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Preview Chapter One
“Truth is the same always. Whoever ponders it will get the same answer. Buddha
got it. Patanjali got it. Jesus got it. Mohammed got it. The answer is the same, but
the method of working it out may vary this way or that. ”
― Swami Satchidananda
In my many years of driving I’ve noticed that my car is really an extension of my physical self and to a large degree a very revealing part of my mental self, or the way I think and behave. If I am in a bad mood I tend to drive more aggressively. If I am feeling tranquil, I am more apt to drive closer to the posted speed limit and be far more courteous to other drivers.
Since learning to drive at the age of sixteen I quickly had to develop a sense of the physical boundaries of the car I was driving. If I were backing up I had to have an approximate idea in my mind's eye where the back bumper of the car was so I didn’t hit the trash cans. While traveling down the interstate I had to be aware of the proximity of the width of my car as I passed by others in the lanes next to me. I especially needed that keen awareness of the outside perimeter of the metal that made up my car when threading the needle between concrete road construction barriers or when sandwiched between two tractor trailers.
After a few months, these spatial awarenesses became second nature and I was able to navigate the challenges of driving anywhere and at anytime. I wasn’t slowed by rain, road conditions, or even while driving a different type of car. Somewhere in my unconscious I had made a connection between the physical dimensions of the car and the feel of my own body on the steering wheel, accelerator, and the brakes. Just like riding a bike, it became second nature...the mind - body connection. I must admit I had to pay extra attention while driving a big rental truck or oversized pickup, but for the most part I had learned what almost every American has to learn. I was one with the automobile!
There is a sense of ease when behind the wheel that I think the majority of us feel. I have heard driving referred to as relaxing, invigorating, and just plain fun. Some of us do our best thinking while driving our car. I’ve heard it exclaimed on more than one occasion that someone was going to go for a drive and “clear their mind”. So, there is definitely something about the dynamic exercise of getting from point A to point B, or just aimlessly cruising around that seems to fit the human condition very well.
Such was the case with me. I fell in love with driving. I will admit that really long road trips were not my bag. But the opportunity to run out and grab something at the store or pick someone up were never lost on me. Add to the experience a great sound system and some favorite music and we’re in for a great time. I also fell in love with the convertible. Why someone would drive a car with a top on it when they didn’t have to was beyond me. But, to each his own...from the oversized pickup truck, to the smallest, fastest, most expensive sports car...there are as many types of vehicles as their are personalities to drive them.
Our cars are very personal to us. They are not only our mode of transportation, they are one of our biggest investments and ongoing expenses. We wash them, vacuum them, wax them, maintain them, show them off and sometimes live in them. They are our home away from home. They hold not only our belongings, but our memories as well. We all have fond and maybe not so fond memories of adventures we have taken in our cars. When it’s time to get a new car many of us have felt a twinge of sadness at letting go of our trusted old friend. But like relationships, we move on even as the memory of our old vehicle fades into the past.
When someone compliments our ride we feel a rush of pride, and when someone pokes fun at our old or not so fresh looking transportation we can’t help but take it personally. So, is it just a car? No. It is an extension of ourselves.
For most of us our car may be our only time to be truly by ourselves. With families, jobs, and so much to accomplish every day we find ourselves rushing from person to person, and task to task and rarely find time to be truly in a place of solitude. Now, you may say...”Solitude? On a busy highway at rush hour?” I say yes...solitude. If we are alone in our vehicle we have safety, some privacy, the ability to do as we will without being questioned, and a little time to think in an intimately familiar place without having to answer to anyone.
It is during this time that some of us worry the most as we go over what happened earlier in the day or last week, or last year. We play out fantasies in our mind of future endeavors and outcomes. We plan for eventualities and come to conclusions about schemes that were never even born. We get lost in our thoughts, our music, our books on tape, and many times our reactions to other drivers around us. Our cars are our rooms, and sometimes the only real personal space we may have in our lives.
It’s no wonder that we feel so personally connected to our vehicles, and feel so emotionally attached to our driving experience. It is with this understanding that the idea for an experiment on myself occurred.
Driven to Distraction
Every year thousands of people are killed in distracted driving accidents. Although texting or talking on a cell phone while driving is now against the law in most places, people continue this practice despite it’s well documented dangers and illegality.
It is the aim of this book to help you to develop a focused attention on your driving experience while driving. Obviously distractions to this are detrimental not only to your practice of mindful driving, but also to your safety and perhaps your wallet.
This also holds true for other types of driving distractions like grooming or putting on makeup while driving, eating, reading (I know...really?), and fooling with the radio, mp3 player, or other electronics. In the interest of setting a good environment conducive to the development of a mindful driving practice these habits must be eliminated. Not only do they take your mind of the road, they steal your attention away from your practice of relaxed, mindful awareness of the present moment while on the road.
Take care of all of your grooming needs before hitting the road. This may mean getting up a few minutes early to prepare yourself. Make this a part of your practice. Get into your vehicle ready to drive without distraction, and this includes eating. Put your cell phone away or at least face down so you are not tempted to read texts or answer calls until you have arrived at your destination, or at least pulled off the road. Keep the music off for now. Hearing the sounds of the road as you drive will become a part of your practice development, especially early on. Later, when you feel you have developed a solid practice you may want to try to introduce relaxing, meditative music to the mix. I always avoid talk radio as it is an attention stealer and at the very least will compete for your attention with your practice.
While you start out on this journey of mindful driving, it is good to observe distractions and either find a way to transcend them or eliminate them completely. It is obviously hard to practice with someone else talking in the car. You can either find a way to drive alone, or focus your attention on your driving experience and see if you can’t minimize the distraction. If your practice is developed enough, perhaps you can arrive at a happy medium of mindfully engaging the passenger while practicing mindful driving. You really have to relax and find the best way that gives you the clearest practice experience..
Road Rage: Let’s Make Mindful Driving All the Rage
If you’ve ever watched an online video channel, chances are you’ve come across a video of a road rage incident. You see it on the nightly news, in pop culture commentary, and in your local community. The videos range from shouting and flipping drivers off, to deadly intentional vehicular assaults and shootings. Why is this? Where did all this rage come from? It is hard to define in any exact terms. I’m sure the reasons are as varied as ourselves.
One thing is for sure. It has got to stop.
Road rage is typically borne out of aggressive driving habits and the mindset that we are separate and in competition with all other drivers on the road. We feel slighted by the actions of another driver and feel the need to take revenge. We feel we are justified in “straightening out” the other driver. Chances are we have all experienced those feelings while on the road. Hopefully we did not act on them.
Young people are especially susceptible to road rage, so it seems appropriate that diffusing the initial feelings that are the beginning of road rage should be taught in driver education programs. Half of all drivers who are on the receiving end of road rage behavior will react with the same vitriol if not worse, and that number is only increasing.
It is dangerous enough to drive your car on a busy interstate at speeds north of fifty miles an hour without having the additional threat of raging drivers creating an even more dangerous driving environment.
So, what would be a good first step. Well...it all begins with you. You have to learn to let it go. If you perceive someone has done you wrong on the road by cutting you off or not letting you into their lane, feel that initial feeling then take a deep breath and consciously let it go. You’re not only making your own life better and more serene, but you are heading of a possible escalation of road rage. Who knows, maybe the other driver is having a bad day, maybe a death in the family, or they are driving to the emergency room with an injured child. Give them the benefit of the doubt and you will give yourself the gift of serenity for the rest of the drive. Try it! You’ll find yourself smiling silently and thinking about it next time a similar situation arises.
When someone comes after you with road rage it is best to quickly deescalate the situation by either letting them vent and moving on, or mouthing an apology. Believe me, I know how hard it is to resist that natural impulse to give it back to them twice as hard. In the end it serves no one...especially your higher self. Even if you feel you did nothing wrong, it is far more noble to take the high road and be the bigger person. The more you practice this in your driving, the better you will feel about yourself as a person, and you will have become a much safer driver for all of society. Isn’t that reward enough?
Another way to head off potential road rage feelings is to de-stress your driving experience. That is what this book is all about. When you bring about an environment of calm and serenity inside your car it is much harder to fail to recognize the beginning feelings of road rage and nip those feelings in the bud. If you’re driving on a busy street, late, and stressed, you are a prime candidate to easily slip into a road rage altercation. If you realize this when you are confronted with a raging driver you will be able to understand how unfortunate that poor person is. Observe their behavior and it will allow you to understand that those feelings are toxic and dangerous and you have no need for them in your life, let alone your driving.
A key ingredient for a safer, calmer driving experience is relaxation. Diminishing stress and deactivating old reactive patterns when practicing mindful driving can really change not only your driving experience, but your living experience. The tools we put into practice in the car make their way into life outside your vehicle to. How? Experience! When you find out that you can have that serene feeling of being less stressed and have an overall calmer demeanor while practicing your driving, you will naturally seek out that same serenity when in the outside world. This is one of the secrets to the practice. As it manifests itself in your experiential makeup, you will notice a use for it in all aspects of your life. What a blessing it can be!
So please, read on, share what you learn. You too can help to de-stress the driving population and decrease the amount of road rage that is plaguing our nation's roads.
You may be thinking “But I already drive...why would I learn to do something I already know how to do?”
While I am assuming the vast majority of readers are already drivers, I should make it clear that I am not advocating that you learn to drive all over again. Just that you learn how to drive differently. How differently is up to you and your personal set of beliefs of how these ideas and exercises can change your life for the better. Maybe one single change in the way you think about yourself behind the wheel can make your life a few percentage points better. But isn’t that totally worth the effort?
We all know the rules of the road as spelled out in our particular state's traffic code. But what about our personal traffic code. I remember when seat belt laws went into effect in my state. Prior to that safety practice becoming the rule of law I very seldom if ever wore my seatbelt. I thought it would be uncomfortable and I rationalized my safety concern with some anecdotal story I had heard from some vague source about how someone could have survived their horrific crash if they had only not been wearing their seat belt. See, I told myself, seat belts can kill!
At first I felt as though it was a violation of my god given rights to require me to wear a seatbelt in the personal confines of my car. (Another example of how we personalize our cars and our driving experience.) It was after all my car and my body...therefore my decision. Right? Stories began to emerge of traffic stops and hefty fines being levied for not wearing your “safety harness” so I eventually accepted and capitulated to the law. It wasn’t long before I realized it was probably one of the best safety laws ever enacted and wondered why it wasn’t instituted sooner. And guess what? I now feel uncomfortable if my seat belt is not on!
What I am going to suggest in the following chapters is that you be at least open to trying a few of the ideas set forth in this book. The aim of which is to not only enrich your driving experience, but through that experience enrich your life outside of your car.
Let me give you one quick example.
One of the best decisions I ever made was to start driving with a sense of compassion towards other drives...particularly the ones that I considered bad drivers. No lane change signal, not moving out of the passing lane while going slower than everyone else, waiting till the last minute to squeeze into the single lane in a construction zone. You know the type. The ones I usually yelled at, flipped off, and honked at.
So, one day I decided to try and be cooperative and courteous to especially those wretched souls of the road...and guess what? It literally made me laugh out loud! That’s right, full on LOL! I was only on the highway about two minutes when I spotted in my rear view mirror a car coming up on my right at a high rate of speed. I noticed that the car in front of him (which was next to me) was going at about the same speed as me. He came up behind that car and was riding his bumper so I knew he really must be in a hurry. I thought to myself...the old me would have boxed this joker in and reveled in the fact that he was getting payback for being an unsafe jerk. Would that have made for a safer situation...no. It actually would have made for a more dangerous one. But I thought about what I would feel. I would get that sense of satisfaction that I was putting a jerk in his place. But I know that deep down it puts me in the same place as that jerk. What if he was late to pick up his child at school? What if he was on his way to help his sick mother who had fallen (and couldn’t get up)?
Although I would never know his reason for being in a hurry, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and actually help him on his way. I slowed down and dropped back in my lane giving him a clear shot to pass and be on his way. He immediately took the shot and sped past the car that was in front of him. What did it cost me? Nothing.
As he shot past me I looked over and nodded to him. He didn’t even look over at me. It made me smile at first. Then, I started laughing. It felt so strange to actually help someone pass me and be on their way. Someone I didn’t know and probably never would. Someone whose circumstances I would never realize and really didn’t even care to know. As I laughed I realized that it actually felt really good to be in control of the situation and help someone else out.
Helping people feels good! Even if it might be someone who is just an aggressive driver or a jerk on the road. I definitely helped out the driver in front of him. I alleviated the danger of having a car riding his back bumper. I was a hero of the road. So simple and so entertaining for myself. It felt like a win/win!
Oddly enough I carried that feeling to the grocery store with me as I got out of my car and grabbed a cart. I took one from the cart return and walked it back into the store. Normally I would have walked right past those carts. It wasn’t my job to bring them back in. That’s what my purchase money goes for. But with my new found feeling of cooperation I thought...it’s one less cart for the high school kid who’s working here part time to deal with, and I’m going that way anyway. And guess what? It felt good. Only to me. and only right then. But isn’t that what life really is? One moment at a time? Why not make that moment the best moment I can. Simple things. Right?
I walked into the store feeling good when I might have walked in feeling tense, or bored, or even aggravated by the behavior of the driver I had just encountered on the highway. It felt good to cooperate with the world. It is my hope that you too can feel just a little bit better, a little more at ease, and a little more compassionate. Learn to drive in a better way and you can learn to live a little bit better too. You have nothing to lose and the upside is pretty darn good.
Learning to Live In the Moment
By learning to drive in a mindful and fully conscious way we can develop our driving practice to be cooperative and compassionate. So, what happens to us when we are “mindful” or “fully conscious”? Well, that is really the question of the day isn’t it. The answer, I’m afraid is actually nothing. Nothing actually happens differently in our world. We are in the same location, set of circumstances, and the same relationships. We have the same home, job, finances, problems, and blessings.
The difference comes not from any “thing”, but from a change in the way we perceive our life. That is, in the current moment. Most of us live our lives always spending more time focused on the future or the past. Imagining outcomes or scenarios that don’t yet exist, or reliving events from the past and experiencing the corresponding emotions that memories can bring. The point is, is that we are missing the reality of the present moment….the only true life we will ever have. Once we are able to plug our attention back into experiencing the actual moment...the life we are living, we connect in a way that is full, astonishing, and transcendent. We are not transcending the world, our environment, our bodies, or anything else that exists in the physical world. We are transcending ourselves. That is, our egoic mind, or what we have believed to be ourselves.
When past and future take over our attention, those thoughts and mental images are mistaken for our reality. We lose contact with what is actually real...this moment in our life. We are led down false paths by our egoic mind. Fantasy and memory are taken as who we are, and we suffer the emotional confusion, and the anxiety that goes along with being disconnected from our real essence, our true self. Once your realize your true self can only be experienced in the current moment, you are on the road to living the truth.
Your practice becomes an experience of being in the moment without the filter of egoic mind. You practice pure presence. You move through the world unattached by the mental conditioning you have acquired in your lifetime. Judgement, emotional reaction, categorizing, and anxiety subside when confronted with the truth of the present moment. The result is a more peaceful mind, relaxed body, and a calmer demeanor. This usually leads to better decision making, more compassion towards others and ourselves, and a real connection to everyone and everything in the world. If you’ve ever heard the expression “Get your butt into gear.” Now, is the time. Put your life into drive.
If this sounds too good to be true...it isn’t. Practice and find out for yourself.