Esalen's First Yoga Teacher — Teaching yoga since 1968


Driving Meditation

© Pam Walatka

The world changes constantly and quickly. How do you keep your mind from spinning into the nut house?

The ancient practice of meditation has found its way out of monasteries and into the mainstream of pubic thought. Meditation, an old-fashioned cure for new-fashioned mental overload, has been scientifically shown to alleviate stress. But how do you find time to meditate if your problem is that your mind is overloaded with a burgeoning to-do list? Are you supposed to add one more thing to your list?

May I suggest that you try meditating while you drive? Meditating while you drive does not take any more time than not-meditating while you drive.

Driving meditation is not a retreat from reality. There are many forms of meditating that do involve a retreat from reality, but this is not one of those. Driving meditation brings you more in touch with reality. You focus on the traffic around you, yourself, and your car.

I tend to daydream while I drive. In my youth, I thought driving was something that did not warrant my attention. Even now that I know better I tend to mentally write stories or carry on imaginary conversations while I drive. I teach meditation because I need it; it is not natural for me, at all. I am amused to admit that I worked on this article while I was driving.

My idea of driving meditation is that you make an effort to focus your attention on the experience of driving, as it unfolds. This concept is easy to grasp and difficult to master. Practice practice practice.

Over the past few years, I have been training myself to pay attention to my driving experience. I watch the traffic around me. I listen to my car (who knew it made so many noises?). I notice the sensation of sitting in my seat.

Prior to World War II, airplanes had few instruments. Pilots learned to fly "by the seat of their pants." For example, when planes were banking into a turn, pilots would feel a change in pressure on their hamstrings and glutes. There were no instruments to measure the inclination of the plane. By paying attention to the sensations coming from the seat of their pants, pilots became aware of what their planes were doing, a life or death consideration in flying; it totally matters whether you are ascending or descending, accelerating or decelerating, and so forth.

This type of information is not as important in driving as it is in flying. But useful nevertheless. The more you can be aware of what your car is actually doing in the moment, the more ready you are to meet the unexpected. If a dangerous driving situation jerks you back from a daydream, you could lose a whole second before you are ready to deal with the situation. When your mind is already present, you are ready to deal with whatever comes your way, and you see it coming sooner. Besides, driving meditation is good for you; like any meditation, it trains your mind to focus. Long-term practice of meditation relieves stress. I am picturing you are alone in the car when you try this, or with someone quiet. Did I mention you would not be using your electronic forms of communication, information, and entertainment? You are trying to minimize the number of words flying though your mind.

To practice driving meditation, you focus your attention on the sensations coming from your current experience--what you feel, what you hear, and especially what you see. This focus helps you drive and helps you calm your mind. You can learn to thrive while you drive.