Exiting the Car Before You Take Off Your Seatbelt
Have you ever exited the car with your seatbelt still on? I have. The other day, my boyfriend and I came back to his place after grabbing some food, and I went to open the car door before taking off my seatbelt.
I exited and said to him, “That’s so on-brand for me.”
And it’s true, if this were a Jeopardy clue, the answer would be: Who is Nisha Mody?
I say this to make fun of myself as much as I say it to investigate myself. And I think both of these are important: to find humor in our behavior as much as we find wonder in it.
So what’s the deal?
This could just be a proverbial case of putting the cart before the horse, but I like to think beyond this.
My mom always says I do everything “too fast” - this includes talking, eating, cleaning, etc. And as much as I’ve rolled my eyes at her, I’ve also had a lot of punitive inner dialogue about the matter.
(My 4th grade teacher also taped over my pencil eraser because I erased what I wrote too frequently—I’m not sure if she wanted me to be more or less perfect. Or maybe neither, I think she just wanted me to stop the behavior. Perhaps my thoughts were racing past the pencil, but this does pop in my mind when I get ahead of things.)
The comments from my mom don’t send me reeling as much as they used to, but I do wonder about this deficit. Am I just careless? Why can’t I just slow down? Am I being too fast? Or am I just to fast around her because she is annoying and I just want to escape from her.
I’ve noticed that this behavior is pretty contextual. I’ve realized that I eat faster when my mom is around because I grew up wanting to leave the dinner table and retreat to the safety of my bedroom. I skip steps sometimes because I’ve somehow convinced myself that I can cope by doing the next thing. And on my healing journey, I’ve noticed this through meditation and mindfulness. I’ve noticed how I want to escape the current instead of sitting with the process.
I’ve noticed sensations in my body when I stay still. I notice that taking a deep breath and putting my hand over my heart soothes me in that moment and allows me to stay with it. And noticing is an antidote to that punitive inner dialogue. It’s being aware and without judgment. And in my noticing, I come to a place of compassion, humor, and grace. And in these places, I start to make choices about if I want to shift this behavior, what support I need to shift it, and how to further notice this shifting.
I did say “shift”, not “change.” Because I think shifting behaviors allows more grace. It says “let’s see where this goes” instead of “stop rushing.”
I think that’s what I was *trying* to do as I lunged my body against the resistance of my safety belt to pull on the car door lever. I was exiting because I always want to see where things go, and I can get a bit antsy about it. I’d like to extend the metaphor further by saying that I wanted to see where things go safely because I kept my safety belt on, but that might be pushing it…
Or maybe I will push it. Why not imagine and tease these possibilities? Isn’t it in these possibilities that we find space and wisdom instead of judgment and punishment? Multiple realities instead of binaries? Whether these realities are true or not, it’s beautiful to stay curious and open.
I recently subscribed to Catherine Andrews’ The Sunday Soother, and this past Sunday’s post was about why it’s so hard to trust yourself. One of my favorite lines from this essay is “And so, that is the knowing I lean into now: that trusting is not a destination but a choice to walk the path over and over again.” I loved she positions trusting yourself as a choice rather than extra labor or a deficit to overcome.
It’s funny because I always saw eating fast or skipping steps as a symptom of anxiety. I never saw it through the lens self-trust. Perhaps in times of transition, I don’t want to trust the present moment because I’m conditioned to think it won’t give me enough or feel safe. Yet, when I do find the wonder of presence, whether it’s staring into my cat’s eyes or noticing tingles going down my legs while meditating, I have the biggest sense of satisfaction.
As I type this, on my laptop, while sitting on my couch, Vera is making biscuits on my leg in between the laptop and my body. What is the seatbelt in this case? Vera or my laptop?
It used to be Vera. I needed to remove her so I could keep typing. But now, I tend to either put my laptop away momentarily and entertain her kneady needs, or, as I’m doing currently, attempt to do both. Of course this is all relative and context-dependent. This situation doesn’t necessarily have an expected order of operations like the seatbelt car door situation. However, Vera can get in positions that prevent me from navigating my laptop. I just see this as an opportunity to decide what is important to me and also decide what drives that importance.
There is no right or wrong. So, what is there? There is noticing what is possible. There is how I’m feeling in my body. There are the ways I can feel constrained.
Making the abstract not abstract
Besides the note on self-trust, I wasn’t really sure where this post was going. What I do know is that exiting the car without undoing my seatbelt felt like a metaphor for my identity, for life, for escape.
It’s usually in the writing process that I find direction. And, I’m starting to see the power of choice and consequences in this example. Choice isn’t always conscious. Obviously I went to open that door in a not-so-conscious way. But in noticing, I became more conscious of this habit. And in becoming more conscious of it, I also see its conditioning, its gifts, and its consequences.
Writing this post is a conscious practice in itself. It reminds me to be more conscious of the choices and consequences of my habit of rushing or escaping or disconnecting from the moment. Writing about this small moment is a gift to myself, and I hope it is for you too.
I also wrote about choices and consequences in a Medium article titled “Your Hobbies Don’t Have to Be Your Hustles” where I talk about making choices about whether to monetize your hobbies. I related this to capitalism and how we can potentially exploit the things that bring us joy. So much comes down to awareness, the perceived choices that we have, the actual choices we have, and the subsequent choices we make from this contemplation.
We can also be highly aware of the consequences of rushing or escaping and continue to rush and escape. After all, it feels easier to let our engrained habits continue. Or we can make a small shift. Perhaps I take a breath between my bites of food or I can journal about what is literally and figuratively holding me back when I rush to open the metaphorical car door.
By slowing down those moments, a lot can happen including noticing, shifting, integrating, grieving, communicating, and more.
The more I learn about trauma-informed care, the more I see how prescribing solutions kills nuance and creates boxes. As I said in my video “Healing is a Return to Yourself AKA Why I Don’t Call Myself a Healer”, I am not here to heal you or anyone. I can guide, facilitate, and mirror back what I’m seeing within you so you can notice, make the next choice, and see what happens. You can have the sovereignty to make decisions AND you can have community to support your process. This is the beauty of community care.
In the end…
I might forget about my seatbelt being fastened again. And I might not ever look at a pencil eraser the same way again. Metaphor is powerful, and it is freaking comical.
Metaphor makes me wonder in ways that help me shift, transform, and determine what’s important to me.
My decision to make a shift has nothing to do with your decision to not make a shift. There is no hierarchy.
So when you notice yourself criticizing or forcibly disrupting a habit or process, try to discover the wisdom it has to offer instead of forcing it to go in directions it isn’t ready to travel. Thank it for protecting you. And remember that punishing a behavior is only that, it likely won’t acknowledge the root of it.