My first cab ride back in Chicago fulfilled all expectations. The driver’s aggression crackled inside the stuffy car as he muttered under his breath about traffic, pedestrians, drivers and shoved his vehicle into tight spaces that looked impossible to me. I sat in the back seat, sucking in my breath and belly as if to help the whole car to contract so it could slide through the gaps.
Jet lagged and wearing the clothes I had dressed in half a world away and 48 hours earlier, I was doing the last thing I wanted to do: go shopping for clothes to wear until the airline found our bags.
A few hours later – armed with shopping bags and a couple of liquid pick-me-ups from Starbucks – I got into another cab. The driver said “is one of those for me?” I said, not even thinking, “My husband would be angry if I gave his coffee away – I mean, wouldn’t you?” He said, “I never get angry.” As I had spent time over the preceding days trying to breathe my way out of anger over the airline, the weather, the hours wasted sitting in airports, the loss of our bags and, most of all, my own inability to retain my equanimity throughout, I really wanted to know his secret.
“How come you never get angry?” “I don’t think,” he answered. Hmmm. “How do you stop your mind from thinking?” “I live in the now” he said, and we began a short journey, from State and Monroe to the South Loop by the river, in which I found something I have looked for over many years: my mantra. This is what he said:
“I don’t think, because we only think to amuse ourselves. We think “if this, then that.” “If she goes here then I go there.” “If this happens then that will happen” – it is a fantasy. And while we are thinking we are not paying attention to what is happening in front of us right now. You know when you are talking to someone and they are not listening, you can see they are just thinking about what they are going to say to you?
“Instead, I just say to myself, “I am happy.” I am happy. Since ten years now I have been driving a cab in Chicago and I have never had one angry person in my cab. I go to the ball park, I wait outside the bars, all the time I am saying to myself I am happy, I am happy and I am not having one angry person in the cab. For ten years. The subconscious – I don’t know how it works and I don’t need to. I am happy. If you see the world as angry and violent and miserable then that’s how your world is. I just see it as it is, and know it is perfect somehow.
“You look into a pond of water and all you see is your face, just how it is. You stir up the water and everything is distorted, you don’t see your face, you see only the distortion.
“I don’t have to go out and make the future, the future will come to me. And I am happy. Sometimes I find myself thinking – my friends, my family, they have problems and they talk to me and I find I’m thinking this and that, so I say to myself I am happy and then I am more useful.” As I paid him and got out of the cab he said “I am happy – and I feel blessed”. And so did I.
He was Indian but he did not mention any spiritual tradition, did not use any fancy foreign words or allude to any particular tradition; his was a simple everyday message.
I have tried his mantra and it works for me. I have been looking for the one mantra to use all day, the one sound track to repeat like drums-and-bass under all my actions. I love the sound of Sanskrit mantras and I use them often – but somehow they feel like ‘Sunday best’ to me, tied to a ritual tradition that belongs to someone else. ‘I am happy’ doesn’t sound mystical or spiritual. It’s perfect for every-day wear. And if that can be my everyday mantra, then I am happy.