I often read or listen to podcasts on the subway.
And sometimes, I like just to ride the subway. The subway is maybe New York City’s most amazing resource. Besides the super rich who shuttle exclusively above ground in yellow cabs and black town cars, everyone takes the subway: bankers, students, artists, manual laborers, young, old, rich, poor, every age, race, culture and ethnicity. Over my 19 years in this city I have seen innumerable expressions of humanity on the subway – many beautiful, some brutal, some disturbing, many heatbreaking. I once saw a man punch a young woman in the face – a complete stranger, for no reason; he kept walking. Homeless people are ignored, and shamed, and dismissed every day (sometimes, I’m afraid to admit, by me). I have also seen countless people of every demographic help strangers with money, food, luggage, strollers, and directions. I have witnessed collective head bopping, laughter, compassion and amazement. I hear every language and accent imaginable. I have watched acrobats, tap dancers, tango, break dancers, and musicians from every part of the world. It’s like a secret underworld where all of humanity meets. The password: metrocard (the old password was ‘token’ – please update your records).
And sometimes I get frustrated with the city. I want it to be the country and to have more space and stillness. I want to be “in nature” – as if there is anything that is not ‘natural’ in this universe. When sirens are blaring and someone is blasting heavy bass music from their car, I do long to move to upstate New York (or ideally somewhere in California or East Africa or SE Asia). But I never tire of riding the subway.
I believe one of the most challenging of the Buddhist teachings is Right or Wise Effort and a seeming paradox of spiritual practice for me is that transformation comes from acceptance– in allowing each moment, I am able to change. The Buddha describes right effort as like tuning a stringed instrument — not too tight, not too loose. The balance for me is knowing what to take in (and on) and knowing when to relax and let time and space work their magic. My tendency is to overload on experience and information. My practice (and my challenge) is to remain grounded in my body and in my experiences to know when enough is enough (as well as knowing when there is enough of one experience but maybe not enough of another).
Sometimes you just ride the subway.