One day, I got on a crowded bus and took the one seat that was available in the front. It was only after sitting down that I saw the reason the seat was empty: two guys, both with some sort of mental problems (neurological, developmental, or psychiatric, I don’t know), who were sitting up there talking to each other across the aisle in a loud and disturbing way.
Once I noticed them, it was too late to get up and hunt for another seat in the back of the bus without it’s being really obvious why I was moving. So I figured, Here I am, make the best of it.
I pulled out a prayer booklet that I carry around with me. I usually run through it until a word or phrase catches me, and then I use it as a sort of mantra for meditation. That day, the word that leapt out at me was “Sh’ma.”
I started first by looking at the word and repeating it in my head. Then I decided to do it. So I sat there and sh’ma’d — I listened. I didn’t listen to the exact words these loud guys were using, but just the timbre of their voices, and the sound of the bus engine, and the driver calling out the stops. I felt my physical being, the sensation of the seat on my bottom and back, the feeling of my breath moving in and out. Then I could also hear, in the deep background, a few other voices, mostly two men, about five seats back, having a jolly and melodious conversation in a foreign tongue.
When I found my thoughts wandering, I looked at the prayer sheet still in my hands, at the Hebrew word Sh’ma (Shin – Mem – Ayin), and then returned to the practice of repeating the word a few times, and then listening, and sitting on the bus, and breathing in and out.
As I sat there, aware of how my physical being felt, and listening to the bus, the voices of the two loud guys near me got quieter and quieter. Finally they fell silent, and there was just the breathing in and out, the feeling of the bus seat on my body and its vibrations, the bus driver announcing the stops, and the murmur of other passengers talking and laughing softly in the background.
I don’t know if my sitting there calmed the two disturbing men near me. But I was calmed. If I had sat there being irritated (Damn them. They’re so loud. There’s obviously something wrong with them. I wish they’d just get off the bus. Why did I sit here?), then I would become upset myself. Instead, I just listened, and it was okay.