A few weeks ago something very unexpected happened, and once again the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sutra 1.33) came in very handy. A man on the No. 1 Train, out of the blue, came at me and started yelling in my face. From the things he was saying it was obvious he had some mental problems. Why did he pick me? Unassuming petite flower of a yoga and Pilates teacher? I had just stepped on the train and done nothing to provoke a conflict. We found out in the police interview later that he thought my cell phone could take things out of his pockets!
One of my spiritual teachers and former acting coach Diaan Ainslee would say that “what is not love is fear,” however unreasonable that might seem. We each live in our own reality, although most of us are likely much more on the same page than our friend Jackson (I asked the officer for his name). But perhaps this event happened so I could try to make sense of it and share my findings with you guys!
Several stops and a police investigation later, our friend was safely off to get some needed help. And hopefully people standing on the platform were a bit safer than they might have been had I brushed it off and not taken the step to stop the train and call the police. But I’ve been wondering - how do we keep our peace on the train while encountering many kinds of people on our journeys?
The Yoga Sutras (which I have recently heard described as lessons in common sense and basic human nature) offers "four keys" for dealing with different kinds of people. In my mentor Mukunda Stiles’ interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, sutra 1.33 states:
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and other obstacles to self knowledge are lessened.
The idea of this sutra is to keep our own inner peace as best we can no matter whom we encounter. This last part about equanimity towards vice is also translated as disregard toward the wicked (potentially dangerous to you in this situation), which involves my usual technique in dealing with someone noticeably “off”. You know, the old New York trick of keep to your own bubble of space; pretend you don’t see them and they will not mess with you. In my fifteen years living in New York, this one usually worked. But, not this time.
What did help? I called upon the most valuable lesson I learned from my year long training in Hapkido, with Sabumnim David Herbert of World Martial Arts: when confronted with a potentially dangerous situation -- RUN! Sabumnim said in an interview with the New York Times:
While the training entails defusing conflict, there comes a time when the fight is imposed on the practitioner.
Prior to engaging in a fight, however, he emphasized getting away and getting yourself safe if you can. I chose to go to the conductor’s car to get help.
In researching subway safety the best advice I got was from one of folks in my “Morning Crew” (a group of riders that have the same work schedule as me). He said to ALWAYS ride in the conductor's car, especially when riding alone during off peak hours. He taught me that the conductor's car is usually in the middle of the train, and that you could look for the black and white candy striped strip that hangs on the platform across from where the train driver sits (and is what he/she lines up with in order to stop the train in the middle of the platform).
Prepare yourself by checking out some other subway safety tips from the MTA.
-- Frances Taylor-Brown
Jason Ray Brown
Is Yoga an Inherently Balanced Practice?, by Jason Brown