The Great Equalizer

Summertime in New York is the great equalizer. There are those days where the heat is so intense that you feel like you’ve walked into a wall when you step  onto the street. We walk slowly and lethargically from our homes to the subway, to work; all the while sweating. No one is immune from the heat. The other week’s 100+ degree temperatures created the perfect reminder of this idea. There wasn’t one of us who walked the sidewalks or stood on the train platform who didn’t have that little bead of sweat run down their back.

Early last week I finished work and headed to the subway. The station itself wasn’t uncomfortable, but it still held the residual effects of the prior week’s heat. The train rolled into the station. I generally get on the last car as its closest to my exit and typically less full than the other cars. That day, however, the car was unusually empty.  I boarded the car and it was immediately obvious there was no air conditioning in the car. And while it was indeed warm, I found it to be tolerable and I sat down enjoying the feeling of rare physical spaciousness around me.

As the train entered the next station, people boarded the train. The immediate reaction for many was to escape to the next car where it was cool and comfortable. For others, exasperation immediately set in. They sat, shook their heads, looking around to see if there were others as miserable as they were, and began to mumble and complain. One particular woman was so irritated, you could see the blood rushing to her face as she feverishly fanned herself with her magazine. Finally, there were those who boarded the train who recognized the car was hot, but took their seat and sat quietly.

So how is it you deal with the challenges and adversity that present in your life? Do you flee the moment things are uncomfortable? Do you sit and complain only to make matters worse and create more suffering? Or do you take your seat and allow the “heat” to wash over you knowing that it won’t last?

Meditation and asana create this “hot subway car” scenario every time we practice. There are those days when you sit and close your eyes and within the first ten seconds you want to get the hell out of there. If you wind up staying there, rather than fleeing, the mind races thinking about how closed my hips are, how tight my shoulders are, how stiff my back is only to create more suffering on top of a challenging practice.

And then there are moments, despite all the challenges, you’re able to quiet the mind. You’re able to calm the body. You sit and simply let it all wash over you. Sure,  the discomfort may still be there, but you don’t let it distract you from the work.

On the flip side, sitting on the train that day and observing the different responses to the hot car, I began to think about those moments when I  flee from uncomfortable situations, when I sit and complain only to make matters worse, and ultimately when I am able to sit at peace.

And this is ultimately what it’s all about. I become the proverbial “observer and the observed.” Recognizing the “I am that” in every scenario and begin to widen the space between those moments when I can sit quietly within my challenges from those when I flee. The perfect equalizing moment.

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