Like riding a bicycle, once we learn how to drive a car, our body remembers and we no longer have to think about it. On automatic pilot, we start the car, shift into gear, step on the gas, and off we go. Of course, we check the mirror, look over our shoulder, and watch for oncoming traffic, but all of this is done as reflex action. Once we are on the road with the cruise control on, our mind searches for something to do. So we pick up the phone or eat our lunch or listen to the radio. But what if you took this time to just sit and just drive, in silence?
Pay attention to your body in the seat, your outstretched arms, and your hands on the wheel. Check your breathing. Consciously slow it down and deepen it, silently saying “deep” on the inhalation and “slow” on the exhalation. Be attentive to the traffic flow, the hum of your car, the wind in your hair, being still and being in motion simultaneously. This is another opportunity for serenity in motion. Many of us easily slip into the mindless version of this, which can be very dangerous, and all it takes to turn it into mindful driving is to employ some of the tools you’ve learned so far.
Even if you haven’t expressed road rage or leaned heavily on the horn in an attempt to move traffic forward, chances are you have experienced some frustration behind the wheel of your car. While driving mindfully and serenely on an open road is possible and appealing, most of our time is usually spent in the more stop-and-go local traffic situations that are ripe for sowing irritation. Usually, we are in a hurry to get someplace, and the red lights always seem to be against us. We often end up behind a student or a seemingly inexperienced driver. We want an explanation for the traffic jam. We lose our patience. We lose our temper. Our mind becomes engaged in the futile task of willing circumstances to change. Any serenity we had going in gets completely shot. Whew! We’re out of breath just thinking about it.
Given that you cannot change the traffic, the first thing you can do is let go of your desire to do that. Accept the situation as it is presented to you. Take advantage of this time to generate mindfulness. Be completely present to your body sitting in your car on Main Street. Notice the time, the slant of the sun, and the other drivers’ faces.
Be aware of your need to change how it is at this moment. Relax into being frustrated, being slowed down, and finally into being you.
Acknowledge that the other drivers around you are probably feeling some frustration, as well. Send them some positive energy. Smile at them. Share the experience of being there. Laugh at your collective predicament. And then when you finally get to your destination (and remember, you can’t get there until you get there), you will be relaxed and ready for the next thing, in harmony with everything as it occurs.
The city version of the above might take place sitting on the edge of the bus or cab seat willing the traffic to move faster or the driver to drive the way you would if only you were driving. The first thing to remember is that you’re not in control of how the traffic flows or the driver drives. Then it’s just a small step to sitting back and enjoying the ride.