Mindfulness Behind the Wheel

If you have ever come on one of our 8-week mindfulness courses you will know that we encourage people to integrate what they learn in the formal meditation practices into everyday life. This is what we call the "informal practice". This month we are going to return to a simple informal practice rooted in day to day activity.

Most of us drive a car but if you don’t, practice this as a passenger, on your bicycle or on the bus or train. Driving is an automatic activity par excellence. Anyone who has been driving for a few years can do so without giving it much conscious thought at all. Of course you can’t drive safely and competently without automatizing quite a lot of it. If you had to be conscious of turning a corner, moving the steering wheel just enough, depressing the clutch, changing gear, accelerating, watching in the mirror and the road ahead for hazards, signalling and keeping an eye out for road signs, all at the same time, you could never do it. It’s just too much for one brain to handle, so nature gave us the ability to automatize large chunks of it. This is a really helpful capacity of the human mind and it allows us to do highly complex tasks very efficiently.  Unfortunately we can also automatize the whole thing to such a degree that we can often make a journey of several miles without any memory at all of what it was like. This practice of mindful driving is not about bringing attention to the mechanics of driving – it’s fine for most of that to be automatic – but it is more about bringing awareness of the sensory experience of driving; the touch of the wheel, the seat under you, the unfolding panorama of scenery and images, the sound of the engine, the smells, the passing traffic, the vibrations and the thoughts and emotions associated with the act of driving.

The practice of mindful driving requires a few rules. First, keep to the speed limit at all times. Second, switch off the radio. Third, practice generosity and give way to other drivers whenever you can. Fourth, notice impatience and give yourself a little longer to make your journey. Fifth, change your regular route if it is one you travel every day. And finally, if you find your attention drifting, as it does, mentally note all the things you see on your journey. All you need to do is what you do with any of these practices – make the intention to be mindful. Intention is everything. Getting in to your car with the right intention is all you need in the end. You may find that your boring journey to work can become something altogether more interesting. And incidentally, it will almost certainly be a safer journey as well, for you and for everyone else.

Have a good month everyone. As ever, messages and comments are appreciated.