Speed Awareness & Mindful Driving…

It’s very easy to get complacent,” our tutor for the day told us. We all nodded in agreement, knowing it was this very laidback attitude to driving that had landed us here in the first place.

I looked around the smart conference room and noticed the variety of people present. Business men and women, young adults, parents. All of us guilty of driving too fast.

I’d received a letter a couple of weeks earlier to say I’d been caught doing 38mph in a 30mph zone and that action was being taken against me. I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t happy. “I’d just come off the motorway!” I exclaimed. I’d assumed the area was a 40mph zone.

Excuses aside, the choice I was given was to either accept the first points on my licence or to pay to attend a Speed Awareness workshop, leaving my licence nice and clean.

Opting for the latter, I expected those of us attending would be given a smack on the hand, so to speak, with lots of school-like lecturing. I was so relieved to find it wasn’t at all like that.

The workshop was friendly and interactive, each one of us encouraged to reflect on our own driving habits, an exercise I found extremely useful.

By this time I had been driving for 8 years and believed I was a good driver. But the truth was I’d become a bit lazy. So with an open mind, I was feeling pretty grateful for this wake up call.

The workshop leader, Andrew, asked us all to consider what excuses we gave for driving over the speed limit. Lateness, quite a few people said; impatience, replied some others. We nodded along again, accepting these excuses as perfectly understandable.

We were then shown a video. A shocking video of a young boy getting hit by a car. The car was in fact ‘only’ driving 5mph over the speed limit. But the boy didn’t survive.

We were told that if the car had been driving at the recommend speed, the child would have had a greater chance of surviving as the force of his injuries would have been much less.

Andrew then posed a very poignant question. As a parent, what excuse would be justifiable coming from a driver that had hit our child? That they were running late? That they were bored of driving slowly? The excuses we had previously given just seemed pathetic. Nothing justifies causing a death.

We were then told about a nearby road with a school on it, where cameras had been set up to monitor how fast passing cars were driving. I couldn’t believe the results. Even at peak school opening and closing times, cars were recorded to be driving way over the limit, with two recordings of cars driving over 80mph.

My thoughts turned to my young nieces and how furious I would be if anyone drove so carelessly near their school. I made a silent promise to myself to be extra cautious when driving near schools from now on, vigilantly sticking to the 20mph recommended speed or less.

For the last year or so I had become a little careless on the road. “What does it matter if I do 35mph”, I would think.

“Everyone else is driving faster!” But I do not need to be a sheep. As the tutor put so well, speed limits are limits not targets. We do have a choice when it comes to choosing our speed, and we most certainly have minds of our own.

I, for one, do not want to be responsible for causing an accident or fatally injuring anyone. I understand now how we can choose to take responsibility for our actions and behave in a way that we, personally, feel comfortable with. And if that gets people calling me a Granny for driving below the limit, well so be it!

I realised during this workshop how so many of us use driving as a stop-gap activity. We drive almost on auto-pilot, not really engaging with our senses or what’s around us. We use our time driving to daydream, to plan, eat, make phone calls – everything but drive.

No wonder our minds feel so cluttered and our driving so frantic.

So Andrew gave us a brilliant method to use to wake up from this. “Use a running commentary,” he told us. “Point out in your head or aloud everything you can see and everything you are doing so that you become fully aware of your driving and of your surroundings.”

He then gave us an example to clarify this method. “Pushing the gear into first, and releasing the handbrake I notice the cyclist coming towards me. As I manoeuvre into the road, checking my mirrors for any cars behind me I notice the pedestrians ahead waiting to cross at the traffic lights.”

Now I have to admit, I loved this method. It reminded me of a technique I learnt years earlier, that of Mindfulness. It’s all about engaging fully with whatever you’re doing and not allowing yourself to get caught up in over-thinking, daydreaming or worrying. Just by being where we are we can step out of our mental movies and feel relaxed and alert – simultaneously.

During the workshop I was made fully aware of the dangers of mindless driving and I made it my personal aim to get back in touch with my Mindfulness practice – especially when driving!

You see, we don’t have to disappear into our heads when we drive, leaving us dangerously out of touch. Nor do we have to conform to others expectations, driving faster than we should and increasing our risk of severe injuries should we encounter an accident.

I’ve always felt that the world is becoming increasingly hurried. And this is reflected on the roads too. But by practising Mindfulness in our daily lives we become fully aware of the choices we make and of the possible consequences they have on others.

I for one would like to be a much more conscientious, alert driver. I intend to plan my journeys well and leave in good time from now on to ensure I am not racing against a mental clock. And when I drive, I’m going to make sure I’m only driving. I’ll call it my driving meditation!

If each one of us could make that choice, then surely our roads and our lives would be much calmer and pleasant.

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Mindfulness and parenthood…

Once upon a time, back in the day, loooong before I became a Mum, practising mindfulness was just like practising another hobby. I had lots of time to fit it in and freedom of choice as to when and where I did it. 

I recall long slow mornings that followed a predictable routine; mindful yoga followed by a cup of herbal tea, twenty minutes of formal meditation and then off I went to get ready for work. Once I got home I often sat or lay in my room to carry out a body scan meditation, releasing any tension or worries from my day, ending the evening with a soak in the bath or a quick shower before another formal meditation before bed. 

That life seems like a world away to me now. 

Heavily pregnant with my second child, I spend most days with my energetic toddler, catering to his needs and pretty much doing what every other mother does. I love being a Mum yet there’s no doubt about it- it’s exhausting. You can’t even call it a “full time job” as at least with a job you get evenings and weekends off….! 

I knew when I had my first child that my life – in regards to mindfulness -would never be the same again. Being so responsible for  little person who needs and depends on me, I no longer have the freedom to “nip off for a quick meditation” or take a quiet, restorative mindful meal alone whenever the need arises. 

That’s not to say you can’t be a mindful parent. You just do things a little differently, as I’ve discovered over the past two years and no doubt I will continue to discover once baby number two arrives.

Mindfulness, for me, is no longer focused on formal meditations, guided transcripts or solitary exercises. Instead, I’m using the mindful principles as an approach to living. And so far, it helps. 

If I’ve been up in the night with my teething toddler, the house is a mess and I’m feeling exhausted, I try to use the loving kindness principles to go easy on myself. 

It’s so easy for parents to feel guilty about everything they’re not doing “well enough” whatever that may be, so I try to remind myself mindfully that I am in fact trying my best and I can just choose to let those negative, anxious thoughts go. 

Thoughts are only thoughts after all. 

It’s also incredibly easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of busyness when you have children with multitasking becoming second nature. 

In the early newborn days it used to feel like a race against time to get everything done during the baby’s naps. And at the end of the day I’d still be dissatisfied with all the jobs left to do so I’d lie awake writing to do lists, determined to tackle them the next day. 

I was striving, lost in the habit of “doing” and with little time alone it’s no surprise I found those early days as a mum pretty overwhelming. 

But gradually, I started to realise what I was doing. And this is the real beauty of mindfulness; by becoming aware of how mindless I was, things naturally began to change by themselves. And I began to feel much more capable. 

I would catch a negative thought more quickly and be able to offer myself the encouragement, reassurance or whatever it was I needed at that time. 

I could also sense when my body was becoming tense or over-tired and I consciously reminded myself to slow down and ask for help. 

I also began putting away my mobile phone away more, making the most of my time with my son and not getting lost in a virtual world of social media or news. More than any other time in my life, I now needed and wanted to be present. 

My breathing spaces and body scans turned into simply being present whilst playing with, bathing or reading to my son. There was no other place I had to be, mentally or physically. So in actual fact becoming a Mum grounded me for the first time in a very long time. 

And now as I wait for my second child to appear, I’m reminding myself even more of the compassionate principles Mindfulness endorses. 

I’m facing all the worries and anxieties I may have about the forthcoming birth and life afterwards. And by doing so I’m recognising and honouring my own needs, giving myself a voice and essentially being my own best friend. 

Which is what I reckon mindfulness has been trying to get us to be all along – kinder to ourselves. 

So essentially, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have the ‘time’ to disappear and be mindful formally. Instead, I’m practising ways of making my life a more centred, calmer and grounded one simply by living with awareness. 

Watching my thoughts and checking in with how I’m feeling from time to time are the two mindful practices that have transformed my life as a parent. I can choose my thoughts more carefully and live in a way that’s kinder to me. 

And if I’m happy and centred, those around me are more likely to be too. So mindfulness is not just a gift for myself. It’s power of presence is a gift for my family also. 

So single or attached, with children or without, I know from experience that mindfulness really is for anyone.