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

1,745 thoughts on “Driven to Distraction

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. “Technological advances have created vehicles with such comfort and refinement” but I feel along with these advances, comes a degree of arrogance in many drivers. And could it be that this arrogance offers us the illusion that we are bullet proof in this amazing vehicle, and so allow ourselves to disconnect from the fact we are actually driving a ‘lethal weapon’? You only have to look at the road toll to see that many moments of distraction have had some horrendous consequences.

    1. Well said Ingrid and at that point we come to a grinding halt and the realisation that nothing ever happens in isolation and the ripple of our indulgence or arrogance now has emergency services, families, loved ones and perhaps judicial consequences.

      1. Too true Lucy. The ripples are huge and touch many people as they flow on out, much further than we can see when we just look at the number of deaths which make up the road toll; the numbers do not tell the true story. The real toll of the road toll is massive and leaves a huge emotional imprint on everyone who the ripples touch.

  10. It seems any chance we get we seek the opportunity to retreat and encapsulate ourselves away from the monster of the reality that we have created where the society we live in pressures us to not live who we are and to compete for our slice of the happiness pie. In being in connection with our Soul and our body, our essence within, who we innately are, we have on hand a far truer sense of reality and one that offers ´increased awareness and heightened conscious presence’ which is deeply fulfilling and settling, that which supports us to bring our all to life in every moment wherever we are.

  11. As the car can be seen as a symbol for the body, the way people drive their car then can tell us much about the way they are driving their body.

    1. So true Nico and I am certainly aware of how careless I have been with my body when driving in the past. Since choosing to be more present and loving when I am driving I find that I arrive at my destination in far better shape than I used to and without the build up of tension that so often accompanied trips in the past where I was often running late and therefore frustrated by how other car drivers were not getting out of my way!

      1. Actually, when we let go of this drive we are in the space where we can live to our divine origins, the Gods that we are.

  12. When we stay in interaction with all around us, our cars can be a place where we can grow and evolve. But in many cases, we use our car to retreat and retract ourselves from the outer world in which then nothing of the above will happen.

  13. I remember years ago passing my test and thinking how great it felt, until I actually drove on my own for the first time and realised how potentially dangerous cars can be, and how responsible and respectful we need to be too, not only for ourselves but for everyone else.

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