With Driving in Mind
Driving has long been an important part of American culture. Most of us grew up excited to learn to drive. We lost sleep for weeks before our license tests and spent all of our teenage savings just to have wheels to share with friends. With great zeal we would road-trip alone or with others, sometimes just to see the sun rise in a different place. These days kids often hold off on their road tests, and many of us see driving only as a means to an end. Consequently, car culture has changed over the past twenty years or so, becoming much more niche. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as shows and meetups are more popular than ever. However, cars are still a regular reality for millions, and, with so many drivers out there, there seems to be a missed opportunity for many to appreciate their seat-time on a deeper level. This is true for those of us who love driving as well. We all can enjoy driving more if we consider on what it is we're actually doing while out on the road.
There seem to be three main types of driving, and exploring them yields some insight into how to do each more mindfully and why it's worth the time.
Driving for a Commute
Simple. Utilitarian. Travel. We all do it. We grind out a drive to work or to the store or to visit distant relatives. We get stuck in traffic. We fill up our gas tanks again and again. Commuting is not inherently evil; it just seems that way sometimes. Automotive companies have offered us a remedy for our least favorite type of driving: they seek to integrate technology into autonomous bubbles that entertain us while ushering us to our destinations. Have you ever seen Wall-E? Do you remember the floating chairs to which the surviving humans resigned themselves? That seems to be where we're headed, at least to some degree. To some, this might be the perfect way from point A to point B. But how can we make commuting more fulfilling?
Driving for Fun
We enthusiasts primarily focus on this one. Track days, dirt days, days with twisty back roads. We love all of them. Fun driving demands focus and attention. It allows us to hone our skills. It brings out some of our best qualities as we challenge ourselves at the wheel and practice ways to improve. Driving for fun, is, well, fun. But we can focus too much on winning. We can get overly competitive. We can spend too much money chasing increasingly intangible levels of performance. Shaving 0-60 times or adding an extra inch of lift can be worthwhile pursuits. But in the name of "better" we can obsess over upgrades and lose sight of hitting apexes on asphalt or clearing obstacles off-road. So many drivers let their cars and trucks become symbols of social status or group affiliation. How can we convert excitement to purpose?
With all the calls to slow down, to manage stress, to be present in the moment, driving can become a mental and emotional distraction for many of the above reasons. However, the automobile can be a vehicle for mindfulness. It doesn't really matter what you own or where you roam. If you merely want to get to work, put down your phone, stop slurping Starbucks (Or keep drinking coffee. I always drink coffee), and make some time for quiet contemplation. Clear your thoughts, or let them wander. Visit old memories, or imagine what the future will hold. There's no reason for commuting to be time wasted if you learn to be comfortable in your own mind. On the other hand, if you want to do some performance driving, be sure to breathe. Relax and let what psychologists call the flow state set in. Feel the car move as you guide it where you will it to go. Don't worry about lap times or mods or looking cool; just let yourself settle into the seat and feel the feedback. Be one with the momentum.
In the end, there is so much to experience with each and every drive. If we lose sight of why driving can be worthwhile because of the different forms it can take, we won't see the opportunities for reflection and connection. With all that is going on in the world, it is so important to engage with yourself and what you are doing--at least for a little while each day. Whether we are dutifully following routine or adjusting to change, sometimes we all need a healthy escape. So why not try adding a little more mindfulness to all of your driving? You're going to be in a car anyway.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.