Meditation Articles Series

Bumper to Bumper and Breathing

I drive just about every day now in dense traffic.  Often it’s bumper-to-bumper getting on to, and over the harbour bridge. 

Recently in our city of Auckland, a driver was beaten unconscious by an enraged motorist because he accidentally knocked into his vehicle.  The battered man later died in hospital.  This is an extreme outcome of road rage.  As I drive, I notice people’s frustrations behind the wheel as they cut off other vehicles, slam on their breaks, and make intimidating hand gestures, and shout abusive words!

I also witness my own responses and reactions to driving in heavy traffic.  Sometimes I feel pressure building up inside me to get to my mother’s on time.  It’s an old response to childhood conditioning to always be punctual.  Even though I have often berated myself that this pattern is now inappropriate, I still at times feel under pressure that I might be late.  One day I said to myself, “I can change this.  I can use this time to increase my awareness, and inner stillness.”  And I have.  I’ll share it with you.

I have discovered that driving in busy traffic is a unique opportunity to calm my mind, and relax my body.  Driving can become one pointed focus, but doesn’t require sitting cross-legged, and certainly not closing your eyes!  Back in the past I would tell myself to relax.  Now as soon as you say to yourself, or someone else, “relax”, the immediate response is to become tense.  Try it, and you’ll see what I mean.  So here is the secret.  As I drive along I become aware of the breath as I breathe in, and as I breathe out.  If I catch myself breathing shallowly, which happens to all of us under stressful conditions, I immediately breathe into my belly.  I remain aware of my belly moving out on the inward breath, and flattening on the outward breath.  This doesn’t distract me from the mechanical responses to driving the car.  Now the pressure to get there “at all costs” disappears.  I remain calm, and I am even more focused and relaxed moving through traffic.  Having a smile on my face gives me a sense of inner peace, and connectedness to my fellow motorists.

Next time you are caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic become aware of the breath as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, and notice the difference it makes to your ability to concentrate on your driving.

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