Last week I had a dream in which my brakes failed.
Let me start by saying, my brakes are fine. Someone who also drove my car in the past ten days reported that the brakes were so good we might stop harder than desired because the brakes back home took more effort. And I’ve had a car (a Toyota purchased for $900) with brakes that needed to be replaced, so I’ve lived with that problem, and I’m sure the brakes on my Volvo are fine.
Therefore, I moved immediately to the symbolic.
Without telling you any more about the dream, I will say I felt among other possibilities it could be applied to my (I know, I know, it’s as-yet-unspecified) Lenten Discipline.
And always willing to explore a metaphor, I Googled “what to do when brakes fail.” This turned up an incredibly helpful list on the Auto version of WikiHow.
First of all, the title of the article is “How to Stop a Car with No Brakes.” Somehow that has a different nuance for me than “brake failure,” which was the phrase in my mind after the dream. The car had brakes, but they didn’t work for some reason. That’s different than no brakes at all, but no brakes at all seems to be more like the way it feels when I engage in the habit of mind from which I am trying to fast this Lent.
It had eleven recommendations, almost all worth exploring, but let’s start with just the first two.
1. Don’t panic! Overreacting to this situation will only make it more dangerous.
This made me laugh. How would you not panic when your brakes don’t work? But it works as a suggestion when I pair it with the second.
2. Take your foot off the gas and turn off cruise control (if on). Cruise control systems should turn off as soon as you touch the brake or clutch, but to be safe, make sure it’s switched off.
Take your foot off the gas. In other words, stop fueling the feeling or the mental pattern. I may be accelerating without realizing, which we might literally do in a moment of panic. Or perhaps I’m so locked into thinking in certain ways that I am locked into cruise control. I have to consciously say to myself, “Take your foot off the gas.”
Here’s a reminder of a car I admired when I was a little girl.
The Flintstones powered their car with their feet. It didn’t need brakes. All they had to do was pick their feet up and stop.
(My thanks to the very dear Mary Beth Butler, who got me thinking recently about the importance of a Pause, which is the same idea without the risk of a metaphorical car crash on the other side.)