Though it seems so anticlimactic and uninteresting compared to every other attraction in New York, one of my favorite things to show visitors is the subway system. Sure it’s often gross and rat-infested, but if you’ve spent your entire life driving from point A to point B, the ability to hop on a train and arrive at your destination is liberating. Also, while I’m used to the sudden stops and the jerking (and sometimes, twerking by other passengers), visitors are fascinated – and sometimes frightened – by the ways of the MTA.
So when my parents made the trek from North Carolina to Manhattan to spend Christmas with me, I couldn’t wait to get my pops on the downtown train the very first night:
He was impressed by how easy transportation was (told you so) but he also was avidly reading the advertisements, something that I’m rarely inclined to do because I’m tuned into my Kindle or headphones. After putting on his glasses and focusing, he noticed an ad about “Finding Happiness” and pointed it out to me:
Hey Linds, look. Have you ever gone to the school of philosophy?” He asked, expecting me to know everything there is to know about New York and all that it offers. I shook my head in response and my mom turned her attention up and said, “Yeah Linds, you should do that. That looks really interesting!”
I had no intention, really, to sign up for this class.
I took philosophy in college and while I enjoyed my professor, I found everyone in the class far too argumentative and annoying. I thought Plato and Socrates were interesting, but as soon as I passed with a shining gold star, I forgot most of what I learned. And yet, something told me to check out the website and just see what it was all about.
And there, in the course syllabus, I found all of the things that I’ve been wondering about lately:
- How can we increase the power of attention and realize our full potential?
- When awareness and attention are open, how far can we see?
- Where is Beauty? What is beauty itself?
- What can be done about the negativity that limits our awareness and happiness?
- How can we wake up more often during the day?
After a year of hardship, what I most wanted was what the advertisement offered me: happiness. Not from a guy, not from a job, not from my friends or my family (or my dog) but from something inside of me. I was very close to registering, but had some doubts, until I saw that for the first time ever, the School of Practical Philosophy was offering a $10 introductory course in honor of their 50th Anniversary.
A month later when classes started, I was sure I’d walk into a room of 40-years-old-and-up philosophers and stick out like a sore thumb with my youth and lack of wisdom. But when I walked into the class, I was surprised to find classmates all my age, give or a take. There were a few middle-aged, but mostly, it was a younger crowd, full of opinions and ideas and ways of looking at the city, at the world, at life.
And for the first time – in a very, very long time – I was completely tuned into a lecture. I took notes. I brainstormed. I tried meditating (I’m bad at it, but improving). I found myself captivated by stories and discussions by strangers a few seats down. I wasn’t worrying about work or a man, my need to lose 5 pounds or my running pace. I didn’t think about what I really want tomorrow to bring or what I definitely regret in my past. I didn’t think about my never-ending to-do list or my need to compete with myself day-in-and-day-out.
I was just present. And it felt so empowering.
This Saturday was my third philosophy class, and I almost didn’t make it. I was out later than anticipated because of a particularly great second date (more about that later, promise) and didn’t feel like I slept much at all when 9 a.m. called. I considered skipping it – it’s not like I’m graded and it did only cost me a Hamilton. But after I snoozed for 10 more minutes and then shot out of bed, desperate to get the class that made me feel rejuvenated for the weekend and week ahead.
I grabbed coffee and then hailed a cab, striking up conversation with the cab driver, per my philosophy homework: what would the wise woman do? In every situation, petition the wiser voice about what the best, calmest, happiest version of yourself would do – and in that moment, the wise Lindsay thought she should meant listen to the cabbie tell his life story. He moved from Haiti. He became a special needs teacher in Queens. He got a divorce. He decided to drive a handicapped-taxi on the weekends to make extra money. He decided to live his life believing in himself first, having patience and always helping others.
There are so many things I’m not patient about and I worry will never happen. The right job, the right guy, the life I want, I told him.
I came here in 1985 – you weren’t even born yet, were you? he asked.
No, not yet. I admitted.
I never doubted that I would make a difference. I was always positive. Whatever will be yours is already yours. You just have to be positive. You have to believe more than anyone else, he advised with a big smile.
I left a big tip and headed inside, with only a minute to 10 o’clock. And as I opened my notebook to look at the homework for week three, I found myself in complete disbelief: take everything you see and everyone you meet as a teacher. What can you learn from them?
I grinned up at the front of the classroom, knowing that for whatever reason, philosophy was teaching me to be a wise, wise woman with more kindness in her thoughts, and more trust in her heart. It’s teaching me to live in the present, where every little magical thing actually lives.
Where the happiness is.
And all because of that smelly, jam-packed subway and the ad that I never bothered to read until right when I needed to see it. It’s funny how fate works, isn’t it?
This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here.