Green Light

sunday 060

Every day I drive the five mile stretch of road to my son’s home, then drive back. I do this seven days a week, every single day, except when I’m away. This stretch of road is an ‘A’ road… no parked cars, few turn-offs, just a couple of quiet junctions and very few bends. I know it well. I have been driving it daily for more than fifteen years. So well do I know it, that I barely have to think about it.

Nevertheless, all roads are alive in their own, particular way and taking notice reveals many surprises. This road passes through the fields and hedgerows of rural Buckinghamshire between the town and my village. Driving back today there were men giving the wide grass verges their annual trim and filling the air with that evocative scent of new-mown grass. Being a hot day, the cut grass dried quickly, blowing green-gold flurries across the road. Dust devils danced in the laybys, whipped into action by passing lorries. A flattened can tumbled across the road in silver sparkles, and, as always, the kites wheeled overhead. Beside the road, the tragedy of road kill; the vivid green and red of a woodpecker and the glossy russet of a sleek young fox… a counterpoint to the badger, curled as if asleep in the gutter.

In the hedgerows the scarlet splashes of field poppies and the yellow of ragwort blaze against the pinks of herb Robert and fireweed, while the porcelain blue of cranesbill calms the shadows. By the road a feather, a very large feather, stands upright in the grass. There is nowhere to stop here, so I regretfully silence my curiosity and head for home, feeling the road beneath me through the wheel of the car, hearing the birds over the engine noise.

I notice the details, observing my own awareness in the moment, feeling very much alive. Because it is such an easy road to drive, I can usually pay attention to the road and  focus on the changing seasons of the landscape around me. Yesterday, however, was a different story.

A recent housing development at the edge of town necessitated a new road junction with traffic lights. When it was brand new… an interruption to the steady flow… awareness was a given. Very quickly, however, the junction became part of the accepted nature of the road, just another detail to bear in mind when driving. Going into town yesterday threw this into sharp relief, and illustrated neatly the very mechanicalness of which we speak in the Silent Eye course.

I had a lot on my mind that morning and I was already halfway across the junction before I realised I couldn’t remember looking to see if the lights were red or green. There was a flare of horror as I glanced up at the farthest set of lights to check and saw that, thankfuly, I was fine. Time seems to stop in these moments and I appeared to have several conversations with myself at once, berating and questioning, in that strange state of bifurcated consciousness, while still driving steadily through what was, after all, only a split second and a mere ten yards of the junction.

I had obviously looked at the lights on autopilot, which explains why there was no immediate memory of doing so. And that autopilot is one of the things which can carry us through life blind to the details, retaining only the haziest notion of what has been going on around us… and within us for that matter, focussing entirely on the personal and missing so much of everything…and everyone… else. It is a conveniently effortless state in which to live and very often we are simply unaware that we are operating in that way as habit, routine and our familiar normality hold our attention in a mechanical state. It does make me wonder just how much of our lives we live as automata before we finally hit that junction and have to wake up.


40 thoughts on “Green Light

      1. It makes me realise how I drift through days sometimes. Yet, in the car, travelling ‘up North’ (which we will be doing next weekend to go to Yanks back in Saddleworth – first time there since Mum passed) we stop so many times to just stand and take in the countryside – and realise how lucky we are. It is the day to day journeys we don’t see the beauty or the unusual… just the familiar. x

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know just what you mean, Judith. I think it is because it touches the heart so deeply…we can’t ignore the land.
          I remember you saying about the Saddleworth event…I’d have liked to be there for that too. I know it will be an emotional trip for you though. x

          Liked by 2 people

  1. I have recently become aware that I must live most of my life on autopilot. I’m sure that I see and feel everything, but most of it never reaches my conscious mind. Time to stop and smell the roses, I think, but how to change what is obviously the habit of a lifetime?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Just give your attention to the moment… look for the small details you’ve overlooked before, like the way light falls on a particular leaf o the texture of the object inyour hand. It isnt to maintain that state of awareness to begin with…but it gets easier.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I suspect we live a lot of our lives on automata, especially in those familiar local surroundings. Your descriptions are beautiful, almost poetic, Sue. But I always get stuck on the word “hedgerows” and a certain Led Zeppelin song about bustles inside them. Thanks.

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  3. I know I am guilty of going through life on Autopilot ometimes, constantly thinking ahead and fretting about one thing or another. I forget to slow down and acknowledge the here and now. Lovely post, Sue 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It can be disconcerting to arrive at a destination and not remember any of the trip. The brain only registers the ‘new and different’ and ignores the rest. I have to remind myself to be mindful when driving– to ‘be here now.’ I don’t much enjoy those ‘stoplight’ moments!

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  5. I went through a traffic light that didn’t have any light bulbs one evening late. I got such a fright when I saw the red glow after I had crossed over. It really gave me a turn so I can imagine you really got a fright too.

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  6. I can relate to autopilot, especially when driving. Those templates we build in our brains are wonderful because we don’t need to relearn everything every day, but they can prevent us from seeing the world with new awareness. I’m glad you take the autopilot time to notice the beauty of the landscape – awareness of a different kind.

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  7. Garry did the same thing a couple of days ago, but sadly, the dent in the fender proves that autopilot is not yet a proven technology, at least not in cars. When you live, as we do, in the country, it’s easy to be less attentive to the little details … until a sudden jolt makes you rethink your position 🙂 Small dent. BIG reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

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