From auto-body to mindful mover: Developing my present moment consciousness while using public transit


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By: Kelsey Knowles

My mother recently approached me with a video she found on the Internet. The video began by showing thousands of jellybeans laid out on a table, each representing one day in the life of an average human being. Jelly beans were then taken away from this large pile in sections while the narrator explained what each section represented: “this section represents the number of days an average human spends sleeping”, “this represents the number of days an average human spends commuting to work”, and so on. The man in the video proceeded to divide piles of jellybeans and slide them off the table until there were only a few beans remaining. The remaining jellybeans represented the time that humans have left to enjoy.

The overall message of the video was obvious: to cherish the time we have left, to treasure the remaining jellybeans. However, despite its motivational significance, the video left me feeling uncomfortable and frustrated. It was at this point that I began to question the way I live my life and the philosophies that govern my daily routines. Could I experience joy in more moments than the jellybean video illustrated? What might it be like to experience joy in some of the more mundane moments of my life, such as the time in which I commute to university? I began to think about my morning and what it is like to take the bus.

I hit the black button on my iPhone to see the time…three minutes to get to the bus stop, I think. In a race of fury, I throw my lunch in a Lululemon bag, grab my backpack and run out the door. The cold fall air tightens my skin as it makes its way through my thin sweater. The buss edges around the corner and I run at full speed to the intersection where the bus-stop sign stands. Now I am focused on getting on the bus. I no longer notice the cold air, I don’t pay attention to the children playing in the schoolyard, and I am too late to smile at the person getting on the bus in front of me. I step onto the bus and rifle through my backpack’s front pocket to find my pass. I show it to the driver who doesn’t even seem to look up from the tiny screen bordering the steering wheel. Now I am focused on finding a seat. I make my way through the crowd of people with no names, no stories to tell, and no facial expressions. At this moment, the people on the bus are just props, or tiny obstacles that I must work around. I finally sit next to a woman reading a book. I don’t know if she is young or old, if she smiled at me or not, or if she would have engaged in a conversation had I initiated it with a welcoming gesture or hello. Instead, I settle into my seat and pull my phone out of my sweater pocket. I open my emails. Now I am focused on getting to class…

I spend almost two hours each day rushing from one bus to another, becoming overly frustrated with schedules, lack of seating, and not-so-friendly bus riding companions. I check my emails, look at Facebook, and, on occasion, catch up on my course readings that have taken a backseat to my healthy pile of term papers. For the most part, I have no idea what is going on around me, and I am too caught up in the emails that are burning a hole in my gmail inbox to care. This means that throughout the course of an academic year, I will spend approximately 250 hours, or 10 days, using public transit – 10 precious days will be spent rushing around, feeling annoyed, frustrated, and disconnected from the world around me. bus 1

Living in a fast paced, goal-oriented world influences me to direct my attention towards the future, rather than on the present moment. My mother’s video haunts my thoughts as I reflect on how much of my life I am throwing away as I mindlessly sit or stand on the bus thinking, “I have better things I could be doing”. The disturbing image of over 100 jellybeans being thrown off the table, representing 100 days of my life being wasted, ignites my desire to regain control.

To save my fading pile jellybeans, I have propelled myself onto a research path that has led me to present moment consciousness; a concept understood in various disciplines as the practice of deliberately attuning to one’s immediate lived experiences. Those who practice yoga, for example, are conscious of their bodies and minds as they move through different yoga poses, bringing about deep relaxation through the use of breathing and movement techniques (Thomas, 2008). This anchoring to the present moment helps to reduce anxiety and stress and increase happiness and compassion, as practitioners learn to pay attention to what is happening now without becoming overly focused on past issues or future worries (Kempton, 2014). Present moment consciousness is also an integral part of mindfulness, a practice described as a ‘heightened and receptive attention to moment-by-moment experience’ (Flook & Smalley, et al., 2010). To be mindful means to pay attention “on purpose”, “in the present moment”, and “non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1990).

The concept of present moment consciousness is inclusive, as it encompasses all “present moment” philosophies that are inherent within practices such as yoga and mindfulness. Present moment consciousness is a way of being and a way of looking at the world with a sense of interest, curiosity, and awareness. I challenge myself to remain conscious of the present moment throughout my transit experience as a way of becoming more attuned to myself and to the world around me. Through this new lens, I reflect on my original view of public transit and realize that I previously ignored the value of the interactions that took place while using the bus at the expense of my mechanistic, forward moving self.

This newfound ability to be attuned to the present moment has significantly changed the way I view and experience public transit. I began journaling about my experiences following each bus trip.  Through the process of reading and re-reading this journal, I am noticing a pattern. I write a lot about whether I was standing up or sitting down on the bus and what these postural positions afforded. bus 2

Each time I am sitting down on the bus, I have very few, if any, interactions with other people. Although I am open to interaction, it seems as though there is simply no opportunity to engage in conversation with others, given our forward facing seated positions. As such, I have decided to use this quiet time to reflect on my breathing, on how my body feels, and to notice what is going on around me.

In almost every instance, at the moment at which I stand up, I am engaged in an interaction with another person. Whether this interaction consists of a smile, a head nod, or a ‘Sorry!’ – this standing posture welcomes communication. At the beginning of this reflective transit process, I was often frustrated with the fact that I was forced to stand; however, towards the end of this research, I have found myself looking for opportunities to stand and often give up my seat so I can experiment with this posture and the interactions that stem from it:

I hop on the bus excited to see so many vacant seats. Finally I can sit. I am about to sit down on one of the seats, but an old man with grey hair and a checkered shirt grabs my arm. “Don’t sit there my dear, the seat is wet!” I quickly respond by thanking him for warning me. “They are all wet” the woman standing next to him says. The conversation between the old man, the woman and myself carries on. A few more people join in as we speculate as to why all of the bus seats would be wet on this very dry morning. “It didn’t rain last night” One man says. “Maybe they just cleaned them” another woman responds. I am frustrated that I can’t sit down, but I am also thankful for this unforeseen circumstance that helped me to engage in a conversation with the people on the bus. Had I found a seat right away, would I have talked to anyone this morning? – Probably not, I think.…The bus no longer feels like a bus. Two of the people standing next to me sip on their coffee as we chat about the weather. I feel like I am at a coffee shop with friends. The bus is warm, but not too warm and the people are so approachable and kind. I don’t just feel like I am “getting to school.” I realize how much I can learn about people if I am just open to conversation – an openness that is evident in one’s body language, posture and facial expressions (Personal Journal, 2013).

This process has made me realize that perhaps this standing vs. sitting phenomenon is part of a larger philosophy for life. While standing – an erect, active posture – is open to interaction, sitting – a passive, complacent posture – deters interaction whilst providing a space for personal reflection. I realize that both postures and ways of being are important in any lived experience. We need to stand up and move around in order to interact with others to learn about where we fit within the world (Macintyre & Buck, 2008). Yet, we need to sit down and be still, providing ourselves with the opportunity to reflect on these interactions with the world. According to Aoki (1984), this reflective process is as important as the interaction:

“Reflection is not only oriented toward making conscious the unconscious by discovering underlying assumptions and intentions, but it is also oriented toward the implications for action guided by the newly gained consciousness and critical knowing” (p. 77).

My ‘newly gained consciousness’ guide my ‘actions’ and perceptions throughout my transit experience. I now recognize public transit as an actual system or a network – an ‘interconnected group of people’ (Online etymology dictionary, 2013) with different backgrounds, beliefs and places within the world. My position within this web of complexity becomes clearer as I have come to understand the standing up vs. sitting down phenomenon. Through this, I have come to know myself in a different way. This knowing has come about because of my ability to recognize who I am, what I am doing, and how I fit within the ‘interlaced sets of…social and environmental conditions” (Davis et al., 2008, p. 11) inherent in the bussing experience. I now feel more connected to others while I commute to university as well as the world at large.  My eyes, once glued to my Facebook updates and email inbox, have lifted, providing me with the opportunity to peer into the eyes of my bus riding companions, and, on occasion, to the horizon outside the bus window.

I look back at the clouds again. They are still moving with vigor. Another opening forms in the first layer of clouds – this time, there is no puffy white layer of clouds above it. The sun beams through the opening – surrounded by a bright blue sky. The leaves on the trees glisten and the rain on the pavement blinds me. I can see three distinct sunrays protruding the grey ceiling of clouds that has been occupying the sky for three days. The natural picture outside is absolutely stunning. I feel a flip-flop sensation in my stomach – followed by a wave of goose bumps that begin at my forehead and trickle all the way down to my big toe. Wow, I think. And I am thankful for what I now see (Personal Journal, 2013).

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References

Aoki, T. T. (1984). Competence in teaching as instrumental and practical action: A critical analysis . In W. F. Pinar, & R. L. Irwin (Eds.), Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of ted T. aoki (pp. 125-136). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Davis, B., Sumara, D., & Luce-Kapler, R. (2008). Engaging minds: Changing teaching in complex times (Second Edition ed.). New York: Routledge.

Flook, L., Smalley, S. L., Kitil, M. J., Galla, B. M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., Kasari, C. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26(1), 70-95.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to Face Stress, pain, and illness. New York, NY: Banta Dell.

Kempton, S. (2014). Real joy, right now. Retrieved 01/14, 2014, from http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/1516

Online etymology dictionary. (2013). Retrieved 11/2013, 2013, from http://www.etymonline.com/

Thomas, L. (2008). Being present: Mindfulness and yoga at westminster center. Horace, 24(2), 1-5.

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