Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mindful Driving

Mindful Driving

The other day I tried to drive mindfully after meditating. I've had a series of reflections after that.

I know people who don't drive because they are scared. It's the risk taking adolescent that helped me to get into this guided missile that could kill someone very easily. So the first tension I feel is between safety, and thrill seeking. Smokey and the Bandit was a formative movie in my tween years (I was 10 when it came out). I like the phrase "petal to the metal".

But that part of me that speeds through dicy traffic situations is also the part of me that sometimes gets almost in accidents. New York City is pretty crowded, and to drive here is not an easy thing. It's not for shrinking violets. But we can become intoxicated with the impatience of NYC, where someone can give you a pre-emptive honk just before the light changes, so you look up from your phone to see it. The powerful beast of a car that in Montana would give you great power to travel distances, in NYC is reduced to a slow crawl, that can be beat by pedestrians and bicyclists. The beast is leashed, and though the speed limit was recently lowered from 30 to 25, I don't see any evidence that this rule is being followed. When there is open road ahead of you, it's not hard to get up to 60mph before awareness creeps in. You often see cars shooting down a road and think "that's too fast." It's all that pent up energy and power being unleashed for a second.

But I'm not that adolescent any more, in fact I'm dealing with the sequelae only, ghosts and residue, not that person. I would absolutely feel terrible if I ever hurt someone with the car. I have been in a few fender benders,  but nobody was hurt, and of course insects are killed. I'm not sure if I've killed a rodent, I know I've wondered a lot if I killed something, but there's been no confirmation.

So after thrill, safety, there is the question of fuel efficiency. How you drive a car can really matter. I had one co-worker who had a very heavy foot. I enjoy the excitement of acceleration sometimes. You can accelerate to a low top speed to get a flavor of the excitement in the city. But once again thrill is the opposite of fuel efficiency as it is for safety: To lift my foot from the accelerator when I see a red light. Sometimes car will go around you with annoyed irritation. Accelerating to the red light seems like a waste to me. There are times when I drive with the best fuel efficiency and I see the mile per gallon go up on the fancy readout. But then I feel too much pressure, and I can't sustain that attitude for very long. It's a deeper state of driving and my resolve and concentration are not yet good enough. I know there is room for growth in my mindfulness, and that reminds me of the surprising depth that keeps me on this path.

Then there is driving taking into account the emotions of the people you're driving. I know sometimes I've been too close to another car, or went to fast for the comfort of the person in the front seat. Sometimes people are impatient with my show safe driving. Taking into account the passengers, but not getting carried away is another axis of mindfulness for me.

Then there is the kindness, a kind of opposite of road rage. You let someone in, you don't get irritated at their selfishness. You don't get angry at someone driving erratically, you worry about them and give them a wide birth.

I like to give people rides. Transportation is a real issue in NYC and giving someone a ride can be a small kindness that helps one move toward the gladdening.

The question of destroying the planet with car exhaust is a real one. Fossil fuel dependence is a significant problem. I love that character in I Heart Huckebees. Tommy Corn. I have faith that humanity will find a solution when the fossil fuels run out, and I hope it's not a Mad Max kind of world. The dystopia movies warn us against what might happen, as resources become more scarce. The dependence of fossil fuels is of concern. I accept it that I'm using them and have a level of dependency. As someone who rode my bike through high school and college, I have a lot of biking under my belt, but not recently. I yearn to go back to the days when bikes were so convenient. The crazy traffic in NYC does not make me feel very safe riding a bike, even where there are bike lanes. Maybe that's where I need to rechannel my thrill seeker, my risk taker. I don't like being sweaty when I get to work, that's another barrier. Sweat was pouring down my shirt once on the subway and I felt really embarrassed. It can get hot in NYC in the summer. I love it when the 5 borough bike ride goes past and you seen tons of bikers. I've always yearned to live in a carless city. Until that day, I will try to drive mindfully.

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