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How to practice Zen driving
Driving can be stressful, since people can become very impatient, selfish and discourteous when behind the wheel. By applying the principles of Zen, however, you can make driving an enjoyable, relaxing experience, no matter how everyone else is driving.
1. Take your time. Do not be in a rush. Be Laid Back. If you need to be somewhere on time, leave early so you have more than enough time to get there. Even if you're running late, don't worry about it. There's really not much you can do about it now, because the traffic, the stop lights, the laws of the road are still there. So relax. Drive as if you have all the time in the world. If you are late, at least you will have had a lovely ride.
2. Sync in with the flow of traffic. Traffic moves like a school of fish. The more you try to get ahead and "beat others," the more obvious you are to the cops (who act like the sharks) and the more likely to stir up other drivers' territorial behaviours - danger! Being in sync with the flow doesn't mean you have to be defensive - you can pass and move as needed, controlling your space with awareness and harmony. One thing is for sure, when you sync up, you seem to get there quicker, feel at ease, enjoy your music, and you never get a ticket. Enjoy the journey as much as you do the destination and "be like water, my friend."
3. Turn off the radio, turn on your favourite music. Why do you listen to talk shows? Probably because it helps distract you from what you're doing, and makes the drive more tolerable. But what's so terrible about what you're doing, that you have to pay attention to something else? Instead, try listening to the sounds of your car. The engine, the way the tires sound on the road. (This might even make you better at detecting problems with your car before they become expensive to fix.) Listen to your breathing, your heartbeat. This is an excellent time to learn to enjoy silence, since in our noisy world it can be hard to find.
4. Breathe deeply. Feel your belly rise and fall (against the seat belt, of course) with every breath. Count each inhalation and each exhalation, until you get to ten. Start back at one again. This is at the core of Zazen (Zen meditation) and will help keep you calm.
5. Loosen up. Look at your hands on the steering wheel. Are you clenching them? Let go of excess tension. You only need just enough grip to control the wheel, no more, no less. Then direct your attention to your stomach. Is it tense? Soften your belly, then soften your shoulders and consciously let go of tension anywhere else in your body.
6. Pay attention to your surroundings. Instead of squandering your consciousness on greater speed, observe your surroundings. You will simultaneously be more aware of the beauty around you and more alert to hazards than you would be if you were pushing for speed and/or lost in thought. Pay attention to the cars around you. How are they driving? Is the person in front of you slowing down a little? Is the person behind you in a rush? Does the person on your left seem confused, or lost?
7. Be thankful. Have you noticed, today, that you're in this incredible machine that was specifically designed to make your trip easy? All you have to do is turn a key, hold a wheel, and press your foot. Have you noticed that, right now, your car is actually working, not breaking down? Do you appreciate that not everyone has a car to drive, or do you take your car for granted, as if it's a right? Are you glad that you can drive on paved, safe roads? More importantly, are you grateful that at this moment, you're alive, and healthy enough to drive?
8. Respond to road rage with compassion. They're in a rush. They're frantic. You've been there. You know what it's like. You know it feels like the end of the world, even though it's not. You can either increase their suffering, or relieve it. And the best way to relieve it is to get out of their way, as safely and as soon as possible. Forgive them. And don't let them infect you with their negativity; why let a stranger ruin your ride?
If someone is tailgating you, move out of the left lane if you're going slower than the traffic in front, then ignore them. Sometimes they are truly in a hurry, and they have nothing against you. Sometimes they sincerely believe that you deserve their wrath. If you respond to them, they will escalate their aggression and you will be in the middle of a stressful conflict. Just ignore them; imagine that your mirrors are set so that you cannot see them at all. They can always go around you. If a tailgater persists, lowering your speed three miles below the speed limit is usually enough to send them on their stressful way in a hurry.
9. Practice kindness. Smile and even wave at other drivers. Let people merge in front of you. If someone is parking, stop and give them room. In general, think of what others could do to make your drive more pleasant, and do those things for them!
10. Try hypermiling. (Hypermiling refers to a collection of driving techniques aimed at improving your car's fuel efficiency by reducing the demands placed on the engine. Research shows it's possible to improve fuel economy by 37% just by changing the way you drive.) It is an excellent opportunity to practice Zen driving as it is not only gentler on your car, the environment, and your wallet, but it also requires great awareness and patience.
- Acknowledge that driving fast does not help that much. On local streets, it is completely futile because everyone stops at the same stop lights--you may gain 30 seconds if you are lucky. If you are driving 20 freeway miles, an average speed of 85 miles per hour (truly aggressive driving) will get you there a whopping 4.5 minutes faster than driving the speed limit. Attempting to weave through stop-and-go traffic may increase your average speed 1 mph if you are lucky. This will get you there a few seconds earlier. Is it really worth the risk of tickets and accidents coupled with the extra effort it takes to dodge and weave through the other cars while keeping a lookout for the cops?
- Don't follow closely. Leave about 10 car lengths in front of you on the freeway and you will almost never need to hit the brakes. (Or you can count out the time between when the car in front of you passes a lane marker, and when you pass it -- 3 seconds should be the minimum interval.)
- Don't completely ignore what's going on behind you. If you're being tailgated, it's best to give yourself extra room in front of you to make up for the lack of room behind. Also remember that although unlikely, the person behind you could be taking someone to the hospital or have another emergency. If possible, let them by when it's safe to do so.
- Don't let your meditation make you oblivious to your surroundings. Concentrating on monotonous or repetitive things like road noises or breathing can be very dangerous when driving, especially if you're tired and/or on a long trip. Try focusing on potential threats like distracted or impaired drivers, animals and children whose unpredictable actions can lead to an accident. Also keep an eye out for escape routes- where will you go if your path becomes suddenly blocked? The more you watch other drivers and threats, the more you'll find you're able to anticipate potential problems and avoid them.
This article was provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual, under a Creative Commons license. The original article can be found at www.wikihow.com/Practice-Zen-Driving.
Posted March 1, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM