The Fatal Possibilities of Distraction

Against my own self-care dictate to resist the 'need to stay informed' (i.e. expose myself to a lot of bad news on a daily basis) I admit to taking up reading about auto crashes in my area. Partly, because of my new job. Partly from morbid curiosity.

Not always a great way to optimistically begin each morning.

So, I shouldn't have been surprised, upon clicking one Facebook link involving a fatal motorcycle crash, to see a name I knew. The driver of the car, who collided with a young man on his bike upon turning into her own driveway, is a long-time friend of mine. Nice gal. Mother of three boys. A life... no, many lives, forever changed in an instant.

The incident is still being investigated as I write this. It's still not clear why she didn't see him. Was she texting? Was she looking back for a second at one of her kids? Or was she - like so many of us - so familiar with her driving route that the larger part of her awareness was on auto-pilot?

There's no doubt that technology is outpacing our ability to manage it responsibly.

But even without phones and ipods and GPS's, very few of us need external items to distract us.

Our brains are full of images, lists, projects, arguments, strategies, problems that pervade our waking and semi-sleeping life. We miss the subtleties and cues of life and people around us all the time. Heck, we often forget why we got up to walk into the next room. Multi-tasking is taking a toll on us on our mental and physical health. And when we bring that semiconscious level of (barely) managing our circumstances into a heavy, fast-moving vehicle, the results can be instant and deadly.

I really don't know what will wake us up enough to do things differently. And I do include myself in 'us', because even after writing that last newsletter about being grounded, I promptly got into my car and backed into the parked car behind me. In my own driveway. I knew it was there, but it only took the 30 seconds to see it, start my car and then my thoughts went immediately to my to-do list. Crash!

Humbling.

The increase in auto fatalities is a revealing sign of the mindlessness of our culture. Texting while driving is but one admission of our own arrogance that we can handle living life this way with no consequences. High blood pressure and heart disease is one slow, silent reminder that maybe we should rethink the pace of our lives. The needless death of a young man on a motorcycle is a more immediate one.

Whether behind the wheel of a car, or behind the wheel of our own lives, how can we learn to bring the appropriate level of mindfulness to our activities?

Can we possibly cultivate a practice of remembering that, like so many areas of life, driving a car is about engaging in a relationship with everyone else on the road, and we are responsible for our part in that? Can we take a few moments to switch gears, and become mindful of the difference between sitting behind a screen and sitting behind the wheel? Can we set the intention (aka: communicate to our subconscious) that now we need the full range of our vision and awareness to alert us to the fast-moving possibilities all around our cars are we travel? (Wu Chi, anyone??)

I've been trying this much more diligently since the news. It's hard. And I'm becoming convinced that our brains are beginning to process stimuli differently, and in a way that is not conducive to driving safety.

What do you think? Please comment below...!