Greyhound bus has a special place in the hearts of my family. My sister and I have both developed neuroses about bus travel thanks to the I-can’t-believe-I’m-in-a-developed-country type experiences on has on a Greyhound bus. Maybe we just need a dose of optimism. I mean, its not really so bad to have your window all of a sudden collapse inwards on you in the middle of a blizzard. Its not a major tragedy to then be expected to perpetually hold that window closed during a six hour journey, taking turns with a Las Vegas basketball player (who, despite his towering stature and intimidating gangster speak was petrified by the snow and cold, or maybe the snow and cold was a relentless pathetic fallacy representing to him his regrettable decision to accept a scholarship to a Canadian college and leave the comforting nightlight of desert casinos for the barren tundra) to press your hands against the moist, vitreous divide between your cramped seat and the tempest beyond.
Zen and the Art of Bussing Greyhound
Its not so bad when the only seat left on the bus is next to a peripatetic, scurvied Newfoundlander on his way out West to make his Oil fortune who wreaks of three days of bus sweat and desperation.
At least we never had to suffer through a decapitation. Always look at the bright head-still-connected-to-torso side of things.
Thankfully, greyhound buses have received something of a cosmetic overhaul. New buses come equipped with a sleek, new, metallic cobalt exterior, Wifi, power outlets and (allegedly) new-fangled seat ergonomy. And let me tell you, there is no limit, no better distraction from the sweaty restlessness of bus travel than autistic Facebook use, iTouch application piracy and reading your old blog entries to see how far you’ve gotten towards intellectual gianthood.
So, there I was, gliding along on the four-lane bee-line highway from New York to Washington. The grey, relentlessly flat perpendicularity of highway stretched on, marshaled on either side by an explosive expanse of deciduous foliage. Leaves burst, vivacious and verdant, outwards from towering trunks. They fluttered like the comet sparks of fireworks.
It was an interesting place to meet a disciple of the Church of Now. A slightly shrunken black man clung to small hardcover book. I could make out the modest subtitle – “A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.”
Our introduction was slow but steady. We opened up to each other like timid flowers in early spring. He had a wiry quality to him, and a weathered but resilient expression on face. These clues, combined with a posh English-accent imbued introduction of himself as ‘Timbo’, gave away his status as a recent immigrant. We shared a few words about past and present danger in Zimbabwe and Sierra Leon.
We drifted into silence, then into fitful sleep. When I awoke I asked him about his book. It wasn’t long into his introduction of Eckhardt Toll and ‘The Power of Now’ that I recognized a kindred spirit in Timbo. I have always considered spirituality, psychology and philosophy as intricately implicated subjects. I have found remedy from the teleological stress of mid-20s unemployment through pragmatic, ego-dissolving, logotherapy combined with a steady, ruminating diet of Zen meditation and the cultivation of ‘Right-attitude’ . Timbo, despite his disparate circumstances – embroiled in a cross border (and probably cross-culture) relationship and his own career troubles – had turned to similar strategies. We were just two dudes on a bus who both preferred the quest for inner peace over attempts to control the big bad world and its endless vicissitudes.
Even though The Power of Now seemed a bit pseudo-religious to me, I was intrigued by the way Timbo described its tenets to me. He could distill the most fluffy quotation into a fluid of sparkling clarity.
So there I was mulling over life and Eckhardt Toll and lines like: “Enlightenment consciously chosen means to relinquish your attachment to past and future and to make the Now the main focus of your life.” when the irony of our environment hit me. It is impossible to embrace ‘Now-ness’ on a Greyhound bus. Albeit through concentration I had achieved a modicum of contentedness (especially through conversation with Timbo), it was impossible to accept the oppression of boxy chairs and twisted appendages and terrible residual music surging from crackling, nearby earphones. I itched like a base-head to get off that bus. To descend onto a sidewalk, to hear the comforting scratch of gravel beneath my shoes as I hunted down food and friends and fun in Washington.
I had a tree planting friend who would use our short breaks from work to sit cross legged and try to ‘accept’ the One-ness of himself with the frenzied cloud of mosquitoes that hurricaned around his head. He would even try and let them feed momentarily, to share his life-blood with his thirsty, buzzing, slurping brethren. He often described his travels in Nepal to me, which included making acquaintance with a Buddhist priest that inspired this bizarre approach to spiritual expansion. This priest would often stroll into the woods, disrobe, and smilingly let the bugs feed off of him for hours. My planting partner would rarely last more than a few twitching moments before bounding to his feet and howling off into the distance.
I’ve come to appreciate the so called ‘teachers’ who press themselves relentlessly into the spiritual realm. Its not exactly for me, but there are things to learn from such efforts. Not many people actually want to be Lance Armstrong. But his achievements in extremus, can make our more modest fitness goals seem that much more achievable.
But forget mosquitoes. Show me the man who can achieve inner peace on a Greyhound bus and I’ll eat my shoe.