When I’m on my last nerve on the subway, I think about rowing

Find connection.
Find connection.
Image: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
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Modern living reinforces a feeling of disconnection. Despite my best efforts to stay in the middle of a subway car this morning, I was pushed onto the platform by the sheer force of the people around me. I felt like it was futile to attempt re-boarding the train, while being jostled left and right. Each of us was striving to reach our individual destinations, seemingly at cross-purposes against the whole world.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can create a life that allows us to feel connected. Being a coxswain on the women’s crew team in college was one of the most profound cooperative experiences for me. Our days started in the dark, early morning hours, meeting the van at 5:30am at the campus gates. We rode silently and sleepily to Spuyten Duyvil, stumbled into the barebones locker room, and then shuffled over to the cold boathouse. The rowers actively start to align with each other when they pick the shell up over their heads. The coxswain then guides the crew from the boathouse to the water by voice. Once we push away from the dock and onto the river, the training to move and think in unison begins in earnest.

Rowing requires perfect rhythm among its eight oarsmen and the coxswain. In the shell, there is no room for one person to be superior to another. It is the direct opposite of riding the subway, with its chaotic rhythm of people pushing each other out of the way. Victory is only possible when everyone is in sync. Rowing with impeccable technique at the same rate and power must be accompanied by being of the same heart and mind. When we are one with our crewmates, as well as with everything around us, our senses are hyper alert. Time slows down. We hear the clicking of the oarlocks and the gentle splashing of the blades. We smell the sharp, metallic scent of the water. In that state of magical, heightened consciousness, the boat propels effortlessly but powerfully across the Harlem River.

It seems that this kind of harmonious synchronization is rare and ephemeral. However, it is possible to replicate those elusive moments in our every day lives when we partake in something larger than ourselves. I have experienced this kind of intensity of the present when I am cognizant of the vast universe and the infinitesimal role I play in it. While hiking a beautiful mountain with only my next step on my mind, or gazing in awe at the stars, I can dial into a higher awareness. I sense the silence, see in Technicolor, hear the buzzing insects, and feel the sweat trickling down my back.

As we make our way through the beginning of this new year, remember to tap into the collective purpose that makes you feel connected. Remember that we are part of a bigger picture—a community of sentient beings that relies on each other for survival. Find a way to align with the highest purpose, the most common good, and step into transcendence.