Road trips are as much a part of summer as sunburn and sweating, and while those car-bound journeys can be fantastic ways to get out of the house and see the country, they’re sometimes fraught with annoyances.
But you may not recognize that the skills you learn in meditation can help make your next trip easy and breezy, all without even rolling down the windows.
Long drives can be extremely boring. I recently drove from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and while the desert surrounding the highway was beautiful, it got pretty monotonous after a little bit. It felt like I was in one of those Atari video driving games where the background doesn’t change. But meditation has taught me to be present, and in one recent Headspace pack I listened to, Andy reminded me to imagine waking life as a dreamlike state. It works. When traffic slowed me down to a halt, I noticed things I wouldn’t have noticed before: like the desert flora on the side of the road and the way the light glances off of rocks, all of which is constantly changing. Driving can be monotonous if your brain is constantly preoccupied with thoughts, or listening to the same three songs played on repeat on the radio. Instead, drink in every moment on the road. Boring car rides are often defined by the length it takes you to get to your destination—but with a change in perspective, it can turn into an adventure in itself.
The beauty of a road trip is that the journey is part of the trip, and you never know what will happen next. Unfortunately, the things that happen can be not so fun. Whether it’s an unexpected traffic jam that comes out of nowhere, or fighting with your road trip partner-in-crime over something silly, hiccups are bound to happen.
I remember that in the not too distant past, being caught in traffic used to infuriate me. I’d curse the other cars around me and how slow they were going, and I’d be mad at myself for not taking another route. But now if I get furious, I can watch as my angry thoughts develop, acknowledge them, and go back to driving. I then pay attention to my hands on the wheel, the cars around me, and the scenery. Because we’ve driven a million times, much of the driving we all tend to do is automatic, but it’s a breath of fresh air to start paying attention again.
Complaining was a favorite pastime of mine before I began meditating. And while doing it often feels like I’m unburdening myself, which can temporarily feel fantastic, it can be a bit of a drag for the person who has to listen. Especially if they have to listen on a long car ride to a far-off place. But meditation can enable you to become engaged in what you’re doing instead of complaining about what you wish were happening at the moment. Expectations seem to have a way of not being met (especially high ones!), but there’s no need for expectations when you’re focused on the present.
Everything written previously in this post focused on how your trip will be improved by the simple act of meditating, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day. But empathy is one of those benefits of meditation I wasn’t even aware of before I began the practice, and it can be especially helpful on a trip where you’re attached to someone else at the hip for a few days. You’ll be more receptive to what they’re feeling moment-to-moment, and that should help you better connect with them. There’s probably a metaphor I could make here about how it helps to have a happy, caring partner on the road trip we call life, but that’s super cheesy. So I’ll just say that being a calm, focused, present person will make a road trip an even more fun summertime experience than usual.
There’s no need for expectations when you’re focused on the present.