Paying Attention

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake. . . .Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” Henry David Thoreau

A couple of months ago, I took the Union of Concerned Scientists online quiz (http://www.coolersmarter.org/) designed to tell me how to reduce my carbon footprint. It was called 20 days, 20 ways, and 20% less carbon. I was surprised and pleased with what this quiz told me. It told me to buy a new more fuel efficient car! Really, it told me to buy a new car! I wanted a new car. My old car was pretty efficient, but it was nearly 10 years old with 180,000 miles on it. It was never a beauty and had become pretty ugly, but it was still reliable. I couldn’t believe that the concerned scientists were telling me to get a new car.  It didn’t exactly seem like a “green” message to buy something new.  But my wanting mind was aroused. Just at that same time, my daughter, who sells Hondas, sent me an e mail to say that she had a low mileage used Civic hybrid. Just what I wanted! So, I bought this new- to-me car, and it does get somewhat better gas mileage than my old car.

I did not expect the car would change me, but it has. The car has changed my driving behavior by making me pay attention. Between the top of the steering wheel and the bottom of the windshield is a big graphic that tells me how fast I am going and what my immediate – in that very moment- fuel consumption is. Most of my driving is on the Pennsylvania turnpike. In my old car, I was not paying much attention to how fast I was going. I kept up with the traffic which meant I was generally speeding. My speed wasn’t constantly visible to me. Every once in a while, I would look down and see that I was going much too fast. Or I would see a state police car ahead of me, look at my speed and slow down. I had heard that fuel economy was improved by going consistently slower, but that was not visible to me. Now, my car tells me. I cannot avoid seeing how fast I am driving and how much fuel I am using. I am paying attention, and because I am paying attention, I am driving more responsibly, generally close to the speed limit. I have reduced my carbon footprint more than I might have  because I am not speeding. I have reduced my risk of having an accident or getting a speeding ticket. I may have become a little obsessive about trying to increase my fuel economy, but right now it seems like an amusing and useful game. I am paying better attention as I drive.

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with religion or with life? Quite a lot, I think. When we can pay attention to the moment, then we can be really alive. We can choose. When we speed through life on automatic, we are not really living our lives. Anything that helps us to pay attention helps us to awaken to life and thus to grow.

Buddha means “the awakened one.” Buddhist scholar, Robert Thurman, said that Buddhism means awakening and therefore he considered himself to be an evangelist for awakening. Awakening, he said, means “understanding what’s going on, being kind to others. The minute you awaken to the cause of suffering, which is your self-preoccupation and your self-misperception, you’ll begin to have a happier time. And the more you awaken to your interconnection with others, the more free of suffering you’ll become.” (www.beliefnet.com/story/141/story_14141.html)
I don’t think of driving as a spiritual practice, but it has become another reminder to pay attention, to be awake and to live in this very moment. Observing myself with this car reminds me that changes in our awareness change the way we live. May you be awake and alive in the moments of your life!

  • http://www.happinessparadigm.wordpress.com Ginny Sassaman

    Driving as a spiritual practice — sure, why not? Plus, personally, I am glad to hear that you have slowed down!!

    Anyway, very nice piece. I’ve been thinking about mindfulness a lot lately — it always shows up near the top of the list of what is most important to genuine happiness/well-being/contentment — and I often puzzle over just what it means and how to apply it in life. Driving is as good a place as any to start, because, for example, if something happened to you because you were mindlessly speeding, it would cause many of us great unhappiness.

    Glad to know you’re on this blog.


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