How mindfulness can transform your hellish commute into an oasis•
How we commute to work sets the tone for the rest of our day, but for too many of us, it’s a lousy experience filled with rotten smells, honking cars, and miserable passengers.
Laurie J. Cameron, author of the new book, “The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm, and Joy From Morning to Evening,” wants to change that. She’s a mindfulness teacher for the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute developed at Google, and as the founder of PurposeBlue, a mindful leadership consultancy, she has trained thousands of employees around the world on how they can be more mindful by paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and openness.
With this science-backed practice, you don’t have to resign yourself to a terrible commute. You can teach your mind to go to a happy oasis even if your body is stuck on a delayed train with no end in sight.
Cameron talked with Ladders on how we can make small yet significant adjustments in our daily commutes to do this:
Observe your surroundings without judgment
You may encounter your first roadblock on the road to zen when you whiff sweaty armpits or garbage on your crowded subway train. Use these smells as a teaching moment. “With mindfulness, we’re cultivating a mind that’s nonjudgmental, so we’re trying to get away from ‘that rotten, terrible, bad smell’ to more neutral words like ‘unpleasant’ and ‘pleasant,’ ” Cameron told Ladders.
Instead of judging and making assumptions about everyone around you, try being curious. Notice the unpleasant smell, think about its origin, wonder why it’s stronger today than other days. That’s how you start to tune into what’s happening in your body and you stop walking through life on autopilot.
Pretend you’re an alien
Mindfulness means cultivating a fresh way of observing your life so that you are open to new ideas and outcomes. You can build this fresh awareness of your surroundings by narrating your commute in your head. “You can say: Here I am — on the BART train, under the San Francisco Bay, on my way to the city,” Cameron writes in her book. “You’ll start to see everyday scenes more vividly, to detect subtle differences in how you feel, and to be more conscious of how you conduct yourself.”
For regular commuters, it can feel hard to find a fresh story to narrate every day. If you want to inject newness into the mundane act of commuting, pretend you’re an alien observing two-legged creatures commute for the first time. Then you’re observing the rich human experience of commuting. “Now you’re not just observing the way New York City runs, or the way the subway runs, but the way these humans are pouring onto this car and they all have headphones on, and they don’t talk to each other, or they do talk to each other,” Cameron said.
By bringing our attention deliberately to the life that’s right in front of us, we learn to notice the life within us.
“For me, it invites wonder when I look at my life with freshness,” Cameron said. “I get this inspiring feeling of delight to look at the miracle of this life.”