During my many rides on the New York City subway, I’ve been entertained by saxaphonists, mariachi bands, do-wop singers, acrobats swinging from handrails, conga players, expert finger snappers, and poets, to name a few. I once saw a man set up a folding chair in a train and play Bach’s Suite No.1 in G Major on the cello; I’ve filmed teenage boys using themselves as percussion instruments, slapping their bodies and legs in a syncopated rhythm. These itinerant performers always seem like miracles of the creative spirit: risking, putting themselves ‘out there’ right in the public view in often very imaginative ways, to make money, further a dream, be heard.

On a recent subway ride, there was no one performing and nothing particularly interesting going on: just a semi-crowded train making its way across three boroughs, taking on passengers and dropping them off. Out of nowhere, a thought came:  This is a wonder, a miracle of sorts. Right now, a brilliant mechanical invention is transporting people comfortably underground. Astonishing.  I came home and looked up ‘miracle’: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin miraculum, from Latin, a wonder, marvel, from mirari to wonder at, marvel, be astonished. 

Since then, I’ve made a little practice of viewing the moment as a wonder. It has a curiously transformative effect: of making things look brighter, more valuable and surprising, a gift that can temper difficulties and sadness.

It can be done anywhere at any time, even in on the subway.

This small subway epiphany also led also to the discovery of photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov‘s work for Magnum. The image above, taken in the NYC Subway on Halloween 2001, reveals a woman’s tutu peeping out from her coat,  among the bystanders…a case in point.

It is reminiscent of Louis. C.K.’s great rant/revelation “Everything is so amazing…” The guy’s got serious problems and has made some terrible mistakes. BUT his art form has some insightful messages.  (Skip ahead to 2:35 to find this juiciest.)

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5 replies on “anywhere mindfullness practice: ‘this is a wonder’

  1. Thank you! I just bookmarked another instance of this Louis CK routine yesterday because I needed to remember that not everyone is so self-involved that they don’t see the beauty and wonder around us all the time. In a culture of hyperbole where people are constantly saying how “great” and “super” everything is all the time, real wonder does get lost as we move from one “awesome” experience to the next.

  2. I am not sure where to post this, here or on the stunning post you did about photographer Fern Berman, just a few days ago. She enters the picture because I recently interviewed her at the New Britain Museum of American Art where her brilliant work is on display, and, as it happens, the following, re amazement, was one of our subjects. Maybe I will do both,

    Today’s thought on The Improvised Life, is very much in the spirit of Abraham Joshua Heschel one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, who said so much about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, the sacred in the profane. He wrote: –“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. . . To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

  3. Recently I took a red-eye flight. In coach. I’d been dreading it, dreading feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived and uncomfortable; I had all my “stories” about how awful it is ready. Not just ready, I was playing them way before I even boarded the plane. Then I decided to let this be a different experience. I decided not to worry about sleeping. If I was really sleepy, I thought, I’d just fall asleep and if I wasn’t sleepy enough to fall asleep, I’d have undisturbed time to just rest. And meditate—something that easily gets pushed to the bottom of my to do lists at home. The flight was wonderful (I had new stories). I found myself drifting in and out of sleep, and sometimes when I was awake I decided to meditate and relax. I didn’t have to answer the phone or attend to the litany of emails. It was as if all my old stories about how awful it was were irrelevant. Amazing how just being present was such a gift. Sounds schmalzy, but it’s what really happened.

  4. Thanks so much for this. I toyed with not publishing it for fear of being too corny…a fleeting notion for sure but one that crossed my mind. I love Heschel’s quote which is perhaps the best description of spirituality I’ve heard. “To be spiritual is to be amazed.” And yeah, amazement IS what comes through Fern’s work…(Please DO Comment in both places!)

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