Subway Connections

by Blakeney Schick

Riding the subway each day has become a great teacher for me in how we handle the twists and turns of life. One recent Monday morning, a young man got on my car. There were plenty of empty seats, but oddly he decided to sit between me and another man. He was clearly nervous or bothered by something. The man sitting on the other side of this new arrival moved seats immediately. I stayed.

I stayed, but the lifelong New Yorker in me was on full alert, ready to move. My neighbor kept glancing over at me quickly and then away just as quickly. His nervous energy was making me nervous. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next, but I had a feeling that he was going to say something — the question was what. And I wasn’t really looking forward to the answer.

He looked over and said a simple “Hello,” which was quickly followed by “How are you?” “How was your weekend?” and “What’s your name?” I answered his questions guardedly, not yet sure why he was asking them. But in the great unspoken code of the subway, I knew that I wasn’t alone — every New Yorker in earshot was following what was happening.

As we talked, it became clear that he wasn’t flirting with me — his behavior was as compulsive as it was nervous. Although it seemed to be difficult for him, it also seemed to be necessary for this man to interact with someone. He told me lots of things about himself in those 2 stops, including his name. Jamal insisted on shaking my hand as we introduced ourselves.

From what I could tell, what Jamal wanted was to make a connection with another person. It was in an unusual context and an odd approach, but the connection he was after was something very ordinary, something we all look for in our lives. And that was really all he seemed to want.

As the train pulled into my stop, I said good-bye to Jamal and wished him a good day. I was making my way through the turnstile and out of the station, when a man who had been on my car came up to me and said, “Well, your day’s certainly off to an interesting start.” I agreed and then added, “But it wouldn’t be the subway if that kind of thing didn’t happen.”

Riding the subway reminds us that life is unpredictable — trains go out of service, they switch from local to express with no notice. Anyone can walk into your car — the man playing the accordion for your spare change, the crazy person yelling incoherently, a person clipping their nails, a woman asking for food. Some of it’s pleasant, but much of it is not. And when we get uncomfortable with what ishappening — on the subway or anywhere else — our first instinct is to run. Our yoga practice helps us learn how to stay. Meeting Jamal reminded me that when I get outside of my comfort zone, what I find there can be valuable. It can also be ordinary. And I have to say, I was glad that I stayed to learn the lesson.

Blakeney Schick is a public radio producer who follows events and elections. She started going to yoga 8 years ago in the hopes that it would help her stand up straighter. It has. But she’s stayed on the mat because yoga’s also made her stronger in every possible way. Blakeney found her way to Mala in late 2007, and finished Mala’s 200-hour teacher training in 2012. She is also a regular contributor to the Mala Yoga blog.

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