Often when you are driving you can become agitated, annoyed or frustrated by the traffic holdups caused by others. Sharon Salzberg provides a timely reminder that “you are traffic too“. We focus so much on our own needs in the heavy traffic situation that we lose sight of the needs of others. Sharon puts this down to the “centrality of ourselves” – where the world revolves around our self-centredness, rather than other-centredness.
Diana Watson too in one of her MARC weekly meditation podcasts, provides us with a meditation that enables us to bring mindfulness on the road. She describes one of her own experiences when she was running late to conduct a meditation and found her irritation and agitation rising.
Diana found that she was swamped with thoughts and emotions. The thoughts reflected the negative bias of the brain – “I’m not going to make it on time”, “What will happen if I am late?”, “People may never come again if they are new to the meditation practice! So, our minds can catastrophize any situation and unsettle us as we are driving.
Another source of emotional disturbance occurs if we then engage in self-recrimination or negative self-evaluation – “If only I had planned for traffic delays!”, “Why was I rushing out the door when I know that I need to have a strong presence of mind to conduct this mindfulness session?’
Bringing mindfulness to driving – noticing thoughts and emotions
What Diana found that she ended up doing was to start noticing, not entertaining, thoughts and emotions as they arose, e.g. “I am feeling anxious (or irritated)”, “I keep thinking that I will be late, and this causes me to become agitated”. If we start naming our emotions, we can begin to control them.
She also suggests that we can focus on what is going on in our body as these emotions and precipitating thoughts arise. We can notice the tightness in our chest, the pain in our neck or the onset of a worry headache. If we can notice the thoughts and name the emotions, we can wind back our habituated response and calm ourselves.
Without this calming mindfulness on the road, we can end up taking more risks while driving, act out our anger and frustration through “road rage” or find ourselves making poor decisions about what choices to make to get to our destination. Our growing agitation and impatience can frustrate our attempts to arrive on time.
As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice that grounds us in the present moment, we can more readily deal with situations such as driving in heavy traffic when our needs for timeliness are being frustrated. We can also bring to the situation self-awareness and self-regulation so that we are not captive to our negative thoughts and emotions – we can begin to drive mindfully.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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