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

1,724 thoughts on “Driven to Distraction

  1. I was talking to someone recently, they was explaining to me that in the part of Europe where they live cyclists have the right of way. They live in the foothills of a mountain range and so a lot of amateur racing bike enthusiasts use the little mountain roads as part of their training. They expressed how getting stuck behind these cyclists just blows their mind as the cyclists string themselves out over the road making it extremely difficult to overtake. They were aware of not wanting to get so worked up and were looking into what it is that gets them so wound up. I’m told its a work in progress, one of their worries is that going so slowly up a steep hill they will stall the car and then have to perform a hill start and they are terrified of this as they are not very experienced in hill starts.

    It seems to me it’s not the cyclists but the pictures and ideas that run through our mind that upset our what if’s of life that may never happen, but we make it very real because they might.

  2. Thank you Jonathan, what you have shared opens up the can of worms that most of us would rather leave on the shelf, as we do not want to look at how we are in disconnected situations or when we are not consciously present.

  3. When we get caught speeding (and this has happened to me too), there is the consequence of the fine and potentially the loss of points, however, this certainly will for most people hit home and support them to change the way they drive to be more respectful of the speed, which really is only the beginning regarding bringing more awareness to driving in general.

  4. Jonathan, your sense of humour is palpable in this blog which I have just re-read after a long time! It is interesting to watch another in road rage, and though I don’t really have road rage as such, I can say that there are other times when my frustration gets a hold of me and I vent it, which essentially is almost the same. It is about holding in something that should have been expressed far earlier before it built to being such an outburst.

  5. I like to watch people in cars, normally while in traffic. So much plays out in those bubbles but a common theme is a sense of relief of being allegedly cut off from the rest of the world. Just because physically we aren’t with others, or only a few people, doesn’t mean we can do and say whatever we want. It still affects others.

    1. Spot on Leigh – we can pretend that what we say and do does not affect others, but in fact everything we do and say influences others in some way. This reminds me of my mum always saying when we were small to never say something about another that we would not say to their face – there is a truth in this in terms of always being respectful to and of another, but there are certainly times when we may need to say things to others that they may not like to hear, however, are important to express if they have behaved in a way that has hurt us and they need to understand how their behaviour can impact us/others. In fact lack of expression can often leave us with bottled up feelings that can then come out as road rage or other unsupportive behaviours.

  6. “I say ‘fortunate’, because now I make sure that I am consciously present when driving.” I too got caught speeding a few years ago. In the UK I was offered a speed awareness course plus a fine, rather than have points deducted from my licence. I learned a lot on that course – much of it shocking,. Driving with more awareness was an instant consequence.

  7. True – right after attending a Universal Medicine retreat, I am usually more aware of the onslaught of energies at play – both love and lovelessness in the ordinariness but I am being reminded that that is how it has always been and also there’s so much more to be felt and be aware of that I have yet to embrace as reality.

    1. If we were to become more aware of the subtleties of life and the energies at play our lives would be far less complicated because no one would be able to lie or try to get round us via manipulation because we would know exactly what was occurring. Actually most of us can feel this anyway we just chose to ignore our awareness and play games instead, such as being ‘nice’ or not wanting to upset the other person because we want them to like us.

  8. As a reflection of our bodies, our cars are a super gauge for how we are living and treating our own bodies. Speed without care, allow our cars to become dirty and messy without regard and we are beautifully shown how we use and drive our own bodies.

  9. “But is the feeling of being insulated from reality necessarily a good thing?”
    In my experience absolutely not I am sure distraction over many years = dementia

  10. Road rage seems to bring out the underlying hidden anger and frustration we feel on a daily basis. Perhaps we bury it more than we think and it comes out in particular on the roads?

  11. Our Roads and how we use them can be a great reflection for us and how we go about the rest of our day and also how we return home to go to sleep. So maybe we could learn to drive in a way that is as you have shared Jonathan, with conscious presence so others get that divine reflection and energy from where we have travelled and we also benefit by arriving at work and at home connected to our essences.

  12. I have been a motorcycle driver and can attest to how much more awareness comes from feeling substantially more vulnerable. You cannot disconnect from your outside because you are outside and there is no protection for you if you have an accident. Although I have often forgotten that since driving I feel this will come back to the forefront of my mind when I next get in my car.

  13. I never really thought that I am arrogant behind the wheel, but yikes it does happen. Often when I’m in a rush and somebody just happens to slow down in-front of me, i can think of all the clever ways to over take and show that I’m a better driver. There’s another thing, there’s a sociatal-wide norm that women aren’t good drivers, so when I get an opportunity to show that I am a woman and a good driver on top of that, I take it and my chest swells up like a balloon – pride and arrogance take the driving seat (literally) and that’s simply because of insecurity, just like every other time I feel an arrogance creeping up.

  14. I find that when there are road works and the speed limit is reduced to 50 mph or less drivers are much more aware especially if the lanes have also been narrowed. I was driving for what seemed hours in such conditions in very heavy traffic and everyone seemed very patient and stayed in their lanes it made driving much easier. And when there was a clear patch for a few miles, still there was no sense of pushing and shoving to get ahead, I felt everyone was very well behaved.

    1. I don’t know if this is a peculiarly British phenomenon, but the Brits are good at queues too. Driving from a two lane into a single lane recently most people were allowing cars in alternately so everyone took their turn. I’ve noticed how if I let a driver in from a side street often they in turn will allow another in ahead. We are all connected.

  15. First of all it is important to be honest – honest about how we are behaving when we are driving the car. Through your honest blog Jonathan you gave us a possibility to ponder on our behavior so that we can choose how we want to get to our destination either in anger or full of joy.

  16. Jonathan – this is a great observation; ‘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!’ I have just accepted this kind of advertising without questioning the reality and that we are being sold ideals and beliefs rather than truth.

  17. Who would have thought there is so much observation to be had when driving in our car. So obviously a very good place to check in with ourselves and see where we are at.

  18. Driving back from the city yesterday, the traffic was traveling in a very ordered and no-rush state and it felt very harmonious. But then, weaving throughout the lanes came a driver who was obviously in a hurry, maybe being ‘driven to distraction, and the feeling of rush and impatience he/she wove was palpable. It just goes to show that everything is indeed energy and that the slightest disturbance in ‘the force’ is instantly noticeable. The crazy thing is, this driver probably didn’t get to where they were going any faster than the rest of us did!

    1. Ingrid, I find it hilarious when a car driver is swerving in and out of traffic to get somewhere fast. I usually catch them up at the traffic lights some miles ahead or stuck in the traffic jam on the motorway. I have enough experience of driving over the years to know it doesn’t pay to speed as you really don’t get there any faster and if you do insist on speeding what impact does speeding have on our bodies as it takes on the energy of nervousness tension because of driving at such speeds.

  19. Our cars are very personal things and can feel like a second skin, and we can become completely oblivious to the dangers and responsibility we have to other road users and car drivers. Since becoming more aware of being present and not always being in a constant rush when driving, I have become much more aware of everyone else on the road. I am also learning not to get annoyed when the driver in front drives slowly because they are nearly always offering me a message and a stop moment to see that I am starting to rush and get ahead of myself.

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