You can bring the sacred anywhere.
Of course it takes a little work. (What -- you wanted a free recipe? Sorry. All spiritual guidance involves effort.) There are thousands upon thousands of ways to infuse our material world with light, but once you have discovered a spiritual practice that works, you stay with it. Or at least I do.
Some years ago I lived in San Francisco, a city as famous for its charm as its earthquakes. It is also a city with a very thorough and efficient transit system, and while I was there I rode to work on its great invigorating network of buses and trolleys like everyone else. Both in the morning and at night these buses were packed full with masses of glum and dispirited faces; faces that didn't want to be there. Graffiti dotted most of the walls; candy wrappers and deserted newspapers lined the floors. So the vehicle itself didn't offer much in the way of luminosity. Reaching for the luminous part was my job.
I'm not even sure how it started; I suppose one day when the noise and density and crush of human limbs was too oppressive, I simply made an attempt to go elsewhere in self defense. I shut my eyes, relaxed against the hard metal seat, and began silently repeating a mantra to myself.
A mantra, as you probably know, is an ancient spiritual training device. Mantras have been around for thousands of years; they consist of words or phrases which, when repeated, send our ordinary train of thought along a happier track. Doing a mantra helps to settle the helter-skelterness of human thinking into a steady, reliable hum. And when thinking becomes more ordered, so does the human being attached to it. As I said, mantras have been around a long time, and the reason for their longevity as a spiritual practice is simple: they work.
So there I was on this particular morning, deep in the folds of a rock-and-roll trolley, books and tablets piled on my lap, squished between two other beings who also didn't want to go to work. Nevertheless, my eyes were closed and I began silently repeating the words "Infinite Peace" to myself, over and over. Slowly. You know: trying to taste them.
The words you say don't matter, by the way; you can repeat "Om" or "Love" or "Let me be an instrument of Thy Peace" or "Thank you, Father" or "All is well" or any other phrase which hints at the amazing source of all beingness. The eastern disciplines have some very beautiful verses which serve as mantras. Zen masters offer koans to solve. Westerners sometimes use the Jesus prayer. They all have their own music; you get to choose.
Eyes closed, I was breathing "Infinite Peace". After several minutes the external chatter began to dim a little. The pressure from the adjacent bodies seemed to ease up; I don't know whether my neighbors were actually leaning away slightly or the pressure simply began to feel less demanding. I don't know because my eyes were closed, remember: I'm just reporting how it started to feel from inside.
More city blocks later, my breathing had become very even and sweet. The general ill temper that usually accompanies my mornings had dissipated; by now my mood had shifted into a field of good humour, which was a much nicer neighborhood indeed. Not too long after this, I sensed I was near my stop. This assumption turned out to be right, so I rose, assumed my normal lurch-to-the-door position, and got off.
Walking over to the office building where I worked, I noticed the day seemed abnormally bright, even for San Francisco, where gray is the natural pallor of the sky. Things felt, well, just right. The hot coffee I picked up smelled glorious.
After that, I began using the mantra device every time I boarded a trolley or bus, morning or night. It slipped me quietly and easily through noise, dust, quarrels, sudden brakings, intense conversations, screaming kids, everything.
But there was another result from this daily spiritual practice, something I hadn't expected. After several weeks of faithfully doing my mantra inside this crowded corridor of life, I noticed I had begun to see buses and trolleys in a whole new way. Whenever one jolted up to the corner I was standing on, it now seemed more friend than bus. Somehow this large movable object had become an instrument of Light for me. I found myself looking forward to being inside this great galloping machine, the place where, despite all external distractions, something new now awaited me. Peace.
This shift in perception was so secure that eventually a sense of luminous calm overtook me the minute I boarded public transportation. The fact is, it exists to this day: put me on a bus in any city, anywhere, and instantly my mind leaps into the sea of serenity it once discovered while repeating two simple, clear words about the universe.
And that's how, for me, a bus moved out of busdom and became a church.