I had an opportunity recently, whilst on a train journey into London, to observe a deeper kind of journey occurring within myself; one that took me to an unexpected inner destination, one which illustrated to me how mindfulness is helping me become less reactive and more compassionate.
If the physical journey is one we make every day, the novelty of it diminishes as our body and brain integrate the pattern; the usual sights and sounds cease to engage our attention as they become more familiar and we become less and less present with the journey itself and our experience of it. Our mind takes the opportunity to snatch our now wandering attention and we might spend the entire journey in our heads, concerned with the tense conversation we had with our partner before we left or leaping ahead to speculate on, and plan, the day’s work. In this way so much of our actual lives pass us by and we miss countless opportunities to engage in meaningful relationship with others and our environment.
Whilst participating in Special Yoga’s training course to teach yoga and mindfulness to children with Autism and ADHD, we were invited by our wonderful teacher, Jyoti Jo Manuel, to undertake a piece of homework at the end of the 2nd day; to simply notice our reactions to any situations that presented themselves as we travelled between then and the next day’s training, in essence to be fully present in our journey.
Oh boy, did I get a chance to do just that!
That last day of training held the possibility of heavy snow fall and right from the start I was aware of the fearful though ‘Will I be able to get home if it snows today?’, lots of deep breathing, feeling my feet on the ground and affirming positively, ‘All is well, I am safe and all is well’, helped ease my jangle of nerves and quickening heart rate…
As the train I was due to get into London was cancelled I noticed the doom laden internal mutterings of ‘Oh no, I’m going to be late’ the tension this bought to my shoulders and a sort of plummeting of my emotional state. This time I reassured myself that it really didn’t matter if I was late, as others would be too and the day would continue non the less…
Accepting my now inevitable lateness with another deep breath I boarded the very slow train and, feeling lighter of heart, found gratitude for the fact that I had a seat and marvelled at the beauty of the snow flakes as they glistened in the intermittent rays of the low morning sun (contented sigh).
Of course the train was packed as we pulled into Paddington. I had been aware of the smartly dressed chap in the seat next to me as he boarded but had not paid him any further attention through the journey, until the automated female voice punctuated the thick and loaded silence of the crowded carriage. I smiled with a mixture of disbelief, sadness and amusement at the company’s attempt to make the voice sound jolly and bright; it sat so desperately at odds with the commuter’s annoyance at yet another disrupted trek to work, sounding disingenuous and ridiculous.
For my neighbour, however, this was the straw that broke the camels back. As he started to agitatedly verbalise his obviously deep seated anger to no one in particular I watched as the fight-or-flight fireworks instantly started to explode inside me.
I forget his words apart from the last part of his rant; ‘It makes you want to hit someone, I want to hit someone.’
My nervous system believed him and prepared me to RUN! I could feel the blood racing to my heart and muscles, a feeling of lightheadedness, shaking limbs injected with adrenaline, loosing awareness of my feet and the ground beneath me, utterly ungrounded, utterly panicked…
…some other part of me, my awareness, remained fully present with that beautiful fellow human being who was feeling so lost, so broken and so hurt beneath his anger.
In the past I would not have engaged with him. I would have cowered in my reactionary state praying for the doors to open, for the man to move, for someone else to save the day.
But in this moment, I turned gently to face him. He met my eyes and I held his gaze, my acknowledgment of his pain as mine being communicated from the depths of my heart to his and said softly ‘Please don’t’. And he didn’t retaliate because I wasn’t afraid. My words didn’t come from the reactive, fear based part of me, but from the compassion that mindfulness is helping me cultivate and the knowledge that we are not separate entities, but that we are all connected and sharing this human experience together.
He seemed to deflate, sighing heavily and smiling sadly. I asked him what he did for work and we had a brief exchange during which he revealed his hurt at being treated unfairly by an old boss, part of the root of his anger at least.
He asked what I did for work and upon hearing I taught yoga to children remembered how he had loved doing Hot Yoga and how he wanted to take it up again. Whilst his journey and how he travels are up to him, I did notice that I hoped he does return to a physical practice, for himself and for all of us, as a way of letting go of emotional tension whilst relieving the physical, for how much lighter he, and we, will be!
The value of being fully present within this recent journey of mine helped me notice not just how mindfulness is helping me become less reactive, but also how deep the inner journey can be within the physical one; and that if we are sensing a deep and undefinable unsettlement within, a knowing that something isn’t quite right, it’s this inner journey we need to navigate if we wish to find our peace.