Who wants more stories about how yoga opened a heart to the love and abundance of the universe? Or, say, how yoga teacher training “transformed” a life and taught a budding yogi to unconditionally love everyone present. “Even the most difficult people!”
That, gentle readers, is not transformation or yoga. That is repression. But I won’t spin off into a diatribe about using “good” things (yoga, meditation, exercise, work, romance, etc) to keep us tolerably comfortable in our unfortunate patterns, in lieu of doing the hard, painful, sometimes dark work of facing them. Though I could. I’m an expert.
I will share a story, now and again, about times when yoga (including meditation) practice shifted something for me so that I experienced life outside my habitual patterns, and maybe even altered them a little bit. (Maybe. Sometimes. Not always.) While this shift is small, beginning to notice my reactions is the beginning of something. When, as in this story, my less stressed reaction comes naturally, instead of from, “I should not be freaking out about this. Stop freaking out about this. Breathe! Stop freaking out!” It feels significant. Hopeful, even.
Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together. ~Pema Chödrön
The other day, about a half an hour before it was time to go teach, I felt slightly annoyed sitting at my computer, looking at facebook or checking a blog while I not-totally-consciously decided how to use the remaining 30 minutes before I left. Bored by the computer, I got up and did viparita karani (legs up the wall). While there, I did some pranayama before bringing my awareness to breath, over and over again. Twenty minutes later, I got up and readied to leave. I took some tea with me, because somehow I had time to make it. When I got to the subway, I went to the back of the platform. A 1 train was waiting there and the conductor called to me, “Hey, you didn’t bring me any!” (tea). I went over and chatted with him. The trains are especially screwy at that time of day, and I told him that I may well see him again up at 96th Street.
“Well, you may catch my leader,” he said.
A leader is the train in front of you. I know this from years of chat with M4 bus drivers when I took the last bus home each night to the second to last stop. But I’ve only talked to one or two train conductors.
“Oh, he pulled out of the station just as we pulled in the other day [so we missed the train],” I joked. “They’re holding you here. They always hold the 1 train at this time. You’re running fast (or, in MTA lingo, running hot)?”
“Yeah, it’s because these trains are on schedules, you know, but the schedules aren’t reality. It says it takes us 45 minutes to get down here from 168, but really it’s only 35. So they have to hold us.”
Oh, do I know about the schedules.
After a minute or two more of chitchat, the 2 express came, and I got on it. Just after, Carlos (we introduced ourselves) was freed to leave the station.
But the 2 just sat there. In a few minutes they announced we were being held because of a sick passenger in the train, and that all express trains would be routed around it on the local track. Oh. Man. Every New Yorker knows this feeling. I should have taken that 1. Just then, another 1 train pulled in and they held it. What the?!? If they hold a local train, it means that any express trains routed behind it will be stuck behind the local, and we’ll never catch up with them—either Carlos or the one behind him. There was sudden movement of riders back to the original express. The passenger was healed? (There is almost never a sick passenger. It is MTA speak for a failed switch or the likes.) The second 1 train departed.
A few minutes later an express came in on the local track, and everyone got on it. While I would likely be late to teach, and I hate to be late, I was surprisingly composed. I sat down on the train with my tea a moment before I realized the large guy next to me, who was speaking quite loud, was not speaking to anyone in particular. Until it seemed to be me. I closed my eyes.
“What the hell!? What are you doing? We gotta cross over! We gotta cross over!” he yelled, and I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but assumed he was speaking of the afterlife. I didn’t really feel like getting up and moving away from him, and that might just draw his attention anyway, so I sipped my tea and listened, eyes mostly closed. Most people looked away, angry and annoyed.
As we crawled toward the next local stop, the aggravated man yelled, “He didn’t cross over!! WE ARE NOW STUCK BEHIND A LOCAL! WE’RE BEHIND A LOCAL!! What are you doin’ man!? We got places to BE! You gotta cross over and put some weight on that pedal!”
I realized, as I bit my lip to suppress a smile, that this guy was yelling exactly what I’d been thinking about the local being held in the station. He meant that we should have crossed over to the express tracks after 14th Street, but we didn’t. He continued to yell instructions at the conductor for the next several stops, as everyone else looked around at everything but him, although he was totally right, and probably speaking for all of us. I couldn’t help a small smile. He sensed, I think, that I was in agreement, because he then directed about a quarter of his comments toward me. I did not engage him, as he was rambunctious and possibly disturbed, but I was definitely amused. At this pointed there was little chance we’d catch up with Carlos, but maybe the local behind him.
At 34th Street, the next express stop, the aggravated man got out to yell at he conductor. He got back on, and after we pulled out the the station, he yelled, “That’s it man! THAT’S IT! WE’RE CROSSING OVER! We’re doing it. That’s right man! NOW LET’S GET SOME SPEED ON THIS THING! You watch it now, boys. We’ll get some speed goin’. You just watch.”
That didn’t happen until after 42nd Street, and he got off the extremely crowded train shortly after. We did miss Carlos, and I was a few minutes late to teach. But, unusually, I didn’t get worked up about it. I didn’t stare at the time or attempt to send emails to the manager from underground, I just paid attention to what was going on. And instead of painting him as the shadowed other, I related to aggravated man. His thoughts were just like mine. I had fun on what would ordinarily have been an annoying, stressful delay. Had I chosen to loaf about on the internet instead of meditate, it wouldn’t have played out that way. No chance.
No doubt my next MTA delay will come after a rush, as I don’t give myself the time for midday meditation as often as I should. There will be a stressful freakout. I will be a disaster. And that will be fine, somehow, too. If I can let it.