The power of OW!

I’m currently re-reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This morning, just as the train doors opened and an army of angry commuters elbowed their way onto the already packed carriage with scant regard for their fellow passengers’ comfort or wellbeing I read the following sentence about the present moment:

“It is as it is. Observe how the mind labels it and how this labelling process, this continuous sitting in judgement, creates pain and unhappiness.”

Before I was able to observe how my mind was labelling the process, however, someone stood on my toe, which meant the pain I felt was rather more tangible than the pain to which Eckhart was referring. But nonetheless I read on:

“By watching the mechanics of the mind, you step out of its resistance patterns, and you can then allow the present moment to be.”

Easier said than done, Eckhart, I thought, when the woman to your right is coughing directly in your face. But still, must try…

“Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”

At that very moment, as if to test me, the train stalled. I looked around at my fellow passengers, their gloomy faces pressed into one another’s sweaty armpits. Could I accept this moment as if I had chosen it? Could I really?

“Always work with it, not against it.”

Right, I can work with this. It’s not so bad. Focus on your breathing. Enjoy the moment. The train will move soon. Embrace the Now!

“Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy.”

Why is this train not moving? Don’t they realise there’s a serious lack of oxygen in here? Oh thank God, it’s moving. But wait, hey you CHUMP don’t stand on my bag! Aarrrghh! Stampede! I’m being crushed to death! HELP!!”

“This will miraculously transform your whole life.”

Hmm. I guess this mindfulness takes some practice to master…

This was the lake next to the ashram in southern India where I first learnt how to meditate. It was certainly a lot easier to do it there…

John Doe

John Doe woke to the sound of rowing neighbours and the view of his alarm clock’s blinking red light. In two minutes the alarm would sound, a siren call demanding he rise and actively participate in life. He reached out to flick the switch that would silence it before it began, a fleeting flicker of satisfaction rippling across the otherwise flat vista of his personal horizon.

He washed and dressed, then carelessly threw some cat food in the bowl as he exited the kitchen. As he stepped out into the street he paused to look up at the sky. He sighed. It was another grey day after a succession of equally grey predecessors. As he walked towards the train station it began to rain. He had no umbrella.

The train platform was crowded, five deep in sleep-deprived commuters, not one of them wanting to be where they were. John Doe positioned himself just back from where he knew the doors would be. Fat rain drops splashed onto his cheeks. Next to him a fat woman jostled for space for her obscenely large breasts. A man coughed in his face.

The train pulled up and in the ensuing scramble someone stumbled, cried out. But, intent on catching their trains, not one person helped their fallen comrade. She was a businesswoman, early thirties, or so John Doe suspected. As the doors closed inches from her face she pulled her skirt down to cover her modesty and slowly rose to her feet, cursing as the blank expressions of those who had safely boarded the train began to move.

John Doe moved into the space that had been created by the evacuation of the other commuters from the platform. The businesswoman, having recovered herself, stood beside him, a scowl plastered on her otherwise pretty face. A tidal wave of people rose up from the depths of the tunnel at the end of the platform, spilling over the lip of the top step and thronging all around them.

A disembodied voice announced the next train would be five minutes late, and a collective sigh breathed through the impatient crowd. Behind him John Doe heard a woman with a high pitched voice screech into her phone that she was about to miss a meeting.

After five minutes the train had still not arrived, and frustrations were at fever pitch. There were now so many people on the platform that John Doe could feel a pressure against his back as they forged ever forward. A woman – perhaps the businesswoman, though John Doe could no longer be sure – shouted, begged for people to stop pushing. But still they pushed.

As the train finally pulled into the platform there was a blood curdling scream. The commuter mob swayed uncertainly. Another scream, more prolonged this time, followed by a man’s voice: “For Christ’s sake, move back!” Eventually the message filtered through and the swarm retreated, parting ways enough for everyone to see the twisted form of John Doe splayed across the track.

Rather different from the ones in central London…

Moment in time

It is half past eleven on the London underground; Oxford Circus, Victoria Line southbound.

A girl stands on the platform, her head swaying in unselfconscious appreciation of the rock music being delivered into her ears by her oversized headphones. She stoops to tie a lace in her steel toe-capped boots, pulls her multi-coloured knee socks up, yawns and wipes a heavily charcoaled eye with the back of a fingerless glove-clad hand, oblivious to those around her.

The train pulls into the platform. Unusually there’s no scrum as the doors open, most of the seats being already taken by tipsy revellers reluctant to miss the last easy way home. The girl walks down the carriage and stops in the middle. She grasps the hand rail and blows a bubble with her gum, thinking of her thesis and wondering if smoking a joint when she gets home will make tomorrow a literal write off.

To the girl’s right are a couple so deeply entrenched in one another’s oral cavities it’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins. When they finally come up for air they entwine fingers and stare at one another with the intense longing of first love. The man mouths the three words his partner is aching to hear. She flushes scarlet and smiles a smile so dazzling her soul seems to shine right out of her cherubic face. She lays her blonde head on the man’s shoulder and they stare contentedly into the middle distance.

Beside the couple a boy is slumped in his seat, his head lolling forward in a comical fashion. He is wearing a baseball cap with NYC emblazoned across it, and his baggy jeans are so low slung the crotch almost drags on the floor. In his hand he clasps a takeaway box, the prize at the end of a long night. Though some are eyeing him with suspicion, no doubt mistaking him for a drunk, he’s just come off a double shift at work and is exhausted.

The doors beep and start to close, but not before the dreadlocked man who has been busking in the station for the past three hours manages to leap through them, guitar case in hand, prompting a mixture of tuts and nods of appreciation from his fellow passengers. He props the guitar case against the rail and starts to hum a melody, not for money but for his own unbridled pleasure.

Further along the carriage an elderly man is engaged in conversation with two bespectacled students, imparting his worldliness over the course of three tube stops. They watch him intently, rapt in his presence as their own worlds pale into insignificance in the shadow of the one he has seen. There is not, they all know, enough time to hear it all.

Opposite the students sits a girl, pale and drawn with tell-tale streaks of mascara running in rivulets down her cheeks. She knows she is a cliché, the archetypal jilted lover, but her heart feels close to breaking and she doesn’t care who sees the emotion etched across her face.

By the door in the middle of the carriage a drunk, middle-aged couple giggle like school children. The woman flicks her chestnut curls and pivots around the rail, prompting the man to grab her by the waist and prevent her from toppling over. She laughs, at once both wild and tamed.

At length the train pulls into the platform at Victoria. The girl with the headphones leaves first, confident now that she will smoke a joint when she reaches home. She is closely followed by the kissing couple, still smiling as if, in each other, they’ve discovered Utopia. Next the busker lifts his guitar case and exits the carriage with an easy hop. The students sigh and bid goodbye to their mentor who is, he tells them, will be staying to the end of the line. The jilted girl drifts through the doors ahead of the laughing couple, who stumble down the platform arm in arm, singing something unintelligible. As the doors begin to beep the boy with the takeaway box awakes. He leaps up and hurls himself through the closing gap in the nick of time, his takeaway box left behind like a casualty of war.

Off they go, into the night. Never will they meet again, but will forever be indelibly joined by that one moment in time.

Image

This is possibly my favourite picture from my travels. I took it from the rooftop of a hotel in Jaipur, India, and didn’t for a single moment think it would come out as well as it did. I think it perfectly signifies the frenetic rush of city living and, as such, is a suitable accompaniment to this post.

I saw you

I saw you today, as I do most days. I was sitting on the pavement watching my icy exhalation as it licked the air like a tongue when you careered straight past me, with barely seconds to spare before your train pulled into the platform. You always seem so flustered, as if the dawning of a new day has caught you completely unawares. Your cheeks betray the exertion of your rush to get ready, your skin shimmers with perspiration. You never seem at peace. Are you – ever?

I saw you today. I was standing near the entrance of the supermarket trying to get warm when you brushed past me. Your gym bag was slung over one shoulder, a sign that you like keeping fit (or at least that you try to). Your practical boots stated that comfort, not glamour, was your priority, as they often do on a work day. Not so at weekends, it would seem – once I bummed a cigarette from you on the high street after a night out with your friends when you were dressed to kill in a mini dress and heels that looked like skyscrapers. Do you remember?

I saw you today. I was begging for money (which I hate to do) but I was starving, what could I do? You were on the phone. Sometimes when you walk past I catch snippets of telephone conversations about bills, arguments with your boyfriend, work worries. Today you were bemoaning your lack of holiday allowance. Do you ever stop to think how lucky you are?

I saw you today. I was slumped down by the bins, drawing my last breath as you ran out of your cosy flat and climbed into a waiting car. You looked happy, for once, and as my own life ebbed away I was glad. You have a pretty face when you’re not frowning. Do you know that?

I saw you. But you didn’t see me.

Image

On the theme of looking but not seeing, I remembered this photo taken on the Mekong River whilst travelling in Cambodia. It was just after sunrise and the man was off to sell his wares to tourists like myself. It made me realise how lucky I was to lead such an easy and privileged life.