The origin of the expression “to drive someone crazy” is “to drive someone nuts.” It came about in the mid 1800’s when people used the word “nut” as slang for “head.” If a person was “nuts,” it signified that they had lost their head or gone crazy. With few physical places left today for true expression of our frustration and anger (there exist several virtual places), where can one take out their unexpressed emotions with seemingly few consequences? The home? Work? Spin class? The road, of course!
Experiencing the world of driving today is like navigating a sea of people lost in their heads with heavy pieces of machinery moving at their will at 75 mph. Having witnessed so many impulsive moves on the highway, I question if the drivers are even aware of their surroundings or just trapped in their own heads. Is the road just another obstacle to our next stop, or a dance with other moving vehicles that also have destinations and departure points?
To put a little perspective on the impact of reckless driving: since 1899, the birth of the motor vehicle, there have been just over 10,000,000 fatalities in the U.S. due to car accidents. This number does not include major and minor injuries. So, why haven’t we wisened up to the potentially deadly consequences of bad driving? Drinking and driving used to be considered the biggest killer on our roads, but has now given way to distracted driving.
In Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, he assigns the ego as a cause of much pain and suffering in today’s world. On a recent road trip to San Diego from the Bay Area, I listened to the audio book and felt caught in some surreal case-in-point scenario of a world trapped in ego-driven behaviors. It then became apparent to me that the road is where we show our true colors. Even the most tempered yogi will admit to losing their minds on the road–it is the litmus test of awareness and ego.
We all know this car: obviously hurried as they bum rush a slow-moving lane of traffic and then ride your bumper until another tailgating opportunity comes along. With newly stoked impatience, they swerve into the neighboring lane with barely enough room to fit between two cars, no signal to notify others of their next move, then proceed to make this death-defying move time and time again until they find another opening up ahead…swerve and repeat. Eventually you catch up to this person because all lanes of traffic are dead-stopped. It’s Murphy’s Law of gridlock: each lane eventually catches up to the other in this fun Nordic Track back-and-forth dance. Then, you look over at the driver, snickering and shaking your head. Tisk, tisk…
It’s the classic story of the tortoise and the hare–written well before the invention of the car. We have almost forgotten this fable and believe that rushing around is the faster way to get somewhere, when it only leaves us frazzled and risking our lives for punctuality in an overbooked schedule. The more haste, the worse speed.
In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle recounts seeing a woman on the tube in London who seemed trapped in the voice in her head. “She looked extremely tense and talked to herself incessantly in a loud and angry voice. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she was totally unaware, it seemed, of other people or her surroundings.” There is little need for me to paint a picture of the typical driver today: radio blaring, windows closed, cell phone in hand, angry scowl on face, murmuring something under the breath. Can you already see the parallel? Well, Eckhart follows this woman–intrigued by her apparent insanity as a first year psychology student at the University of London–right into his faculty building at the university. His realization is that “thinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence.”
How many times are we trapped in this imaginary dialogue behind the wheel? We just left work and the stories of our incompetent coworkers are spinning out of our mouths. We whizzed out of the house in the morning and left the kids with our spouse because they were taking too long to get ready…again…now we’re late. We are driving an hour or longer to go to an appointment and so take care of important business on the phone, like calling our aging mom or frantic friend. More and more stories follow us into the car and play out in the way we drive.
This lack of awareness is apparent in many more ways today, a mere 12 years after Eckhart published his book. We have a fully integrated internet and social media frenzy, massive population growth in urban areas and more and more cars on the freeways that help us to keep up with the pressured pace of today’s world. Where do we draw the line for our own safety and the safety of others on the road?
Ideally, mindful driving courses need to be added to the state driving test. Who knows, with the growing popularity of mindfulness we may see this in our lifetimes? But, even those classes are a one-time event and it is up to us to practice awareness every time we get behind the wheel. Defensive driving has given way to conscious driving. There is no autopilot at the speeds at which we travel with such heavy emotional baggage. The most precious cargo is sitting in the front seat and can barely get out of its own head long enough to appreciate the preciousness of its own life.
We all know the rules, we all know the tips for safe driving, we all know the speed limit. The next move is to practice safety and awareness every time we get in the driver’s seat. The core principles of mindfulness apply here: take a deep breath, remove all distractions, let clinging thoughts go and get the ego out of the way. Sit back and enjoy the ride for once.