For a semester in high school, my brother and I were allowed to catch a ride with the cheerleader who lived next door. She had super curly red hair and gossiped in breathless monologues. Carpooling with her was half E! talk show and half Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. She was a cool but distracted driver.
One morning, she decided she had to paint her toenails. Putting her naked foot on the dashboard, she applied polish at stoplights. Her other foot remained clad in her foam platform sandal. My brother and I glanced nervously at each other in the rearview mirror. We didn’t say anything because we didn’t want to go back to riding the bus.
The light changed. She hit the gas with one foot while the other was still propped on the dashboard like she was practicing a seated split. When she tried to bring her foot down, it got caught in the lanyard dangling from her massive ball of keychains (keychain collections were all the rage, at this time). Ankle tied, she began to panic and scream. She fought to get her foot loose, as her keychains jangled around.
We helplessly watched her struggle as the car lurched from side to side. Finally, she yanked her foot free. We laughed the nervous, jittery laugh of teens who still can’t believe things didn’t end up worse but don't fully understand just how bad they could have been. We made it safely to school but we decided the bus wasn’t so bad after all.
I remember our cheerleader carpool whenever I find myself doing something truly stupid while driving. I live in LA so I spend more time in traffic or searching for parking spaces than I care to add up. Lately, I’ve been noticing how we'll do things while in our cars that we would never do as pedestrians. We are reckless. We are rude. We yell. Even on our way to yoga.
All the goals I have when on my mat or when interacting with people in my community somehow don’t translate to my driver self. Why not? Where is the disconnect between how I behave outside and inside a vehicle? What transformation takes place when I'm in that driver’s seat? Like a strange version of Transformers, we tend to merge with our vehicles and leave our saner, kinder selves behind.
Yet, we spend so much time in our cars and that time is when we actually have the potential to do some true damage to others and ourselves. We’ve all seen the texting warning videos and yet … how many of us still text, put on eyeliner, check Facebook, search for directions, eat whole meals while we drive. I am completely guilty of trying to dip a tofu spring roll in peanut sauce between stop signs. Not only does this leave me frazzled (and usually covered in dollops of pungent brown liquid), but it is truly dangerous.
I have a theory that we see time commuting as wasted time. We try to cram as much into it as possible. We view our bad habits as being necessary or normal. Instead of thinking about consequences, we think in terms of what we can get away with (which is why we hold our cellphones in our laps in case a police officer drives by). So how do we change our driving mindset and patterns?
I decided to take a hint from some of the healthy eating/self-help tips. Instead of focusing on the negatives, focus on the positives. I know what a bad driver looks like but what does an ideal driver look like? What makes a conscious, loving driver? The result of this line of thinking was the idea for a kind of oath I could take to remind myself of what I am aspiring to be in this world and how that relates to me as a driver.
I hope to empower myself to see that all my time counts, all my actions matter, and, whenever I lean toward compassion in even the smallest ways, I'm making the world a safer and healthier place for myself and everyone around me. Feel free to adopt my wording or create your own. Post your manifesto somewhere you’ll see before you begin your commute. Please share your manifesto and stories from your driving misadventures or “aha” moments!
Here's my manifesto:
The Conscious Driver’s Manifesto:
I am aware of my power. I choose to use it in a responsible way. I am present for the important task of navigating this vehicle.
I route my trip and choose my podcast or music before I start my car. Meals and connecting with people are also important and can wait for my full attention. I am kind to those traveling around me, especially those on foot. They trust me to make good decisions. They trust me to remember that they are people, too.
I make the commitment to leave a little early so I can make each journey a peaceful one. If I can’t, I make peace with being late before getting behind the wheel.
I know nothing is more important than the lives and safety of every friend, sister, brother, mother, father and child around me. No time is wasted when I am paying attention to my breath and tapping into the details around me.
I will remember that how I make the journey is as important as my destination.
Happy conscious driving!