If you live in a big city, unless you drive, you’re probably exposed to the familiarities of riding the subway as often as I am; the screeching rails; the turbulent rumble; the colourful characters; the tired, heavy air as people commute to and fro from within the city; the weary eyes; the inescapable solitude (despite being on public transit!) as people keep to themselves; the sleepy faces; the shifty, awkward glances as people try to avoid eye contact; it’s a very necessary burden for many people.
Sometimes I ride the subway and wish things could be different; how can I restore Life back into the eyes of these lifeless people?! But then I remember the most transformative epiphany I’ve had to date that completely shifted the trajectory of my life and what I deem to be my “purpose”: you can’t change the world, you can only be the change you want to see in the world.
I’ve realized that I can’t change the world. I can’t fill these people with Life even if I gave them my own. I can’t give these people vitality; it is they who must conjure it up from within themselves.
Part of my own personal mission is to bring “spirituality” to this world by living and breathing a lifestyle that encompasses the very change I wish to see — a conscious way of living that is aligned with our hearts. Because of this aspiration, I’ve found that turning my subway ride into a deep spiritual practice helps me achieve my goal, one ride at a time. And after reading this article, you’ll be able to help too. I have a couple of techniques I’d like to share with you:
If you’re familiar with Vipisanna meditation (there are free retreats all over the globe!), you’ll be familiar with meditating on the sensations of the body. Eckhart Tolle calls this “inner body awareness.”
When I’m on the subway—sometimes with my eyes open, and others with my eyes closed—I like to “steal” some time and space from the world for myself by delving deep into my being by focusing on the sensations within my body. Sometimes I’ll shift my awareness to my toes, or I’ll focus on how my hands feel clasping each other, or I’ll do a quick “scan” starting from my toes, slowly making my way up to the crown of my head, making sure to scan through each part of my body.
This might sound strange to you. You might ask, “Why do this? What’s the point? Why not just sit there and enjoy the ride?” I find if I just sit there, lethargy and apathy for the world will unconsciously creep into me. By maintaining a state of conscious awareness, I am always in control. And I always enjoy the ride when I am the one sitting in the driver’s seat.
Inner body awareness is about getting in touch with yourself at the most intimate level; the experiential one! As Eckhart Tolle remarks, “Is there life in your lips?” It’s also about flexing your awareness muscle. The more you flex it and put it to use, the stronger it will become.
The Here And Now
Like most people riding the subway, I’m headed somewhere. This sense of needing or wanting to be somewhere other than the here and now (the present moment) is what causes a lot of agitation towards our present surroundings. (Which is why so many dislike commuting!)
By learning to equanimously accept the reality of the present moment, we not only become more engaged and CONNECTED with Life, we flex our awareness muscle, and we become masters of our lives. To live consciously is to live masterfully, and to be a master of one’s life is to be able to achieve anything.
We can learn to live in the here and now by focusing fully on our senses. (Not JUST on our sensations.) This is taking inner body awareness and shifting it to outer world awareness. And riding the subway in particular proves to be an interesting place to do so!; there are so many sights to see (and smells and sounds for that matter).
As you move from stop to stop, zone in intensely on the variety of stimuli flooding your senses; see and appreciate things you would normally miss out on; unplug from your earphones and put away your smartphone; listen to the railway; see if you can smell various aromas, like someone’s cologne; touch the cool steel bars, the warm, carpet-like seats; BE THERE FULLY AND BE AWARE OF IT ALL.
We often (because we live in such a fast-paced and demanding world — although that really isn’t an excuse) forget to honor and give thanks for the things we value in life. Now you can use this time to do so.
At each stop, think of something you’re thankful for. During the ride BETWEEN each stop, meditate on the very thing you’re thankful for and open your heart to it, thanking it for its contribution to your life. You’ll arrive at your destination GLOWING.
“Metta” means “fat with friendship” in Pali and is a meditation technique used to cultivate loving-kindness.
Loving kindness is important to develop because our world so desperately needs it. And loving-kindness can only come through into this world through YOU.
There are a couple ways to develop loving-kindness, but the way I do it on the subway is to see “through” people—to their spirit—and wish them peace, joy, love.
I make it a point of understanding that we’re all human beings trying to get on in this world the best way we know how; we all want to be happy; we all want to love and experience love; these are universal human traits that we can all resonate with. Let’s realize that and learn to love another. We have more commonalities than differences.
The more you practice Metta, the more you’ll be able to recognize the humanity in others, and the more you do so, the more you’ll be able to openly love others with compassion and loving-kindness.
I enjoy riding the subway. I’ve learned to turn what would conventionally be a mundane, two-hour commute into a transformative practice. (The goal is to become a source of inspiration that emanates truth instead of being a tired and weary commuter.)
As I ride the rails, I practice, inwardly smiling to myself, burning with an intensity that blazes from within, wishing well to all I ride with. I aspire for people to look at me and wonder, “What’s that kid’s secret?”
By sparking that inquiry, I compel people to search for the answer within them; I set off a chain reaction of change; I change the world by being the change I want to see in the world.
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