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Posts Tagged ‘commute’

Me, the Subway, and the Universe

In Mindfulness, Self-Reflection on April 2, 2013 at 7:07 am

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I’ve had a different commute the last week or so, which has opened my eyes to new things. For instance, there’s the young man who sits in the same subway car every day. He’s always sharply dressed in a suit. I noticed him the first day as we simultaneously exited the subway. Seated, you wouldn’t think anything of him. Once he stands, you realize there is something different. He has a condition of some sort, the type that makes it difficult for him to use one of his legs and one of his arms.

Even so, he’s one of the first people to stand as we near the station. In his suit, he could be mistaken for any other office worker. The car comes to a sliding halt and the heavy metal doors slide open with a bang. He walks through, his gait uneven, his head held high, and power walks through the crowd, leaving the other commuters in his dust. He doesn’t hesitate as he reaches the stairs, taking each step with gusto, as if savoring the chance to move higher and higher.

I’ve watched this man for the last week. Every time I see this scene, I feel moved. It’s beautiful. His fearlessness and resolve, his disregard for what other people would consider a debilitating condition. His refusal to take the elevator, or stand to the back so that others can pass him. I see him and I think to myself, This is someone’s child. Someone loves this man, someone helped him grow up proud and strong. Someone taught him that the world was his for the taking, and now he’s doing precisely that. I wonder if he ever stops to think about fate, about parallel universes. Does he wonder if, somewhere out there, he’s leading a different life?

I know I do. The universe is so vast. And there’s so little that we really understand about it. My own life is less than a blip on the cosmic screen. It makes me wonder about the possibilities, about the realities that may exist out there that we’re not aware of. But that’s thinking too big. I’d go crazy if I spent all of my time thinking on that level. So I think back to that dirty subway car and I wonder to myself, Does anybody really see me? Then I realize, in a moment of quiet clarity, that before anyone can see me, I need to be able to first look at myself and recognize the beauty and purpose therein.

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Currently Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book chronicles the year she and her family spent trying to live as locavores. This is the first non-fiction work by Kingsolver that I’ve read and it’s taken me some time to warm up to it. The message is hitting home, however. I visited a grocery store this past weekend for the first time since starting the book and nearly had an existential meltdown when I spotted the mountains of watermelons, canteloupes, and pineapples.

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Following My Bliss…On the Bus

In Meditation, Work/Life Balance on January 25, 2013 at 8:00 am
Fresh sprinkling of snow - perfect for a morning walk.

Fresh sprinkling of snow – perfect for a morning walk.

It’s a blustery day, with light snow disrupting commutes and making people grumpy. I’m combating the cold by thinking of the many things I’m grateful for: my warm socks and boots, a thick coat, and fairly reliable public transit. Above all, I’m just trying to be mindful.

It’s so easy to shift into “auto drive” mode each day on my commute. The sounds and movements on the crowded bus can be hypnotic, a dull hum that I easily drown out by diving into the columns of emails piled in my work inbox. But I don’t want to drown it out, at least not today, so I try to focus on the present moment.

Mindfulness on the bus can take a lot of shapes. Being aware of my emotions as I encounter strangers, being aware of the people sitting near me – the way they sit, the things they say to one another, embracing the simple pleasure of the commute itself, which is an island of (relative) peace before I enter the perpetual busyness of the day.

Having just finished Don Lattin’s book, Following Our Bliss, I can’t help but wonder at the roots of my quest for mindfulness. Lattin attributes much of today’s fascination with meditation and mindfulness to the LSD-inspired experiences of the 1960s hippies, who were trying to connect to a broader global consciousness.

I would argue, however, that my motivations for seeking mindfulness are somewhat different. Unlike the 1960s, today we take for granted the inherently global nature of our interactions. Technological breakthroughs have spurred communication. It doesn’t matter what message you’re trying to spread – you can find a venue and an audience for it in the digital world.

The interaction is non-stop. The internet, in fact, seems to stand almost apart from time.  Our lives have expanded past the traditional bounds of nine-to-five, workplace and home. We’ve transcended, but we’re not certain what it really means. It’s a new infinite, one of our own creation, which makes it all the more puzzling.

In the midst of this, mindfulness provides a mental refuge. Taking a deep breath and focusing on the moment can help center us and remind us of what is real. Mindfulness challenges us to let go of the ceaseless wave of our digital lives and competing workplace demands and instead appreciate the value inherent in simply being alive. This is why I turn to mindfulness: to help remind me that even a crowded rush hour ride on a creaky, muddy city bus can be something special, because it means that I’m here.