Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Never be Mindful on the Motorway!
I didn't take driving lessons until I was in my first job and could afford them - which was in my mid-20s. I passed my test then, but didn't have the use of a car until I was in my thirties. So I came to driving, and particularly motorway driving, rather late.

At first I didn't enjoy the experience much. I was painfully aware that I was travelling along in a flimsy metal box at a speed that would make any injury very dangerous, and quite possibly fatal, to myself and others. That thought didn't make for relaxation, and being tense isn't what you want when you're driving: in fact it created a vicious feedback loop of tension and fear. My touchstone experience of this came about 15 years ago, when I was returning from Wales back across the Severn bridge in the rain, and found myself in the middle lane just behind two spray-squirting Tesco lorries either side of me. There were three small children in the back of the car, and I was terrified because one small movement of my arm to right or left might mean the end for all of us.

The problem abated as the years went on, and I grew to tolerate motorways, though at night or in the rain they still gave me problems. I found that distracting the top level of my mind (which likes to dwell on unpleasant contingencies) with music or the radio helped a lot. In automatic pilot I was a safer driver.

Just in the last six months, though, I seem to have become more prone to these panicky motorway moments again. It happened the other day, as I was overtaking a lorry on the M4.

"What should I do?" I asked myself panickedly.

"You need to relax," I replied. "Why not try mindfulness?"

"Oh, er, okay. You know I don't have a very good history with mindfulness, though, don't you?"

"I know, I know."

"You remember how it seemed to be telling me to 'Suck it up, one moment at a time!' as a cure for unhappiness rather than encouraging me to do anything to change my situation?"

"I was there, and I suspect you judged it hastily. Anyway, it's worth a shot, right?"

So I tried to be "in the moment": "I am travelling along in a flimsy metal box at around 75mph right now! Right this fucking minute! Jesus Christ!!"

Somehow I managed to get through that, but it convinced me again that there's a time and a place for mindfulness, and the place is probably not my head. On the contrary, I think it helps (me at least) to be relatively out of the moment when driving, because the reality is too ghastly to contemplate.
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This is one of the many reasons I have always stuck to two wheeled motorised thingies.

The difference is explained well in 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'

Somehow that book swum past me. I was quite interested in Zen, but all my friends were obsessed with motorcycle maintenance and I found the subject so dull that I could bear to think of reading about it too.

It's worth a read as it isn't quite what you might think it'd be!

I am not sure the place for mindfulness is 'in the car whilst driving on the motorway' in any case.

I have been trying to devote some time and energy to it lately, as between the Impending Doom of the recent election and the Impending Doom of an almost-finished thesis mean I am basically in a constant state of low-level panic. The one I cannot change, the other I need a reasonably clear head to work on, but my brain does insist on flailling al over the place instead of being peaceful.

People have to do whatever works for them, I think. I have the impression that mindfulness ought to be just my kind of thing, but my relationship with it has always been rocky.

I have those moments too. I am usually kind of dubious when people say they like to drive. Bridges and tunnels scare me sometimes. (Which certainly makes living in NYC uncomfortable. It is all bridges here!

I am too aware of it when I have kids in my car and I'm driving.

I'm glad it's not just me. (On the other hand, I kind of hope it's not everyone.)

Sympathy. I gave up driving after two little girls on pink bicycles swooped out from the bushes on a country road, all but under my wheels. I could see them not not looking. I stopped, rolled down my window, and gave them hell. Then I finished picking up the black bread for my mother, drove home, and surrendered my keys.

I'm still shaking when I think of it.

Nine

I don't blame you! Things like that get acid-etched into the nerves.

I'm comforted to learn that it's not just me... I try so hard to drive at the speed limit and not hold up traffic on winding country roads, but left to my own devices I'd be puttering along behind a bloke on foot carrying a red flag.

It amazes me that the hedges aren't festooned with body parts, sometimes - it seems so obviously dangerous. Yet relatively few people actually die.

Edited at 2015-05-13 07:56 am (UTC)

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I've tried that - as a passenger. And with my Dad driving, which was a bit scary at the best of times. The tune, "Fly, fly a kite" springs to mind.

I'm a pretty confident driver, but some British roads scare me. Not, however, the motorways, which I find relaxing and not as difficult as American freeways. (For one thing, they have fewer entrances and exits, and vehicles actually tend to keep in the slow lane when not overtaking, a practice not much honored over here.)

The single most frightening drive I've ever taken was up the A40 from Gloucester to the Head of the Valleys highway. Narrow, twisty. In the dark. In the rain. Late in the evening, tired, and anxious to get back home. I had B. with me, but this was before she was diagnosed with apnea, and I'm so glad she slept through it all.

Windy roads are a different kind of scary. There, I worry less that I'll die myself than that I'll kill someone else.

My father had a story about a similar road. He said he arrived at his destination "unbloody, but bowed."

I too did not get my license till my mid-20s, but I did get practice early and often when I did, as I was finally living in a household with a car. The local highways never bothered me (and the rural roads with two lanes or fewer, I love), but took me a while to get used to the freeways in major cities like Phoenix or Los Angeles. Still don't like driving in Phoenix, if it comes to that, but I can do it. I handle it not so much by mindfulness but hyperalertness -- "Where are all the nearest cars to me, and which ones are approaching me the fastest?"

---L.

I've never driven in the States, or indeed anywhere that drives on the right: only Ireland and the UK. I think I'd find that very nervewracking.

Try driving Reykjavik, where the signs are all the wrong language as well as driving on the wrong side for you. Though you might be more used to that style of roundabouts than I was. Small help that, I expect though.

---L.

I've been to (though not driven in) Iceland, and the cognitive dissonance from seeing thorns on street signs and registration plates was enough to cause an accident in itself!

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