August 5, 2017
The city didn't welcome us kindly.
It was past midnight when, after twelve hours of traveling from Managua to New York City, my husband JJ and I finally—finally!—got off the plane to stretch our legs and collect our bags. Only to be met with a sign that read:
“TAXI LINE: 70 MINUTES.”
I repeat: the city didn't welcome us kindly.
The summer air mixed with construction fumes, leaving my skin tacky and dry. My lower back pulsed like a siren, burning with the need for a good stretch and to be let off duty, but there was no chance I'd be climbing into bed anytime soon. Hundreds of people in line inched forward in stop motion. Human bumper to bumper traffic.
When we rolled our luggage to the back of the line, the clock read 1:08am. No dinner. No rest. Nowhere to sit but the dirty curbside floor.
I had a choice: would this taxi line be a problem, or would it be just a taxi line?
* * *
Two weeks before my trip to New York, I picked up Michael A. Singer's book, The Untethered Soul, because I was desperate. I was having a bad day. A string of bad days, really. I can't pinpoint one specific thing that was sending me over the edge—it could've been the screaming kids or my strained marriage or the suffocating heat or all of the above?— but this is what I wrote in my journal:
“Lighter. That's what I want my life to feel. Lighter, please.”
And this book delivered.
The Untethered Soul gave me something that no other book on mindfulness or spirituality had given me: straight-talk, no-nonsense instruction. Exactly what my weary soul needed.
Fast forward to the traffic nightmare at LaGuardia Airport, and this book was a Godsend. I was able to apply a few of the book's guiding principles to the frustrating situation. Here's how...
Whenever we visit a movie theater, we get lost in the story. We are inside the movie, no longer in our seat. Until a phone rings or someone a few rows down starts coughing and suddenly we're jolted back to reality.
The same happens when you become aware of your thoughts. It's a jarring, yet beautiful truth.
Instead of getting pulled into the movie of your thoughts, you can choose to separate yourself from what's going on inside your brain. The book explains it like this:
“Suppose you were looking at three objects—a flowerpot, a photograph, and a book—and were then asked, ‘Which of these objects is you?’ You’d say, ‘None of them! I’m the one who’s looking at what you’re putting in front of me.’”
The same goes for what your brain's chattering about:
“It doesn’t make any difference what it’s saying, you are the one who is aware of it.”
When I was standing in line for a taxi with my legs aching and my stomach growling, I realized that, just like I am not the flowerpot that I see, I'm not the anger, hunger or exhaustion I was feeling at being stuck at the airport.
When I separated myself from the situation, I was able to see it for what it really was: a line of people waiting to take a cab home.
Energy is not something that I have copious amounts of. My body starts shutting down around 7pm. If I'm not in bed and asleep by 9:30, I have premonitions of the aches I'll feel come morning.
When Nicolás was born a few months ago, though, I was surprised with my ability to function with far less sleep. Of course, I was exhausted and bleary-eyed, but I was also delirious with happiness. Suddenly, just four hours of uninterrupted sleep became the purveyor of a wealth of energy.
That's when I realized my decades-long need for so much sleep was a complete fabrication.
In The Untethered Soul, Singer explains energy levels in the context of a romantic relationship. When we're blissfully in love, he says, energy flows out of us so freely we are practically floating. But when the relationship turns sour and we end up heartbroken? Suddenly, even small activities like getting out of bed become taxing. That is, until your ex calls wanting to meet up to mend things. There is no Red Bull in the world as strong as that energy boost, am I right?
“The only reason you don’t feel this energy all the time is because you block it. You block it by closing your heart, by closing your mind, and by pulling yourself into a restrictive space inside.”
We block our limitless pool of energy by rejecting reality, by deciding that what is happening is wrong. No matter the situation, if we choose to open our hearts, our energy will never leave us.
When you stop blocking it—when you decide that nothing is worth closing over—energy once again becomes unlimited.
As I stood in line with the hundreds of other stranded passengers, everything hurt. My backpack cut into my shoulders and my entire body ached with the desire to just shut down for the night. But, considering my surroundings, I chose to stretch my muscles, jump a few times, accept the situation, and hope for the best.
No surprise, my energy came flooding back to me. Along with it came my sense of humor. I even kind of had a good time?
Would I choose to kick off my romantic vacation with that airport experience? Of course not. But that's the hand I was dealt. In my dilemma of “would this taxi line be a problem, or would it just be a taxi line”, I was essentially deciding how I'd judge the situation.
Like Singer writes:
“The real cause of problems is not life itself. It's the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems.”
Our judgements are essentially a desire for control. Our need to label and judge things is our need to feel comfortable. By judging, we're holding the world together. It's safe. It's cohesive.
We face this choice every single day at every single moment: will you be happy and at peace or will you be in control and in fear? When you decide to accept life as it happens, it doesn't matter what hand you're dealt, you are always okay.
* * *
The city did not welcome us kindly.
The software at LaGuardia Airport is surprisingly spot on. Like, Disney World accurate. It took us almost exactly 70 minutes to get through that taxi line. Exhausted, dirty and hungry, it was past 3am when we finally fell asleep. The city did not welcome us kindly, but I still offered the city my warmest handshake.
In Singer's words:
“Your sense of self is determined by where you are focusing your consciousness.”
And the way I handled this airport setback is how I'm trying to handle all the other situations in my life—with grace. I'm no expert at it. It's definitely a learned approach, one that I have to keep practicing every day. But it works.
When you stop fighting reality, you open the possibility to a life without problems.
That's how I want to live: without troubles, without issues, without a single problem. Of course, the world isn't going to change. But I can. Every time I feel negative emotions start bubbling inside me, I remember the book, and I'm steadily brought back down to peaceful.
Instead of shining the flashlight on the problem, shine it on yourself, because nothing is worth closing over.
While I hope this book review was helpful, I recommend you read The Untethered Soul in its entirety. I promise you won't regret it.