We may be on the same train, but we’re experiencing very different rides.
Many of my colleagues are fond of saying things like “We create our own reality with our minds. We can choose not to suffer.”
Sometimes when I hear this concept, I feel a bit sick inside. I think it can be used to invalidate someone’s experience and/or blame the victim. For example, if I were to break my leg, there would be very real physical pain and psychological stress. That is a fact. To say it’s “all in my head” and that I can “choose to not suffer” is ridiculous! Of course, I could suffer more than necessary by cultivating thoughts like “this shouldn’t happen to me, life isn’t fair, my life is a 'shit-sandwich'.” I could definitely make things worse for myself! But even if I surrender to reality as it is, and accept what is happening, a broken leg is going to cause very real physical pain! And emotional trauma is defined by the individual!
But then there are times when I have been able to choose to suffer less by shifting my perspective.
Last Wednesday I was taking the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan to teach a yoga class at a yoga center in Midtown East. I needed to be there by 5:45 to set up and teach at 6:00. Suddenly, the train stopped. The conductor announced there had been an accident on another train, and we would be held in the station for quite a while.
Unfortunately, I was in a part of Brooklyn far away from automobile bridges. But at that particular station, I could transfer to another train, and then another, that would take me through Queens to Grand Central. And it might actually get me there by 6:00, but it was cutting it close.
I transferred as fast as I could along with a large crowd of other people. I was swept into the train car in a wild crush. Many of those same people transferred with me to the second train. By then I was definitely feeling the stress of being late.
The thing is, with yoga classes, you really gotta be there on time! I can’t go over time and mess up the schedule for the other classes after me. And people need their yoga. It is stressful to be waiting for a late yoga teacher and thinking about all the things you could have gotten done if you had skipped yoga today . . . it could make it harder to stick to your routine in the future.
As I was starting to get anxious, frustrated, and feel like I was somehow letting everyone down . . . I look over and I see two young men who are listening to their music on a portable speaker and dancing. They weren’t doing a performance–they were just partying! And they were vaping on the train. And I don’t think it was tobacco they were vaping . . . 😜 🪴 They were definitely enjoying themselves.
Now, when I see people vaping on the subway platform, or especially IN a subway car or bus – usually I get angry. I just think it’s really rude and unnecessary. But this day, I was just struck by what a good time these young men were having together. They were vaping whatever they were vaping, listening to their music, and rocking out. I started to relax and feel Mudita – a sympathetic joy for them. Vicariously, I felt uplifted and joyful. ❤️
Here I am in the same subway car as them, feeling upset, anxious and like I’m letting someone down–and a few feet away people are having a wonderful time enjoying their music and friendship.
Watching them helped me surrender to the moment as it is–not as I wanted it to be. None of this delay was under my control. I could only get there as fast as I could get there. There is no sense in me suffering. It’s just a yoga class! I was able to let go and be happy in the moment.
And as for their vaping in the subway–why get my “panties in a wad”? They’re having a good time, they’re not hurting anybody. I’m happy for them. Let it go! Why do I have to be Miss Judgey McJudgepants?
I ended up being 6 minutes late, but I made it! 😅 and I gave them a good class, if I do say so myself. 😜
This experience is sticking with me. It is a good reminder that just because we are going through the same things, doesn’t mean we have the same internal experiences.
We can grow up with brothers and sisters, but they all have their own childhoods. Parents behave differently with different kids, and kids process events differently. All of us are going through the pandemic, but not all of us are having the same experience. I have been very lucky, but I also know some people who have passed away, or are experiencing long COVID. I have privilege and means that not everyone has. Trauma is very individual. Every one of us has past trauma, and it affects our experiences in the present.
It is important that we practice not judging others. We must cultivate kindness and treat everyone gently.
There could be 200 people in the same subway car, and they could all be living in a heaven or a hell in their own minds. Their suffering is our suffering. And when we see people happy, we can have sympathetic joy for them, too.
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight and sympathetic joy for others, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.
(Sutra 1:33, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.)
May this practice serve for our healing and awakening, and for the healing and awakening of all.
📷 Photo Credit: Taylor Heery at Unsplash
I believe he is on Instagram as Taylorheeryphoto, but I need to confirm 😁🙏
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