The average city dweller will spend around 11,000 hours of their life commuting to and from work, paying approximately £50,000 for the pleasure.
How many times have you been standing on the tube, with some suited giant’s warm armpit pressed against your cheek and a stranger’s backpack rhythmically bashing into your spine, thinking to yourself, “What am I doing with my life?”
It’s easy to feel like you are stuck on a carousel. A very expensive, stuffy, unreliable carousel.
Perhaps it seems like you spend an awful lot of time simply getting from A to B. Time that could be better spent with your friends and family, or even working rather than trying to just get to work!
Enjoying the Journey
But life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey, so how can we make that journey more worthwhile?
If you already live mindfully, this is a concept that you are probably aware of and try to invite into your life as often as possible. If you are truly being present in every moment, it’s pretty hard to think about the destination, since that destination will simply end up being another part of a larger journey.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
How might we already apply this principle in other areas of our lives?
Putting the emphasis on flowing between poses
Knowing that it is a life-long practice
Cultivating humility and patience
Following the breath
Enjoying simple pleasures together (e.g. going for a walk)
Knowing all good things come to an end, even if that end is death
Learning to grow with your partner
Not aiming for milestones e.g. anniversaries, marriage, children
Aiming to do our best every day
Helping others advance their own careers
Constantly investing in learning
Before we have a look at a few mindfulness exercises that you can start to integrate into your daily commute, here are a few tips on how you can create space to welcome in these changes by shedding many of the frustrations that might currently be clouding your experience…
1. Running Late
Your alarm didn’t go off, you couldn’t find matching socks, the bus didn’t arrive, your train was cancelled and the tube got stuck in a tunnel. Pretty standard Monday morning then!
There are so many variables that can effect your daily travels that it’s easy to feel out of control and that no matter how hard you try, you are always running late. I learned an excellent lesson at college from a passionately punctual teacher, “always take the train before the train.” This little mantra has served me very well over the years and I apply it to every part of my commute: I set the alarm 15 minutes earlier than I need, I take the bus before the bus and then the train before the train.
Being early leaves time for a leisurely walk with a hot coffee to start the day with a spring in my step!
2. Anger and Frustration
We all recognise that cheek-tingling, heat-raising, teeth-gritting build up of irritation that rears it’s ugly head throughout the day, and commuting must be one of the times when these feelings exist with the most frequency and intensity.
Have you ever been on a super relaxing holiday or retreat only to exit the airport onto the Heathrow Express and find your glowing calm shattered within the blink of an eye? I would guess that almost all of these feelings arise because of how other people are behaving; pushing in, shoving, moving too slowly, moving too fast, elbowing you in the face, not offering you a seat, asking for your seat… the list is endless.
Essentially, you can’t control the feelings and actions of others, but you can control your own. Try to stop projecting your frustrations on all of those strangers and focus on yourself, in this moment. Being happy and calm is a decision only you can make.
Same old journey, every day. Same potholes, same smelly bus, same traffic lights making you nod off into your Metro newspaper and flat white. There’s a very simple solution to this problem… take a different route! By choosing a different journey, not only will you be less bored but it will also be much easier to be mindfully present as you will have to pay attention not to get lost.
There’s a reason why rush hour has earned its name. Take a step away from it by traveling at a different time if possible. Maybe see what it’s like to make your commute an hour or two earlier and take a yoga class near your office with the extra time. In the evening, walk as far as you can before getting on the tube to avoid the Central London crush, with the added bonus of some fresh air and a leg stretch.
“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between.”
~ Norton Juster,
Meditation On The Go
Here is a short meditation to do whilst you are on your daily commute, to help make the most of the journey. Think of it as a little spiritual multitasking! I wouldn’t recommend you meditate whilst in charge of a vehicle, although I know many advanced meditation practitioners who do. Perhaps make a start by focusing simply on the meditation rather than dodging pedestrians, cyclists and traffic wardens…
1. Begin by being very aware of your surroundings, of the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of your immediate environment.
2. Acutely look and listen, drink in the overload of sensory input. After a few moments… let it all drift to the background and close the eyes.
3. Focus on the breath, drawing in full silent inhales and exhales, allowing the belly to be soft and shoulders, jaw and brow released.
4. Introduce a 1:2 ratio count to the breath, inhaling for 3 counts and exhaling for 6 counts.
5. Each time the tube/train/bus/car stops, increase the count by 1, gradually lengthening the breath over the duration of the journey.
6. When distractions, frustrations, thoughts and sensory input arises, acknowledge whatever has crept up, let it float away and gently bring the focus back to the breath, without judgement.
“The only journey is the one within.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke