Can You Meditate While Driving?

A new book describes a mindful approach to driving—and living.

Posted Nov 11, 2016

Caio/Pexels
Source: Caio/Pexels

The average American spends 50 minutes a day getting to and from work. If you commute by car, you're probably all too familiar with many of the downsides of driving: being stuck in rush hour traffic, dealing with incompetent or inconsiderate drivers, and the possibility of an accident, among others. It's easy to feel stressed out, anxious, even enraged behind the wheel.

The stress of driving is made even worse by distracted drivers—which, if we're honest, is all of us at some point. It could be our phone, the baby in the back seat, our dog, the food wrapper we're trying to open, or even just the thoughts in our heads. Every day as I walk home from work I see the effects of distracted driving: stopping short just in time, being slow to start at a green light, failing to notice stop lights or pedestrians.  

Practicing mindful driving can be a powerful antidote to these driving-related problems. As with any activity, being mindful while driving means first of all focusing attention on what we're doing right now. There are many experiences that can anchor our attention in the present when we drive, such as:

  • noticing what we see in front of us
  • feeling the movement of the car
  • being aware of physical sensations, like the feel of the steering wheel in our hands
  • sensing the movements we make to pilot our car
  • hearing the sound of the road and the wind

Present-focused attention in mindful driving is coupled with an attitude of nonjudgmental openness to the experience, just as it is. This openness while driving includes practicing acceptance of the things we can't control, like the volume of traffic, whether we make a green light, the actions of other drivers, and so forth.

I've found acceptance when driving to be extremely helpful, when I remember to practice it. We often add so much stress to our drive by fighting things we can't change. For example, there are countless times I've silently (or aloud) cursed a stop light for turning red, or another car for "getting in my way." When we deliberately let go of the need for everything to work out exactly our way, much of the stress and anger we experience can dissolve.

As I've written before (see 7 Myths About Mindfulness), "acceptance" while driving doesn't have to mean liking or condoning something. We don't have to convince ourselves that other drivers don't make mistakes (as do we), or that we don't care what time we get home, or anything else. All it means is that we don't add unnecessary resistance to what is. 

Given my interest in mindful driving, I was intrigued when I heard about a new book by Solan McClean called Learning to Drive into the Now: PRND. The book presents an approach to driving that can lead to being "a more attentive, compassionate, cooperative, and safer driver." (Full disclosure: Mr. McClean sent me a free copy of the book for me to consider; I have no financial connection to it.) 

Source: Solan McClean, used with permission

Whether or not you're an experienced meditator, Learning to Drive into the Now is a good introduction not only to driving meditation but to the practice of meditation and mindfulness in general. While Mr. McClean emphasizes the necessity of experience to really grasp what mindfulness is about, the clarity and precision of his descriptions help the reader understand concepts that can be difficult to explain with words. He writes with honesty and a lot of compassion for his reader, acknowledging the struggles all of us have at times as we practice meditation. 

Clearly the author has put a lot of care into developing a practice that works well for him and that he's excited to share with others. His book presents an extremely well thought out approach to mindful driving, including a chapter of several techniques to assist with the practice. 

If you've struggled with sitting breath meditation, you might appreciate the book's focus on bringing meditation into a more active setting. Mr. McClean emphasizes that meditation is not "one size fits all"; instead, it's important to find a practice that works for you. Driving can be a good option because most people drive every day, and could benefit from greater presence in the car. Indeed, we might consider mindful driving a public good to promote for everyone's benefit.

Some people might be concerned that meditation while driving could be dangerous, which would be true if the practice were about adding an attention-grabbing task on top of driving. But as Mr. McClean describes, mindful driving means bringing our full attention to the act of driving—simply put, actually doing what we're doing. It's the opposite of our tendency to drive mindlessly, miss exits, be distracted on our phone, etc.

One thing I hadn't anticipated from this book was its emphasis on using driving meditation as the starting point for bringing mindfulness into any area of our lives. Mr. McClean describes how practice in the car can translate into more present-focused and compassionate living no matter where we are. Driving is just the beginning.

 Rangga Aditya Armien/Pexels
Source: Rangga Aditya Armien/Pexels

When we've set an intention to practice mindful awareness, it helps to have a specific activity as a reminder. With Learning to Drive into the Now, every drive in the car presents an opportunity and a reminder to practice. By being present and nonjudgmental while driving we can lower our stress, avoid accidents, and steer clear of escalating confrontations with other drivers. Through this practice driving just might become the most rewarding part of the day.

♦♦♦

Learning to Drive into the Now: PRND by Solan McClean is available in paperback and Kindle versions through Amazon. Visit the author's website at solanmcclean.com.

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Looking for self-directed CBT for depression and anxiety? Retrain Your Brain: CBT in 7 Weeks is available in paperback and Kindle.

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