Unexpected mindfulness

2 09 2014

I had a couple of lengthy drives this weekend.  Nothing that required overnight stays anywhere – just drives of over an hour each way, which for me is a different mindset than hopping in the car to run errands.  But really all my driving has become more mindful recently, and I’m grateful for that even though it was entirely unexpected.

A few months ago I traded in my much-loved SUV for a more practical but (in my mind) much less cool Prius.  I adored my SUV.  She drove through any weather, on any surface, and got me where I needed to go without fail; the only time she didn’t start in nine years was when a door didn’t get closed, and the dome light drained the aging battery.  She did, however, use a ton of gas.  Mileage for the kind of driving I did – mostly to and from work – hovered right around 20 mpg, sometimes a little less.  And she was getting to the age where I knew that repairs were going to start costing more.  So I traded her in.  I cried over letting her go and was grateful that I couldn’t see her when I drove my new Prius out of the lot.

There are some philosophical changes I had to make in changing from the enthusiastic V-6 of the SUV to the smooth and quiet hybrid.  The biggest one was that I was no longer going to beat anyone away from a stoplight.  I didn’t realize – until I couldn’t do it any more – how much energy I had spent in maneuvering into positions where I could “get ahead” of traffic clumps.  I was constantly calculating in my head which lane was moving faster, how I could be behind the fewest cars at a stoplight so that I could be faster getting through.

Drive a hybrid and those decisions are largely meaningless – yes, you can still punch the engine and get a surprising kick of acceleration out of it, but that takes a lot of fuel, and efficiency was one big reason I wanted this technology in the first place.  So driving in a fuel efficient way meant breaking those old habits.  It meant learning to accelerate smoothly and evenly while other cars tore away from the lights.  It meant braking smoothly and evenly to capture that braking energy – while other cars zipped into the space in front of me to get that coveted spot as far up as possible at a stoplight.

And oh my, cars got ahead of me.  They got away from lights faster, they pulled ahead of me, and by my previous V-6 standards they were winning while I was losing… and I stopped caring.  Driving a Prius took away my ability to compete on the road, and I hadn’t even realized that I had been treating driving that way.  And I certainly had no idea of the mental ravages of going through this competition every time I got behind the wheel.

I’ve been driving Lily for almost six months now.  There are days when the driving is rough because holy cow, do the competitive drivers bring it some days, and it’s all I can do to stay out of their way.  But mostly?  I have found a much more peaceful means of getting around.  I’m not in the competition any more, and suddenly the drives are… nice.  Lovely, in fact.  I see the things around me – fog hovering over a field in the early morning, deer lingering in the dawn, sunsets on a stormy day.  I decide what music to listen to while I’m driving and I actually hear it.  And nearly every time, I get to my destination and think, that was a lovely drive.

I know.  I could have been driving mindfully this whole time.  And technology isn’t the answer to all our life problems.  But I wasn’t, and I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been strongly pushed in that direction by new (to me) technology.  That wasn’t why I decided to buy a hybrid; I was entirely motivated by economics when I made the decision.  The benefits turned out to be much greater than I expected.

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