On Connecting

Many of the great philosophers say that the core of all suffering is rooted in the belief of a self separate from others and from God (or your version of what created you). If this is indeed so, it seems especially odd to me how we humans frequently sabotage our chances for connection with people and the world around us by our own behaviors and attitudes.

I am currently visiting NYC where it appears that this “separation syndrome” is alive and well. Roughly two million people live in Manhattan, and on top of that around 16 million come and go to and from the city each day. Of this demographic many ride the subway on which I have recently had occasion to travel myself. While journeying this underground maze, I can’t help but notice my fellow voyagers. Most either appear to be asleep or plugged into their iPods rarely interacting with their fellow passengers. I assume these behaviors are coping mechanisms for the monotony of the morning commute or evening exit from the city. People attempt to tune out from the world around them, while tuning in to something more tolerable. Seems like they would rather be anywhere but on a train with no view.

For me, the experience of riding the subway is not in the least monotonous. Regrettably, the reason has nothing to do with my desire to be “present” or “tuned in” to what is going on around me. Instead, my “subway symptoms” are deeply rooted in an underlying fear that I will lose my way, become disoriented, or worse still—be kidnapped or killed. Now I realize that the odds are pretty much stacked in my favor on any of the above scenarios actually coming to pass. Nonetheless Fear, my unwelcome companion on this subterranean journey, continues to stalk me. It whispers messages like, “Check out the guy over there. He really looks dangerous.” Of course these thoughts only serve to keep me shut down and separate from my surroundings.

Once I have reached my destination and can get a little better grip on things I wonder to myself, “What in the world is the matter with me?” Even though it can be tempting to feel isolated, alone, and scared in this city of steel where the only green I’ve seen since my arrival is a tinted Pellegrino bottle, why is it so easy for me to lose perspective? What happened to “watching my thoughts” instead of being swept away by them? Why can’t I just “chill out” a little for Heaven’s sake? Everyone else seems to be taking this ride in stride.

Ya, I am definitely not in Kansas anymore (my place of residence for over half of my life). And just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I continue to discover that there is “no place like home.” Of course, what Dorothy finally came to realize, was that the real home will never be found in a particular location—rather it is the feeling of love, which can only be accessed by opening our hearts.



When I forget my connection to love (“home”), I am more vulnerable to the voice of fear, which is the origin of my insecurity. Then my runaway mind will start to dive into the “what if” dramas, creating a sort of amnesiac effect so that I seem to forget all about the home in my heart from which I can never be separate.

Tomorrow, when I descend to the depths of NYC, I am committed to making a deliberate effort at averting my fears by focusing on love and compassion. Let’s see if anything changes. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even catch someone smiling. Will keep you posted. May 12, 2008

May 21, 2008 Well, it has been a little over a week since my last subway ride. And yes, the next day down under, I definitely had a different experience while traveling the train. Shortly following my entry at the station, a female passenger began vociferous mutterings about being hungry and pregnant, subsequently asking for hand outs. I immediately noticed myself having some biases like, “she doesn’t look that hungry or pregnant. Bet she’s just over weight.” And while my mind was reviewing all of the “valid” reasons on why I shouldn’t contribute to the relief of her perceived plight, the man next to me was reaching into his pocket. He didn’t appear to be much better off than the beggar. Nonetheless, without any hesitation at all, he grabbed a few bills and handed them over. Jolted into compassion by his example, I quickly regrouped and made a donation. By the next stop, when our orator made her exit, over half of the passengers had contributed to her cause. And whatever that was, it didn’t seem to matter in the end. This woman had catalyzed a connection among all of us. On some level we were united in our desire to open our hearts and share—thanks to the man on my left, who had started it all. And, of course, he was smiling throughout the entire scenario—no iPod in sight.

Now as you can observe from my first response upon entering the subway that day, I was not exactly coming from love and compassion. Even so, despite my early impressions of the street-woman-scenario, I did have a miraculous shift in attitude. Now I would like to think that my very intention to operate from love instead of fear on that ride, contributed to the Grace that shifted my focus. Guess we will never know for sure. Even so, what happened on the subway between 28th and 57th street on the Six Train, NYC, May 13, 2008, definitely got my attention. Why not intend the best possible outcome for each day? It certainly can’t hurt, and who knows, doing so may just shift everything…

And so, if you happen to find yourself among a crowd of travelers, where will your focus be—on the sleepers, iPod keepers, or the reachers (those who extend themselves to make a positive difference)?

Love connecting with you!

Luann