Monday, March 10, 2014

Mindfulness, Productivity, and Drive Time

As a community-based mental health provider I spent much of my time driving around town--from the office to homes, to schools, and back.  It always interested me to hear how other clinicians made use of their driving time.  More than one bragged about dictating their progress notes using Dragon Speech between sessions.  Others used the time to squeeze in collateral phone calls or to talk with friends and family.  Working in an agency that constantly obsessed about productivity, I asked myself, just like many of my coworkers, how I could be most productive while driving in my car.  When transporting clients, I reflected on how to use the time to my clients' benefit.  When driving with kids, I put on my favorite kids' meditations or even stories that I could find on YouTube.  I listened closely as their bodies became more still, and they became engaged by whatever I had put on.  With teens, I focused on modeling safe driving and engaging them in conversation, trying to get them to introspect.

At a point, it occurred to me that I might try to start taking care of myself each time I drove.  What if I took the same mindfulness practices that I do in session, at home, or in bed, and tried it in the car?  It was amazing the number of things that my body was doing, with perfect execution, and all completely outside of my awareness.  I noticed my hands on the wheel.  Was I even telling them what to do?  They certainly seemed to know, I wasn't having any problem staying in my lane.  My right foot was doing a dance of its own, gas, break, gas.  My left foot needed no instructions to manage the clutch, which of course necessitated my right arm and hand to change gears--and with surprising dexterity.  I also became aware of an ache emerging from my arthritic left hip.  I noticed myself wanting to shift.  Just sit still, I willed myself.  I became more aware of my hip, and the desire to shift.  I remembered Jon Kabat-Zinn talking about creating a "new relationship" with pain, and I understood what this meant and tried to maintain this awareness, all the while driving.  Curious what else I might bring to awareness, I pinpointed the amount of focus and stress that was required to drive safely--because of course I couldn't slip into total relaxation here.  And of course I became distracted.  At first, it was about what a marvelous idea this was and that I could make a mindfulness for driving recording to share with others.  Or maybe I could share the idea with my wife, who is an occupational therapist, who could make a recording about correct driving posture.  And then I would bring my awareness back to my body and all of the amazingly automatic things that it was doing.

There seem to be great forces at work pushing so-called multitasking into the realm of driving, all for the sake of productivity (e.g., blue tooth and whatever other devices that are presently being dreamt up).  But if we are not able to single-task throughout the day (driving included), then how effective are we going to be when we get to where we're going?