Maintaining Peace on the 'L'

Maintaining Peace on the 'L'

There’s not much that is pleasant about the Red Line during rush hour. Something or someone usually smells like piss or body odor or moldy shoes, and the extremely cramped conditions are only the rotten cherry on top. If ever the phrase, “like cattle,” had a place, the Red Line would be it. But, I can handle that. I can handle the offensive odors, the uncomfortable face-in-armpit positions, and the accidental losses of balance that inevitably lead to someone stepping on all ten of my toes. I have no problem standing face to face with a complete stranger, shifting constantly so as to avoid uncomfortable eye contact at such close quarters. I provide understanding smiles and half nods to the poor souls who file on after me, squeezing into spaces that could not conceivably squeeze one more person, but they do. Most importantly, I empathize with everyone around me. I know that I am not special in my misery. No one is happy. No one is comfortable, but ya do what ya gotta do.

Nevertheless, there is one thing I truly despise about the L during rush hour, one type of person who is just so incomprehensibly aggravating that I feel like s/he is personally trying to get under my skin to test me and see if I snap. This person is the token self-righteous, never in a rush, loud-mouth individual who verbally chastises people for “pushing.”  The push-hater, as I’ve dubbed them, drives me towards the brink of insanity. And of course, these annoying-to-the-core individuals never use a direct command. No. To yell, “Stop pushing me,” would be far too simple for the push-hater. They must speak in indirect and teacher-like sentences, as in, “Pushing won’t get anyone out faster,” or “It's rude to push.”

To all of you push-haters, this is what I have to say. I’M NOT PUSHING YOU ON PURPOSE, YOU EGOTISTICAL JERK. Maybe if you tried taking your head out of your hind-quarters for a hot minute, you could catch up on some general laws of common sense. We are crammed in this match box like cattle, and if someone moves an inch, we’re all falling down like dominoes, and I’M NOT TRYING TO PUSH.

OK. I had to get that off my chest; now I can get to my point.

My point being that however much it is that irks you about rush-hour L rides, there has to be something specific that just really gets to you. Whether you hate the push-haters or you are a push-hater, the L is a stressful environment for everyone (cue calm from first paragraph). And that, my lovely readers, is the key to maintaining a sense of peace, if there is one.

I believe it was Plato who advised the world to be kind, “for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I have a weakness for universal truths, and Plato’s wise words are a universal truth if ever there was one. I find thoughts like this to be shiver-worthy every time: a sort of “Aha!” moment for the soul, where once you hear it, there’s no going back because it’s just so true.

So I know that my instinct, as well as the instinct of most unenlightened souls on this earth, is to snap on the L. Let’s face it: we’re all uncomfortable, we’re all on edge, and when someone or something hits on our trigger, whatever it may be, we want to snap. But it is SO important to know and understand that this urge to snap is not all-powerful. We are not powerless victims to its tempting and seductive nature. We, as people, as humans, as our true selves that govern, are WAY more powerful than that urge. All it takes is some compassion, a few deep breathes, and a little bit of mindfulness, to conquer it every time.

How I maintain peace on the L:

1. How am I feeling? So often we react to our emotions with even really understanding what emotion we’re feeling. Am I angry? Hurt? Frustrated? Confused? Annoyed? Being able to name your state of mind is the first step in being able to manage it.

2. How is that feeling manifesting in my body? In my opinion, one of the most fascinating aspects of the human condition is that our emotions affect us physically. (If anyone ever doubted how linked mind and body are, this is my argument) When we’re overwhelmingly happy, our eyes tear up and a tight feeling begins in our chest and rises up the back of the throat. A similar feeling takes over when we are overwhelmingly sad. When we are angry, we can sense our heart beating a little stronger behind our ribs. Maybe the palms start to sweat or we hear a ringing in our ears. The next time you are overcome with emotion, take a second and note how this emotion develops in your body. How is it making you feel, physically?

3. Breathe. Taking a second to recognize your emotions and how you feel should calm you down considerably. But, if you’re still feeling like you’ve lost control and someone else is running the show, don’t forget to breathe. Deep inhale. Deep exhale. Stop paying attention to your desire to clock a b*tch, and start paying attention to the way the air feels flowing through your nostrils. Is it cold? How does it feel when it fills your chest? Can you feel it rising back up your throat when you exhale?  Deep breathing has a physiological calming effect on the body. It activates the hypothalamus to trigger a relaxation response. (read more)

4.  Remember the 3 wise men. If, after a few good breaths, you still feel the desire to say something to your L adversary, test your words against the 3 wise men. The first always asks, “is it true?” The second – “is it kind?” And the third questions, “is it necessary?” If the words you wish so badly to speak cannot pass one or any of their tests, then the problem is solved. Nothing good can from it. Step away from the L.

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