Commuting Tips From a Buddhist
Written by David Nichtern
You’re sitting on the F train between a woman with too much perfume and a man with too little deodorant. Nearby, a baby wails an orchestral symphony of tears. Suddenly, the train stops. And your freak-out begins…
“We’ve all been there. Whether you’re stalled for five seconds or an hour, the daily commute is always an adventure—because of what’s happening around you, yes. But also because of what’s going on in your head.” -David Nichtern
To help us with this on-going challenge (and to hold onto what’s left of our summer serenity), we reached out to columnist, Emmy winner, and Shambhala senior teacher, David Nichtern.
It’s not about tuning out the subways stressors, he says. “People think of spiritual practice as a tranquilizer,” says Nichtern. “But I’m not from the school of ‘Let’s just chant something.’ My school is awareness. The more aware you are, the more likely you’re headed to a positive outcome.”
We tested Nichtern’s theory with some common commuting situations and got his tips on how to turn subway misery into mindfulness practice. —Jenna Holt
Situation 1: There’s a person standing way too close to you on the subway platform. It’s 101 degrees and there’s not a bit of A/C. How do you keep calm and create space?
“The simple answer is to just relax. If you can and want to move away, then do it. But if not, don’t worry about it. Relax your attitude and energy and don’t fight how things are.”
Situation 2: The subway doors open and you witness a young man dash ahead of a slower-moving older person to grab the only available seat. How do you react?
“Whenever possible, you want to protect other people’s health and happiness, so look for some way to help.
But in this city, it’s always a real art form to talk to other people. So if you think you can, approach them in the kindest way possible. But if not, do what you can to help the elderly person in another way.”
Situation 3: The train is running slow and you’re late for yoga. Do you have a mantra you repeat during calamity?
“I think we can look more at the whole attitude of situations. There’s a Buddhist slogan that I love: ‘Change your attitude and relax as it is.’
One time, on the way to Tai Chi, I was late and stuck in a traffic jam with a siren blaring in my ear. I was frustrated until I realized that I was going to Tai Chi for the practice of calming down!
You’ve already defeated the purpose of the class if you struggle against reality, so just breathe and slow down.”
So what’s the best way to channel your energy towards something positive, as opposed to stressing out on the subway?
“Energy is neutral, and we tip it towards a negative or positive outcome with our attitudes.
Each individual has to create their own positive environment by being mindful and aware.”