Practicing mindfulness while driving

The daily commute is a fantastic opportunity to practice mindfulness, says the author

Happy man driving | Concept for mindfulness while driving

A couple of days ago, as I was on my way to meet a business associate, I found myself stuck in an unexpected traffic jam. Initially I was relaxed but soon I realized that it’s probably worse than the usual snarls that all of us have come to expect in Mumbai. When the situation started looking grim, I lost my ‘connection’ to peace.

As I was maneuvering my way through the busy and chaos-filled roads, my mind began agitating and protesting against the undesirable circumstances that were thrust upon me by the inconsiderate authorities who ran the city. I was simmering inside, blaming the traffic cops, the civic authorities and everyone else who I was convinced were responsible for the mismanagement of the city’s roads. The cynic in me was rejoicing in self-righteous indignation! All through the drama, a part of me was quietly noticing my reactions—and acknowledging a familiar pattern in them.

Traffic as a metaphor for life

Driving in a densely populated city like Mumbai is an emotionally charged phenomenon. The collective emotional charge of scores of commuters often runs very high. Over the years I have come to liken traffic in this city as a metaphor for life itself. The unpredictability, the chaos, the reactions and counter-reactions, the rat race in which everyone is trying to get ahead, with little consideration for fellow commuters—all seem to mimic life. And, just like in life, while driving, we always have a choice to either respond or react.

When I am behind the wheel, my fragile ego often goes into an overdrive. For example, when someone cuts in front of me, I get highly offended—and immediately want to get even with this unworthy being who needs to be taught some lessons in respecting others’ rights. But isn’t this the way I react to people in my life too? Without knowing the whole context, I often make up my mind about others. When I feel offended by someone, I assume the worst about him or her. And in the process, I create unnecessary stress and anxiety for myself.

Becoming mindful of the “other”

Now, what if the gentleman who cut ahead of me was facing an emergency? What if he wanted to get to an important meeting lest he lose his job? What if he was grieving and preoccupied with thoughts of a friend who had recently passed away? Or worse, what if his wife was in a critical condition, and he had to rush to the hospital? Would I still feel so righteous about myself? Would I still want to get even with him? I think I would respond with compassion and concern and silently send him good wishes.

Granted that people are often deliberately sadistic on the road—but here’s what I have learned. Every time I react to others by trying to get even, I fuel their belligerence even more, adding to the already high negative charge on the road, and end up feeling not so great myself. Yet, each time I respond with kindness to those who drive recklessly, I dilute their aggression, introduce a little peace on the road, and maintain my own connection to peace. This is possible when we practice mindfulness while driving.

Did you know?

According to CNN, there’s been a 500% increase in reported cases of road rage over the last 10 years. Every year, about 30 murders take place due to road rage, says the American Psychological Association. Find more road rage stats here.

Practicing mindfulness while driving

I have now come to regard the daily commute as a fantastic opportunity to practise the values of kindness and compassion, tolerance and patience. Of course, it takes time to make these changes—I still tend to get hooked by my ancient pattern of reacting. But at least I am aware of it… and often this awareness restores my connection quickly and strengthens my commitment to being mindful, while driving — and living.

Deliberately practicing mindfulness while driving keeps us from overreacting and helps us stay in touch with our shared humanity. Think of driving like a daily mindfulness classroom, where you can learn to tame your ego and lessen your cynicism. In time, you will find yourself being more mindful both on and off the road, and you will begin to experience reduced stress and greater peace in all aspects of your life. That is the beauty of mindfulness.


A version of this article first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine’s print edition.

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri is a counseling therapist, a wellbeing consultant and a teacher of mindfulness. He is also a writer-editor and has written on topics ranging from strategic marketing and business management to art, culture and even philosophy. His more than 1500 published stories—articles, interviews, full-length features—have appeared in some of the leading newspapers and magazines of India. He is the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed self-improvement book based on powerful ideas of some of the greatest thought leaders. Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".

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