Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bus meditations

I stubbornly continue to ride public transportation rather than buying a car. I am repeatedly told that it is not possible to survive in Southern California without a car. What people mean when they say this is: It's not easy to live in Southern California without a car. We are so used to hyperbole in our culture, so used to hearing anything that requires the slightest effort or patience referred to as impossible, we have begun to believe it.

It is ABSOLUTELY possibly to live in San Diego without a car. That's not to say it's easy, but I believe that we can only change the world through our own actions. We cannot be responsible for the actions of others, but by acting with integrity ourselves, we can inspire others to follow suit, we can create movements of many individuals acting with integrity. Peace is possible only through enough individuals acting peacefully. We cannot change someone into a peaceful person, we can only change ourselves. The April page of my 2009 Thich Nhat Hanh calendar bears this quote:
My actions are the ground on which I stand.

So I choose not to eat meat most of the time because I do not wish to support financially to the evils of the American meat industry, and I choose not to own a car largely because I see many benefits to choosing public transportation including:
  • Reduced cost to me
  • Reduced cost to the environment
  • Reduced traffic
  • More exercise (I walk a lot)
  • Controlled consumption (I think twice before going to the store and I only buy what I can carry)
  • Opportunities to engage with the realities of my community, to practice yoga on a daily basis out in the world

To be completely honest, there are other factors which speak less to my good moral character such as the fact that I am totally intimidated by the whole car shopping experience.

Call me crazy, but I am getting along fine without a car. Given, the public transportation system in San Diego is appalling and getting worse, carrying on a fine California tradition of overreliance on private motor vehicles. However, if everyone keeps driving cars rather than riding transit, there will be no motivation to change the system - so I have persisted over nearly five years. It does limit where I can live and where I can shop, but not necessarily in a bad way. There are a few things that I regret not being able to do, but every few months I rent a car and take care of a lot of these chores. I rely on friends for rides and sometimes I feel guilty about that.

Anyway, I wanted to address my last point in the above list (opportunities to engage with the realities of my community, to practice yoga on a daily basis out in the world) because I think it's an aspect of riding public transportation which is not usually discussed. A friend recently reminded me about the red light meditation, which got me thinking about bus meditations. For example:

  • The waiting for the bus meditation - see the red light meditation (link above). Unlike the red light meditation, though, the waiting for the bus meditation is tricky because it can go on for a pretty long time and you never know when the bus is going to arrive. By nature, monkey mind wants to go back to thoughts of When is the bus coming? Where is the bus? Why is it late? I'm so hot/ cold/ tired/ bored. My feet hurt. etc. What a gift, to have a built-in exercise of bringing yourself back to the body, the breath, the present moment. (By the way, when will the bus come? When you are ready for it!) I also like to do tadasana and pranayama at the bus stop.

  • Slowing down - In our world, we are always going, going, going nowhere fast. What a gift, to have pauses built into your day! When you are waiting for a bus, there is nothing to do that will make the bus come faster. There is nothing to do but exist at the bus stop. When you are on the bus, there is nothing you can do to arrive at your destination faster. (By the way, there is really nothing you can do when you're driving either - but people usually try and it's usually dangerous!) So you can experience complete freedom to allow things to unfold as they must and there is this amazing opportunity to just sit, open the heart, slow the mind, focus on the breath. You also have an opportunity to just experience how you are feeling going into your day, or in the evening, how your day has affected you. So often we don't give ourselves a chance to connect.

  • Loving kindness meditation and/or compassion - On public transportation, you are in the midst of humanity. You see a lot of suffering. People cry on the bus - I have cried on the bus. People laugh, people sleep, people stare blankly out the window. People hobble in physical pain, they are destitute, they are ill, they are drunk or high. People suffer from mental illness, and people are angry, with or without good reason. People criticize strangers. People are selfish and they are generous. People express sympathy, they reach out to help others for no particular reason other than that it is right. Sometimes, particularly if one is fortunate, there is a tendancy to isolate oneself from those who are less fortunate, from how things are in the world. (Is this, in fact, the reason why many people are so glued to their cars? Avoidance?) On the bus, you see it all. Sometimes, it is all I can do to open my heart to it all and keep breathing. What better place to experience the same-ness of all people, to practice loving the world?

Leave the car at home. What practices do you come up with? Ride the bus. Open your heart.


Kit said...

Good for you! I lived in California for 5 years without a car. I loved riding the bus, walking, biking. I was in the best shape of my life.

I'd love to be car-less again one day. But now I live in the country. Can't get ANYWHERE without a car now. Sigh.

dragonfly said...

I'm sure there are lots of benefits to your current lifestyle. I'd rather live in the country myself. :) It's a trade-off, I guess.

Nathan said...

Love it, love it! I also am car-less for many of the same reasons as you. I live in Minnesota, so it's a little more challenging in the winter. But still doable. And biking and walking are such a joy. I meditate while riding the bus, and walking, and have done chants while biking.

Anonymous said...

It's all good! I've lived without a car since 1995! Yes, 1995 -- 14 years and counting, last year someone tried to loan me a car for free, I had it a week and gave it back, not worth the hassle . . . that was when I realized that I had really changed. Up until that time, it was a matter of principles and finance (in my mind) at that moment I realized that having a car actually no longer fit who I am. what a sense of liberation that was.

You CAN do this anywhere, it is just more challenging some places than others, during my 14 car-less years I have lived in Tacoma WA, San Diego CA, on a Greek Island, in a big Turkish city Bursa, and currently in a small Czech town, each has had it's own challenges, but it is always do-able. I've even traveled in SoCal w/out a car -- now THAT is a real challenge ;-)

Keep riding that bus :-) and walking, save your petroleum karma for some international travel!

dragonfly said...

It's a car-less army and we're taking over the world! I love it. Thanks for your comments.