I often get asked by students, how do I incorporate mindfulness into my daily life after I get up from my meditation cushion and finish my daily practice? The reality is that your mindfulness never really leaves you once you start to become more aware, and as time goes on, the less of your time you’ll find that you have slipped into old patterns of ‘mindlessness’. That being said, there are ways in which you can be actively mindful throughout your day and one of my personal favourites is mindful driving.
I practice mindful driving every day and especially on long journeys when I can easily slip into the habits of worry or overthinking. It’s a good idea to set the intention to be mindful at the very start of your journey and start as you mean to go on. Below is a typical journey for me and how I return to mindfulness each time I get distracted or my mind wanders.
As I open the door of the car I remind myself that this is one of my mindfulness practices. I sit in my seat and I pause whilst I adjust to my surroundings. I notice anything that needs to be dealt with, such a frost on the window or a mirror to be adjusted and when I turn on the engine I notice the volume of the radio and decide whether I want it on or off, for this journey. For quite a while, I drove in silence, before choosing to listen to the radio. I liked paying attention to the sounds I would hear and noticing how it changed depending on what type of road I was driving. More recently I’ve adopted easy listening radio, or ‘old-fart’ music as I like to irreverently call it. I like the slower pace of the music and I know from years of practice that when it comes to being mindful, slower is better.
I start my journey by reminding myself of where I am going, I always make sure I have plenty of time but if I happen to be under pressure, I also remind myself that being a few minutes (or even a lot) late isn’t a big deal in the big scheme of things. In my experience feeling embarrassed or afraid to be late is often linked to fear of failure or not being good enough or fear of being judged as inadequate or incapable.
I notice the feeling of the steering wheel and my thoughts about what lies ahead. I look for any feelings of anxiety or worry and explore briefly the underlying emotion or fear. I then let that go and return to paying attention to my driving. As I accelerate I notice if there is urgency in my driving or a lack of focus. I observe what I see around me, the road, the traffic, the scenery and the people. Once out on the open road I relax into an open awareness, allowing my attention to drift to whatever draws it.
I have noticed a number of things over the years, since I have adopted this mindful driving practice. When I am worried my thoughts always drift to my day ahead or the thing that concerns me, on those days it takes a bit more effort to return to the present moment. I’ve also noticed how much more of song lyrics I hear now, and as my choice of music is now easy listening I am often amused by the odd rhyming and sometimes downright bizarre lyrics in some of the songs. This also makes me aware of my judgements and how this can affect my experience of myself and others. Passing comment internally can be a way of me masking my feelings of insecurity and a need to be right to feel better about myself.
Another thing I have noticed is that some of the journeys I have been driving for years were so habitual that somethings were hidden from me. Mindful driving made me aware of changes to the environment and even brought to my attention things that I had never seen before. I love that aspect of Mindfulness, when something that seemed so familiar suddenly exposes a hidden gem that you had never noticed before, such as field in the middle of a town that suddenly appeared out of nowhere but in hindsight had been there all along. I think that’s what I like about Mindfulness when it comes to self-awareness too. For me, there is nothing as satisfying as the ‘aha’ moment when you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you tick.
The practice of mindful driving has made my journeys so much more pleasant and I find now that wherever I arrive I am always in a relaxed, good mood, ready for whatever awaits me when I arrive. Happy Driving!
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I hope our paths cross again in future,
Elfreda (‘old-fart’ music lover amongst other things).