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

1,566 thoughts on “Driven to Distraction

  1. The price we pay for living behind a false veneer of niceness and politeness is a seething rage that is waiting to erupt when in the perceived safety of a chosen ‘capsule’, in this case our cars. This is not to say that we should not be kind and considerate of others for this is still very much needed in our world today, but more so that we need to live true to who we are and ensure that all of our movements, be they thoughts, words or actions, are an expression of this truth and not a suppression of it.

  2. Reading over your words again Jonathan, I detected a nuance I hadn’t perceived before: the driven way we hurtle about, get angry and shout, may not be the cause itself but the end consequence of a root desire to numb and escape. So for those, like me looking to move forward honouring our body and soul, then the key seems to be bringing a willingness to enjoy and feel it all. Better not to double glaze and wind the window up – but engage, observe, stick your head out and sense what life is actually all about.

  3. Great example of the illusion we happily abide by, that has us thinking that a wall is solid. Happy we are to tread along taking our comfort moments, believing what is behind closed doors is our business only. There is much responsibility that needs to be taken when the truth is seen and lived.

  4. ‘Behind the wheel we somehow become disconnected with what is happening outside.’ This is exactly what happens in life when we think that we are separate from others – purely because we are in our own ‘body’ and think we can get away with living in a way that is not considering ourselves as part of the whole.

  5. When we are at home we think we can do anything we like and it won’t have an effect on other. Getting into our cars is very similar, except we are connecting with many more people and we think it’s not a personal connection. Conscious presence is important all the time, but especially important behind the wheel, given we travel at speed.

  6. ‘Behind the wheel we somehow become disconnected with what is happening outside.’ This is so true Jonathan…it seems that once driving a car our behaviours become magnified…is it possible that because we we live being disconnected once in the car it becomes more apparent?

  7. It is interesting how we go into our own little world when we are driving a car. I have often looked at the faces of people as they drive by and you can see their thoughts are everywhere but on the road ahead. Understanding how easily it can be to be distracted by thoughts and go into auto pilot, now, when ever my thoughts start to wonder I bring them back to my hands on the steering wheel or move my position slightly and I am back present with myself and focusing on the road again.

  8. Thank you Jonathan for the timely gentle reminder to be consciously present when driving, at all times; your example sends a powerful message.

  9. There are many gems in this blog. I loved the breaking down of what we are sold through the media about how our life or driving experience will be once we buy this car. I was also intrigued by the personality shift that happens in people when they drive. Why is it that in a car we get to see the frustration and aggression that is not dealt out in everyday life? It does seem that our cars afford us the illusion that we are in a bubble where we can do what we like, so long as we don’t run into anyone, no one will be affected. But how we drive, how present and considerate we are has a huge effect. We are never separate or not affecting one another, no matter where we are. Perhaps its this lack of energetic consideration that we are reacting to on the roads?

  10. This should be the first article in every car magazine out there – a delight to read. It is shocking to see that if people have not dealt with their issues, emotional out-spills are triggered on the road and bad and bullying behavior endured. It’s crazy that speeding and parking can be fined but road rage goes on abusing others without repercussions as if there is no harm caused.

  11. I actually love being considerate now, and I love driving to the speed limit and not trying to get ‘ahead’ of other drivers, more being in the flow of life. It is very, very, very different to how I used to live! What I also love is how then you have a comaraderie with other drivers when you let them in and they put on their hazard lights to say thanks. It’s playful and sweet.

  12. I find there is a lot more space to enjoy the drive when we are connected to our bodies and movements when driving. Preparation is a big one for me to making sure I do not feel rushed and giving myself enough time to get to my destination too.

  13. Such a common time to ‘check out’ once we are behind the wheel of the car. I know I used to play music always, flicking from station to station to make sure there was no gap in my ‘entertainment’. Really I just didn’t want to have a moment where I might feel how I was really feeling… these days that’s very different and while music is not an essential go-to, I still have to watch whether I am present in my body and fully with what’s happening around me.

    1. Me too, I always have to watch that I am consciously present when driving from A to B and don’t consider the time in-between two places as less than the events at either end.

      1. Yes I find driving one of the hardest times to be fully present, noticing that I used to always want the radio or music on, or to be chewing gum, or talking to someone on the phone… anything but be fully present. I still have that tendency to want some entertainment, rather than just being fully present actually driving the car.

      2. Yep, I totally get all of those distractions… and then there are our thoughts, which are our ultimate entertainment and can totally lead you in the wrong direction (pun intended!). But what I find when I focus on being consciously present and driving it’s actually the most lovely experience, and a great way to form further my relationship with myself.

      3. Yes totally relate to that too Meg… it’s like the lure of a holiday, having the space to go off on a little daydream. It seems harmless at the time and a welcome relief from whatever is going on in life, but I notice when i come back from a daydream, it’s harder still to be in my body. So the process is not supportive and there are no such thing as ‘out moments’ from life that we don’t pay a price for later.

      4. Lure is exactly the right word, the truth is that when we daydream or check out we don’t actually know what occurs in that time – we think we can pop out and pop in and be in exactly the same place but we may be now completely off track.

      5. Very true, when it was presented to me that those ‘out moments’ are the start of dementia, not only did that make sense, but I realised how many of them I had regularly. It was a significant stop moment. I now catch them whenever I can and no longer see them as appealing, however much I might not like whatever else is happening around me.

  14. “Nobody likes people speeding past their house or through their village, but how often do we speed past other peoples’ houses or villages?” Yes – such a great point. I had this realisation a few years ago, I used to continuing speeding on regardless of what was around me, but realised how disrespectful it was when people drive really fast through small villages, or don’t dim their lights. This is the kind of world we want to live in, where we are considerate and always care that what we do ALWAYS effects another human being.

  15. Great to read this again. It is a lovely, lighthearted reminder of ‘the bigger picture’ to which we are all connected as one.

  16. “But is the feeling of being insulated from reality necessarily a good thing?” Great question and the answer I would say is a definite no. If we begin to insulate ourselves from others, we think that we are protecting ourselves, but in fact it is the opposite. The more open we are the more protected we are, because we are choosing to not contract, to not be obedient to an energy that when we contract, can just have its way with us.

  17. Pavement rage and platform rage – this really made me chuckle. Where I live in Japan, it may be conducted in silence, but there is much push and shove that tells enough of what is going on underneath that would classify itself as pavement rage and platform rage. It hurts me not to be respected and/or given consideration and I often react with anger, and it feels even worse when I realise that by reacting I have added to the lovelessness at play. We may not be living it right now, but Brotherhood is our true way, and I can only do my very best try coming back to that truth and swimming like a fish without getting wet.

  18. In the last few years I have noticed something about my driving in that it reflects in a speed up version of how I drive / move around in and with my body on a daily basis. If I have been disregarding of myself I am much duller, heavy and sleepy behind the wheel, so much so that I can’t maintain speed or it is a real struggle to stay at the speed limit. When full and very loving with myself, and feeling that contentment within myself – strongest also after Universal Medicine events, I feel brighter, sharper and clearer as I drive.

  19. Lol – I suspect there are many who would take offence at the suggestion that cars are mundane business Jonathan! I love your visualisation of the ‘individual capsule’. I like to think of them as ‘sofas on wheels’. In a similar vein I like to see beds as ‘sleeping platforms’. Casting the commonplace in a different light helps us free-up the meanings with which we imbue objects, and the pictures we have around them. That, and it’s fun. 😄🚘

  20. If our car is symbolic of our body in motion, then our road rage is indicative of our unwillingness to let each other in.

  21. It is funny (not) pondering about road rage and how people behave in their bubble of a car because it occurred to me that something similar can happen inside the seeming bubble of our houses. The phenomenon we call “domestic” violence is massive and your home and a member of your family are the ones most likely to murder or assault you and if that does not get you then it could be a motor accident. All our actions whether in a car, house or cave have consequences and affect us and others far more than we choose to be aware of.

  22. It seems the car can be the perfect so-called ‘bubble’ for venting the frustrations that brew inside us all day, seemingly ‘in private’. And yes, technically that might be so, but in truth there are no walls or boundaries and what we think might be being expressed solo is as much in the world as appearing separate to it. What we say and do there impacts us all.

  23. It can be really palpable when you can feel someone is angry or irritated with you or are driving aggressively… And it highlights for me the energetic aspect of our lives – how the way that we are in what we do and with one another does have a real-life effect!!

  24. What I am finding interesting is that the more present I am when I am driving in my car, it seems that I become more and more invisible to other drivers. But by holding myself in presence and not allowing other drivers to ‘rattle’ me, it offers an opportunity to other road users that there can be another way to be behind the wheel, even if it doesn’t always get acknowledged!

  25. I commute to work in my car and it’s a great lesson for me to drop any irritation, arrogance or whatever may be going on for me and just be present and honouring behind the wheel. Heavy commuter traffic requires me to be with others – I can’t just speed off! It’s great practice being in the word and accepting where we are all at. Driving with humility not self-interest.

  26. Let’s face it there are a lot of very rude, aggressive, disregarding drivers on the road. At times, I have no issue with flashing my lights or tooting my horn, not out reaction (there have been instances of this, I will not lie) or aggression, simply saying hey that’s not okay or you’re totally distracted or going to kill someone.

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