My commute is about an hour door to door, maybe 45 minutes if I catch the trains right. I work in Midtown Manhattan but live in the sleepier Jersey City, on the other side of the Hudson River.
For the past few months, I’ve been using my commute as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. While it might feel daunting to spend your entire commute in practice, I’ve found that spending a portion of my commute, even just five minutes, can improve my mood throughout the day.
The wonderful thing about mindfulness is that it is a self-reinforcing habit. The mind likes to be mindful, it just might not know it yet. So the more we practice, the more often we become mindful during the day, effortlessly. So take the time to practice, every day, in some capacity.
When practicing mindfulness in motion, focus on the body and the way movement feels. When your thoughts wander or you find yourself distracted by the external world, simply note it and bring your attention back to the body and the sensations of movement.
Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to turn your commute into a mindfulness practice.
1. Cast the eyes downward.
When navigating through spaces with many people, like sidewalks or train terminals, it can help to cast the eyes downward.
I learned this technique on silent retreat. Averting your gaze is not meant to be rude, rather it’s meant to encourage an inward focus. When we spend time looking around at people, we’re more likely to get lost in thought or fantasy about them, even if we’re not completely aware that we are. For example, we might judge someone’s outfit or be jealous of a passer by’s iced coffee. By spending some time just looking downward, focusing on our steps and the ground we’re traversing, we can keep our nervous system calmer.
2. “Guard the sense doors.”
I heard this phrase, “guarding the sense doors,” from Joseph Goldstein. And ever since I learned it I’ve been using it during my commutes. I repeat this mantra to myself as a way to be deliberate in what I pay attention to.
If the new display at Stuart Weitzman catches my eye (which it probably does), I notice that and bring my thoughts back to my body.
Similarly, if the noisiness of your commute feels too distracting, consider listening to some white noise. I have a white noise app on my phone and there’s a lovely “falling rain” setting that I listen to sometimes during my commute. It helps me focus internally and pay attention to my body and my breath for a few minutes.
3. Practice Metta
There are many ways to practice Metta, or lovingkindness meditation, and the great thing about it is that you can practice it anywhere. But, what I find particularly fun during a commute involves an idea I got from my husband: Sometimes when he’s having a hard time feeling empathy for another person, he likes to think of them as as a small child. It’s such a simple thing to do. And it helps. If I find myself judging someone or thinking negatively of them, I practice this — imagining them as a child — full of wonder, innocence, without self-consciousness. Everyone has a bit of childlike goodness in them somewhere.