If driving on the highway makes you anxious, ragey, or frustraged, read on!
Let's be real here: driving is a cooperative experience. We agree upon certain rules that keep us all safe and knowing how to engage with each other.
Disclaimer: I hope this goes without saying, but you are responsible for your own safety, don't do anything that may compromise your ability to focus on what is, after all, hurdling through space in a heavy chunk of metal/plastic/rubber/glass with other chunks of metal/plastic/rubber/glass, driven by human beings for whom you have no control. I am not responsible for what you do or what happens while you are driving. If you cannot accept that responsibility, do not read on or apply any of these concepts.
This concept is relatively simple, and has benefited me to no end. As a bonus feel-good, it also saves on gas usage/better average MPGs.
"Zen Driving" (as I do it) is simply: Using the brake and accellerator as little as possible to maintain a steady speed. You want to BE the average speed of traffic. Not accellerating too much, or driving too close to the person in front of you, so that you have to brake whenever they do. Smooth out the inconsistencies. Help with flow.
Braking is one of the main drivers of traffic congestion, so you're helping to break the braking cycle. If done well, and if the people behind you catch on/are mindful, they also will be braking and accellerating less. Which helps smooth out traffic congestion, and benefits everyone else's gas efficiency too.
Some general tips:
- It's a practice, so just start trying it out whenever you're in traffic and see how it goes.
- It often means leaving a larger gap between you and the person in front of you than you're probably used to. It often means letting more people come into your lane in front of you. Remember: this is also helping the overall flow. You are making space rather than jamming thing up.
- You don't want to be the cause of more traffic congestion, so if the general speed of traffic is speeding up, also please accellerate (keep awareness of the whole), but notice if it's just a collective rush to the next wave of braking, and accomodate for that.
- Remember you can't control what anyone else does. Let them float by on their own journey. It's okay if they get there before you. Be you and trust it's helping the greater good.
- Bonus Life Mastery Points for: Leave yourself extra time to get to your destination so that you're not creating that urgency for yourself (for me, this means planning to arrive 5-10 minutes before appointments, and walking around or meditating a little before I go in, and also I tell myself I need to leave at 9:30 if I need to actually be in the car driving away by 9:45). Figure out what you need.
Other things that help me self-regulate while driving:
- Engaging podcasts (I enjoy On Being with Krista Tippett, Radiolab, Ologies with Alie Ward, 13 Minutes to the Moon, Curious Humans with Jonny Miller, Unexplainable, and one of the best one-offs ever: The Case of the Missing Hit, by Reply All)
- Calling a friend or relative (if you feel safe and engaged talking and driving)
- Awesome playlists, especially songs to sing along to (did you know that singing and humming activate your parasympathetic nervous system to help you feel more calm, centered and connected?)
- Breathwork (if you have a practice already, no first-time experiments or passing out on the road, please). You can use gentle breaths with long, slow exhales, or box breathing to calm and focus yourself, or take some big more rapid breaths to wake yourself up if you're feeling sleepy (mints/minty gum also help with focus).
Hope this helps! Driving is just one rich and consistent place to practice being mindful, and making choices to feel better in ourselves. You may find you can apply this to many other facets of life too :)