My Graffiti Mantra

When traveling from Brooklyn into Manhattan on the B train, there are a few minutes during which the subway cars emerge from the dark underground into the sunlight. It happens as the train crosses over the East River by way of the Manhattan Bridge, and the views can be pretty spectacular.

First you see the rooftops and water towers of Brooklyn; then the view looking north up the river, with Manhattan to the left, Brooklyn to the right, Queens and the Bronx beyond; and finally the train submerges once more, dipping into the crammed and colorful tenements of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. And this is only the view to the north – the view to the south is unbeatable:

Beautiful it may be, but whenever the train comes up for air on its journey over the East River, you can count on one thing: every single passenger will whip out their smart phone.

It is, after all, the only moment for many of us to get cellular service during our commute. And though it speaks to our collective dependency on techno gadgets, not to mention a certain jaded disposition toward the splendor of NYC, ultimately it’s kind of fun to see everyone – even the little old ladies – refreshing their Facebook feeds so they’ll have something to peruse for the remainder of their underground trip.

A few weeks ago, I happened to look up from my iPhone just as the train was coming up on the Brooklyn side, and I spied a bit of graffiti that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Jim Joe my heart is proud of its painOn the side of a building near the rooftop, clear as day, were the following words: My heart is proud of its pain. It was followed by a smiley face. I too was smiling. I spent the rest of my ride thinking about the pain we all endure just by virtue of being alive, but also of how we overcome, how we grow, and how we can build upon old patterns of suffering to create something better.

My heart is proud of its pain.

As far as I can tell, that piece of work is from an elusive street artist called Jim Joe, who’s been on the scene in NYC since 2010. Not all of his work is so straightforward, but it is typically clever, and often makes you think. Consider me a fan.

Now whenever I cross the bridge, I take a moment to find that scrawl before checking my phone. It reminds me to pause and check in with myself, to breathe a bit. It reminds me that suffering comes up for all of us, but that we have some control in how we respond to that suffering.

no mud no lotus thich nhat hanh

Can you think back on a time of real suffering and cultivate a sense of warm, loving pride that you were able to endure it? Imagine the beautiful lotus blossoms that bloom out of the mud and the muck; we are all capable of creating beauty and cultivating love, even in response to the most painful circumstances.

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