It took until I moved to Los Angeles for me to fully understand what motivates’ William Foster’s rampage in the 1993 action thriller movie Falling Down. True, Michael Douglas’ character has just been fired, and he is also recently divorced − it is undeniable that these factors have a part to play in the bloodbath that ensues. But having now spent a couple of years in this city of Angels, I am willing to bet that road rage had a significant influence on the origins of this story.
Driving is a way of life in LA, so much so that even non-drivers will dish out directions that are bound by the location of the city’s highways. “You’re going to want to take the 110 to the 5, and then bypass to the 105,” people say, or “you know, the McDonald’s that’s right by the junction between the 101 and the 2.” From afar, you always hear about how bad the traffic is in LA, and in truth it is terrible. What can be a twenty-five-minute drive one-way can easily turn into a two-hour trek on the way back. That said, traffic is an issue in any large metropolitan area, so I may as well get used to it and put into practice some mindfulness techniques.
A word of caution: in my personal experience, this routine does not get rid of the ever-present road rage that turns up just a couple minutes into every drive. What it does do, however, is prevent me from falling into the old “driving angrily on the tail of the car that just did me wrong,” or “honking incessantly at a stopped car only to realize that it has actually broken down.”
So here we go, some mindful driving tips:
Grounding the body
As soon as you sit in the car, remind yourself of your intention to be present throughout the upcoming drive. Pay attention to your feet on the carpeted ground, and to your buttocks and lower back as they settle into the seat. Make sure to take a few deep breaths before turning the key, checking your mirrors and setting off.
If you see something infuriating (like a completely unnecessary accident barely avoided), it may be helpful to turn your attention to sounds. Even with your eyes on the road, your ears can pick up many of the interesting noises around you, be it the soothing sound of the engine, a dog barking at its owner, the exciting honking going on behind you, or the birds chirping away as they fly over you.
Roll down the window and feel the breeze brush against your face. Take in the temperature and notice how it changes as you continue on your journey. Pay attention to your skin as it tingles under the sunshine, to your hands as they grip and then release the wheel.
As with any mindfulness practice, it is perfectly normal that your attention will wonder off. Whenever this happens, gently bring your focus back to the body, the sounds, the sensations. After all, the practice is simply about coming home to the present moment, again and again.