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When I was twenty-one years old, I got into a series of car accidents just after getting my license.
The first time, I drove the wrong way down a one-way street. The second time I side-swiped a double-parked car trying to get around it. And the third time, I hit a Channel 7 news van while looking at printed directions in the middle of Big Dig construction madness (not my proudest moment).
In all of those instances, I was lost and harried, and because I was feeling agitated and not fully paying attention to the road, I became a danger to myself and everyone around me.
Luckily, I didn’t hurt anyone through my recklessness, but others aren’t so lucky. According to the Department of Transportation, distracted drivers kill approximately 6,000 people and injure over a half-million annually.
I rarely drive these days because I work from home, but often when I’m walking in my neighborhood, I notice drivers who remind me of my younger self.
Some of them are looking at GPS systems on their phones. Others are balancing their cells on their shoulders, while putting on lipstick or trying to scarf down fries that appear to be lodged deep down in a greasy bag.
Then there are the texters—some who hold their phone up high as to only partially take their eyes from the road, and others who seem oblivious to the risks of completely shifting their glance to their laps.
And then there’s another breed of distracted driver: the ones who are looking straight at the road or even right into your eyes but appear completely vacant. It’s like they’re there but not—engaged in a twenty-minute commute or even a twenty-hour road trip, and yet completely disconnected from the experience.
As a recovering bad driver, a proponent of mindfulness, and a fan of not killing people, I was excited to listen to Awake at the Wheel, a two-CD mindful driving set by Vippisana meditation teacher Michele McDonald.
Each CD includes a series of seven exercises designed to ground us in our bodies and in the moment. McDonald has a soothing yet upbeat voice, which makes it calming to listen to the CDs without becoming dangerously relaxed.
The various exercises include:
- The Taxi Driver Exercise
- Auto Pilot
- Body Awareness
- Mindful Hearing
- Thoughts and Emotions
Since I don’t actually drive much these days, I listened to the audio files from my computer. Admittedly, this is an entirely different experience. I can tell you, though, that I found the exercises helpful in creating present moment awareness, something I’ve not always experienced on the road while worrying about missing my exit.
I imagined that these exercises would be most effective for slightly longer drives when you’re likely to look for distractions. McDonald has a talent for making the journey feel like something to enjoy, not escape.
Though this post is a giveaway, I imagine you won’t have the CDs with you for this evening’s commute, so I’ve compiled a few tips you can implement right away.
Mindful Driving Tips
1. Use the time to quietly focus on your breathing as your car is warming up if you’re in a cold-weather area. (From Mindfulness East Anglia)
2. Switch the radio off and engage your senses within the experience; notice and release tension in your body, pay attention to the sights around you, hear the sounds of passing traffic. (From Wild Mind)
3. Practice focusing on one thing at a time—your hands on the steering wheel, for example. Give it your complete attention. If your thoughts wander, come back to that one thing. (From Psychotherapist Will Baum)
4. When you see a red light or a stop sign, smile at it because it’s helping you return to the present moment. It’s not the enemy; it’s a reminder to slow down and be where you are. (From Thich Nhat Hanh)
5. Visualize your car as a physical extension of yourself. This may help you feel more grounded in the moment, and it may also help you drive more safely and defensively. (From Growth.ws)
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