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Can meditation make rush hour a breeze?

I hate public transit. OK, maybe my feelings are a little more complicated than that. I love the idea of it—it’s better for the environment, often cheaper than driving, and you don’t have the stress of being at the wheel.

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But recently I was on a stuck subway train in New York City, and it really bugged me. I was angry at myself for using public transit instead of hopping into a cab. It put me in a bad mood. So when I saw Headspace had a Commuting single, I wondered if it could make my public transit experience less stressful and annoying. To find out, I got on a bus and tried it out.

Being present makes you forget about time

Naturally, riding public transit takes longer than driving somewhere. Because I have a mobile office, I can work from anywhere, so I chose to “commute” from my house to a coffee shop I like. Whereas normally I could do the drive in 10 minutes, the bus would take 22 minutes each way because it had plenty of stops. Usually, the first thing I do on the bus is look at my watch, which sets the tone for a trip where I’m constantly aware of the time. Instead, I hit play on the Commuting single, and Andy told me to feel my body resting in the seat. It shifted my awareness. It was much more pleasant to focus on my feet on the floor and my arms at my side. Even better, he said I could do the entire session with my eyes open.

You’ll stop resisting all the annoying things about your commute

Next, Andy said to focus on the sounds around me. At first, I was pretty reluctant—one of the reasons I hate the bus is that it’s always so noisy. Every time the bus accelerates, it sounds like a motorcycle revving its engine in my ear. And because of the loud engine, everyone on the bus has to speak loudly to one another, too. But then Andy said to acknowledge the resistance I had toward the sounds (and even the smells). There’s a line made famous by "Star Trek": “Resistance is futile,” and it’s right. The second I acknowledged my resistance toward my surroundings, my mind seemed to soften a little. It’s not about convincing myself the noise doesn’t bother me—it’s about recognizing my thoughts and moving on. Even that shift in attitude feels like a huge win. Plus, it beats staring at my watch wondering when I’m going to get to my destination.

Breathing feels good, no matter where you are

I know from experience that I’m able to meditate anywhere, but I’ve often thought that I need to breathe with my eyes closed for an extended period of time to get any benefit. That’s not the case. Andy encouraged me to count my breaths up to 10, and I did so with my eyes open. Though it was tough to focus when I heard dings from the bus every 15 seconds and loud talkers around me. And Andy even noted that my breath might feel different than it normally does when I sit and meditate. He was right. It felt more labored; I felt less calm. But, sure enough, once I got into the groove of counting, I was more relaxed. Then the distractions kept coming. People would cross in front of my seat to leave. I began to focus on when my stop was. Those dang loud beeps from the bus would not shut up. Right on cue, Andy said that if there was a distraction annoying enough, I should give it my “undivided attention.” That seemed counterintuitive, but it worked. I focused on the constant engine noise, and it became less annoying. Then I went back to focusing on my breath, which felt good.

You might finish your commute feeling better than when you began

When the Commuting single ended, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t looked at my watch once. Soon after, the bus came to my stop, and I walked off. Meditation isn’t a magic trick—it didn’t make all the annoying things about commuting suddenly not annoying anymore. The bus was still loud, and the commute still took longer than the drive did. But it changed how I reacted to it, and I arrived at my destination feeling much better than when I stepped on the bus. I’ll definitely be using the Commuting single next time I hop on.

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