When I was a student, and car-less, in Cape Town, there was a suburban commuter train that served the Southern Suburbs.
Alas, it is no longer a good service but it was a godsend in those days. There is nothing to beat the convenience of just being able to jump into a car, but my early experiences of public transport (or “transportation” as it is called in America) made me open to it, and it makes sense ecologically.
All of this came in to play yesterday when DB couldn’t get his garage door open and he couldn’t get his Saab out. I valiantly offered him my car and blithely said I would take the bus to work. I’m quite a dab hand at it now because I take the bus down to UB for my MFA classes every week and, as I say, I like the idea of public transport. So, I trotted up to Northern Parkway, flagged down a bus as easy as pie, and got off at the corner of Northern Parkway and Falls Road to connect to the Route 27 bus, which I had seen going to and fro from work. I sat on a bench at the bus stop on Falls Road and waited. For 50 minutes.
I’d had the foresight to bring a book with me. In the light of a slew of little ailments, like heart arrhythmia and so on, and knowing how much I dislike having to take medication, my physician had suggested that I look into Mindfulness. An article posted on DukeHealth.org describes it like this:
Have you ever started eating an ice cream cone, taken a lick or two, then noticed all you had was a sticky napkin in your hand? Or been going somewhere and arrived at your destination only to realize you haven’t noticed anything or anyone you met along the way?
Of course you have, we all have! These are common examples of “mindlessness,” or as some people put it, “going on automatic pilot.”
We all fall into habits of mind and body, of attention and inattention, which result in our not being present for our own lives. The consequences of this inattention can be quite costly. They can result in our missing some really good things, and also in our ignoring really important information and messages about our life, our relationships, and even our own health.
An important antidote to this tendency to “tune-out” — to go on “automatic pilot” — is to practice mindfulness. To practice mindfulness means to pay more careful attention in a particular way. We all have the quality of mindfulness in us. It is the quality of bare awareness that knows what is here in the present moment.
A slim book called “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by a Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, had been recommended to me, and so my first forays into Mindfulness were as I was waiting for the No. 27 bus – and a good thing it was too because otherwise the wait would have made me ready to bite a banana in half, as my mother so picturesquely says.
When the bus eventually came it then proceeded to meander and backtrack, even going East on occasion (my destination was West), all behind the Pimlico race course area, with the bus riders getting more and more ropy with each stop. This went on for half an hour. Eventually I was deposited across the street from the Reisterstown Road Plaza and got to the studios around 1.40. So my commute took close to two hours. As experiments go, it was not a success. But I was thankful to have a Vietnamese monk along for the ride.