Looking for God on the 6 Train.

Via on Oct 26, 2011
Waiting for the Train, Morning, NYC

If you are regular in your practice, you will shift the field

– John Friend

I used to read like crazy on the subway. I would almost panic if, after procuring a seat, I opened my bag to find that I had left my New Yorker Magazine or my book at home (Was it on the table where I had inhaled my breakfast?  Did I toss it on the chair by the door when I put on my coat?).

But one day I became a yoga teacher and something shifted. Suddenly I had so much to do, so many things to think about, and so many practices to implement. I no longer had the desire to read on the subway, which was really very strange because I love to read. I crave books like food. For years I have shared a joke with my similarly-inclined friends about how I want to take a sabbatical from my life so that I can spend a year doing nothing but reading. Do they give grants for that?

Some of my Bookshelves

I remember my best childhood friend Kristen musing, It’s so unfair, they just keep writing and writing – we can never catch up. It was pretty funny, but there was an anxious passion beneath what she said – a desire to know as much as we could know and to travel down every possible avenue of beauty and creativity available to us. She ended up working in film in LA and I found myself in the NYC art world, supporting myself as an artist by commuting to the far reaches of every borough lecturing about art in the public school systems on behalf of MoMA. This brings me back to the whole subway situation.

Suddenly I wanted to be more fully in the experience I was having at the moment that it was occurring. I wanted to connect with what was going on around me – not that I wanted to engage in conversations with strangers, but I wanted to listen more and escape less. I wanted to soften to the richness of each moment and recognize the interesting-ness of everything. I wanted to become more sensitive, more aware, more engaged and entertained by the world. And the more I did it, the better it became.

Open 6-Train Doors

I no longer feared the unbearable boredom of the flickering lights, the jockeying for seats, the banality of the beige-yellow-orange subway seats or the clacking of the machinery. I was interested in it all. I admired the clean lines of the stainless steel doors. I wondered why the woman across from me tapped her foot so anxiously and whether the workmen in their dusty clothes were traveling to their construction site or headed home. I found myself listening for mantras in the patterns of sound – the screeching and clattering – the voices – the iPod music overflow – the newspapers – the multilingual conversations. There were so many stories, emotions, plans, and thoughts packed into a small space. Amazing.

There was this practice that I began to do, because, despite my new interest in my immediate commuter reality, its shoving, noise, and dirt still really got to me: people taking up precious subway real estate with their mounds of bags or their widely-spread knees, their dripping umbrellas, their open-air coughing…So I slowly began, one by one, to look for god in every person in my vicinity.

6-Train Rush Hour

Maybe I would choose the angry guy who crammed me into the corner with his backpack in my face – or the self-absorbed teen eating a pungent slice of pizza and dropping greasy napkins on the floor. I would take them in and then soften. I would think, someone loves this person. This person has aspirations, things they feel passionately about, personal tragedies and victories that I cannot imagine, yet are as significant as my own. And I could see these things in their faces, their postures, making me feel tender toward humanity. I shifted the field.

John Friend in NJ Oct 2011

I spent last weekend with my teacher John Friend. He alluded to that “feeling in the heart when a friend does something that reminds you of god,” and I had this flash of association – of the almost physical feeling of connectivity to the world around me when I regularly did my subway practice. John said that one of the first things his teacher Gurumayi said to him was, “See god in each other.” It was storming outside as he spoke about this, and he invited us to see our experience of the world like the storm – as having a layer of disorder or an appearance of chaos, but if you backed off just enough to see the individual raindrops, there was deep order and amazing beauty.

These days I do most of my reading in the afternoon or evening. Sometimes I can’t wait to get home and read my book. And when I do bring one with me on the train, I usually find that it rests undisturbed in my bag, waiting for a more settled reading time. I often skim through my emails or briefly peruse the NY Times headlines, but sometimes I stop myself, click off my phone, slide it into my bag, and choose to reenter that place of wonder at the world, which, since the moment I discovered it, has been continually available to me.

Subway Floor Cosmos

About Susanna Harwood Rubin

Susanna is passionately committed to finding beauty in everyday life. She is a yoga teacher-writer-visual artist, which means that she rarely stops moving except to meditate. She is ERYT-500, has been teaching for over 12 years, and travels regularly to South India to delve into the traditions of Rajanaka Yoga that inspire her work. Her spiritual home is the great Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram. She teaches internationally, but is based in New York. Find her weekly classes at Twisted Trunk Yoga and Abhaya Yoga . Susanna's artwork is represented in collections such as the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Berkeley Museum, and the Addison Gallery of American Art. She lectured and wrote for MoMA for years, including co-writing the book "Looking at Matisse and Picasso," and she will still happily talk about Picasso for hours if you ask her. Susanna currently writes on yoga, writing, art, and life for a number of publications, including The Huffington Post , Mantra Yoga+Health , Rebelle Society , and YOGANONYMOUS . She gives talks on yoga, Hindu myth, and philosophy, and created the popular Writing Your Practice workshops and telecourses for yogis, applying yoga philosophy and myth to the practice of writing. Overall, she is amazed at the richness of her life. Find her on Twitter , Facebook , & Instagram

1,768 views

Appreciate this article? Support indie media!

(We use super-secure PayPal - but don't worry - you don't need an account with PayPal.)

28 Responses to “Looking for God on the 6 Train.”

  1. Beth Dunnington says:

    The link to this story was posted by my dear friend Lori Landau on facebook. I don't often read these facebook essays (there are so many!) but I am so grateful that I read this one! I think I do a version of your subway practice instinctively (when I am back in NYC, my home for many years), but you put a name to it!. The shifting of the field and seeing god in the faces of your fellow commuters… Yes. I looked back on my day today, thinking of everyone I didn't take the time to notice, or those I might have dismissed because they didn't instantly hold my interest. This story was a wonderful reminder of the subway ride we are all on together — I am on it even here in Hawaii, my new home. Thank you, Susanna, for this beautifully written story of heart and grace, played out on the subway. I'll keep it with me. With deepest gratitude, Beth Dunnington

  2. Thanks for a great read Susannah. It reminds me of something I wrote for myself which I haven’t published, titled Observations of a Commuter. I had just returned from a year living in Africa and felt this palpable sense of disconnection between all of us sitting together on the train, heading in the same direction, all trying to make the time pass quicker with so many distractions. I too put my book away and decided to be fully present to the experience. Next time I will look for God in everybody too. Namaste

    • Thank you for commenting, Rae-Anne – I think that it is an inclination or practice that so many of us either do or are vaguely familiar with – the trick, for me is remembering how rewarding it is & to keep reentering the practice again & again. I love hearing from other people about it.

  3. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Beautifully written Susanna, thank you. And reminded me so much of my time in London, riding the 'tube'.

  4. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Beautiful.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  5. Deborah Davis says:

    Good…. step ONE.

    Now… find God in every creature in your vicinity,

    and then…. in EVERYTHING.

  6. christina says:

    Great post… I can relate. .. everything we learn in yoga eventually seems to filter through to the rest of our lives. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Valerie Carruthers Valerie Carruthers says:

    Lovely, Susanna. Brought back memories of my commuter years in NYC. How the subway could feel full of anxiety in the morning—and full of love, warmth and Shakti in the evening, riding home from a satsang at Gurumayi's NY Ashram. Namaste.

    • Valerie – Thank you! I was only there once, but it was a very powerful experience for me. Always so sweet – riding the subway after a spiritual practice – an utter perspective shift – sometimes funny & other times poignant…

  8. Randall says:

    I imagine you sometimes have to look sideways to see the divine, just like reading the titles on your shelf. Nice collection.

  9. Thanks! It is honestly a teeny corner of my home library. I happily have a bit of a book problem…

  10. Alyosha says:

    Very beautiful. i ride the bus. Subways may not have reception but on the bus some days 90% of the passengers are looking at blackberrys or listening to iPods or other hand held electronics. You are a little old fashioned to have a book as your distraction from being in the moment!

  11. Shig says:

    Wow Susanna! Your words hit my core. I too suddenly wanted to be more fully in the experience I was having at the moment that it was occurring. I wanted to become more sensitive, more aware, more engaged and entertained by the world. I got to do the subway practice! Thank you for sharing your vibration through your words. I love your photos too.Your words and images make my heart vibrate sweetly.

    • Thank you Shig! I still have to remind myself to just BE there sometimes – my inclination 75% of the time is still to escape, but the difference is that I just remind myself & I think, "oh, right!" and I reconnect – the access is always right there – that is the difference…and I feel so fortunate to have that access…

      • Shig says:

        I have been reminding myself "subway practice"! Thank you for implying that less than 25% is a good start. Yes, the access is always there…

  12. Kayla says:

    I love this! I just finished teacher training and I ride the 6 train daily. My experience has been very similar, thanks for sharing!!

  13. warriorsaint says:

    I really enjoyed this piece. I ride the PATH train from N. Jersey most days with the oh-so-polite curry and backpack crowd. People watching can be fun if you are in the right mood. There is more of a grittiness with the subways and, strangly enough, I often meet others who like to chat. I esp. enjoy the Brooklyn trains with the Hasidic Jews and their lovely saucy -eyed children. There is so much cultural richness in NY.

  14. Alyosha, you're right – I keep wondering when I'm going to cross the line into electronic books – I'm dragging my feet, but I know that it's coming soon! I love my art books though – no handheld device (as of YET) can compare to the beauty of a big glossy art book…but I don't take those on the subway anyway!

  15. matthewscottwallace says:

    Your article made me think about a quote from Yogi Bhajan, "If you can't see God in All, You can't see God at All"

Leave a Reply