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10 tips for mindful driving

[Since I first wrote this page, Michele McDonald has recorded a wonderful audio guide to Mindful Driving, which is available here.]

Driving can be a very stressful activity, but it can also be a tremendous opportunity for developing mindfulness and metta (lovingkindness), and it can even become a kind of meditation practice in its own right.

Obviously, when you’re driving it’s not recommended that you close your eyes and focus on your breathing, and I had to put a warning on my meditation CD when one customer wrote saying how excited she was about receiving her copy and how she couldn’t wait to listen to it in the car. The thought terrified me, but I hope that she’d have quickly realized even without me telling her that sitting meditation and driving don’t mix.

Then one time that I was leading a meditation workshop in Spokane, Washington, a young woman told me about a time she spaced out and rear-ended a truck, totally destroying her own car. She rather sheepishly confessed to the fact that she’d been listening to a tape on mindfulness by the Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh at the time she’d crashed. She’d been paying so much attention to what the tape was saying about the need to pay attention that she stopped noticing what was going on around her. Fortunately no one was hurt.

So here are a few suggestions for ways that you can use driving as a meditation.

1. Switch off the radio and experience the silence. We often drive along while listening to the radio or to recordings on tape or CD. Just as an experiment, try seeing what it’s like to have the sound turned off. It might seem at first as if something is missing, but you’ll quickly learn that the silence gives you an opportunity to fill your awareness with other perceptions, some of which are more enriching. But before that, I’d just like to suggest that not listening to advertisements, the news, music, and opinion can leave you quieter, calmer, more focused, and happier than you otherwise would be.

2. The extra attention that’s freed up because you’re no longer listening to the radio is now available to notice other things. You can notice any tensions in your body, such as a knot of tension in the belly, or your hands gripping the steering well, or a clenched jaw. Notice these experiences, and let your body relax more. Notice how your experience changes and becomes more enjoyable as your muscles let go.

3. Slow down. As an experiment, try driving at or just below the speed limit. Most of us tend to want to push the speed limit, driving just a little faster than allowed. Driving just a fraction under the speed limit can take away a lot of tension. Shift over into the slower lane if necessary.

4. Notice your attitudes. Often we become competitive while driving, and this leads to tension. Make a practice of noticing cars trying to enter the road, and adjust your speed so that you can let them out if it’s safe to do so. Notice if you’re in a hurry. How does this make you feel? How does it feel if you let the pace slacken a little?

5. Practice being more aware of the other traffic around you. Sometimes we become very focused just on what’s around us, but it can be very fulfilling (and much safer) to develop an all-round awareness, using our mirrors as well as what we can see in front on us.

6. As drivers pass you, wish them well. Repeat, “May you be well, May you be happy” as cars cut you off.

7. Use every stop light or any other necessary stop to practice a fuller mindfulness of your body. When you’ve stopped, it’s safe to let your awareness more fully connect with your breathing. At those moments you can also notice what’s around you — the sky and the trees, and other people. Wish those other people well.

8. If there are other people in the car with you, wish them well. As you drive, a part of your mind can be repeating “May you be well, may you be happy”.

9. As you get into your car, before you switch on the engine, and before you get out of the car, after you’ve switched off the engine, just sit for a moment and take three deep breaths, really letting go on the out breath.

10. If you don’t drive, but take public transport instead, then wish your fellow travelers well, radiating lovingkindness towards them.

[Bonus: 11. When you get into the car, turn off your mobile phone, or at least silence it. And by "silence" I mean turn off the vibrate function as well. No call or text message is worth either dying or killing someone for.]

Comments

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Comment from Erik Olsen
Time: July 2, 2007, 8:18 am

Hi Bodhipaksa,
Just wondering if you have other articles or references re. Mindfulness and Driving. I recently found research-based 2 articles re. Mindfulness and Flight and thought I’d write a short paper on the topic of driving, which often pulls from the aviation arena. Any assistance you can help would be appreciated! I found your on-line article at http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/mindful-driving/

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: July 2, 2007, 8:53 am

Thich Nhat Hanh has written on mindfulness and driving, and you can find a reference here.

Saki Santorelli had some tips on driving in his 21 Ways to be Mindful

Of course there are plenty of resources on unmindfulness and driving — just Google “cell phone driving safety” and you’ll get a lot of hits!

If you come across any more resources please do let me know!

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Comment from Stephen
Time: June 6, 2008, 5:17 am

I have recently discovered a new mindful for driving that is also better for the environement (marginally at least!) and financially. Many newer cars have a readout of the average fuel consumption for the trip. Driving better, ie keeping better distances, keeping speed under control, braking in plenty of time etc greatly improves fuel consumption and can of course only be done well if driving with carefullness, awareness and concentration – ie mindfullness. I find having this on the dashboard a very useful “bell of mindfullness” for bringing my attention back to driving well and mindfully – it is very apparent in the fuel comsumption if my mind has drifted and i start to drive on autopilot and therfore with less care!

kind regards

Stephen

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 6, 2008, 10:05 am

Hi Stephen,

That’s a really good point. It’s possible to fit a real-time fuel meter to most US cars made after 1996 (unfortunately that rules out my vehicle). People interested in this could check http://www.scangauge.com/.

Of course although monitoring fuel consumption is a good thing to do, and a mindfulness practice in its own right, we still have to be aware of how we’re mentally monitoring our fuel use. It’s possible to do this in a way that’s not at all mindful — for example one person who uses a fuel meter commented, “It’s actually really annoying, because it dips down every time I accelerate from a light and makes me feel bad.”

We have to learn to use these tools mindfully — being aware that we can respond either skillfully or unskillfully to the information they’re giving us.

Anyway, thanks for the reminder about this important aspect of mindfulness while driving.

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Comment from Stephen
Time: June 6, 2008, 2:08 pm

Hi Bodhipaksa
Yes, i agree, that’s why i actually find the average fuel trip consumption more useful than the real time indicator which keeps changing every few seconds. Using the average one I know if i drive well over the course of the trip. In some ways the actual figures don’t matter that much to me – it’s just there as a regular reminder each time i glance down to come back to being fully mindfull of my driving. As i say, i think it is important to view it as a “bell of mindfullness” (i think that’s Thich Nhat Hanh’s phrase is it?) than something to overly focus on for it’s own sake

kind regards
Stephen

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 6, 2008, 2:16 pm

I’d imagine with practice the real-time indicator could be used mindfully — just noting that this time that you’re pulling away from the lights the consumption is a little more or less than usual — but alas I’ll have to wait until I purchase a new car before I’ll be in a position to experiment!

It occurs to me that another mindfulness practice involving driving is being mindful of whether we actually need to drive. If we plan we can usually reduce the number of trips we make, and sometimes we can use alternative means of transportation (which reminds me that I need to pump up the tires on my bike!)

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Pingback from Beeps and Blind Spots | E-Mindfulness
Time: August 24, 2010, 7:36 am

[...] http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/mindful-driving http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-baum/la-coping-kit-mindful-dri_b_426575.html http://bpd.about.com/od/livingwithbpd/a/minddriving.htm This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Goldie Hawn on MindUP at TEDMED [...]

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Comment from Marg
Time: October 28, 2010, 7:18 pm

I think the advice on mindfulness while driving is quite helpful. I will incorporate it into my driving. Thanks

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Pingback from Mindfulness Giveaway: Win Awake at the Wheel Mindful Driving CDs | Tiny Buddha
Time: December 16, 2010, 12:32 am

[...] 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) [...]

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Comment from K
Time: March 20, 2011, 3:52 pm

This is amazing insight. I’ve been struggling with anxiety while driving for a while, and I’ve been using some of these methods that I came up with on my own just to be mindful on the road. I LOVE these though, and will be using them in addition to what I’m already doing. Driving in LA is insane. # 4 is spot on! Competition leads to some strange and crazy behavior. It’s good to be mindful of it.

K
http://practicingmindfulness.com

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Pingback from Mindful Driving « Sølvi Ellinora
Time: August 19, 2012, 10:48 am

[...] skal vi fremelske begrebet mindful driving (som jeg troede, jeg opfandt i går, men det fandtes naturligvis i forvejen), så det også bliver lidt trendy – så vi kan tage os sammen og være til stede, mens vi [...]

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Pingback from Honk If You Love Metta | Mala Mamas
Time: September 19, 2012, 10:34 pm

[...] instead of “#%%!&@” while driving can help calm you down and dissipate anger. My favorite article on mindful driving also says, turn the radio off, be more aware of your surroundings, connect to [...]

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Pingback from Zen and the Art of [Car] Maintenance « Last Minute Studio
Time: October 10, 2012, 5:43 am

[...] 1. http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/mindful-driving [...]

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Pingback from This Thursday’s Thought | jrwritesthings
Time: November 29, 2012, 9:49 pm

[...] Here’s a snippet from an article I was quite taken by: Ten Tips for Mindful Driving. You can read the full piece here. [...]

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Comment from Laura at GiveMe10.info
Time: September 10, 2013, 3:23 pm

I love these ideas. I’m always trying to find creative ways to sneak 10 minutes of personal time — rewarding time in the little gaps in the day’s schedule. This is a great example of changing perspective — instead of cursing the traffic, making the most of it.

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Pingback from Meditazione in automobile – Meditazioni in città – Zen in the City
Time: January 27, 2014, 8:39 am

[…] a Bodhisapka, per il suo articolo "10 tips for mindul driving", da cui ho preso alcune idee; a Charlotte Joko Beck, per i suoi insegnamenti; a Thich Nhat […]

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