Having drive and being driven.

I took this picture last weekend. I am struck by two things: the incredible, blade-like line of the airplane moving through the sky with purposeful speed, and the aching blue of the sky. The movement and the stillness that underlies it. The trajectory and the background. This image is a good metaphor for something I’ve been thinking about lately: having drive, and being driven. Our society says both are excellent qualities. But both of these descriptors puzzle me, for correlated but separate reasons.

To have drive. To be ambitious, to believe in oneself, to do great things. Right? But drive also assumes motion. For most of my 35 years I would have nodded vigorously and agreed with this. But in the last couple of years I’ve heard an increasingly loud voice in my head telling me that that may not be right. Telling me that maybe the ultimate goal is not motion but stillness. That, even in the midst of a frenetic life with many goals, the real richness is right here. That “great things” in fact consist not in having propulsion, necessarily, but in having the patience and strength to be still.

To be driven. Same general connotations: eagerness, striving, energy, goals and aspirations. And yet. To be driven is to give the agency to another, no? Who is driving? This might sound a little pat and pedantic, but, really, what does it mean? And where are we being driven to? Are we setting the direction from the passenger seat?

These questions, clearly, are part of my larger rumination on the notion of velocity vs. direction, speed vs. stillness. This is not a new theme for me, of course, but it’s much on my mind lately. I wrote about this last fall at Mrs. Chicken’s lovely blog, Chicken & Cheese. There are so many ways that this tension reverberates in my life. Writ large, I think, I’m questioning velocity as a defining emphasis for life. Starting to realize the ways that focusing on where we are going takes us away from all we have: here. now. And yet there are parts of me that are innate, immutable: I am impatient, I speak and move quickly, I am not, by nature, a still and calm person.

What’s new, I guess, is my longing to be. And if I’ve learned anything in the past year or two, it’s that being engaged, present, patient, is less a trait and more of a practice. Sure, I think it comes more easily for some, but I am greatly encouraged by a strong sense that this is something we can work on. As Dani Shapiro said at her book reading, the practice is beginning again. Recognizing our thoughts taking over, and returning again to the place of stillness.

What if I wasn’t driven? So what? Begin again.

What if I didn’t have drive? So what? Begin again.

What if I’m distracted, my mind doing cartwheels, my anxiety bubbling up? So what? Begin again.

Be here.

15 thoughts on “Having drive and being driven.”

  1. As always your writing sets me to thinking, I suspect I will all day :-). I’m working on finding prescence in my daily moments. It is not easy for me, because as you describe I’m a “hard driver.” Doesn’t always blend well with mommyhood and our expectations of ourself.

    Just wanted to let you know that you inspired my own post today. Thanks for pushing the limits and helping me evaluate my own life. I’m grateful.

  2. Brilliant. Love the metaphor(s) here. I wonder, though, whether drive actually requires motion… Isn’t it “drive to…” or “drive to be…” and if so, that drive can manifest as “drive to be still” or “drive to be here”… Just a thought. But interesting, and compelling, that it might take great effort, great practice, to just *be*.

    There is a casualness, an irreverence, woven into the tapestry of post that I don’t often see here. And I love it.

    (So what?)

  3. Well, we could always do like that slightly sappy Carrie Underwood song and “let God take the wheel.”

    Oh, wait. I’m an agnostic. Dang! Now what?

    Lots of food for thought today.

  4. To ‘be here’ is so important…and so elusive for me. I have drive like you describe; that endless quest for height, speed, etc. Thank you for the reminder that being still may achieve more.

  5. “Begin again” will be my new mantra- thanks! love the post – and the thoughts it’s inspiring in me– and the photo — i initially thought it was a firecracker going up – gorgeous!

  6. This shot straight to my heart. Thank you for articulating a debate that I wage with myself on an almost daily basis. I, too, am transitioning into a belief that the answer is stillness rather than motion – the spinning in my head has never gotten me very far anyway while the peace that comes when the spinning stops feels so right. You have given me something with today’s message that I’ll carry a long time. Gracias!

  7. This spoke to me. I think that this is such a powerful concept, and something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I love “Begin Again”. And that’s the real beauty of it, if we lose track of the present moment our next chance to “Begin Again” is only a second away.

  8. Begin again could be my motto…
    I’m not driven. I’ll be the first one to say it. I’m slowing becoming more driven… but it’s taken many years of really having little drive to finally realize “driven” is not a bad word 😉

  9. I love this: “Starting to realize the ways that focusing on where we are going takes us away from all we have: here. now.”

    The instruction to thyself, “Begin again.” Couldn’t help but hear the this echo in my own mind:

    Though I lack the art
    to decipher it,
    no doubt the next chapter
    in my book of transformations
    is already written.
    I am not done with my changes.
    (Stanley Kunitz, from The Layers )

    Transformations – large or small, they define moments of our days…

    Perhaps our energy, or drive, motivation – is what keeps us fluid, moving towards and through the new beginnings, the changes. I’m working on this thought, that there is no pinnacle, it’s a continuum, this life.

  10. I love that “begin again” thing. A lot. It’s all I can do right now. And of course there is a TON of focus on being in the moment when one is in recovery. For this reason and many others, I look at recovery as a gift. We all need to be taught full acceptance of the here and now without giving much thought to the was or might be.

    I wish I could master it faster…but I don’t, so I begin again 🙂

  11. I can relate! I’ve been thinking a lot about this question that my son asks me everytime I buckle him in his carseat or we go for a walk or we pretend-drive: “Where are we going?” I used to love asking myself this question, consumed with achieving, improving, excelling. But lately, my focus is switching. I find myself resiting when I ponder this question because the beauty and the gift is here now. Awesome photo and post.

  12. Quite agree. The hamster-on-a-wheel-brain is very hard to stop from running to nowhere, however, which is why breathing deeply and with mindfulness will take us to the present moment better than any thought. Then we can just meditate on the carrot dangling on the stick and neither desire it, nor fear being left out and never getting it… then we are free. Once we get this, we are free to drive or be driven and just enjoy the ride. As Leonard Cohen, a guy whose been on this drive and driven question for a good long time, sings, “If you want a driver, climb inside or if you want to take me for a ride, you know you can… I’m your man.”

  13. Lindsey – I’m catching up on your blog (not commenting much as there are always so many – you are well read and well loved!). Your “Begin Again” reminds me of a book on therapy and mindfulness I read while doing my MA – “Back to One”. The language isn’t so important – although yours is lovely – it’s that concept – whew. Begin Again. Back to One (the number, when counting to 10 meditatively, consciously, letting go of the counting when thoughts push their way in, going back to one). The practice of it can be immensely challenging and yet, I find it so worthwhile.

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