Zen and the Art of Commuting: Walk, Breathe, Be!

Jude
7 min readMar 22, 2024

Photo by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

on Pixabay

Black bomber jacket, slightly oversized after a concerted effort to lose a little bit of timber. I look like Gollum if he had pursued a career in architecture. The steel toe capped boots jar my fellow passengers as I disembark the ferry. It still blows my mind that I get to take a boat to work! I want to take you on a journey, not just through the streets towards an office or a workspace, but through the mindful practices that can transform our daily routines. Living as a Buddhist is about more than just meditating or reading ancient texts; it’s about infusing our everyday actions with intention and compassion. It’s about the way we walk to work, the way we interact with the world around us, and the way we carry ourselves amidst the hustle and bustle. As we embark on this exploration of how to live as a Buddhist, especially during our commute, we’ll delve into the rich tapestry of Buddhist philosophy and how it can be interwoven into the fabric of our daily lives.

The Philosophy of Buddhism

Buddhism is more than a religion; it’s a way of understanding the world and our place in it. It teaches us to look inward for truth and peace, rather than outward for material satisfaction. At the heart of Buddhist philosophy is the Four Noble Truths, which outline the existence of suffering, its cause, the possibility of its cessation, and the path leading to the cessation of suffering, known as the Noble Eightfold Path. This path comprises right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

The concept of mindfulness, a key component of the Noble Eightfold Path, teaches us to be present in each moment, fully engaged with our experiences without judgment or distraction. This principle will be the cornerstone of our discussion as we consider the act of commuting, an activity often seen as a mundane necessity, and transform it into a practice filled with purpose and awareness.

Applying Buddhist Principles to Everyday Life

The beauty of Buddhist teachings is that they are not limited to the confines of a monastery; they are meant to be lived out in the world, amidst the chaos and clamour of daily life. Applying Buddhist principles to our everyday life means looking at each task, each interaction, and each step as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, compassion, and understanding. For instance, as we prepare for our commute, we can set an intention to be present during the walk, to observe our surroundings attentively, and to approach each moment with a sense of curiosity and openness.

In doing so, we transform our daily walk into a meditation in motion, a time to cultivate inner peace and to reflect on the interconnectedness of all things. By applying these principles consistently, we begin to see changes in our attitudes, our responses to stress, and our interactions with others, making our lives richer and more fulfilling.

The Significance of the Commute in Buddhism

The act of commuting is often seen as a mere transition, a necessary passage from one place to another. However, in the context of Buddhism, the commute takes on a deeper significance. It becomes a metaphor for the journey of life itself, filled with obstacles, interactions, and opportunities for growth. Each step is a microcosm of the larger path we walk, a chance to practice the principles of the Noble Eightfold Path in real time.

As we navigate crowded pavements, paths or traffic, we’re presented with a myriad of moments to practice patience, to extend kindness to strangers, and to remain equanimous in the face of delays or disruptions. The commute, therefore, is not just a path to work; it’s a path to spiritual development, a daily pilgrimage where we can cultivate the qualities that lead to enlightenment.

Mindfulness in Commuting

Walking to work is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness, to connect with the here and now. As I begin my commute, I focus on the sensation of the ground beneath my feet, the rhythm of my breath, and the sounds that fill the air. Mindfulness encourages us to experience each moment fully, to observe without judgment, and to let go of the mental chatter that often dominates our thoughts.

By being mindful, we also become more aware of our reactions to the world around us. When a car honks loudly, instead of reacting with irritation, I observe the sound with curiosity, noting its qualities and how it fades into the distance. This practice helps me maintain a sense of calm and reduces the stress that can come from the hustle of city life. Mindfulness turns the act of commuting into a moving meditation, a space for tranquillity amidst the chaos.

Practicing Compassion During Your Walk to Work

Compassion is at the core of living as a Buddhist. It involves recognizing the suffering of others and cultivating a desire to alleviate it. As I walk, I encounter people from all walks of life, each carrying their own burdens and joys. When I see someone struggling with heavy bags, or looking lost and confused, I offer assistance or guidance, not out of obligation, but from a genuine empathetic connection.

Practicing compassion also means being kind to oneself. If I am running late or feeling overwhelmed, I remind myself to be gentle and forgiving, acknowledging my own humanity. This self-compassion then extends outward, creating a ripple effect of kindness that can transform the atmosphere of an entire street or a public transport hub. As we walk to work, our acts of compassion, no matter how small, contribute to a kinder, more empathetic world.

Letting Go of Attachment to Outcomes

One of the central teachings of Buddhism is the concept of non-attachment, particularly when it comes to outcomes. During my commute, I may have expectations about how long it will take or how it will unfold, but I remind myself to let go of these attachments. Delays, detours, and unexpected events are all part of the journey, and clinging to a specific outcome only leads to suffering.

Embracing non-attachment means accepting each moment as it comes, without trying to control or resist it. If I miss a traffic light or get stuck behind a slow walker, I use the opportunity to practice patience and to reflect on the impermanence of my frustrations. Letting go of attachment to outcomes allows me to be more flexible and open to the experiences of my commute, whatever they may be.

Embracing Impermanence on Your Journey

The Buddhist concept of impermanence, or anicca, teaches that all things are in a constant state of flux. As I walk, I observe the dawn breaking over the harbour, the flow of boats and the occasional friendly fox scavenging for breakfast. Embracing impermanence means acknowledging that my commute is never the same; it is always evolving.

This understanding helps me to appreciate the unique beauty of each day’s two and a half mile walk from the ferry to the office. I become more adaptable and resilient every day, the fiery temper that has plagued me since my teenage years has been replaced with a quietness.

Dealing with Stress and Frustration on the Commute

Commuting can be a source of stress and frustration, with crowded spaces and unexpected delays testing our patience. However, as a Buddhist, I approach these challenges as opportunities for practice. When I feel tension rising, I return to my breath, using it as an anchor to the present moment. I observe my feelings of frustration without getting caught up in them, allowing them to pass.

This mindful approach transforms the energy of stress into a tool for growth. I learn to respond rather than react, to choose calm over agitation. It’s a daily exercise in emotional regulation, one that strengthens my ability to cope with the stresses not just of commuting, but of life itself.

Connecting with Nature and the Present Moment

Even in the most urban of environments, there are opportunities to connect with nature during a commute. I look for patches of sky between buildings, birdsong, or notice the way the wind moves through the trees. These natural elements serve as reminders to stay grounded and present.

Connecting with nature also reminds me that I am part of a larger ecosystem, a web of life that extends beyond my own concerns. It brings a sense of perspective and humility, reinforcing the Buddhist understanding of interconnectedness. By tuning into nature, my walk becomes a moment to celebrate the miracle of existence, to find joy in the simple fact of being alive, here and now.

Reflecting on Mortality and the Cycle of Life

One aspect of life as a Buddhist is the contemplation of mortality and the cycle of life. As I walk, I reflect on the impermanence of my own existence, the fact that what happens when you die as a Buddhist is a transition, a part of the natural order of things. This reflection is not morbid but liberating. It serves as a reminder to live fully, to cherish each step, and to walk with intention.

Contemplating mortality brings a sense of urgency to live ethically and mindfully. It inspires me to make the most of each day, to be present for my loved ones, and to leave a positive impact on the world. The cycle of life, with its endless beginnings and endings, is evident in the daily rhythms of the commute, and it offers profound lessons on the nature of existence.

Conclusion: Finding Peace and Enlightenment in Your Daily Commute

In conclusion, my daily commute is much more than a means to an end. It’s a pathway to peace. By applying mindfulness, compassion, and an understanding of impermanence.

Whether you’re walking, cycling, or taking public transport, I encourage you to see your commute as an opportunity for growth and reflection. Embrace the teachings of Buddhism, and allow them to infuse your journey with purpose and peace. Remember, the path to enlightenment is walked one step at a time, and each commute is a chance to move closer to that ultimate destination.

As we part ways, I hope you’ll carry these insights with you and find the serenity that comes from living mindfully and compassionately.

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