Over the past two weeks, I’ve been implementing changes to reduce my environmental impact. I anticipated that I’d have a good experience with this. I did not realize, however, that these changes would have such a significant impact on other aspects of my life. This particular post will focus on my attempt to tweak my driving habits and the unexpected perks of intentional living (or driving).
I started applying the three most effective ways to reduce gas consumption:
1. Avoid driving aggressively. Don’t burn rubber to accelerate or slam on the brakes to stop. Keep under 3,000 RPMs as often as possible.
2. Drive the speed limit and ride in the slow lane. The EPA estimates a 10-15 percent improvement in gas mileage by driving 65 miles per hour or less.
3. Use cruise control (if available). Maintaining a consistent speed means smoothing out accelerator use. Cruise control does this for you.
My 2011 Honda Fit gets 28 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. In a 300-mile experiment (a week and a half of driving both city and highway), I averaged 33 mpg. I’m fairly pleased with my overall outcome. The added benefits, however, took me by surprise.
Mindful lessons from the road
As the speed of our world increases, we are drawn to the art of creating moments of stillness in our lives.
Driving should be a practice in mindfulness. Have you ever driven a stretch of road and realized you can’t recall the last five minutes spent in the car? After driving my long commute to work for a few weeks, I started driving on autopilot. My mind was nowhere near the present moment. I was in my first class, stressing about my classroom management. I was in my inbox, dwelling on an e-mail from a frustrated parent. I was stuck in the future, longing for my weekend. And some days, the drive became so automatic, it started lulling me to sleep. I was nowhere near the present moment, and it was beginning to get dangerous.
When I started amending my driving habits, it became a meditative practice. In order to maintain smooth and consistent speeds, you have to be aware of your surroundings. You have to take a long view of the road to anticipate when you can coast and when you should ease off the gas to decelerate slowly, rather than all at once.
Driving should be a practice in letting go. A few days ago, I was turning left onto an on ramp to enter the highway. The drivers entering the highway from the other direction were supposed to yield to those of us turning left. A bus was obeying the yield sign while I turned left. Apparently, a man in an SUV couldn’t wait any longer. He bypassed the bus and floored it along the shoulder until he passed me to get on the highway.
Road rage and impatience don’t factor into reducing gas consumption. And, well, neither does being a complete asshole, like that guy. There are so many other, more worthwhile things that get me worked up. Deforestation. Neglectful parents. Animal abuse… Waiting 15 more seconds to get on the highway? Driving in the right lane? It’s a waste of energy to get upset, frustrated, or impatient on the road. And this little experiment reminded me of that.
Use less gas. Save more money. Tread softly on the earth. And don’t be in such a damn rush that you neglect attending to the present moment and put yourself and others in very real danger.
I hope you’re able to find your peace behind the wheel, too.