The Mindful Driver
It seems like it is impossible to make my commute over I40 or I440 without seeing some type of accident, or the aftermath of one. This probably has to do somewhat with the fact that it is not hard to glance out your window and notice someone texting as they are moving along the highway. In general, however, I think it would be fair to say that for many the commuting experience is one that is likely to provoke at least some stress and anxiety. Combine being in a state of stress with the many devices and concerns that pull our attention in every direction and you have a recipe for the micro-distractions that can mean disaster on the road. One method of pulling the driver back into a state of calm awareness would be to apply the principles of mindfulness to the experience of driving.
Stay connected to your experience:
Find small ways reconnect to your experience and remind yourself that you are the pilot of very heavy object going at high speed along with a lot of other very heavy objects. How does the steering wheel feel under your hands? Do you have a particular fragrance you use to keep your car smelling fresh? Focusing on physical sensations would be like the practice of mindful eating, where you simply take the time to appreciate what is is you are experiencing. After all, it is pretty amazing that we can be the custodian of a device that can transport us a destination of our own choosing at speeds far outstripping the travel capacity of our not so distant ancestors.
Where are you going? What is the next turn you will take? See if you can have your own mindful gps where you are intentionally aware of the next turn you will take on the road. That way you can get in the right lane ahead of time and not have the stress of trying to get over to late. Make it a game to see how long you can stay focused on what it is you are doing right at that moment. While you may not do this 100% of the time, it is a good practice to help improve focus and ability to stay on course, hopefully avoiding the stress of a missed turn now and then.
You are going to be late. You are going to run into traffic, or be delayed by a crash. You may take the wrong exit. A lot of times these factors are outside of our control, so we must meet them with some level of acceptance. Becoming stressed and trying to struggle against them, say, by driving on the shoulder of the road to get ahead of the other traffic, is fraught with not only legal peril, but physical peril as well. Here again, it can help to again zoom back in on your experience. Yes you might be late, but you will still get to work. At that moment you are okay.
If you are at a red light, or stopped in back up traffic. Take a moment to breath. Perhaps wiggle your shoulders and straighten your back. But remember to breath deeply, and start relaxing your nervous system and lowering your heart rate. Deep breathing helps calm down the nervous system and relax an individual out of the fight/flight/freeze response that can partially engage when faced with stress. Breathwork helps root us in the present and step back from stress that is largely future based. Being in the present is where we want to be when trying to stay safe on the road.
Driving is something that becomes second nature, which makes it easier to take it for granted. So much so that we can almost go on full autopilot while distracted with future concerns or other activities. Yet, no matter how much our mind wants to jump to other topics, we have to be aware of what reality actually surrounds us. Being mindful of that experience, helps us navigate that reality far better than in a distracted state. Perhaps it can help with being frustrated in a traffic jam and prevent a traffic ticket or two as well.