Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    Entries in aging (2)


    Bus Mindfulness in Gotham: A Lesson in Acceptance

    By Irene Javors, LMHC

    I ride city buses all the time. I like buses. I prefer them to the subway. I love looking out the window and watching the world go by. My mind wanders. I daydream. But there is one thing that happens on a bus that has the capacity to totally "undo" me. Whenever, I see someone who is relatively healthy, young, and totally oblivious take one of the seats that is designated for the "elderly and or disabled," at the very front of the vehicle, behind the driver's seat, I lose all my mindfulness training and I am about ready to blow a fuse.

    Last week when I was on the bus in my Queens neighborhood, I witnessed a particularly acute example of such behavior. The bus was very crowded and a boy around 15-years-old took one of those seats. He had his iPod and he was totally involved in whatever music he was tuned into. Unfortunately, he was completely tuned out to anything else.

    A very fragile, elderly woman got on the bus and was looking around for somewhere to sit. My immediate impulse was to get up for her, but then I reminded myself that the reason I was so grateful to have a seat was that the arthritis in my left knee was causing me a great deal of pain and that I was in no shape to play good samaritan.

    I, then, argued with myself as to whether or not I should say something to the boy. He bristled with very defiant and oppositional energy. I felt totally conflicted. Was it really my business to intervene and speak to the teen? What was going on with the woman? What was preventing her from speaking up for herself? Where was everyone else? How come no one was getting up and giving her a seat? What about the bus driver who was a witness to what was happening- what was going on with him?

    I didn't know what to do. I ended up doing nothing. This didn't feel very good to me. I see myself as a person of action yet, this incident showed me that there are times when doing "the right thing" isn't always possible. I wanted to help the woman but I didn't have a clue as to how to do so. In the past, I actually have spoken to people who have wrongfully occupied those seats. Every time I have done so--no matter how diplomatic I have been--I have been the recipient of curses and hostility. I was afraid that this would happen again.

    I have asked myself if it is possible to look at this episode in a mindful way. This incident has taught me the importance of 'acceptance.' I need to accept that people often don't do "the right thing," including myself. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. Remembering this, I have concluded, is the first step to mindful wisdom.

    The Way Things Are Now: A Mindful Lunch in Queens

    By Irene Javors, LMHC

    Recently, I had lunch with a friend in my neighborhood. We met at a neighborhood place that still makes homemade mashed potatoes and meat loaf soaked in gravy. Forget about carb awareness or calorie counting. This is burgers, chicken wings, french fries and souvlaki land. Everyone knows everyone and the waitstaff has been there for years.

    Anyway, on this given Sunday the subject of our conversation was the economy. My friend will be 70 in a few weeks, retired and living on social security and a small pension. She is worried about how she is going to be able to make ends meet if her stocks fall any lower. We talked about the bizarre nature of finances today. People are losing their jobs yet prices on just about everything--health care,property taxes, rents, utilities, groceries--aren't budging. Toilet paper costs sixty five cents and the price of cereal is over five dollars. My friend kept shaking her head and saying, “Nothing makes any sense."

    She related how someone who lives in her building just got let go from his job of twenty eight years. He's 52 and he has no idea how he is going to find work. He knows that he will have to settle for a paycut and he wonders what this will mean in terms of continuing to have health insurance. In the co-op where I live, someone on the second floor was unable to pay mortgage and maintenance and had to go into foreclosure.

    By my third cup of coffee, I thought to myself,”How do I maintain a mindful approach to all that is going on?” I asked my friend how she was getting through these uncertain times. She looked me in the eye and said, "We gotta help each other." A light turned on in my brain. Right, we need to get more mindful of each other; be present in ways that are about sharing and caring for one another. My mother used to tell stories about how as a child during the depression, her family was thrown out of their apartment because they couldn't pay the rent. Neighbors who had some money would join together and throw a “rent party” for her family and move them back in by the evening.

    Yes, that was a different time and place, but the idea is something that we can learn from: we are not isolated entities, living separate disconnected lives. If there is one central precept of mindfulness practice, it is that we are inter-connected. We need to remember all that connects us and out of that awareness, put into practice a way of living that is mindful of what brings us together.

    Our lunch lasted a luxurious 2 hours. No one rushed us out. When we left, the staff waved good-bye to us. We went out into a cold, blustery day, mindful that these hard times can be made a great deal easier through caring and friendship.