Sunday, March 14, 2010

BUS STORY # 175 (Portrait # 6: Eastern)

The first time I noticed him, I thought he had a medical condition. He was sitting on a bench seat facing the aisle, eyes closed, arms on his thighs with his hands turned up and his two middle fingers touching his thumbs. The pose suggested meditation then, but the position looked unnatural, the hands awkward and the fingers contractured.

He rocked side to side with the starting and the stopping of the bus without ever losing his equilibrium. I thought maybe he was trying to sleep. Then I saw him drool. That’s when I decided he must have a medical condition.

I was mistaken.

One afternoon, we got off at the same stop. Out on the sidewalk, he turned into an awake and alert and normally functioning human being. I began consciously watching for him after that.

It took a while to reach the conclusion he was meditating.

First, he’s young – maybe mid-20s or younger – and I don’t automatically associate meditation with young males no matter what their genetic or cultural heritage.

On the other hand, he looks Amerasian, and my cultural stereotypes associate meditation more with the East than with the West.

Secondly, this was happening on the bus. Even if a young man were to undertake the practice of meditation, picking the bus as a practice environment seemed unlikely both because the bus is noisy and distracting, and because he would be making a public spectacle of himself. Outside of chest-beating and jackassing, young males are not prone to making public spectacles of themselves.

On the other hand, I thought about those musicians who explained how they learned to focus on their music in performance situations by busking on busy, noisy street corners.

Which brings me to the occasional iPod. Sometimes he has the earpiece in, sometimes he doesn’t. It took me a while to realize I was associating young-man-with-iPod with rock/pop/hip hop music – another cultural prejudice, of course. He might be listening to some tranquil, New Age ambience music, or even a meditation study.

There are other mysteries.

He always wears the same things: a shirt with some sort of Oriental dragon motif, worn untucked, with black pants and black athletic shoes. Sometimes the shirt will feature instead flames licking up from the hem. But always the black pants and shoes.

And there is this: this is what he wears summer and winter.

One cold evening, we got off the bus together. Even more rare, we ended up at the same stop waiting for the same transfer. I was stunned to realize he had no coat, no hat, nothing more than a short-sleeved shirt. His only concession to the cold was to keep his hands in his pants pockets. Otherwise, he betrayed no discomfort.

What else could it be but a spiritual practice, a mind-over-matter exercise, or maybe a martial arts discipline?

Ah, the mysteries of the inscrutable eastbound!

The photo at the top of this story is from the website for Hua Designs and is posted with Hua Design's kind permission. You can see this shirt and all Hua Design's clothing lines at:


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