Driving Lessons

One of our travelling companions in Italy finished this wonderful book,  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein,and left it for me to read. She knew I would like a book written from a dog’s perspective..even more so because it touches upon the deeply spiritual nature of our human journey, navigating the depths of human despair and the sweet joys of intimate connection with others. The title phrase, “racing in the rain” so perfectly evokes the image of that navigation and the skill we need to successfully traverse our pathway, especially in the storms of the unexpected , the sad and sometimes dangerous circumstances we encounter along the way. The main characters of the book must use all of who they are and not give up or lose focus on where they are going, their hopes. Even in the midst of their failings, they have to be especially mindful of the moment that is right in front of them.

The book is narrated by Enzo, a dog reflecting on the life he has lived. His voice is so utterly simple, funny, honest and “human.”  Enzo, in fact, is determined to reincarnate as a human. He says, early in the first chapter:

“I’ve always felt almost human. I’ve always known that there is something about me that is different from other dogs. Sure, I’m stuffed into a dog’s body, but that’s just the shell. It’s what’s inside that is important. The soul. And my soul is very human.

I am ready to become a man now, though I realize that I will lose all that I have been.  All of my memories, all of my experiences. I would like to take them with me into my next life- there is so much I have gone through with the Swift family…But I have little say in the matter. What can I do but force myself to remember? Try to imprint what I know on my soul, a thing that has no surface, no sides, no pages, no form of any kind. Carry it so deeply in the pockets of my existence that when I open my eyes and look down at my new hands with their thumbs that are able to close tightly around their fingers, I will already know. I will already see.”

The book thrilled me with poetic gems like these as did the touching story line about a race car driver and his family’s tragic loss and struggles. It seemed no coincidence that the book appeared while daily I drove a manual transmission car on snakelike roads and steeps inclines in Italy. The book’s analogies of racing a car with learning to live a life simply, courageously and fully in the moment became especially engaging.Coreglia Antelminelli

After a five hour day of driving through the mountains, with another family car following, I felt I was learning to channel Mario Andretti,the famous Italian race car driver. My car was not so sleek as his or what you might call a performance automobile, just a small Ford wagon that sometimes barely fit through some of the narrow passageways of medieval era streets. Or maybe I was just channeling part of myself. After one particularly grueling stint, a passenger asked if I planned to meditate when I got home. I smiled and said, “I have been meditating.”  And it was true. A single pointed focus in which I was fully present was the only way I got through those mountains. Having your life and those of others in your hands certainly fuels the need for sustained concentration. All in all it was exhilarating rather than exhausting, empowering rather than a source of fear.

I had thought recently that my driving skills had slipped a bit-the result of short drives in very familiar locales. It is easy to not be fully present then, to drive on auto-pilot. After a while I think our synapses  dull and the circuits narrow. The brain and muscles forget to speak to one another in concert. The process of tuning out is not so different than during other activities of the day -making a meal, talking on the phone-when our mind, attention and awareness are far away from the present. Life becomes a sleep walk.

Driving in Italy was a total wake-up call, drawing on all my resources. There were even some times when I thought I must have willed the car through an impossibly tight spot between oncoming traffic and an unforgiving stone shoulder or screeched to a halt when a car darted out from a narrow alley hidden by ancient walls lining the roadway. Time momentarily slowed. The action came into sharp relief. In reflection, it seems that neither my car nor my reflexes could have negotiated that danger safely. But something, coming from the deep center of myself, found a way through.

Night time was even more challenging as I negotiated hairpin turns on dark roads and inclines of more than 30 degrees, the visible sight lines sometimes only a car length at best. “Your car goes where your eyes go.” said Enzo, quoting his master. How much faith it took to turn my eyes outside the glow of my headlights lighting only empty space over a ravine and turn my wheel sharply left or right, where I could not really see.

The Path According to Garmin

I could not think about what just happened or the conversation in the back seat -only what I was doing right then and moving my eyes to where I wanted to go. Set the intention, hold steady the course, watch for the unexpected and meet it “head on”.  This is driving like you really mean it, like your life depended on it.

It is also good practice, to live like your life depends on it. No auto pilot, lulled into a state of un- wakefulness and missing what is right in front of you. Turn to where you want to go, even when there is no light.

Grazie, Enzo. Buon viaggo. Good travels, my friends.


  1.  Barbara's avatar
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    Love it and SO true. That total concentration and a certain amount of blind trust. Would one become blase if one lived there all the time?
  2. Kay Goldstein's avatar
    Kay Goldstein
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    I would say that being that present and alive would preclude becoming numb and blase.
  3.  Sixburnuesue's avatar
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    Kay, this is so lovely. I LOVED that book and I love how it appeared to you during this time of intense driving, and all that you took away from that...happy to be reading Kay again! Susie
  4. Bert's avatar
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    Well mcadaamia nuts, how about that.

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