Keep Calm & Commute On – Meditating In Your Car
> Commuting can be pure guilt-free me time
If you commute by car then you’ll be all too familiar with this stressful time-consuming fight to work. Competitors don their boxing gloves for battle and sit in gridlock with grim expressions and occasional cursing outbursts.
You know, there are people out there that will risk a crash for the sake of saving a few minutes of their precious time. They usually end up costing you hours in a traffic jam.
No doubt you encountered one of these assholes this morning and it raised your blood pressure to critical limits.
Either that or you’re bored to death and not concentrating on the road.
It’s common to arrive at work without any recollection of the drive, especially if you’ve taken the same route for years. It's like our minds are on auto-pilot during the drive.
And best of all? You get to do it twice a day.
Oh, the commute - how we detest you.
You may have heard the expression "If you don’t curse when you’re driving then you aren’t paying attention" and that’s because traveling is a royal pain in the ass. We all know it.
The whole process of commuting feels like a frustrating waste of time.
That’s why we would all looooove to have flex-time and/or work from home days. But, for most of us, that isn’t an option offered by our employers.
The daily commute is a huge factor in our lives. In fact, commuting time is one of the first things we look at when job hunting or moving to a new home.
Let’s take a moment of silence and pray for those still stuck in gridlock at this very moment.
Be strong brothers and sisters. Amen.
So what can you do to make the commute better?
Reframe Your Commute As Me-Time
Yes, you’ve got tons of emails in your inbox, your house is a mess, and there are overlapping project deadlines at work.
But, guess what?
You can’t do shit about any of those things while you’re driving. You can’t read and reply to emails, you can’t clean the house, and you certainly can’t be working on any projects.
So, why fret and stress about those things?
There’s nothing you can do about it while you’re behind the wheel, so be okay with letting it go - for now.
This is your forced time to be alone. Your reserved “Me-Time” where you can escape from all the bullshit and chaos in life for an hour or so a day.
Seriously, where else can you legitimately spend half an hour or more in your jam-packed crazy day sitting comfortably without harassment, nagging, bugging, etc? Right?
This is a gift!
On average we spend about 50 minutes a day commuting, and that’s without getting caught up in traffic jams. It’s way too much time to spend feeling anxious, stressed, and near-fatally enraged at the stupidity of others.
So it’s “Me-Time”’ you’ve got - but what can you do when you’re driving that actually benefits your well-being and makes you feel good?
External Mindful Meditation While Driving
You’re quite right to ask “How can I meditate in the car because driving at 70 mph with my eyes closed thinking about Buddha seems utterly stupid.”
And you’d be totally right if you’re thinking about traditional mindful meditation.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
This is all about “external awareness” meditation. Nobody really talks about this kind of meditation because “mindful” meditation gets all the glory and limelight.
The term “mindful” is tossed around a lot, especially when it’s related to meditation.
But do you know what the word actually means?
It simply means being alert or aware.
And, when it comes to driving a car, being alert and aware is priority number one.
So, external mindfulness meditation and driving are perfectly suited for each other.
You are fully and actively involved in driving - “mindfully” driving versus “mindlessly” driving like so many other idiots on the road.
In other words, this kind of in-car meditation is not meant to de-focus you from safe driving. It’s actually quite the opposite.
Author and meditation practitioner, Solan McClean, sums it up quite nicely in this 28 second clip below. We’ll talk more about Solan down further in the article.
VIDEO: Mindfulness Mode Podcast
YOUTUBE: Solan McClean
> You can use driving as a way to “connect to the current moment”
> You become more aware of everything happening around you
> You’re focusing on the “now”
The emphasis is on being fully aware of everything going on outside and around the car while driving, so you don’t think about other stressful things.
When you’re 100% physically and mentally focused on a particular task and not thinking about anything else, your mind isn’t wandering. It can’t and won’t. It’s busy.
It’s like when you’re playing a very close match in tennis, basketball or any sporting activity. You’re in “the zone” and fully present, not thinking about anything else.
It happens to us at work too.
Remember that last big project deadline? The one that was a real pressure-cooker?
There were other tasks that needed attention, but you were singularly focused on the big project - ‘cause you had no choice.
And, when you finally did get it all done, it felt good right?
Here’s another short clip that will help you realize that mindfulness is a really useful tool in the car and a great way to enjoy some me time.
VIDEO: Why Mindfulness Is a Superpower: An Animation
> Mindfulness is a way to stop feeling pissed off
> Respond (not react) to stresses wisely not blindly
> Mindfulness is a superpower that you can easily learn
By making a few changes to your mindset during the commute, you can transform a head-exploding frustrating chore into something you actually look forward to...some oh-so-good me time.
Why You Should Meditate While Driving
External awareness meditation in the car isn’t very widely discussed, so it’s not understood by most people.
Here’s the biggest and main point to doing this: the act of driving with your full attention is a form of meditation!
Read that again.
Commuting in your car is just another way to practice the core fundamental meditation skill of “being in the now”, just in an alternative format.
Think of it this way. Top professional athletes don’t just practice their core skills in just one way. They build and strengthen their skills with a variety of exercises.
Fundamentally, it’s no different with meditation.
In addition to that main point, here are several specific supporting reasons.
1. Become A Safer Driver
With all the traffic on the roads these days being a safe driver is so important.
It only takes a few seconds to veer off the road, rear-end another vehicle, or run over something on the road.
All sorts of shit happens when you’re not paying attention. Being externally aware of what’s going on at all times avoids these situations and the consequences they trigger.
It’s the safest way to drive.
2. Take Your Mind Off Of Work & Family
You’ve got stresses, we totally understand. Often work and family are the core stresses and those types of close-to-home issues can get overwhelming.
We need a break from non-stop stress. If you don’t get a break, you’ll fill up with pressure, explode, get ill and things just go downhill from there.
Driving with external awareness gives you space to breathe and lets the pressure cooker simmer down - because it gives you something else to think about.
A change is as good as a rest. Granny was right after all.
3. Allow Your Mind To Subconsciously Work Things Out
When stresses are pushed out of your mind by external mindful meditation, it leaves room for the creative stuff to rise to the top.
You won't have to purposely force yourself to think creatively, our minds have a way of coming up with the answer on their own if we just give them room.
It’s like those revelations that we sometimes get while showering.
When you drive with external awareness, you’re giving that creative side space to do its thing subconsciously.
By the time you arrive at work, you’ll have the answer to that all-consuming difficulty you’ve been struggling with.
4. Train Your Mind To Be “Present”
Are you right here, right now? Or are you half thinking about the hundreds of other things running through your head?
Being “right here, right now” is the core principle of meditation. The past and future are put to one side as you think about what is happening now.
Focused driving on the commute gives you an opportunity to practice this skill in a way that benefits your mental health and your driving safety.
The little acts of driving mindfully like checking your rear view mirror and paying proper attention to what’s happening on the road trains your mind to be present “right here, right now."
It’s a win/win situation. External mindful awareness should be part of the driving exam.
5. Build Your Mental Ability To “Respond Not React”
Being externally aware while driving helps you respond to piss poor driving in a mindful way.
Yes, you’ve been cut-off by an a-hole driver but how your mind handles this makes all the difference.
If you allow your mind to instantly “react” negatively, it will kickstart a vicious stress cycle that will only get worse with each subsequent idiot on the road.
On the flipside, if your mind “responds” in a neutral way to what just happened and just observes it like a random thing, then your stress never gets the chance to take-off.
It’d be like a squirrel darting across the sidewalk as you’re walking by. Yes, it probably surprised you and you didn’t expect it, but you don’t get all pissed-off about it, right?
Your solo driving commute is the ideal time and place to practice the “respond not react” method.
But, we’re gonna be straight-up with you.
It’s gonna be tough as shit for the first few weeks, but as you stick with it and eventually master it, all the clueless and reckless drivers on the road won’t phase you one bit.
It’ll be like water off a duck’s back.
Once you’ve got it down pat in your commute, you may notice its positive influence expanding to other areas of your life - like when the work jerks get to be too much or when family members pump up the pressure.
Responding mindfully is one of the best ways to keep your stress levels low and not make an absolute ass of yourself in front of others.
You’ll develop presence of mind, and the more you practice it the more likely you are to respond well in difficult situations.
6. Learn To “Let Go”
An externally aware commute builds your resilience to stress and that ‘grown-up’ way of dealing with life’s shitty situations.
Remember the old saying "count to ten before you react"?
Letting go means you don't even get to that stage because the wind-up won't affect you so badly.
Give other drivers the benefit of the doubt, let them go first, you don’t know what might be going on in their lives.
Maybe, that guy that ran the orange light (that’s the phase between red and yellow) is rushing to the emergency room hospital to get to his kid. Or the lady that wouldn’t let you merge in is just bawling her eyes out to some bad news and wasn’t paying attention.
These are all things out of your control.
And meditating on your commute means you can let go of what can’t be controlled, and really there's so much of that in life that this is an absolutely necessary skill.
Road rage? What road rage?
7. More Active Than Traditional Breathing-Only Meditation
There’s a lot of us here that want and need stress relief but we just can’t do the “sit down, think about nothing and breathe” meditation.
It’s waaay too far on the other side of the spectrum of mental quietness.
We need more of a middle ground to transition to first.
For a lot of us, our minds simply can’t go from thinking about a million things to thinking of nothing. It’s straight-up impossible to do.
And this is where external awareness meditation while driving comes into play.
It’s not as “singular” as a breathing-only meditation but it’s an ideal way to settle our racing minds to a more present situation by allowing it to latch onto what’s happening around our car.
External mindfulness is more lively and it’s easier to master because you aren’t training your brain to think about nothing, you’re training it to think about the here and now of driving safely.
External mindfulness is real meditation, and it’ll do you a world of good.
How To Do External Awareness Meditations In The Car
Let’s get down to the practicals.
Mindful meditation while driving is not difficult, but it does require some effort because you’ll incorporate external awareness as you drive. This keeps you alert but relaxed.
You don’t need to picture the Dalai Lama, say “Om” on and on, or empty your mind of all thoughts.
Not only does that lead to a mental battle with yourself, but it means you aren’t concentrating on the road.
The idea with external mindful meditation in the car is that you are continuously aware of four things:
1) What you SEE
2) What you HEAR
3) What you FEEL
4) What you DO
It’s four simple little things, right?
But we all have monkey minds that always race around all over the place.
Our minds jump to problems, issues, and to-do lists - this is absolutely normal and happens to all of us.
The key here is to tell that part of your brain to go and take a hike and that you’re doing some drive-time meditation. Then, bring your mind back to the present moment of driving. It’s called “practicing” for a good reason!
Okay, let’s get started.
Look At Your Gear Shifter
Most every car now has got an automatic transmission. We’re all very familiar with the letters: P-R-N-D on the gear shifter/changer.
It’s how we control and select the transmission.
P = Park
R = Reverse
N = Neutral
D = Drive
There’s a cool little idea that we want to share with you that uses these transmission letters to help you meditate with external awareness while driving.
We can’t take credit for this awesome idea. It’s actually from author and meditation practitioner Solan McClean.
His book, “Learning to Drive into the Now: PRND” uses the letters to provide guidance for his version of in-car meditations, called “Current Awareness Meditation” which is essentially the same thing as external mindful meditation.
Here’s our variation on the idea that we’d like to share with you.
You can use your gear position letters as reminders for a step-by-step guide for external awareness meditations while driving.
Here’s our breakdown for each letter:
P = Get ready to PRACTICE.
R = RELAX your mind and body.
N = Bring your attention into the NOW.
D = DRIVE with full awareness.
For some of you with zippy sports cars, you might also have an option for “S” for Sport. If that’s the case, let’s use that for “Don’t give a SHIT anymore” or “So long, Stress” 😉
Okay, now we’re going to explain each one in a bit more detail.
P = Get Ready To PRACTICE
Did you remember to do a pitstop at the bathroom before setting out? If not, do it beforehand so you can concentrate on driving mindfully.
If you’re good to go, head out to your car and get in.
Set your climate control, put your phone on airplane mode, turn off the radio, put away snacks, and get your seating and mirrors all set-up correctly.
In other words, get all the potential distractions and other nonsense out of the way now, so you’re not fumbling with anything while driving.
Get settled in.
When you get into your car, don’t rev the engine and smash the land speed record in order to get ahead of the daily traffic. Instead, just take a minute to sit comfortably.
This part is all about announcing to yourself that you’re going to drive with external awareness and practice conscious thinking.
Your commuting time is best put toward fostering some mindful driving meditation, so set the scene. Preparation means you’re more likely to do it properly.
R = RELAX Your Mind And Body
Now, it’s time to get your mental and physical state into a more relaxed one.
We can do this through some simple in-seat routines:
1. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders.
2. Do 2-3 slow head circles in each direction to loosen up your tight neck muscles.
3. Clench your fists and then, let them go, do this 2-3 times.
4. Take three slow and deep energizing breaths and become aware of your body.
It’s difficult to be mindful when you’re tense. Silently fuming over an argument or worrying about the upcoming meeting is not what’s important right now.
Try to relax a little, but if you can’t, don’t sweat it.
Driving mindfully will bring down your blood pressure and help you relax.
N = Bring Your Attention Into The NOW
Being externally mindful when driving is all about bringing your full attention to the here and now.
You’ve got to stop checking your phone because you’re bored or stressed.
Focus on what you see immediately around your car, the smell of your car, the temperature, your breathing, the feel of the steering wheel, and the contours of your seat.
Then it’s time to switch on the ignition and start the car.
Feel the vibrations, listen to the engine purring, feel your foot press down on the brake pedal.
Then, after you shift the car into reverse, feel your foot easing up on the brake pedal as you attentively scan your rear view and slowly back out the car.
D = DRIVE With Full Awareness
After shifting into drive and getting things going, pay attention to the traffic, the weather and your driving speed.
There’s more than enough things happening all around you for your mind to focus on, and you’ll discover more as you practice mindful driving.
If your mind wanders off to some shitty problems, just bring your attention back to driving and have your mind focus on all the things happening out front on the road and around the car.
Now, as you're driving, someone or something will eventually trigger your anger.
This is your moment to practice the "respond don't react" method.
Don’t allow your mind to "react" negatively to the thing. Instead, see it as a neutral event and "respond" to it and then, let that shit go.
For example, if someone wants to be uncooperative and act like a competitive jerk on the road then let them. Back off and let go, you don’t have to compete with aggressive or plain stupid commuters.
You can’t change other people’s actions, but you can change your response to them. That much in life you at least have control over.
You’re going to be non-judgemental on your commute. Yes, even with those assholes that don’t use their turn signals.
It takes practice, but you’ll soon get to the point where most all of the idiotic things happening on your commute won't phase you one bit anymore.
When You Arrive At Your Destination
When you’ve arrived at work in the morning or at home in the evening, take a few moments to complete an eyes closed 60 second meditation in your parked car in silence.
Just sit quietly with your eyes closed and breath deeply and slowly for just a minute.
Open your eyes.
Then, say one thing out loud that you’re grateful for.
It could be the sun’s warmth, the birds chirping, whatever brings you a smile and keeps that gentle breathing pattern going all the way ‘til you set foot in the door.
When you finish up the drive this way, you’ll be free from residual commuting stress and in one heck of a calm and refreshed state of mind.
Make The Most Of Your Commute
“I love commuting” said no person ever.
It’s never going to be the highlight of your day, but the commute can be used to meditate, to live in the now rather than in past memories or future anxieties.
Being continuously aware of your body, what you see, and what you hear on your commute means you’re mindfully present, and that is stress-relieving, life-enhancing meditation.
It’s so great that the crappy commute can actively improve your mental and physical health.
A meditation-filled commute will enable you to control your mind, free up energy, and respond well to stresses. And if you need more variety beyond meditation, try these other fun and relaxing ideas.
Don’t waste a precious hour each day feeling angry and sour, not when it could be something that could be enjoyable and improves your outlook on life.
Practicing external mindfulness as you drive helps you focus at work, feel relaxed at home, and brings out that well-adjusted and capable superstar we know is hidden beneath a busy and stressed exterior.
When your dreaded twice a day commute is transformed, you can put your boxing gloves away and actually look forward to the journey.