Effortless Heart Mindfulness on the Subway


On a crisp autumn day in New York City, I headed downtown for a meeting. Arriving at the entrance of my neighborhood subway station on 116th Street and Broadway, I heard the train pull in below. I reached for my MetroCard, passed through the turnstile, and hurried downstairs, reaching the platform just in time to see the subway doors slide shut and the train pull away.

I stood there, looking at my watch, feeling frustrated because I’d probably be late for my meeting. The subway station was completely empty. As I walked toward the back of the platform, I felt disappointment arise as a physical contraction in my stomach. Then I noticed I’d begun to worry, and those thoughts were sending me up into my head, where I was starting to think up future worst-case scenarios. Then it occurred to me: “Oh, I’m caught in my thoughts, but there is another way to be.” I realized my current situation was an opportunity to shift into embodied awake awareness.

As I shifted out of ego-identifcation and into embodied awake awareness, I began to feel safe, grounded, open, and joyously alive. My emotions and thoughts about missing the train and being late were naturally included in the luscious unified feeling and clarity of seeing from awake awareness. It was clear to me that awake awareness was not something I’d created, but an existing dimension of reality that was always already here. With a small shift, awake awareness had become spontaneously and immediately available to me, changing my feeling of myself and the whole situation for the better.

Waiting in a subway station, an activity I’d thought of as boring, had transformed into a mini-retreat, the most precious opportunity of the day. After a few minutes, I was so relaxed and open that I mused: “This is is great. What could be better than this?” So I didn’t expect what happened next.

The train arrived, the doors opened, and I stepped inside. Looking to my right for a seat, I felt stunned when my eyes met those of the few people who looked up. It seemed as if a veil between us had been lifted; our masks had dropped away. I felt vulnerable, yet safe, and connected to everyone and everything. It was as if I truly understood—for the first time—the saying “our eyes are the windows to our souls.” It was as though the other subway riders and I were seeing each other heart to heart. This new kind of knowing is what I now call open-hearted awareness. There seemed to be no separation between the other subway riders and me. I had a profound sense of both the awakeness and imperfection in all of us. Taken aback, I gasped in awe at this new way of seeing and being. Then I started to laugh because, in some ways, this mode of seeing from open-hearted awareness felt so simple and ordinary—and it was such a relief!

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