Central London was always a bit of a mystery to me. No-one smiled, or said, "Hello!" No-one! On my journey from the airport to the office via the underground and by foot I felt over stimulated by all the noise, the people - everything.
I always tried to arrive at my office a good bit before my first client so I could sit peacefully and free my head from the "buzziness" left by the journey.
My clients were lovely - they seemed completely unfazed by the race course they'd left outside, and as they entered my peaceful office they seemed perfectly calm. On their arrival I always wanted to ask, "How is it out there now?! It was crazy when I came in this morning, seriously! I think I saw more people on my way to the office today than I've seen in my entire LIFE!" But I quickly realised that could be misinterpreted as me being a tad unhinged, and though they knew I was a country bumpkin from Scotland, there was no point in labouring the fact that I found London, too big, too busy and too intimidating. Moving through it left me feeling dissociated and spaced out... that was, until I really got the hang of mindfulness.
It was while on the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus one morning at 8am that I really honed the ability to stay grounded and mindful.
As is probably the norm at that time of day the underground, and each train coming into the station, was jam packed full. So, as I waited on the platform being pushed and jostled by everyone vying for the best position, the train stopped, the doors opened and in I went. As I stood there making myself as slim-lined as possible, I tilted my head down, then to the side and counted the feet and bodies making contact with me. My arm clung tightly to the strap hanging from the pole above my head..1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6...7! SEVEN! Seven strangers all making contact with me. That was weird! It was really hot in the carriage standing there, crammed in...and then I got a feeling I hadn't experienced in many years. That weird prickly heat rising up from my core, sweaty hands, tight chest, shallow breathing - not a panic attack?! Not now after so many years?! So then I remembered all that I've learnt and all that I teach clients.
I shifted my awareness to my feet on the ground and engaged all my senses in that moment. The driver had made an announcement that we'd had to stop (in the tunnel) for a few minutes as the train in front needed to move on first before he could progress. I felt my hand gripping the strap, I heightened my awareness of how my hand felt, I paid more attention to the sensations and tension in my hand and shoulder. Then I thought about my feet on the ground, someone's foot was on top of one of mine so I gently moved my foot and freed it from the shiny black shoe that had been bearing down on my toes. Then my focus moved to my breathing. I reminded myself of a teaching from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh's, and I started repeating silently in my head the words I'd read from his book years before,
"Breathing in - I am peace, breathing out - I am calm."
As our thoughts become physical manifestations I could feel myself settling into a very peaceful place as I repeated this phrase over and over. I was cooling down, and re-connecting solidly to the reality of the situation. Looking around me I could see that nobody was enjoying being stuck on the train. We were all en route to our destination and all we wanted was to get off the train as soon as possible so we could get on with our day.
There was something unifying in that realisation. I wasn't really alone in the big city. I was surrounded by other people, some were comfortable on their commute, some weren't. I could allow my discomfort to overwhelm me, or I could use tools and techniques to allow me to reign in the catastrophising headmind and let my fear diminish and melt away.