The Sublime Subway Sleep
Yes. I used to sleep on the subway, the NYC subway. In case you’ve never experienced this, it’s not MetroNorth, Amtrak, or the NYC – D.C. Shuttle. This is humanity up close, including the gropers, exhibitionists, pick pockets, and other assorted pranksters without the Club Car.
One train change then an hour until my stop. I’m not sure when I first realized what I was doing. It was one of those steaming city days, roughly mid-way between the 4th and 5th stops of the long leg of the ride. The car slowed, my eyes opened, looked up to the drip sweating male strap-hanger grinning down. “Whoa! You look chill!” Hmmmm… I felt chill. There was a fire on the tracks ahead and we had to evacuate the train. That was an experience. Forty seven years later, I think that was the first time I became aware of the value of cultivating a mind at ease.
Sadly, it’s not always expedient to take a little sleep regardless of how aware we may think we are when driving the car, riding a bike, deep frying a turkey, or facing a raging customer or boss, for example.
Or Filing Your Taxes
Spreadsheets, bookkeeping, filing and paying quarterly taxes rank about as high as being tear gassed as things I want to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sharing the cost of public benefits. It was the struggling with which of the nickels we were rubbing together we would allocate for the taxes. It was not a comforting place to be. There was no rest in my mind as it worried – about everything.
This phase was right around the time I first met Br. David and his book Gratefulness: The Heart Of Prayer. There was also a lot of ‘Positive Mental Attitude’ floating around along with the ‘be thankful for everything’ folks. Yeah, right. Easy for you to say.
Similar to the surgeons who never tell their patients how much they’re going to hurt nor how much effort it’s going to take to recuperate after surgery. It could be days, weeks, months of healing and getting stronger and it takes effort but it’s easy to say.
Delaying tactics exhausted along with my exhausted mind ruminating on the injustices of the past and the fears of the future, I stopped. I didn’t like this feeling of being stuck on a Mobius strip of ‘oh poor me’ and I finally thought, ‘Thank you’.
Years and Years Later
“That which is impermanent is suffering.” The truth of these words become clear when we simply pay attention. Eventually, the mind gets tired of moving from one impermanent thing to the next. Losing interest in the futile pursuit, the mind rests and finds joy. In Pali, the word for “to remember” is sati, which can also be translated as “mindfulness”…. simply paying direct, non-verbal attention to what is happening from one moment to the next.
Resting comfortably in awareness, we relax into things as they are right now in this very moment, without slipping away into what happened in the past or will happen in the future. Normally, because we do not understand, we tend to blame the world for our pain and suffering. But with Mindful remembering, we understand that the only place to find peace and freedom from suffering is this very place, right here in our own body and mind.”
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness by Bhante Gunaratana
It’s easy to say, relatively easy anyway. But… How do I pay direct, non-verbal attention? How do I rest comfortably in awareness and relax into things as they are right now in this present moment when the kids are crying, Dad’s dying, there’s no food in the fridge and no subways within a 4 hour drive on which to grab a bit of a sublime subway sleep?
I learned to think the word “Yes”. Yes becomes the big, encompassing awareness of what is going on in the moment. My mind would be in over-drive if I attempted to put words to it all. Whatever is going on inside of me as well as outside is acknowledged with the “Yes”: this is the way it is. There are no plans to change anything, no opinions about who or what is there, there is only acknowledgement that “Yes, this is the moment and I’m aware.”
The Second Word Is “Thank You”
It feels good when you get a sincere thank you, doesn’t it? It also feels good to give one. Early in my practice of meditating with the breath I found myself, instead of counting breaths or noticing ‘inhale, exhale’, saying ‘thank you’ to the rhythm of the breath. Somewhere along the line I noticed thinking ‘thank you’ throughout the day. In the beginning, it seems, the thank yous were specific: thank you for the strength and health to blah, blah blah; thank you for work I enjoy doing. You get the picture.
Over time the ‘thank yous’ changed, like when I had Lyme Disease for the first time. There was much appreciation expressed for the opportunity to practice being with pain. Sitting with special ones while they died, yes and thank you. Ken McLeod of Unfettered Mind and A Trackless Path says that part of mindfulness is emptiness and compassion. The ‘yes’ empties us of words and the ‘thank you’ opens us to compassion.
But who is this ‘you’ following the ‘thank’? I don’t know but, whatever it is, it’s bigger than I am. The thank yous are also bigger than they used to be. They’ve become Thank You to and for the whole package, birth to death, before and after, whatever there is.
Is anybody listening?
Well, it stopped being an issue when a very wizened hermit-monk clued me in: praying doesn’t change the pray-ee it changes the pray-er.
Yes and Thank You. OK, it’s three words, yes. Thank you.
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