This is one of the toughest things for me to do, and since the whole thrust of the Lifetools venture is to “teach what I’m learning”, I thought it was time I shared with you my thoughts on driving. In these days of “road rage”, I think it is more important than ever that we drive with civility, and that we are “in flow” when we drive.
Since I live in Sedona, a tourist town which is also a retirement community, I’m often stuck behind slow-moving cars, driven either by tourists oblivious to anything except (a) natural beauty and (b) the fact that they don’t know where they’re going or (c) they can’t find a parking space, or old folks who feel unsafe at speeds higher than 20 m.p.h. This is a great test of patience.
Sometimes, I find myself feeling actual contempt for these people, and that gives me pause. I believe that judgement is basically self-judgement, and that it comes back to the judge. The same thing is basically true of contempt. So I get to look at what it is in myself that I hold in contempt — what I am judging in myself.
So, what do I do when I find myself in these situations? My old pattern is the typical “type A” pattern — tailgate the person in front of me until I find a gap, then zoom past them giving them a contemptuous look. More and more, however, I am reminding myself to regard the slowpokes and inattentive drivers in front of me as my teachers, as an opportunity to learn to slow down, and learn the lesson of patience.
So, when I catch myself being a stressed-out, impatient, judgemental driver, the first thing I do is take a long, slow, deep breath. Then I’ll drop back behind the “detainer” car to a safe and non-threatening distance, and maintain that distance until it’s safe to pass. Sometimes I’ll even forget about passing! It’s surprising how restful it can be. Surrender! You probably won’t take any longer to get to your destination, anyway.
When I finally get to this point, sometimes I’ll see someone wrestling their way through traffic – just like my previous pattern. Guess what? Now I feel contempt for them! There’s a phrase a friend of mine taught me that has stayed with me for years and really helps me in these situations. He told me that when someone cuts him (or another car) off in traffic and is driving overly aggressively, he says to himself “there I go again”.
It’s easy to be compassionate and loving when the situation is right – when we’re feeling peaceful and things are harmonious. The challenge is to be loving and compassionate toward those beings who “trigger” us and arouse negative and judgemental feelings in us.
And, since it is possible to do anything and everything with mindfulness and compassion (more on this concept later) it is certainly possible to drive in a mindful, present way.
What does this mean? Well, first of all, it means being completely present with the driving experience. When driving, drive, and only drive. Be present with the mechanical manipulation and handling of your car – shift cleanly and smoothly, if you drive a manual. Steer through corners cleanly and accurately. Be in flow with the traffic — not an obstruction or something trying to force its way through. Maintain an appropriate speed.
Here’s a confession – I love speed and fast cars. I’ve been a car nut since I was about 10 years old, and have subscribed to Road & Track magazine for 30 years. When I was a much younger man, I used to have a lot of car “accidents” because I would drive fast without knowing how to do it well. After my umpteenth accident, my father gave me the best gift he ever gave me — an advanced driving course. I did the course of the Institute of Advanced Motoring (IAM) an organization based in England. Their definition of good driving is to “… proceed as quickly and smoothly as possible from point A to point B, always ensuring that the car is in the best possible position in the roadway, that you are in the appropriate gear, that you are fully aware of all other traffic and your surroundings, and are ready to react immediately and appropriately to whatever happens.” I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t have their book any more, but I’m pretty sure I’ve accurately reflected the definition. Since I did that course 21 years ago, I haven’t had an accident that was my fault.
One of the things they teach you to do during the course is to issue a running commentary on every single detail of the process of driving. This is an amazing exercise, and can be done with anything you do. What’s amazing is to realize how many things you are doing and thinking about (or should be) when driving well. This also helped me to realize that if you are to drive well, it is virtually impossible to do anything else. The IAM people strongly discourage smoking, eating, drinking or talking on the phone while driving. They even discourage talking to fellow passengers. While this might seem a little extreme for most of us, it is a great exercise in mindfulness – in putting your total attention where you are.
And, this process of making previously unconscious material conscious, is the foundation process of conscious living.
So, take a deep breath, and try sacred, conscious driving on your next trip — especially if you’ve left a little later than you really should have!
P.S. I’ve often wondered about why I like speed and driving fast. The closest I can come to explaining it is that it is a way of stretching time — of “timeshifting”, as Stephan Rechtshaffen calls it in his wonderful book of the same name. When you’re driving fast, especially on a racetrack, you are so focused on the experience that time actually slows down – a it becomes a meditative experience. People who have never driven very fast usually imagine it’s a “fast” experience, but it isn’t — it feels slow out there. For me it’s also a way of quieting my mental chatter — there’s simply no room for it when you’re concentrating that completely. And, for me, there is also a delight in driving a car which handles well, and in my own expertise in getting it to do well what it is designed to do.
As an environmentalist, it feels strange to be a car enthusiast at the same time. And yet, I am. I’ve come to regard this as simply one of my contradictions. I look forward to the day when more environmentally friendly car can be produced, and I actively support those efforts in every way I can. And when they discover how to make a car that’s environmentally benign and fast, I’ll be jumping for joy!