{NYC} THE MAGIC OF THE CITY :: how to make crazy city life your meditation

August 24, 2014

Being in New York City is always the most beautiful paradox.

On one hand, the city is full of brilliant people: creatives, designers, entrepreneurs, writers + healers.

On the other hand, it can be super overstimulating: the sheer density of people, wifi/electrical waves + saturation of emotional energy.

And –
New York City is a spiritual experience if you’re paying attention.
Spiritual as in – a mindful-awareness training ground.

Here are a couple practices to make walking on a busy street in Manhattan – or any other city a meditation:

Observe your thoughts + emotions.

Gom is the Tibetan word for meditation, which means to become familiar with, or to get used to. Meditation is, in essence, you getting used to your own mind. You’re paying attention to the types of thoughts + emotions that you experience in every moment.

You’re training yourself to be neutral, to observe all of the thoughts in your mind without judging them or putting too much stake in them.

special tara statue

I like to observe my mind when I’m in the city. I observe the world around me while simultaneously watching how my mind responds to it.

As you’re walking on the street, people get in your way, walk slow in front of you, walk fast behind you. It’s interesting to see how the mind responds to all of the different external stimuli.

Notice everything around you without reacting to it, and if you react, just observe that.

There are so many people in New York City – and because everyone is walking – they’re all in your face + in your space … human beings everywhere – each one a walking, talking brilliant intricate mess of genius + loving-kindness mixed with challenge + heartaches.

So you’ll be walking down the street – and on the same city block that you see a couple embracing passionately in a kiss, you hear a construction worker screaming at his co-worker.

protector of medicines sculpture

You might get agitated, irritated, overwhelmed, exhausted, or you might feel adventurous, cheerful, inspired + all charged up.

Noticing how you feel gives you more power over your feelings, and makes the uncomfortable ones disappear more quickly.

Pay close attention + build your field of neutral awareness.

City-living requires coordination with others + patience. If you don’t pay attention crossing at each intersection, you could get hit by a car.

In a crowd at the corner waiting for the light to turn, you feel the hot breath of someone behind you on your neck as the crowd forces them to walk near.

And then there are times when you just get the short end of the stick: you’ve been trying to hail a cab for ten minutes + then someone steps in ten feet up the street and grabs the only available cab.

By paying attention with a neutral mind, everything happens more smoothly + easily.

Practice patience, generosity + tiny acts of kindness.

The kindness of strangers is inspiring, + the city seems to offer so many more opportunities to give + receive kindness.

I like to hand out my little special message cards when I’m trapped in a moment of time with strangers in the elevator. Especially the ones who look stressed. I like to see the sunshine break across their face as they smile.

The tiniest gestures, when unexpected, remind us how precious each moment is + how much we have to offer to the world.

old tara sculpture

It’s this human interaction – I see you, I value you, I appreciate you. It makes all the difference.

Find + foster your softer side.

New York City has also taught me that a courageous softness in your heart melts others’ anger, tension and hardness. The art of non-reaction also helps. Just waiting an extra moment before we respond to someone who’s coming at us with fierce energy can make all the difference.

And I’ve learned that it’s fun to ask the cab drivers and building security guards how their day is going + really listen – it totally cheers them up.

milarepa statue

I had the most touching conversation with an Uber driver, a gentle, friendly guy who lives in North Carolina with his family. He grew up in NYC + his mother still lives there. She refuses to leave the city, even to visit them in North Carolina. Her health is not the best, so he flies up to the city every week to care for her. That’s the power of love.

I remember during a previous trip to the city I met a cab driver who was super serious about his spiritual practice – he was preparing go to India on a retreat. He was reciting healing mantras in his mind as he drove strangers around – big love! Very inspiring.

By asking people how they’re doing + really caring, I get the most interesting, surprising answers that inspire me immensely + help me feel more connected, even though I’m in a big city.

Be kind to yourself.

Necessary virtues for big-city living are patience, generosity, flexibility, awareness, attention, kindness + love – not only for others, but also yourself.

NYC also continuously teaches me the art of self-care. It’s so easy to get exhausted and overstimulated, or to forget to drink water or use the bathroom – and then you’re stuck on the street with a long way to travel. Being aware also means paying attention to your own inner cues + doing what you need to do in order to nurture yourself.

In the urban jungle, where your space is my space is her space + his space …
The air I’m breathing now has been inside someone else’s body just moments before …

It requires a gentle spacious attitude. A softness. A patience. It starts with ourselves. A quiet watching + observing. Then it radiates to others around us + through our interactions.

It helps us be ever so much more loving toward others + loving toward ourselves, no matter where we are in the world. Which makes life extremely meaningful + makes every moment count.


Love + flower petals,

katie hess flower alchemist

Photos taken at the Rubin Museum of Tibetan Art, NYC