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Mindful : August 2014
Riding with Hill, I was astonished to see how ma ny people were speeding, or tailgating, or changing lanes without signalling. He didn’t actually stop a nyone during our ride. Once or t wice he simply pulled up alongside a driver, and glanced at them. It was enough. “Most traffic problems,” he observed, “a rise from people thinking that they, and wherever they need to be, are more important than anyone else on the road. They’re lost in their own worlds. Just knowing that I see them brings them back down to ear th.” I discovered that I could mimic Hill’s transformation by making a game out of driving. Every day, I decided, I would give five drivers the “right to be wrong ”— the right to do something dumb, as humans sometimes will. Once that limit was reached, I could vent my spleen. The result was wonderful, if pre- dictable. After simply obser ving five traffic incidents without bile, I dis- covered that the sixth, seventh, and fifteenth didn’t have much impact on me, either. Better still, it was fun. Like an eight-year-old playing “I Spy,” I was at one with my surroundings. Keeping Your Mind on the Road In 1988, before sma rtphones were a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye, two broth- ers named Todd a nd Kevin Berger—a psychotherapist and journalist, respec- tively—wrote a book called Zen Driving. They advocated a method called “moving meditation”—driving with rela xed con- centration and total control. What better place to practice Jedi- like discipline than in your car? Just relax, take a few deep breaths, and Jeff Greenwald is author of Scratching the Surface: Impressions of Planet Earth from Hollywood to Shiraz. settle in. Your Mini Cooper, like the zen archer’s bow, becomes a n extension of yourself. Its tires become your shoes; the rear view mirror, your third eye. The Berger brothers suggest a way of driving whereby “you drop what you were thinking about before—and you drop your destination. All that matters is what you’re doing right now.” Anything that gets in the way—like anger, fear, or tension—is calmly acknowledged. Then you let the emotion go, and return to the pure experience of driving. A guy in a Range Rover cuts you off. You calmly acknowledge the irrita- tion. Then you go back to total awareness, feeling the ca r around you. (It also helps, I discovered, if you reward yourself with an M&M for each moment of mindfulness. But maybe that ’s cheating.) “Not everybody does aikido, or martial ar ts,” the Bergers note. “ But everyone drives.” There’s no reason people can’t perform a kind of mindfulness practice every day, behind the wheel. “And if you can develop that kind of concentration in your ca r,” they posit, “it won’t end there. It’s going to affect your job, your daily life, a nd your relationships as well.” Anger and agression, of course, are just t wo facets of mindless driving. Another is slack-jawed distraction. As a person who also rides a motor- cycle, nothing is more terrifying than the sight of surrounding drivers thumbing into their smart phones as we hurtle along at 70 mph. At moments like those I recall the droll words of my hiking partner, just before we crossed a fast-moving river: “ Remember: We’re all in this alone.” At any given daylight moment across America, as many as 660,000 drivers are staring into, or manipulating, their electronic devices. In 2011, 23% of all auto collisions involved mobile phones. An informal 2009 study by Car and Driver magazine (for which they got their writ- ers drunk, and put them on a course) showed that texting while driving is more dangerous tha n drinking while driving. So what’s the difference between blast- ing music, listening to a podcast of Wait ... Wait...Don’t Tell Me!, talking to a f riend in the front seat, or texting? It’s all about your eyes. At 60 mph, when you take your attention off the road for four seconds— and that’s how long it takes to read a short text, let alone write one—you travel 350 feet. Think about it: You’re driving blind the entire length of a football field. For me, this has become the mindful driving challenge du jour: coping with drivers so mindless that they are willing to threaten my life (or make me late for Mad Men) to satisfy a selfish impulse. During my ride-a long with Officer Hill, I asked why the Highway Patrol doesn’t just round them all up and pillory them. Hill appreciated the sentiment. But such offenders, he admitted sheepishly, are surprisingly difficult to catch in the act. “As mindless as they may seem to be,” he told me, “they do seem mindful enough to notice a patrol car in their rear view mirrors.” ● August 2014 mindful 63 habits