Driven to Distraction

Just after the 2013 Universal Medicine retreat at the Lighthouse, I remember getting into the hire car, driving up to the junction at the top of the road and immediately feeling my calm and serene self being challenged by a palpable energy of aggression and intolerance.

I’m referring to a phenomenon that seems to exist but need not.

The rather mundane business of human transportation in individual capsules has always been sold to us by the manufacturers of such devices as a passport to freedom. We can become ‘masters of our own destiny’ sort of thing.

Have you ever noticed that in advertising material the featured vehicle is always alone on some coastal highway with vistas to die for and there is not another single vehicle in sight! This clever piece of marketing seems to try to tell us that this particular car stands alone, head and shoulders above all others, bestowing its individuality upon its driver and magically taking us away from the Hurly-Burly of traffic to some far flung Shangri-la of our imagination.

How this can be applied to someone driving down Clapham High Road or the M25 is difficult to grasp, but nevertheless the sales people know they are on to something here!

Technological advances have created vehicles with such comfort and refinement that the very sensations of motion and the world outside us seem to have been suppressed. Have you ever opened an electric window at seventy miles an hour?

But is the feeling of being insulated from reality necessarily a good thing?


The British have always been noted for their patience and tolerance while queueing. When the sales are on, there’s a queue round the block but it’s generally good-natured.

However, put those people into cars and create a queue and note the difference! ‘Road rage’ is a phrase frequently heard used, but who ever heard of ‘pavement rage’ or ‘platform rage’.

I can recall being with the most mild-mannered people who, after a few minutes behind the wheel, became judgemental and expressed regular disapproval of their fellow road-users, becoming quite worked-up in the process. Why is this?

The motor car is certainly one area where each of us, confined to a bubble of isolation, can, if not checked, let arrogance reign supreme and become like Mr. Toad in ‘The Wind in the Willows’, who became a tyrant behind the wheel, terrorising the local population. Perhaps we start to believe the advertising blurb, that our chosen vehicle gives us superiority over others, and that it’s therefore necessary to remind everybody from time to time.

As drivers we seem to inhabit an almost virtual world, with the image on our windscreens a mere projection of the reality outside. Perhaps because of this, our human instincts for danger are blunted, with the result that when we do react to a situation, and where there is a clear and immediate danger, it is too late to be calm and civilised and panic takes over, resulting in a reflex or knee-jerk reaction.

Motor-cyclists are by definition, very in touch with their immediate surroundings. Their awareness is sharpened by their perceived vulnerability. Although it only takes one or two silly riders to give them all a bad name, they are generally hugely capable, aware and intelligent road users. Perhaps car drivers should take to two wheels from time to time for a ‘reality check’.

In France where I live, ‘tailgating’ is more common than in the U.K. and the yearly road casualties are significantly worse. When a French car arrived ‘on my back seat’ recently, I noticed, (as my driving mirror was rather full of it), that the man driving was in deep discourse with his passenger, and using both hands to amply make his point!

It wasn’t that his driving was aggressive, it’s just that he wasn’t present! He had allowed himself to disengage from the concentrated activity of driving and act as though he was at home in his living room!

Nobody likes people speeding past their house or through their village, but how often do we speed past other peoples’ houses or villages? Behind the wheel we somehow become disconnected with what is happening outside.

I too was ‘fortunate’ to be caught speeding in a 50kph zone, snapped by a camera positioned in an empty, anonymous car used by the gendarmes or French police. I lost a point and paid a 90 euro fine.

I say ‘fortunate’, because now I make sure that I am consciously present when driving.


Leaving the Lighthouse in 2013, after the concentrated exposure to all that wonderful energy, I felt in good shape to tackle the negative energy ‘out there’ on the roads. I really concentrated on what other people were doing and tried to anticipate more. Making an effort to be more considerate by, for example, giving way and letting people out of difficult junctions seemed to have a good effect. I would like to imagine this behaviour spreading like a virus!

If there is a downside to my increased awareness and heightened conscious presence, it is that I am not my usual chatty self once behind the wheel!

But hey, surely that’s a small price to pay!

By Jonathan Cooke, France

This blog originated as a comment in response to: Caught Speeding

1,621 thoughts on “Driven to Distraction

  1. Driving is a great marker as to where I am at and it can support me to come back to myself if I have been rushing. I can learn so much about myself when I’m driving… the momentum I’m in, how present and connected I am and the beautiful confirmations I receive or the opportunity to surrender, let go and change my movements.

  2. What is it particularly about cars or vehicles that gets us literally going and are the vehicles that we are calling to be created really supporting us to feel what is going on? It great to look back at where things have come from, to appreciate things but also to see what we need to value in the ‘how’ things were. It seems we look back and always want to improve things in place of valuing what is there and keeping it alive in and around us no matter the landscape. Cars are a great example and I love talking about them, how they affect us and what we can be more aware of.

  3. I recently had an experience where I was coming home from work and a fire truck had its siren on and was coming behind me. It was peak hour so quite busy, but it was very beautiful to watch as everyone just moved to one side in this flow and it felt amazing and natural. Everyone doing what was needed at the time and there was no us within it. That reflected true service right there.

  4. I have always loved driving and being in my car but it is true there is something that can come over us and we can become judgemental and arrogant, at the slightest movement or gesture from another driver that does not fit our picture or disturbs us. Learning to be present and have an understanding that we don’t own the road and that any mutterings I might have behind the wheel about another driver are neither loving and can incite another to behave in a similar manor.

  5. Accidents tend to happen when we are distracted but when we are in a car the accidents can be fatal. Imagine how many accidents we can avoid by staying focused, present and being responsible?

  6. Very funny to read. In the past before all the retreats 🙂 I also had all different moods and emotions in my car while driving. I wanted people to drive different and get upset if they behaved rude.
    Now I learned to observe life equally so in the car. To not judge but to observe and feel my holding of love.

  7. This blog calls for a article in response. It made me laugh as well Jonathan. Cars sure do bring in the individualism in people, and I do have clue why it is that strong in us, specially with men. Cliff hanger!

  8. “Nobody likes people speeding past their house or through their village, but how often do we speed past other peoples’ houses or villages?” This is a great point Jonathan, as how often are we too busy with ourselves in our individual cars, disconnected from the environment we are in and unaware of the impact we have when driving too fast or in being not consciously present thus not engaged with the people that live around us?

    1. Let us not forget how often we carry this same speed when we rush past someone on foot. Either way the impact is felt.

      1. Sure Natalliya, it is not only when driving in our cars but actually in all that we do. Are we in connection with ourselves and in our bodies and from there in harmony with all that lives around us or have we resorted into our busy minds instead in which we cannot feel that inner connection, let alone that outer connection which otherwise so naturally can be felt when we live from our body.

  9. Driving knowing how I am is felt by everyone around me, whether they are conscious of this or not, is supporting me to change how I drive. I’m going from pushy to observant and celebrating being a part of life with us all in it together.

  10. It is interesting how we view our cars as something in which to escape, when infact they are an extension of our body and deeply represent a reflection to us of how deeply we care for our body, or not. So to use it to check out, be better than or as a status symbol simply says that we are doing the very same to our body that has the potential to house the soul. Checking out from it and not thinking it is good enough so looking constantly to prove it is. A very powerless way to live, when our cars have the potential to hold us, support us and deliver to our destination a human in the grace of their soul.

  11. There is a definitely a different feel to how people drive to work in the mornings and when driving home. The driving home reminds me of the Simpsons, where everyone is rushing from all the corners of the town to sit on the couch to watch TV.

  12. I was driving home with a friend from an unfamiliar location last night. I missed my turning a few times because I was distracted by our conversation. Driving really does require more attention than some of us care to give it.

  13. I often drive long distances to work, having recently bought a new car I find I am enjoying the drive much more and how it supports me to be more present and focussed with my driving.

  14. I love being a considerate driver. Interestingly though there are times when I’m just mean and it’s either because I’m not present or paying attention or I’m down-right grumpy. Either way it feels really disgusting and is a great wake-up call. The consistency of my driving is an absolute reflection of the consistency I live in all areas of my life.

  15. It is a microcosm of life itself when we are on the road. The same way that we actually see more of what’s really going on when we turn off the sound while watching a speaker on the TV for example, letting ourselves observe their movements without the tantalising effects of sound, on the road we get to see how we have all succumbed to behaving and interacting with each other. More often that not it is every man for himself, with respect of the road rules (in general), but underlyingly with a drive to get somewhere, wherever that may be being the priority amongst everything else. Aggression and frustration are commonplace.

  16. On my way to work I often drive down a residential street in a village not far from home. In one of the front gardens of these residences, is a sign that says, ‘drive like your kids live here’. Perhaps we should adopt this level of responsibility for our driving wherever we go – or even whatever we do and appreciate the fact that we have an impact on everything, in every moment of our lives. ‘Live like your kids are watching you’ might be a useful phrase to remember.

  17. When I am fully present and conscious on my drive to and from work…or anywhere for that matter – there is a sense of fullness that is joyful. It is rather like being connected to everything around me and around the car, feeling the road, sensing the other cars and drivers. It is a whole body experience that is the opposite of driving ‘checked out’, thinking about other things. It isn’t always easy, but it is worth the commitment it takes to connect to it.

  18. I love that – instead of reacting to the negative energies ‘out there’, why not do more of what we would prefer to see?

  19. “As drivers we seem to inhabit an almost virtual world, with the image on our windscreens a mere projection of the reality outside. “This such an apt analogy it is surprising there are not even more accidents than there are.

  20. I never get road rage but I find it extremely difficult to remain consciously present whilst behind the wheel. I will often just check out or want to look and something on my phone, make a phone call or plan in my head what is for the kid’s dinner. Staying with driving, is being still and in a world, that is charged and overrun with motion, that can be a challenge. It is beautiful to hear that Universal Medicine has inspired you to be a different way behind the wheel, the world needs more connected drivers, I think it would change the roads and the number of accidents.

  21. I’m guilty of being arrogant behind the wheel. It’s true that you feel like you’re in a seperate bubble to the rest of the world when on the road. I get sooo easily annoyed by fellow drivers. I’m aware of it, but my gosh does my frustration let rip behind the wheel. It’s really quite embarrassing when I think about how different I am in the car than when not. Definitely worth giving some further thought.

  22. Compared with my old car when I am driving the new one feels as though I am incarcerated in a shell, cut off from the world, small windows with tinted glass. I am told that this design incorporates new safety features. Having a shield around me which cuts me off from the world doesn’t seem safer to me, I would rather have the expanse of glass that allowed me easily to see and connect with what was around me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s