To Drive or Be Driven?

Some like to drive their cars themselves, while others like to be driven around. What about the psychological experience of driving—and how different is it from the experience of being driven around?

Most spiritual seekers realize sooner or later that living from one deadline to another is no way to live. It can never bring total fulfillment. Life passes us by while we are busy with chores that never seem to end. Doesn’t this describe what most of us experience most of the time?

It is helpful, no doubt, to always have something to look forward to and something to keep us busy. It saves us the trouble of deciding how to go through the day. There is something already planned for us by someone, something we have committed to, or something that is expected of us. Thus we live from hour to hour, day to day, month to month, year to year. No sooner one task is accomplished than another pops up, no sooner one deadline is met than another looms ahead, no sooner one commitment is over and done with than we find that we have already committed ourselves to something else.

In this entirely familiar scenario, we are not in charge of our lives. We are not at the wheels. We are not driving the vehicle of our life. We are being driven by circumstances, by our ambitions, or by others’ expectations. Is this all what life is about? It is no fun to be driven around like this—“kicked around like a football” would probably be a better way to express it. And serious spiritual seekers soon realize this.

The realization that my life is no longer in my own hands and no longer in my own control is disconcerting. After all, it is my life, and it is my time that is being used up and it is my energy that is being exhausted. Why should I not have control over it? Why should anybody or anything else determine how my time should be used and my energies employed? Why should I cede control of my life to someone else? My life should be under my control, just like the car I am driving should be under my control.

Reclaiming my own life from the clutches of everything else is easier said than done. We are faced with what seems to be the inevitable and harsh reality of our boring and monotonous lives. What about my job which pays my bills? My time and energy during my working hours don’t belong to me. They belong to my employer who has rented me for 40 hours (or whatever) every week. There is no way I can get those under my control. And what about my other responsibilities in life? It is impossible to have total control over my time and energy. It feels like my life is no longer only my life.

Karma Yoga shows us the way to reclaim our lives fully and irrevocably. It teaches us how we can have full control over every moment of our lives and every ounce of our energy. In spite of my responsibilities at my workplace, my duties related to my family and my community, and hundred other things besides, I can still have my life under my control. I can still be free.

Life is “life” only when it is free, otherwise it is only existence in the pale shadow of death, which is ready to pounce at a time and in a way of its own choosing. Since we don’t know when we’ll die and how, it is never to early to begin living one’s life on one’s own terms.

A detailed discussion of this theme can be found in the talk on “To Drive or Be Driven?” It can be downloaded here.

Recommended Reading

Karma Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Walking the Walk: A Manual of Karma Yoga by Swami Tyagananda