Taking the Bus and Staying Mindful

Taking the Bus and Staying Mindful

Feature Article:

As part of my overall health and wellness program, I have drastically reduced using a car over the past several years and take public transportation whenever possible. Living in an outlying county makes this a challenge, given the current shortsighted lack of funding for, and interest in, developing an effective regional transportation system.

Despite this, to date, I have cut my transportation operating expenses almost in half, and have become enamored of taking various buses to and from my office at U of L, and elsewhere in the metro area. I make far fewer ‘impulse'' trips than I used to, run multiple errands when I do use a car, and ration gas purchases to $12 at a time to help me remain aware of my remaining dependence on this non-renewable source of energy. And when possible, I bike to the local fitness center rather than drive there for workouts.

Arranging my schedule to fit TARC''s bus schedule has taken some doing. The last large city I lived in had a terrific public transportation system that integrated buses and subways that always seemed to be running when you need them. Here in Louisville, buses on many routes run relatively infrequently, so you have to be very careful to avoid missing a bus if you are at all concerned about arriving at your destination at a predetermined time. What used to be a relatively mindless exercise of jumping in the car and driving wherever I wanted has now become a process that takes some advance planning.

This is not a bad thing at all. It has had the overall effect of helping me slow things down a bit. I come and go to work on a predictable schedule, and as a bonus am able to use my time on the bus to read, write, think, and talk with fellow commuters. Or just rest, and maybe take a nap. I enjoy not having to fight traffic and navigate the increasingly congested streets and expressways that more and more resemble parking lots. I get up a little earlier in the morning and go to bed a bit earlier at night, which suits my metabolism and inclinations just fine. Overall, I''m happy with this arrangement.

Recently, I had an experience with being mindful related to all of this. I had scheduled an appointment one morning in another part of town, and had worked out the sequence of buses I would need to get there. But rather than leave in plenty of time to catch the bus, I decided to finish a task that I knew would otherwise be waiting when I got back. As a result, I left for the bus stop with little time — no more than a minute — to spare. When I arrived, I checked the schedule posted near the bench, to verify the time. It was slightly different from my printed version, by 3 minutes, so rather than being a minute early, I was 2 minutes late instead.

I stared at the sign, as if hoping the numbers would somehow rearrange themselves in accordance with MY schedule. As my mental iPod quickly selected the ‘self criticism'' track, I became completely absorbed in the unpleasant quality of the moment, wanting things to be different, awash in a cognitive multi-media experience of irritation. I finally stepped back and took a deep breath; time to respond, not react. As I did, quite by accident, I caught sight of the bus, running a bit late. I literally almost missed it by being so self-absorbed and inner-focused. TARC was my meditation teacher for the day.

Paul Salmon, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at U of L and a member of KHFM''s Advisory Board. He is an ACSM-certified Health Fitness Instructor and RYT/200 certified Yoga Instructor. You can contact him via e-mail at psalmon@louisville.edu .