San Francisco’s MUNI is a predictable source of triggers for more and more inner work. I never know what I’m going to confront in myself when I get on the bus. There’s a scene in the HBO show “Enlightened” when Laura Dern gets on a bus in LA and everybody on the bus has her mother’s face. It feels like every nuance of the psyche is reflected by strangers I ride with. I meet my fears, my jealousies, my curiosities, my compassion. Memories I haven’t noticed in a long time are jogged by someone’s bag or someone else’s half smile.
This morning, walking to the bus stop early for once, more relaxed than usual, I tried to listen to music on my earbuds, but it refused to load, so I thought maybe I needed to put that away and listen to the sounds around me instead. I caught an earlier bus than I usually do, asking the driver to open the door as he waited at a red light. At that time in the morning, I travel with the same people every day, all in our weekday routines. So this was a different bus crowd. Like being with someone else’s family.
I got on and sat on the long bench along the wall. Across and a bit up was a man wearing white sneakers. About a minute or so after I got on, he took off his shoes. Of course, this caught my interest. We learn to be pretty vigilant on the bus – often, men get on who are high and angry, and then we all need to figure out how to deal with a lot of yelling, swearing, bodily functions gone haywire, etc. I stared at the man’s feet, wondering what was about to happen. This is San Francisco – maybe he doesn’t believe in wearing shoes. Maybe he’s a Hindu and considers buses sacred spaces. His feet were raw and red. Maybe a rash. He was very careful to keep the shoes under his seat so no one tripped on them. This told me that he probably wasn’t high and probably wasn’t going to get crazy. I felt bad for his feet – the shoes must have really irritated them. I know the feeling well.
I guess he caught my eye – I don’t know what was on my face. I’m usually pretty poker faced in public, I think. I was completely startled when he began to talk to me – loudly, so the people around that area of the bus could hear. Suddenly, everyone was looking at me. “You are such a beautiful woman,” he said. “I’m a gay man, so I’m not…but you’re the most beautiful woman…your face…” Whatever. Freaked me out. I made eye contact with one person across the bus from me and then just shut down.
Time out here for a moment, before I go on about him. I have a long history of being harassed and intimidated on buses in India. Many women do, who have traveled on Indian city buses. Men have touched my breasts, butt, and all other body parts. Rubbed their hard-ons on my arm as they stood near where I sat. Spoken in loud voices about how I looked more like a man than a woman so that everyone was embarrassed, and I was ashamed. This happened so often and so invariably when I lived in India that I was pretty severely traumatized, although I did not have language for that in those days. After I came to the US and started going to therapy, I spent long hours sorting through the shame and fear and hate. It never quite goes away, although it does get easier to manage.
I’ve often worried that there’s something about me that acts as a magnet for this sort of thing and would gladly wear a burka when I travel in India. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt quite relieved to become more and more invisible, as older women are. I’ve even begun to give up my baggy clothes and no makeup look for clothes that make me feel more attractive and makeup that brightens me up a bit. I feel freer now that people leave me alone in public spaces. Germaine Greer expresses some anger about this aging-woman syndrome, but I have been really enjoying it.
Back to the #1 bus on my way to work. I sat with half-closed eyes (closed eyes attract more attention in public spaces) and hands folded on my backpack while the guy went on. “While, as for the rest of you,” he said to the others on the bus, “….” I sort of blanked it out. It wasn’t cursing, but it wasn’t complimentary. I don’t know what he had against everyone who wasn’t me. But then we heard more: About how he was coming to terms with his own death. And mourning the death of his mother. Now, a different facet of my attention tuned in. I wish I could remember his exact words, but his was a loud mumbling tirade. He’s dying, he’s sad, but he’s doing his work. That was it. Then he got quiet. We all did. The woman in front of me had her eyes closed. I breathed. Let my stomach relax, my chest, shoulders, knees, feet, forehead relax. In breath, out breath.
And my heart opened.
Recently, at a Holotropic Breathwork workshop, I heard Tav Sparks’ talk about “the vertical and the horizontal” (he calls it the Awareness Positioning System) which I’ve heard so many times, I thought that I knew every word. I’ve given the talk myself a hundred times at least. When a strong feeling is triggered, when a memory of trauma is awakened and begins to take over, when shame, anger, hurt, sorrow start to overwhelm because they have been prodded by something in the present, a way to work is to first allow the depths to open so that I become completely conscious of what is showing itself, and then I bring it up to my heart so that I can feel compassion for myself as I trudge this hard road (again), and then I offer up all that I feel, all that I am, to a higher power, to Source, to Spirit, to the Creator who engendered all this in the first place. That’s the method.
But I haven’t been doing that last part because – get this – I feel bad for bothering the higher Self with all my crap. It doesn’t feel fair to pollute the Source with my anger, hate, fear, and sorrow. That Source, that Spirit, that Mother, is so pure, so loving, so beautiful – it would be like spilling oil into the ocean. Also, this Spirit, Source, Creator, Mother is being called upon constantly by so many souls in need. Go anywhere, talk to anyone – everyone wants something. Help me, heal me, save me. I, a truly fortunate person with so many resources to rely on, have no reason to ask for anything. So I’ve left out that last part of the practice. And, without that last part, it’s all too fucking hard. It’s like practicing mindfulness without mentioning the transcendental – practice becomes sitting in one’s muck for hours, struggling to “let it go.”
This occured to me after Tav’s last talk, so I’ve been trying to cultivate an “offering up” practice. Trying not to get caught up in mind games of “to whom are you offering this?” and just opening outward. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, so this Energy in my body – this pain, discomfort, love, joy – comes and goes. I recognize it as it shows itself in my body and my psyche, and I let it go back to its Source.
There’s more. All on a short muni ride.
Once, when in a Holotropic state, I learned what felt like a new idea. The Mother, who is the Source of all comfort, doesn’t DO anything. She watches. She sits. She cultivates her garden. She rides her tiger, dances her dances, sings her songs, heart open, eyes everywhere. But she doesn’t do anything … until asked. Of course, this is all a projection on my part – all my thoughts are, for who can know what the Mother does or does not do? But this is what I saw. It was a significant learning. For one thing, it brought up again this idea of asking – which, as I’ve said, I find somewhat obnoxious. But it makes sense for the One who helps to wait until asked. This connected nicely to all I have learned in my HB training. I did not mean to make this blog post about Tav, but I need to mention here that Tav has come up with a practice for Holotropic Breathwork facilitators that he calls “doing not-doing” – my vision of the One as “not-doing” was a powerful reinforcement of this practice of allowing things to happen, to unfold, to play themselves out and not interfering unless asked.
So I offered and I asked. Sitting, in the bus, in my discomfort, wishing for a burka, suddenly ashamed of my short morning makeup routine, then distracted from my own shame and embarrassment by the man’s struggle for clarity and what felt like his reaching out to me, I offered up the whole busload of stuff. His pain, his vulnerability as he traverses a city that could do him harm at any moment, the varied and probably highly nuanced discomfort that each of the riders was brought to feel, and most of all, my own long past of feeling shame that I exist at all – because if I weren’t present, there would be no one to make fun of on a bus, to rub against, to make lewd faces at, to pinch and poke. Giving all this up as an offering, I was able to find the courage to open up to my barefoot teacher for the day. I was able, then, to ask for help – for me, for him, for all of us. Help him to work with his sorrow at losing his mother. Help him to find what he needs. Heal his feet. Por favor.
Touch him, I thought. People need to be touched. Especially people who are losing their bearings a bit. So, as I left the bus, I got up a bit early and walked to him. I’m sure that we were watched, but I was determined to ignore that. I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him if he was going to be alright. A pretty futile question, but really, there are no words to bridge that gap. He was great. “I’m fine,” he said. He sounded as if he might be. “You are so beautiful, your face is so…” I left him then.
May the feet of men and women be free from sores. May our bodies be healed. May our hearts and minds be free to love. May we feel compassion for the pain of strangers. May we be safe when we reach out to them.
We are all so beautiful. I wish we could all be sure of that. I wish we could all be proud of that. I wish beauty didn’t become a thing to attack. The Darkness that propels some people to attack beauty by demeaning it – I offer it up to the Creator of all Beauty. May all women on buses be safe. May they be free. May they know their strength. May they be allowed to go in peace.