How to Meditate While Driving
We get a lot of requests and questions related to practicing meditation while driving. At first mention, driving meditation seems dangerous and bordering on crazy. Of course, we can’t close our eyes and strike a full lotus position while on the road! However, there are ways we can work on cultivating mindfulness while behind the wheel.
I began investigating meditation while driving to work a couple years ago when I began working at an office instead of from the home. The daily commute of about 30 minutes was often filled with music, a podcast, listening to the news, or talking on the phone. I noticed that these little things took me out of the moment, and my awareness while driving was diminished.
Upon advice from a teacher, I decided to drive silent and really pay attention. This was not an instruction to meditate, but just to pay attention. What I began seeing was that I could really bring mindfulness and compassion to the experience of driving. This daily driving to work meditation period helped me be more mindful in daily life, and find new meaning to the commute.
What is Mindful Driving?
When we think of meditation practice, we tend to think of somebody sitting still on a cushion. However, there are many ways to practice moving meditation, as we talk about in our recent post 5 Moving Meditation Practices to Try Today. Just like sitting practice, we can cultivate presence and awareness while on the road.
In mindful walking practices, we practice while moving the body. In yoga, we bring awareness to the whole body as we stretch and stabilize. With driving meditation, we bring awareness to the experience as we would any other experience. We can cultivate mindfulness, practice metta, or tune into something specific. We can really practice mindfulness anywhere, and driving is a great chance!
There are many benefits of meditation practice, and learning to bring awareness to driving is no exception. As we continue to cultivate awareness of the present moment while behind the wheel, the mindfulness comes more naturally. We begin to be more at ease while driving, experience less anxiety related to driving, and are able to be present while frustrated in traffic. Driving meditation becomes an asset, helping you drive with more awareness and ease.
Meditations for Driving
We can do almost any type of meditation while driving, and there are many different meditation techniques we can investigate. All of these require us to be comfortable while driving, and we recommend trying them while sitting in a parking lot or driveway first.
Please note that these are practices to try with your eyes open, and remaining focused on the task of driving. When you’re behind the wheel, you’re controlling a multi-ton piece of metal that can cause great harm if not handled appropriately. Distracted driving is dangerous, and these practices are meant to increase awareness, not increase distraction. We must note that if you choose to try any of these practices and do a driving meditation, you are assuming responsibility. And in order to keep the welfare of all beings at the center of your practice, please make sure safety comes first!
Mindfulness Meditation for Driving
This is one of my favorite morning driving meditation practices. It’s also a great place to start if you’re investigating meditating while driving for the first time. You can start when you grab your car keys. Tune into the experience of unlocking the car, getting in, and turning it on. There’s nothing special to notice; just tune into whatever arises naturally.
Can you feel your butt in the chair, your hands on the wheel, and your foot on the pedal? Before getting moving, just take a moment to tune into where you are. You don’t need to close your eyes or fall into a deep samatha meditation practice. Just be where you are, how you are!
As you get moving on the road, try to really pay attention to the experience of driving. Notice what other cars are doing, what’s going on inside your car, and anything else that arises. You can use a simple noting practice to help. Use a one work label to note what is coming up. Here are a few examples with a possible note:
- Turning your blinker on (blinker)
- Seeing another car drive past (car)
- Hearing the wind as we drive (wind)
- Feeling the hands turn the wheel (turning)
- Waiting at a light, sign, or in traffic (waiting)
- Braking or slowing down (braking)
- Noticing anxiety or stress arise (feeling)
This simple practice of noting comes from the insight meditation tradition, or vipassana. This is one of many different traditions, and offers this practice which I personally find super useful. We can use the one word label to notice what we are experiencing without diving too deep into it and finding ourselves lost. The label serves as a simple tool to see what is present, then we can tune back into other experiences of driving.
Commuting with Metta
Another practice I’ve found useful in my morning drives is to cultivate metta, or loving-kindness. Metta is the practice of cultivating a heart that cares for the wellbeing of ourselves and others. Sometimes translated as goodwill, it may be seen as the simple well-wishing for those in our lives. Like mindfulness, we can work on metta while sitting in traffic, using our time to practice driving meditation to cultivate loving kindness.
Many people deal with stress, anxiety, or anger while driving. We are driving along peacefully, and somebody cuts us off. In a moment, we experience a flash of frustration or anger. First, it’s important to know you’re not alone in this. We all are subject to these experiences in one way or another. Metta practice is a great way to deal with this, and is traditionally an antidote to ill-will.
To practice metta while driving, just say a simple phrase to the people you see while driving. This may include people in other cars, those you see walking on the side of the road, or even people on billboards. Try offering a simple phrase like, “May you be at ease today.” Maybe you can try something more personal or that feels right to you. I often offer the phrase, “May you have a good day today.”
By offering these phrases, we are cultivating our intention to care for the wellbeing of others. We are not bringing in something outside of ourselves. We are just tuning into the natural caring that already exists within our own hearts and minds. You can learn more about loving-kindness meditation here.
Meditation for Driving Anxiety
These two practices can be great to try while driving. However, many people experience some sort of anxiety while taking their commute. There are many meditations for anxiety that you can try when you have time to sit quietly, but you can also work with this anxious experience while driving.
A bit of a cross between the mindfulness meditation and metta practice, you can work to bring compassionate awareness to the anxiety as it arises. You can start by tuning into the experience of driving as instructed in the first practice. Pay special attention to your response. Notice when you begin experiencing anxiety or stress.
What is the actual experience like? Often, anxiety is felt somewhere in the body. We also notice a pattern of thought with anxiety, often with rapid thinking. Just note where in the body you’re having the experience. If you feel the chest growing anxious, just note “chest.” If you notice the mind growing tense, note “thinking.”
Right after you notice the experience of anxiety, offer yourself a phrase of compassion. I like to use the simple phrase, “I care about this anxiety.” You can investigate for yourself what is useful as far as phrasing goes, but try to keep this intention of caring in tact. You don’t need to fix it or push it away. Just notice it is there and tend to it with some care. This is a gentle way to practice driving meditation, tuning into your difficulties and meeting them with a caring presence.
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