On Road Mindfulness

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Most of us drive vehicles almost every day. Even if we are not actually driving, we travel sometimes in situations when it is not possible to read or do some other work. These are the small holes in the consciousness when past memories, or experiences, esp. the painful ones, seep in our mind and grab our attention. Normally we are not unhappy, sad or hyperemotional when we are engaged. These emotions are prevalent only when we have nothing to focus our attention to. But if we are completely focused on the present, we will not have any space for these residual thoughts.

Now driving needs so much attention. You need to be careful and alert all the time and this compulsion can create stress of conflict when your mind wants to focus on something else. We feel stressed only when we feel out of control when there are too many things to handle together. When we are worried or anxious, this need for attention on driving a vehicle has an additional taxing effect on the mind. Driving, esp. on busy roads or during the traffic jams can be even more stressful. This is the reason why many people prefer to get driven to work rather drive themselves if they can afford it.
It is a well-known truth that most of the accidents happen because of carelessness or due to a lack of focus.

Mental chatter takes over while driving because driving again is a process that can be done automatically. So there is an opportunity for the mind to start its chatter. And most of the time this chatter arises from negative feelings. We constantly try to find a solution to our problems by constant churning of thoughts in our minds. This churning eventually deepens our impressions. No solution comes out of such churning. A phase in Tulsidas Ramayana says “You cannot get butter by churning water”. Thus all this effort is wasted. This failure ignites anger and turns on the negative thought process. Therefore, there is a huge possibility that this anger will turn into road rage if any suitable condition arises. Mindfulness is an indispensable tool for road safety for us and for the others. 

Another evil of driving, road rage is a complete absence of awareness. It is when the animalistic emotions take charge of our actions. However, no gross emotion like anger, grief, obsession can take control of our mental faculty.

Mindfulness is about seeing things as they are. This practice is helpful for both a normal person and as well as for a person with some phobia associated with roads or traffic. This type of mindfulness is also helpful in recovering from some kind of emotional shock or trauma regarding a terrible road accident.

I have a personal experience related to driving mindfulness. It can be called be better called an accident mindfulness J

I used to have Luna, a very old model of a two-wheeler when I was in school. I used to be constantly absorbed in thoughts almost all the time of the day, even while driving. It was a bad time, my father expired recently and I used to be very worried about an entrance exam that I was aiming at. I desperately wanted to pass the exam to make my mom feel happy. However, I really hated studying most of the subjects. And so I used to be stressed all the time. When I look back at the way I used to drive as a student, I am able to understand that miracles do happen; otherwise, I won’t be alive today.

One day, as I was driving recklessly as usual. I don’t remember what exactly happened before the accidents. That road used to be full of dogs so most probably some dogs or something else came in front of my bike. I must have been driving at a high speed. I used the front brakes to stop the bike and the rear wheels went up in the air, throwing me in the air (I used to be very thin and underweight). And suddenly I was flying! It was a moment that I remember vividly. I can still feel that moment. I felt as if I could change anything at that moment, in fact, everything will happen according to me. I could hear the whizzing of my bike, the rushing air, and all sorts of sounds and still, it was all very quiet as if this realm of sound is a very small piece of a huge existence. That moment felt like never-ending. I did not feel fear or joy, or anything at all. I was not numbed with shock. I actually felt and still remember each and every detail, as if it is all happening right now. I feel on the divider of the road on my back. I should have fallen on my head. I remember one of my acquaintances had a similar accident. She hit the road divider hard and broke both her legs.  I don’t know how I was able to turn in the air. I did fall on the divider but fell on the muddy part. Only the end of my backbone hit the hard cemented border and it did pain for a few days. 

Since that accident, I have never had any fear of accidents. Nor do I get angry or anxious during a long wait on a jammed road. 

We see in movies or animation how ninjas are able to jump from a mountain and land safely on the ground. Or walk on trees as if they are walking on the hard ground. Or jump long distances or even fly in the air! Now I think that it is all possible. With mindfulness, you can enter into the control room of nature and make the laws of nature work your ways.

How to practice driving mindfulness.

In On-road mindfulness, we can have 2 situations – one when we are driving a vehicle, another when we are sitting in a vehicle and have absolutely nothing to do. 

Like all mindfulness practices, here I am providing a set of standard rituals for driving mindfulness. However, mindfulness is a completely personalized experience and I hope that these basics can help you find your own way eventually.

The steps described below are akin to a staircase for reaching an understanding of driving mindfulness. It also helps us to understand that mindfulness can become as natural to us as breathing. We breathe all the time and do not have to set aside some time for it, like the way we do it for meditation.

Driving Mindfulness

Be aware of your hands turning the keys of your car. Feel the steel touch of the keys. Consciously hear the starting sound of the car. Observe if it is different from other days.

Feel your hands on the steering wheel.

Observe carefully what is in front of you without thinking anything good or bad about it. It is unnatural to suppress thoughts, however, you can be so focused that the thoughts don’t grab your complete attention.

Feel the car and your body moving to different directions as you start driving.

Feel the air moving inside the car (if the windows are not closed)

If you are too engrossed in useless thoughts or are feeling negative, try listening to your favorite music (preferably light and positive music).

If you are mentally relaxed, try not to put on the music and just be aware of everything around you.

Feel the metallic keys as you stop the car. Feel the subtle push forward as you stop your car.

The mind is like a servant who behaves the way he is trained. If you have trained your mind to think without any objective, then it will keep doing so. In the process, it will drain your energy. Let us take the example of a friend who talks incessantly. If you continue to hear his blabbering, it increases in volume. But if you treat his endless chatter like an uninvited conversation and stop paying attention to it, gradually the chatter dies away.    

Initially, you will start noticing objects and your mind will present you with unrequired thoughts and ideas.

For example, if you happen to pass by a beautiful woman wearing a hot red dress, your mind can give you thousands of thoughts about her. But if you just notice the chatter without doing anything about it, it will end. There is a huge difference between noticing and paying attention. When we listen to a toddler blabbering or a car engine starting, we just notice the sounds produced. We just acknowledge their presence without actually doing anything about them. We don’t respond to them in any way, neither do we think about the sound of the baby or the car engine, unless there is something really peculiar about them. But when we are in a business meeting, we are actually paying attention. We consciously retain and mentally process all suitable information that we come across.

“Vivek” or discretion to choose the rights things to process is the process as well as the incidental result of mindfulness. Through mindfulness, we are telling our mind that there is no need to process everything. We can choose what we want our mind to process. Thus ‘Vivek” is a mental scanning process that accumulates useful information for the mind to process. And it can happen only in the space provided by mindfulness. 

Such “Vivek” is a 100% protection against any kind of accidents because there is always a way to avoid them. With mindful driving, you would connect with the cosmos and always know the right thing to do, under any circumstances.

It is not a great idea to expect instant mindful experience when you are a beginner. It is natural that above mentioned is the exact situation when you will need mindfulness the most! But let us treat mindfulness like a tree. You cannot expect fruits immediately after sowing the seeds. So let us not allow this tender seedling to wither away in hot and dry conditions. Gradually, as you sharpen your tool of mindfulness, you will be able to experience mental normalcy in the most drastic situations. Therefore, if you are just out of a hot business debate in a disturbed or angry mood and driving back home, it is better to cool down with light music or jokes, rather than trying to apply mindfulness.

Mindful Traveling

This is a situation when you are not exactly driving a medium of transport but are being transported, for example, a train or a bus journey. There can be situations when you don’t have anything to do. Instead of too much use of electronic gadgets like mobile phones, laptops etc. on such long journeys; you can try to practice traveling mindfulness.

The following steps can help you to get a glimpse of traveling mindfulness. In the end, mindfulness is mindfulness, whether it is applied during traveling, sleeping or eating!

Feel your movement as you move inside a train or a bus.

Notice yourself walking towards your seat, parking your luggage and getting seated. It can be a haphazard or relaxed process.

Observe yourself seated in your place.

The most important factor in mindfulness is that we don’t have to focus our attention on something outside. We have to treat ourselves as a part of the whole and try to mindfully observe the whole!

Some people face travel anxiety. They fear the travel, about turning off the lights in the house, about forgetting important things on the journey, about losing things. They might be suffering from travel anxiety. They might also fear fatal accidents. These fears spring not from the immediate reality but from some deep-seated prejudices or disturbing past experiences. But if you are connected with your present moment, such useless thoughts or emotions will fail to grab your attention.

With the constant practice of mindfulness, you will observe yourself in a relaxed and unhurried mode while traveling. You will fail to forget important things to keep like the train tickets or to switch off the electronic appliances or to make important phone calls before traveling and so on and so forth. You will be able to apply a travel plan almost up to 100% in real life!  

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