Monday, July 25, 2011

THE ART OF DRIVING MINDFULLY

NOTE. The purpose of this post is twofold: first, to direct readers' attention to, and encourage the reading of, an article, namely a Q&A session with Michele McDonald, published in the leading magazine tricycle; second, to endorse and recommend the purchase and use of Ms McDonald's CD-set Awake at the Wheel: Mindful Driving.


Driving mindfully? Isn't that dangerous ... driving a motor vehicle whilst in a state of samadhi bliss?
Well, that is not exactly what is meant by mindful driving.

Michele McDonald (pictured left) has been teaching vipassanā meditation for 30 years. She is the cofounder of Vipassanā Hawai’i. She is also the first woman to have taught a formal retreat in Burma.

If you want to treat yourself to something really useful – I hate that word ‘useful’, but anyway – buy her 2-disc audio CD set Awake at the Wheel: Mindful Driving. (I love that title. Mindfulness is, as Jon Kabat-Zinn often says, 'falling awake.')

The 2-CD set includes introductions to mindfulness meditation specific to driving, and nearly 2 hours of exercises that can be learned in the car and used anywhere to enliven the mind, awake the senses, and enjoy the journey again.

In a 'must-read' Q&A session published in tricycle (for which this post, and my blogsite, are no substitutes) Michele McDonald describes vipassanā meditation or mindfulness as the state of ‘being in the present moment, feeling and hanging out with your own experience rather than just thinking about it, with patience ... [and] a genuine interest’.

Yes, but what does that mean, ‘being in the present moment’? We say that all the time ... almost mindlessly. Well, according to McDonald it means being ‘present and engaged with what's happening’. Yes, a mind-body experience from one moment to the next.

So, why the CD? Says McDonald, ‘I see so many people on their phones in the car, Bluetooth or not, or texting, eating, or putting make-up on—never mind whatever else might be going on in their heads! Most of us act out the urge to get more and more done in the car, instead of attending to what is really happening as we drive.’

A ‘mindful’ mind is a mind which is not distracted by what is happening from one moment to the next.

Remember, everything is happening from one moment to the next. That is life. Sensations come and go. They arise ... and they disappear as quickly as they arose. So do sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, moods and all other phenomena. Everything is impermanent ... BUT everything is happening in the present, continually arising and disappearing.

So, you’re driving. You see a traffic light ahead turn red. In a state of mindfulness you ‘notice’ the light turn red. You see the change in the colour and contemporaneously – yes, in the same moment – you are aware that you are noticing the light turn red. So what?

‘Mindfulness will help you notice seeing, see the red light more quickly, and to brake,' says McDonald in the Q&A session published in tricycle. 'Your response times are going to be quicker and will allow you to assess any dangers on the road and respond more intelligently and spaciously.’

I have always hated driving in traffic, and I will do almost anything to avoid it ... like, for example, getting out of bed 2 or more hours earlier in the morning in order to miss the traffic. Perhaps I need to drive more in the traffic. In one sense, it doesn’t really matter. Traffic or no traffic, where else can we ever hope to find ‘enlightenment’ but in whatever presents itself as ‘the moment.’

Drive mindfully. The life you save may be your own, or mine ... and besides, driving mindfully is living mindfully.


Please read the Q&A session with Michele McDonald published in tricycle.
Tricycle, published by The Tricycle Foundation, is the leading journal of Buddhism in the West.
Acknowledgments are due to Tricycle. All rights reserved.

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