Via Basel: On Driving, Mindfulness, and other stuff
In mid-July, just before I traveled by car to the western part of New York State, I decided to take on a challenge. The price of gas was up significantly (recently it’s come down), and my daughter kept reminding me to be careful. Combining these 2 incentives, economy and safety, and using a few traits I nurtured while meditating over the last 20 years, I committed to a mindful driving trip. My vehicle was an average Toyota Camry sedan, neither a gas guzzler nor electric powered. It was, however, only 3 years old, with the usual cruise control, radar technology, and, most important, a fuel consumption monitor that gave me instant feedback. I was driving the speed limit mostly 70 mph on the interstate highways.
The results surprised me. I not only made it (500 miles) on one full tank of gas but was left with some to spare. I achieved more mpg than advertised for my car by the manufacturer. My daughter was happy to see me return safely. That encouraged me to test myself on my everyday city driving, driven by the same incentives but using more refined ways to cut gas consumption and increase safety following the motto–go with the flow, not stop and go–essentially reducing unnecessary acceleration and extra braking as well as ignoring my phone. I was also practicing mindfulness, a subject that I lecture on and am passionate about. The problem was that I became even more aware of the crazed and dangerous drivers all around me. My feelings of anxiety and anger swelled up, which was another opportunity to practice patience and compassion. If you think all of the above is some weird sentimental perfectionist attitude, consider the following.
1-According to an article by David Leonhardt in the New York Times print edition on August 25th (August 23 in the online edition) there has been a surge of car crash deaths in the pandemic years. After trends in car crashes continued to decline over several decades starting in the 1970s it changed around 2015 with a sudden surge and another uptick in the last 2 years.
2-Causation of the 2015 increase was attributed to increased cell phone use and resulting distractions. The most likely reasons for the pandemic surge were mental health issues, and stress related to effects of the pandemic such as isolation and life disruption.
3-Death toll is unequal, disproportionately affecting lower socio-economic and racial minorities. Total average deaths in the US recently is 115 a day.
4- Several logical recommended solutions were mentioned in the article, most related to law enforcement and structural road updates etc. Finally it mentions the disruptions of Covid–and the loneliness and stress they have caused–casually suggesting we continue to leave it behind. Really!! Unless we deal with our national ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) crisis, and confront the anxiety, anger, dissatisfaction in our midst, this ongoing death and injury toll will continue unabated. Until this is dealt with in the media, social and governmental agencies in a big way we will continue to suffer in our health, mental and physical, in our economy and the environment.
5- Educating the public in the principles of mindfulness will go a long way to help in all the above crises. But will people listen?
6- Based on my experience I have to answer: Unlikely. But then I have to follow the advice I give in my presentations on Mindfulness. Do the work, and let go of the outcome.
7- I keep remembering my teacher Shinzen Young’s quote from many years ago: “There is no aspect of human life to which Meditation skills cannot be applied.”
8- For any person asking for brevity: Mindful Driving
Saves money, saves lives, saves the planet, while at the same time practicing a skill that helps in any other life activity.
9- Look what I found, hot off the press, again in the New York Times, Well Section, today, August 30, 2022, by A.C. Shilton: “You Can’t Flunk Meditation. Really.” Great read.*
10- I rest my case….you may start the counterargument in your head now.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, public speaking, and social engagement.
*Link to Shilton’s piece, with a different title, in the online New York Times.