October 12, 2009

Mindful Behind the Wheel

Think about it. You’re hurtling down the highway inside a three-thousand-pound metal box, surrounded by other speeding metal boxes and immovable objects. Delay for a second or two in stepping on the brake, or let the steering wheel veer off by twenty degrees for as long as it takes to draw a breath....

Driving provides continual opportunities for us to wake up, to be mindful. There is no other daily activity for which moment-to-moment awareness is so important, or the consequences of inattention so immediate and potentially catastrophic.

Given this danger, you’d think we’d be in a constant state of hyper-arousal while driving. But in fact, the opposite seems to be true. It’s often difficult to give driving the attention it deserves; we find ourselves zoning out, operating on autopilot. And because of the mental space this allows, we can get caught up in anger, impatience, or anxiety that distract us and can impair our judgment.

- Paul Conrad, "On the Road," Tricycle Winter 2002

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Mark's picture

I have a 45 minute commute that has become one of my best practice times. By following my breath and allowing myself to be receptive to the sensations of driving, I can usually become almost as dropped-in as while sitting at home. I've found my reaction time is much better without my head filled with chatter, and there's nothing like being still and calm in the middle of a traffic jam or snow storm. Driving is also a great time to do metta practice! Given how much time we spend in cars, I wish there were more teachings on how to integrate driving in practice.

Margot's picture

So many otherwise kind people become jerks behind the wheel... can we keep loving thoughts to "bad drivers" and remain calm in traffic?