Babies crying. Someone clipping their fingernails. The delicate aroma of an egg salad sandwich heating up inside another passenger’s backpack. There are many reasons to hate commuting.

If I’m honest with myself, though, a lot of my suffering on public transit is self-inflicted. After my most miserable commutes, I often lack a horrifying anecdote that explains why I had such a terrible experience. There was no one screaming into a cellphone beside me or digging their elbow into my back. There was just me, and my internal thoughts.

Given an hour or more, my brain can come up with amazingly inventive things to worry about. I can worry about things that have already happened, things that will happen, and things that will never happen in any possible universe. I can work myself up into a mental frenzy just by trying to plan out a relaxing weekend. This is a prime example of what MBCT refers to as “doing mode”: the mental mode of interpretation, analysis and judgement that is so useful during appropriate moments and so exhausting when we are unable to turn it off.

Deliberately turning my attention to simply experiencing what is happening around me can help shift my mind into “being mode”: a curious, open and accepting awareness of the present moment.

Some mindful moments I’ve experienced:

1. Listening to the sounds around me and noticing the staccato rhythm of many feet bounding down the stairs to the subway.

2. Paying attention to the breeze from a streetcar window changing from warm to refreshingly cool, and back again.

3. Looking for glimpses of wildlife such as a raccoon dozing in the crook of a tree at Runnymede station.

4. Feeling the vibration of a bus throughout my body and using it to do a mini-version of a body scan.

Creating a mindful moment while commuting is as simple as tuning into your senses. What can you hear, touch, see or smell? What do you feel in your body? Commuting is the perfect opportunity to experiment with different informal mindfulness practices–perhaps spending a streetcar ride focusing just on the sounds around you (including the important stop announcements!) or turning your attention to the sensations in your feet as you balance while standing on the subway.

I might not love every minute of my commute, but it creates the possibility of experiencing many small moments I can love–or at least, feel neutral about–rather than making myself utterly miserable.


Naomi Eaton