Family

What riding the subway to work every day taught me about generosity.

A meditation teacher's guide to transforming your morning commute.

It’s easy to hate the subway — the crowds, the heat, the variety of unique aromas — but taking the train doesn’t have to suck.

In fact, all the things that make the subway insufferable also make it a weirdly perfect place for meditation practice. I know, I know. Just go with me for a second.


If only your morning commute looked this uncrowded... Photo via iStock.

By playing with some simple meditative exercises, you can turn your commute into something you enjoy and even look forward to.

Step 1: Practice generosity.

You’re pressed up against a bunch of strangers in a rattling metal tube. Comfort is a limited resource, to put it mildly. The situation is rife with opportunities to pursue your own comfort at the expense of others — or to do something different and open a path for someone else’s comfort and happiness.

One of the main causes of our suffering is a fixation on our “self” and its petty concerns: Am I comfortable enough? Do I have all the things I want? Do people like me? It may seem like we’re looking out for our interests, but we’re actually suffocating ourselves, choking off our ability to enjoy the present moment.

And one of the best antidotes to this claustrophobic fixation on self is — surprise, surprise — cultivating concern for others. You may not associate generosity, which we all learned about in kindergarten, with the “exotic” practice of meditation, but meditation is simply a practice of cultivating healthy habits of mind, and generosity is one of those habits. It makes the mind spacious and joyful — which is nice — and obviously the people around you benefit as well.

It’s the purest win-win there is. Maybe that’s why the Buddha traditionally taught generosity as his first lesson to new students.

“If you want to be selfish, be wisely selfish: care for others!" — The Dalai Lama

Step 2: Stand up.

Here’s the simplest, most powerful generosity practice you can do on the subway: Decide to stand whenever there aren’t enough seats. Every time you sit on a crowded train, there’s someone else who has to stand. What if you choose to be the one who stands, to make that other person’s comfort a priority? If that seems like a little too much, you can give up your seat for seniors, pregnant women, or people with disabilities.

Photo via iStock.

You give up so little by standing instead of sitting, and it’s such an easy way to make other people feel good. In addition to the physical ease of sitting, they also get the warm feeling of having a stranger do something nice for them, and you get the warm feeling of doing something nice for a stranger. The Buddha called this feeling "mudita," or “sympathetic joy.” You might find that this joy for a stranger’s well-being beats the physical comfort of taking a seat yourself.

Step 3: Share your stuff.

Here’s another easy generosity practice: When someone boards your train and asks for help, give something. I’ve definitely sat there, uncomfortable and vaguely ashamed, trying to ignore someone begging on the subway. Sharing what you have feels much nicer. This is another instance, like offering your seat, where giving something away brings more happiness than enjoying the thing yourself.

I prefer to offer food rather than money, so I order 12-packs of Clif Bars online and make sure to always keep two bars in my shoulder bag. I’ve also seen people give metro cards. When I give, I try not to let the act become rote or automatic. I focus on the person, acknowledge that this is a fellow human being who needs help, and form the wish that whatever I’m giving will bring the person some relief.

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way." — The Buddha

Don’t limit yourself.

There are many ways to practice generosity on the subway while you’re surrounded by train delays, loud headphones, and mysterious puddles. If you look, you can find dozens of opportunities to choose someone else’s comfort over your own.

Photo via iStock.

Let’s get to it.

True

From the time she was a little girl, Abby Recker loved helping people. Her parents kept her stocked up with first-aid supplies so she could spend hours playing with her dolls, making up stories of ballet injuries and carefully wrapping “broken” arms and legs.

Recker fondly describes her hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a simple place where people are kind to one another. There’s even a term for it—“Iowa nice”—describing an overall sense of agreeableness and emotional trust shown by people who are otherwise strangers.

Abby | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Driven by passion and the encouragement of her parents, Recker attended nursing school, graduating just one year before the unthinkable happened: a global pandemic. One year into her career as an emergency and labor and delivery nurse, everything she thought she knew about the medical field got turned upside down. That period of time was tough on everyone, and Nurse Recker was no exception.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

The Emperor of the Seas.

Imagine retiring early and spending the rest of your life on a cruise ship visiting exotic locations, meeting interesting people and eating delectable food. It sounds fantastic, but surely it’s a billionaire’s fantasy, right?

Not according to Angelyn Burk, 53, and her husband Richard. They’re living their best life hopping from ship to ship for around $44 a night each. The Burks have called cruise ships their home since May 2021 and have no plans to go back to their lives as landlubbers. Angelyn took her first cruise in 1992 and it changed her goals in life forever.

“Our original plan was to stay in different countries for a month at a time and eventually retire to cruise ships as we got older,” Angelyn told 7 News. But a few years back, Angelyn crunched the numbers and realized they could start much sooner than expected.

Keep Reading Show less
True

It takes a special type of person to become a nurse. The job requires a combination of energy, empathy, clear mind, oftentimes a strong stomach, and a cheerful attitude. And while people typically think of nursing in a clinical setting, some nurses are driven to work with the people that feel forgotten by society.

Keep Reading Show less

We're dancing along too.

Art can be a powerful unifier. With just the right lyric, image or word, great art can soften those hard lines that divide us, helping us to remember the immense value of human connection and compassion.

This is certainly the case with “Pasoori,” a Pakistani pop song that has not only become an international hit, it’s managed to bring the long divided peoples of India and Pakistan together in the name of love. Or at least in the name of good music.
Keep Reading Show less

Dr. Alicia Jeffrey-Thomas teaches you how to pee.

A pelvic floor doctor from Boston, Massachusetts, has caused a stir by explaining that something we all thought was good for our health can cause real problems. In a video that has more than 5.8 million views on TikTok, Dr. Alicia Jeffrey-Thomas says we shouldn’t go pee “just in case.”

How could this be? The moment we all learned to control our bladders we were also taught to pee before going on a car trip, sitting down to watch a movie or playing sports.

The doctor posted the video as a response to TikTok user Sidneyraz, who made a video urging people to go to the bathroom whenever they get the chance. Sidneyraz is known for posting videos about things he didn’t learn until his 30s. "If you think to yourself, 'I don't have to go,' go." SidneyRaz says in the video. It sounds like common sense but evidently, he was totally wrong, just like the rest of humanity.

Keep Reading Show less