I observed the leftover remnants from the flooding last summer along the riverbanks, that had caused so much destruction at the time and was now long forgotten by most, but not by the owners of the house across the street who, to my knowledge, had not moved back into their damaged home.
The final trek of our trip took us by a house in front of which, its picket fence had completely fallen down and as we neared the end of our walk, we passed a man walking who I shuffled Murphy by so he wouldn’t bother him, but whom I realized later had been trying to pet the dog.
At the end of that walk I was more awake and aware than I had been in a long time and it was not a surprise that my head hurt, I had a slight feeling of tension and anxiety in my chest, and I met the rest of the day with a sense of dread. I was now awake and aware and fully open to what lay ahead for the rest of the day, week, month … and for me, I knew that included doing some more soul searching, facing some demons, and making certain decisions that would move me forward in my life physically, spiritually and emotionally, and seeing yourself for who you really are and moving that self forward is never easy, but it’s a necessity.
Those breaks in consciousness are sometimes a welcome relief, but sooner or later you are going to wake from your hypnotic state and realize that someone needs their Starbucks and you are in their way. Then it will be up to you to either stay put soaking up the sweet oblivion that enveloped you only seconds earlier or you can choose to move forward, to get on your way and to face the rest of your day with the new awareness of where you’ve been, where you are now and where you would like to go. And that can be scary.