Living Mindfully—With a Side of New York
When I first moved to Northern California in December of 2000 I left the fast paced, obstreperous state of New York and found myself mystified by my dreamlike surroundings. It was almost as if I was Dorthy, landing on another bright and shiny planet called Oz. Until I got on the freeway of course. Having been born and raised just outside of New York City became glaringly apparent to me—I often found myself ranting and wanting to run cars off the road—which was obviously not ok.
Small town life and the California way of life, were foreign to me. Growing up in Rockland County, I didn’t speak to anyone I didn’t know, and if a stranger looked at me I’d ask if there was a problem. Smiling for no reason was not a part of my daily life. Before moving to California, I moved 90 miles an hour all the time and spoke without a filter regardless of how inappropriate. Yet here in the sunny state just about every one smiled, talked to each other regardless of social role, and the pace here was 10-20mph. A difficult statement coming from a Californian was soft, and would take a lunch hour. Choosing to stay in California and not break the law became my spiritual practice.
I began to wonder how I could acclimate to California without loosing my mind. Herein lies the practicality of merging reactivity with mindfulness—I needed to find a way to stay calm and centered in the midst of this new planet. It’s amazing how we think our “way of life” is normal until we move to a small town and then see aspects of ourselves mirrored in the world around us. Thus began the merging of a loud New Yorker, courting the relaxed lifestyle of a Californian. I began noticing the conversations going on in my head, and the intense behavioral responses happening as a result of them. Did I mention that just about everyone I met, and continue to meet want to hug me? I started making a long list of all the things driving me nuts about my new environment and began seeing themes and patterns running through them, followed by a close look at my intense behavioral responses. Admittedly, it wasn’t good. It’s reminiscent of the scene from Seinfeld of Elaine screaming insanely in the silence of her mind stuck on the subway! Learning how to stop this internal scream in my mind became my daily practice. Fourteen years later I’m not the same person I was—thanks to a degree in psychology and a lot of self-reflection and application. This took a lot of work, patience, and honesty. Days and months turned into years of trying to find that calm center within myself as well as slowing down my mind.
Anyone from NY will tell you that people move so fast, that finding heinsight is almost non-existent. This process of deconstructing myself was a tedious one. Molding a new Self became a quest not only for my health and state of mind, but for the work I found myself doing with clients in psychotherapy. Who wants a battle in their mind to be the dominating focus?
This transition taught me a lot. I’ve become a much healthier, conscious individual— aware of where my foods grown, and by whom, practicing yoga and martial arts, and moving at a much slower pace. I now have a filter when I speak. Even in light of all my new, shiny Selves my New Yorker is alive and well. I value her because she’s helped me balance my light and dark, good and evil, and my inpatient overdramatic asshole, with my deep breathing yogini. There are many people out here in California, and the world for that matter, that feel anger, darkness, etc., have no place in a spiritual life. I’m here to say that the two are married. In fact, walking with both energies gives one a genuine nature and propels one forward. I have a deep desire to yell out to all the spiritual happy people, “Embrace your darkness and find the gift of anger.”
Many experiences and situations have left my Californian self who’s so desperate to forgive combatting my New Yorker self who generally craves kicking some ass!
There have been many experiences in the last 14 years, both good and bad. And after them all I find myself transmuting all the experiences into awareness and understanding. During the darker, more painful experiences, I learned to use the anger and rage from these experiences to generate enough power and movement both within and without myself to force it out of my body. Regardless of the kind of dynamics of was dealing with in my life, I was able to find the gift of the experience and channel it into creativity and self- awareness. By ;inding ways to match my emotions and move them in a new and powerful way, I found the layers of emotion and intensity began to fall of my shoulders leaving a lighter, more aware Self.
I’ve come to the realization that in the midst of this wisdom and self-understanding, that there is an island of beauty within me with flaws splashed around, hidden under trees and rocks. And it was my New Yorker that had the courage to look for them. These flaws were created from my experiences and reactions to the outside world. By dropping into my inner world of experiences without judgment, I was able to find a deeper place of awareness. No, I’m not a Buddhist, a Christian, or even a Yogini. My spiritual practice is contending with, and keeping up with my inner world and processes. Therefore, I don’t need to travel anywhere to find God or spiritual knowledge. The journey is all within me if I can just be honest and embrace the parts of myself that many would find embarrassing. Now, I still don’t hug any bystander that opens his or her arms to me but I do extend a handshake and on rare occasions a hug versus a shocked expression! I’ve come to find that my dark parts are as beautiful as my lighter ones, and all inspire many a poems and long conversations always leading to a deepening within my heart. I believe that the field of perception is “neutral” meaning I prescribe what things mean based upon my experiences and what they mean to me. My reaction is a culmination of my own inner-world that I strive to better understand and investigate while moving the energy that comes along with that process in a non-destructive way. This keeps the body free of resentments, and allows you to travel light!
It is for this reason I raise a glass and toast my two homes that now dwell within me. Without my “soft” Californian and my “hard” New Yorker I wouldn’t have found my spiritual practice – which was right under my nose. Without both, I wouldn’t have found my true nature in such an honest and naked light. Let’s all drink to the opportunity to explore all of our true natures, regardless of what shows up. As Rumi stated, “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all.”