June 22, 2010

The Top 4.1 Spiritual Benefits of Using Mass Transit

As Colin Beavan pointed out in the documentary No Impact Man, there is no such thing as having no impact.

Even using public transportation has a negative environmental effect, in light of the fossil fuel consumed… but the thing is, if everybody did it, what a tremendously diminished impact we’d have when you multiply that individual decision by millions day-in, day-out.

So here’s not why you should do it, but what you get out of it – how you’re adding to your spiritual health each time you ride the bus, ferry or train:

1. Greater compassion for your fellow humans. No, I’m not talking about developing patience for the weirdo sitting across from you trying to tell you his life story. I’m talking about how you used to think your family or your work had its share of weirdoes and now you feel much more tolerant to them because they’re well adjusted by comparison. Start there, see if that compassion thing can grow beyond your inner circle.

2. Mind-expansion in unexpected ways. While it is true that some weirdos will talk to you, there’s a chance some regular people will as well. And the law of probabilities dictates that every once in a while, among the regular folk there will actually be an interesting exchange – one not focused on the weather or the latest calamity. Case in point: the older gentleman who recently saw me reading a book on music and asked me a question about it – and before I knew it, he was spouting off about Gurdjieff, Theosophy, Krishnamurti, Osho, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Byron Katie, and Deepak Chopra – and those were just the names I recognized. And (not that I asked) he had very specific opinions about who was enlightened and who wasn’t. “That guy’s a charlatan!” he said of one. “He’s not enlightened! He name-drops all the time! My friend Deepak. My friend so-and-so.”

You know that law in the universe that says that you’re bound to make a grammatical or spelling mistake whenever you go to correct someone else’s? It probably applies in the spiritual arena too, because my garrulous bus seatmate went on to name-drop about holding Krishnamurti’s hand and having met Eckhart Tolle long before he found worldwide fame. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, he embodied the archetype of The Interesting Conversationalist and even got me to think about a thing or two long after we parted. Which means there was mind expansion and spiritual growth. At least for the listener.

3. You finally have the time for a regular meditation practice. Yes, that regular meditation practice you’ve been meaning (lukewarmly) to get around to – you’re officially out of excuses now because your bus or train or ferry offers the perfect regularity and a few environmental challenges to focus your mind. You sit still, you close your eyes, you focus on inner sensations, and even if you can hear the guy behind you talking about raising chickens in his sixth-floor balcony, you can pretend you’re listening to yourself thinking instead of him talking. Hence that his nattering can be a way for you to focus more intently on your breath and body sensations and on how you react when you hear something. Or, if you’re truly a meditation infant like yours truly, you could turn up the volume on your portable music device. My latest favorite CDs for meditation (below) have no musical structure (always good for keeping the little guy chatting inside my head under-stimulated) and do a fantastic job of drowning the environmental distractions. (Images are clickable.)

4. There’s more spaciousness in your life. Yeah, sure, if it takes you an hour on the bus, chances are it’d take you 40 minutes driving. But you wouldn’t be able to use the time for meditating, reading, learning, planning, knitting, reflecting. And even though yes, while driving, you could listen to that book-on-CD or the news, or some music, chances are that the subtle or not-so-subtle stress of driving doesn’t bring out the best in you nor adds to your day. So the question is, by using mass transit, have you lost the 20 minutes you arrive home later… or have you gained the 40 minutes that have been freed up from the stress of driving and for the benefit of your mindful activities? Methinks the latter.

4.1 You feel more personally motivated by your environmental and spiritual practices. This only counts as a tenth of a point because every now and then, admit it, it teeters over into grand proselytizing about your choices.  Either way, personally motivated is good.

Oh, hey, that’s my stop, coming up. Maybe I should make benefit 4.1 read like this: If, after meditating, you have time to write an article, then using mass transit increases your free time at home. “Excuse me. Excuse me. Coming through. Oh, dang, I forgot to dig up my pass when I put away my laptop. I’ll have to be more mindful next time.”

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