‘Mindful’ commuters say deep breaths, clear mind keep them calm under stress

wildmind meditation newsKatherine Shaver, Washington Post: As harried commuters filed aboard a Metro Red Line train at Cleveland Park — jockeying for seats, hoisting bulging tote bags — Denise Keyes gazed straight ahead, took deep breaths and searched for inner peace.

There were no lit candles, no incense, no chanting of “om.” But Keyes was meditating.

Finding stillness on a subway during rush hour might sound impossible. But those who practice “mindful commuting” swear it brings tranquility to the daily misery of crowded trains, late buses, honking horns and traffic jams.

If it sounds too New-Agey or out there for you, consider this: Almost 2 million …

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How to commute like a Buddhist

NY Daily News: If you’re wondering how to trek to work without losing your mind, Emmy Award-winner and New York City-based meditation teacher David Nichtern offers up a few pointers on curbing commuter stress.

“People think of spiritual practice as a tranquilizer,” Nichtern told fitness blog Well+Good NYC on September 3. “But I’m not from the school of ‘Let’s just chant something.’ My school is awareness. The more aware you are, the more likely you’re headed to a positive outcome.”

So, how to make your commute more mindful? He offers up a few ways to respond to common commute scenarios, as per his interview …

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Meditation the cure for harassed commuters

wildmind meditation news

Clare Graham: The daily commute to and from work can make anyone stressed.

Especially if you work in Sydney or Newcastle, adding an extra three or so hours to each working day.

And that’s not including lengthy train delays and unexpected track work.

But meditation expert Alison Jose believes she has the perfect way of finding peace within your inner commuter self.

Ms Jose has been meditating for 10 years and a commuter for even longer, so she knows all about the benefits of relaxing the mind and and body every day.

Her new Commuter Meditation Classes are now being …

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Monkey mind, ganja, inflammation, and commuting

News reporting on meditation is always going to be a mixed bag, with practical and serious articles interspersed with pieces in a more flippant mood. The latter style is perfectly exemplified by an extraordinarily silly column by Denise Malloy of Montana’s Bozeman Chronicle. In “Monkeying Around with Meditation” Malloy tells us that five minutes of meditation (done by following instructions from a book) was enough to make her skeptical about the proven health benefits of meditation, as well as its potential to bring about inner peace. To be fair, the writer’s tone tends more toward self-mockery than to mockery of meditation itself. But her article made me want to send her a meditation CD.

And then there are the stories that are serious but cover subject that are “out there.” David Silverberg of Toronto’s Globe and Mail writes about “Ganja Yoga.” This is new to me, but apparently some people believe that a toke of marijuana before a yoga session will help you stretch, open up to new philosophical perspectives, and even, according to one class participant, “Marijuana quells those voices in your mind.”

Representing the “serious article on a serious topic,” Live Science reports on a study showing that women who had practiced yoga regularly for at least two years had lower levels of inflammation in their bodies than did women who only recently took up the activity. And all without the aid of inhaled substances. The mechanisms that reduce inflammation may include deep breathing (which reduces stress), greater awareness of one’s feelings, and also the fact of exercising, which has been shown to reduce inflammation.

Finally, Brian Glaser of Baristanet (a news publication we’d hitherto been unaware of) has a nice piece on using the morning commute as an opportunity to meditation. Meditation teacher Susan Morton is quoted as saying,

“When your train or bus get stuck, the first thing that arises is that the mind makes judgments and you have frustrations. You can take the opportunity to observe how stressed out you become through the stories your mind tells you about what’s happening.”

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“A Commuter’s Guide to Enlightenment,” by Dr. Stewart Bitkoff

A Commuter’s Guide to Enlightenment

Collectively we’re spending longer and longer commuting: The average American takes around 30 minutes to get to work, and in large cities the drive can take much longer. In rural areas commuting can also eat up the miles and hours: I know two Buddhists in New England who each drive 1000 miles (1600km) per week.

It’s even worse in Europe; in my native UK the average commuting time is 45 minutes (although that’s more likely to be in some form of public transport).

Even without those extremes, commuting makes for a lot of time spent in cars, trains, buses, and even for some people airplanes. It’s not always pleasant time either; stop-go traffic is increasingly common, public transport can be crowded and unreliable, civility seems to be on the decline, and the term “road rage” has entered our lexicon as we become more and more frustrated with sharing our commute with an ever-increasing number of people. I’ve labored the point enough; we all know that getting to and from work can be a major source of stress.

Traveling is also an opportunity, however. Here and there you’ll find pointers for how to make commuting (and especially driving) more of a spiritual practice. Thich Nhat Hanh offers some advice, Dr. Saki Santorelli in “The Family Therapy Networker” has some useful tips, as do we here at Wildmind.

I was therefore pleased, intrigued, and even excited when I was invited to review “A Commuter’s Guide to Enlightenment,” and looked forward to a more thorough exposition on how driving can become a spiritual practice. The “Commuter’s Guide” is written by Dr. Stewart Bitkoff, who had a long daily commute in and around New York City for most of his thirty-year career as a specialist in therapeutic recreation and psychiatric rehabilitation. Dr. Bitkoff writes from a Sufi perspective, and if you know little about Sufism you will almost certainly have heard of Rumi, the famous Sufi poet of the 13th century. Sufism is a mystical branch is Islam in which the seeker aims to come into the presence of the Divine.

And although they say you should never judge a book by its cover, I was taken by the small format and attractive presentation of the “Commuter’s Guide.”

All of this raised my hopes, although I must confess to having experienced some disappointment while reading the book.

Dr. Bitkoff chose to structure his book around the eight and a half miles he formerly traversed daily on the Major Deegan Expressway, with a chapter for each mile (giving us eight and a half chapters — a nice touch). Each chapter is loosely themed around a topic, such as Signs, Learning and Life (Chapter 2), The Way of the Heart (Chapter 5), and Higher Potential (Chapter 8). Each chapter is comprised of a number of short sections, on average about a page long, which are generally reflective and sometimes instructive in nature.

All of that again is very promising, so why did I find this book to be disappointing?

First, there’s a lack of immediacy about the writing. Commuting these days is nothing but dramatic, but there’s no sense of drama in the book. It’s as if the pieces dealing with actual experiences of commuting were written years after the events in question. I longed for an “in the moment” blow-by-blow account of the problems of commuting and the kinds of spiritual practices that can help to make that time more tolerable. Towards the end of the book I noticed a couple of examples of present tense writing, but those are few and far between and seemed thrown in for variety.

Second, while there are a few specific examples of how to engage with commuting as a spiritual practice, many of the more reflective passages left feeling unsatisfied. A typical example would be an anecdote about a flat tire followed by a statement along the lines of: “Sooner or later, we are all victims of the potholes of life.” These one-liners sound like forced attempts to connect the specifics of commuting with the details of spiritual practice, and to my ears sound trite.

Third, some of the language in the book struck me as being life-denying. There are several instances where the author says things like, “Much of our lives is spent doing things we don’t like to do but have to do,” (emphasis added) or “part of me accepted that I had to travel this highway everyday.” I find it profoundly un-useful in my own life to adopt the attitude that I “have to” do certain things, and much more useful to think in terms of choosing to do things even though I don’t necessarily like doing them. Nobody “makes” us commute. It’s a choice.

This is not to say that the book lacks value altogether. There is useful advice scattered throughout the book — that how we react to things is something that can be changed, that we can enrich our lives by creating a “happiness calendar” of the little things we appreciate, that using and “focus words” in conjunction with the in and out breath is a useful way of practicing while driving, to give just a few examples.

Yet these useful tidbits were, for me, overwhelmed by the sheer number of passages that I found uninteresting, or even offputting. There are some dry statistics. There are a number of passages which feature fictional conversations between the “traveler” and the “monster,” which have all the portentousness of late 19th century Theosophical writings. Some of the teachings even jar: “If you want to be courteous and repeatedly let others pull out in front of you, you’ll never reach your destination on time.” That doesn’t fit with my experience, and if I have a choice between being rude and being a few moments late I know which I’d choose.

And there is very little discussion of the ecological implications of commuting; it’s not until the eighth chapter that there is any mention at all of the ecological havoc wrought by our commuting habits, and the treatment of the topic is perfunctory.

Those whose practice is rooted in the close and precise observation that is fundamental to mindfulness meditation may wish — to use a commuting metaphor — to steer clear of the Commuter’s Guide. However, perhaps for those interested in exploring the intersection between Sufism and modern life, this book may have much to offer. And for those interested in a largely inspirational spirituality rather than more specific guidance, this book may also be of interest.

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Meditation, too, is a good drive (Hindu) We are on the road, driving with the mind wandering to our office, home or elsewhere, but rarely do we drive in complete awareness.

Chennai: A car stops right in the middle of the busy Nageswara Road in front of the CHILDS Trust Hospital. The driver opens the door for the passengers to get off and slowly moves on.

Even before the signal turns green, a Toyota Qualis driver is honking madly at a scooterist in front of him at the Independence Day park roundabout. He wants the scooterist to beat the signal and move on.

On the busy stretch toward Nelson Manickam Road subway, a driver is moving at his own pace, lost in conversation with the person next to him — neither picking up speed nor moving aside.

On Sterling Road, the traffic toward Tank Bund Road takes aeons to make way for an ambulance rushing a critically ill patient to the hospital.

These may not count as gross traffic violations, but innumerable such instances take place each day on Chennai city roads, that point to one single factor — lack of awareness of the fundamental principles of driving/riding.

Shanthi Prasad has been driving several cars in the country and abroad for the past 20 years. Initially, she was driving around lost in thought. But now the practice of meditation has sharpened the awareness of her surroundings and her driving has acquired more skill and focus, she says. “We may have the best car and the skills, but we rarely have the presence of mind. We are on the road, driving with the mind wandering to our office, home or elsewhere, but rarely do we drive in complete awareness.”

Swaran Singh, Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board, says that in his experience of organising yoga and meditation programmes for Metropolitan Transport Corporation drivers and conductors, “drivers who are at peace at home and in office are at peace with the steering. It makes them drive without any stress or tension. This has a direct bearing on the reduction in the number of accidents. A driver without tension becomes a vehicle-friendly driver.” The MTC had submitted a report to the Union Government on how yoga and meditation had helped to reduce the number of accidents by MTC drivers.

N. Ramakrishnan, senior consultant in Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the Apollo Hospital, and heading the Nithra Institute of Sleep Sciences, says that sleepiness while driving is a common reason for motor accidents. With increasing night shifts, employees suffer from lack of sleep.

There are other sleep-related problems such as hyper somnolence and sleep apnea, which require holistic treatment with medicines, pranic healing, meditation and other individualised relaxation techniques, he says. He is organising a programme on January 20 on sleepy driving at the Nithra Institute to come up in Anna Nagar.

Swamini Gambhirananda, who conducts several yoga programmes through the Shiv Darshan Yoga Alaya, says practice of yoga develops the awareness as driving, like any other activity, is connected to the mind.

“Mistakes happen only through mind and not body. When the mind is tense, it reflects in the driving,” she says.

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Take a breather on the tube (Guardian, UK)

The Guardian:
When I put my ticket into the barrier at the station what I am sometimes reminded of is one of the most famous collections of Zen koans – the “gateless gate” of Wu-men Huik’ai, the 13th-century Chinese meditation master. We feel that there is a gate that “separates” us from enlightenment, but once we pass through it – should we be lucky enough – we turn around and realise that the gate was never there in the first place. We are already enlightened – we just don’t know it.

Commuting has much to offer the spiritual seeker, perhaps because it puts our focus back on to ourselves. Public transport, with its enforced passivity, induces a meditative frame of mind. There is something beautifully Zen about the paradox of train travel – we are in motion, but we are also stationary. Nothing encourages more reverie about the meaning of it all than lives glimpsed from a train window: the poignancy of patio chairs, tilted, as if in prayer, to let rain run off them; figures momentarily looking up from sinks, as if in an Edward Hopper painting; a child’s empty climbing frame. Such sights bring home the simple, uniform melancholy of all our lives and can leave one aching for an answer. There are times when it seems I have spent all my life on the permanent way and spent a good deal of it musing on just that, the Permanent Way.

Trains are a good example of Buddhism’s core beliefs about reality. Everything is impermanent (anicca), nothing has an eternal, independent self (anatta) and thus, since all objects, mental and physical, are subject to arising and passing away and have no abiding essence, any reliance upon them can only lead to suffering (dukkha). Your train is far from permanent; indeed, it is often not there at all. It won’t last for ever – rolling stock and liveries change. And suffering? Well, enough said.

The Buddha, whom one can regard as a sort of celestial ticket collector in this context, offered an escape from this predicament. In one of his most intriguing statements he said: “There is a field of experience that is beyond the entire field of matter, the entire field of mind, that is neither this world nor another world nor both, neither moon nor sun. This I call neither arising, nor passing away, nor abiding, neither dying nor rebirth. It is without support, without development, without foundation. This is the end of suffering.”

To Buddhists this is Nibbana; to Christians it is Heaven, perhaps – the ultimate terminus for our spiritual train. The Buddha is describing that which cannot be described. He referred to it as “the unconditioned” – that which needed no conditions for it to arise, that which always has been and always will be – a state beyond birth and death.

How can it be reached? Or, more accurately, how can we become aware of its constant presence? In seemingly the simplest of ways, he suggested – a way echoed in that hiss of breath when the train doors open. It is extraordinary to think that in the act of conscious respi ration, of watching one’s breath, of apparently doing nothing, we can gain everything. Nibbana, God, the kingdom of heaven, the season ticket to the beyond.

The proof? The 2,500-year-old vipassana tradition of insight; meditation, based on the Buddha’s Satipatthana Sutra (four foundations of mindfulness discourse). “Ever mindful he breathes in, ever mindful he breathes out,” states this text. So simple to say, so hard to do. Yet it is claimed that the breath is a bridge from the known to the unknown, and the Zen master Dogen, even said that the whole universe is the breath. Modern teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh bring breath awareness to everyday activities – even commuting. Larry Rosenberg’s Breath By Breath is a good introduction to an inspiring subject.

The Buddha’s teaching on the breath is inscribed on palm leaves in monasteries, libraries and institutes throughout south-east Asia. The west complains about leaves on the line – for many these ancient lines on the leaves provide an answer.

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