Driving Meditation

The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond.

Edward McDonagh

He who would travel happily must travel light.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The following includes suggestions for driving. Be aware that driving can be dangerous and you must be fully responsible for driving safely. Be an alert and intelligent driver. Always drive according to the rules of the road, maintain appropriate speed, and wear a safety belt.

If you watch car commercials, driving is just plain fun. There is never much traffic, the sun is always out, and a 4 wheel drive vehicle can drive straight up a mountain, maybe even up the side of a skyscraper. In car commercials, everybody is an expert driver and the car is never dirty, unless it is demonstrating how it can drive through mud. Driving in the real world is something else again.

You may drive to get to work, and everybody else is going to work at the same time. Not everybody on the road is an expert driver. In fact, you may not be too confident yourself. Driving in traffic can be stressful. It can be an experience of anger and frustration. The element of danger is real, and often our goal of getting where we are going is impeded by all those other people trying to get where they are going. At other times we drive down the same road we've driven scores of times before and find ourselves on autopilot. The car goes, but our mind is somewhere else.

At its best, the experience of driving is pleasant and focused. It can be a quiet time where we practice mindfulness and equanimity. Here are some suggestions for making drive time more pleasure and less pain.

Begin your trip by invoking safety. This may be a prayer asking your favorite spiritual being for protection. It can also be in the form of a visualization. As you get in the car, fasten your seat belt and prepare to drive, try visualizing a big bubble of protection that surrounds your vehicle. See it in your mind as an envelope of transparent color. Light blue perhaps. The bubble is filled with love, compassion, and awareness. It reminds you to feel positive emotions. It protects you from the negative emotions of other drivers. As you visualize your protection, you set your intention to be a safe driver. The intention to greater awareness enhances your responsiveness.

As you drive, allow yourself to be fully alert, but physically relaxed. Sit comfortably and feel your body in the seat. As you sit, the vehicle is an extension of your body. Think of yourself wearing the car as you would wear a glove or a shoe. Let go of unnecessary tension, especially in your neck, shoulders, and torso. Breathe slowly and allow the breath to deepen gradually as you drive. Be alert for tension in your chest. Let it go and allow your breath to rise and fall on its own.

Drive with your hands firmly, but gently on the steering wheel. Use the proper amount of pressure to steer, but don't squeeze unnecessarily. Let your arms work the steering wheel and gear shift with a little more grace than usual. Let the movement be appropriate to the task. You drive with focus on what you are doing, awareness of your surroundings and full responsiveness to events unfolding. You may experience fewer surprises and fewer frustrations as you drive, because you see more of what is happening around you. The behavior of other drivers is no longer abrupt and inexplicable. They are just part of the flow. You and they are in a dance, and you are untroubled by their moves.

Let traffic obstacles, like slow changing signals, become opportunites to exercise patience. Breathe into your impatience. Tell yourself to relax. Release your unpleasant emotions, and remind yourself that everyting is impermanent, and that applies to traffic delays too.

As you drive, think of your destination and the route you will take to it. As you breathe out, send your life energy (chi) flowing toward your destination. Make a mental connection with your route and your destination. Allow yourself to be drawn toward your destination in a very easy and comfortable way.

If negative emotions arise, observe them, acknowledge them, and let them go. Remind yourself that emotions pass, and it is not necessary to hang on to the negative ones.

Kindle compassion in your heart for the other drivers. Remind yourself that some of them are in states of suffering that you can know nothing about. Some have developed behavior patterns that may be obnoxious to you, but which make sense in their frame of reference.

To the angry driver, wish peace.
To the speeding driver wish patience.
To the aggressive driver wish compassion.
To the hesitant driver wish skill and confidence.

 If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to awareness of your breath, your body, and your masterful control of the car.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett