I Love New York City (a little)

From the vantage point of my 14th floor hotel room I look just across the street and see a high rise apartment building probably 30 stories tall.  Sitting here eating a room service breakfast in my view are balconies attached to most of these apartments.   Each one seems to tell a unique story. 

As I study the contents of the balconies I notice some are empty although through the sliding glass doors the apartments appear occupied.  The most common balcony accessories are chairs.  More often than not there are two side by side appearing to be for people who like to sit together.  Other times two chairs are separated giving rise to the thought they are for two people who don’t enjoy sitting together or else for one person who likes to sit in two different places.  Then there are the balconies with 4 or even six chairs causing me to wonder if there is a family living there or if the person(s) who occupy the apartment like to entertain.  

Some of the high rise apartment balconies have two bicycles which lead to the assumption that most likely a couple lives there.  Then there is the one apartment balcony that appears to have four bikes for a family and another that has one bicycle for a lone occupant. 

As I study further the contents of the balconies become more unique.  There is one that has flower boxes all over it filled with young plants and a single tomato plant in the middle.  Another balcony has a large wooden Indian on it and nothing else.  I wonder what the story about that is.  Several other balconies are adorned with living houseplants while at least two are decorated with faded and fake assorted greenery.  On and on as I look I am struck by the thought that each balcony is as unique as the renters who occupy each apartment.  I realize that it is these small individual differences that help give this large city some contrast and keeps everything from looking the same.  Only now after looking for a half hour do I finally see a single live human sitting on a balcony.  As I watch she is sitting alternating between drags on her cigarette and holding their head.  It must have been a long night!

From walking yesterday I remember life here in this huge city is a jumble of people, cars and buildings with none quite having ample space.  There is a faster pace than most places in everything from the velocity of cars to the speed of people walking (and there are LOTS of people walking).  While I knew somewhere around were packed public buses I don’t recall seeing one.  Under my feet was the subway used by thousands every day but something I have never been completely comfortable riding.  I guess I have seen too many things in movies to feel safe there.  

In city getting a cab is inconsistent.  Once in a while a taxi begins to pull over for me before my arm is completely up to hail the taxi.  At other times cabbies drive by over and over ignoring my existence.  Still others will stop momentarily and ask where I am going to decide if the fare is healthy enough to warrant use of their time and gas.  What is consistent about cabs here is the driving. 

There are few amusement rides that can compete with a ride in a taxi in this city!  Whether speed, rapid acceleration or deceleration, rapid moves or the rush of adrenaline as the vehicle swerves to miss pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles there is never a dull moment.  Adding to the experience is that few of the cab drivers seem to have command of the English language yet somehow manage to understand what I am saying even if I can not comprehend much of what is being spoken to me.  It’s all part of the experience within a city population created in a stirred melting pot.  

My hotel is near, Central Park, the only substantial patch of green in the city besides balcony plants and occasional street planters dotting the landscape.  The park is striking in its contrast to the surrounding concrete buildings and streets especially here in late spring.  Besides the green of the park and the near monotone shades of the buildings the most dominant color here is the bright color of the dozens of yellow cabs in view at most any moment.  

The room service I have been enjoying between typing and looking out my window cost about $40 for bacon, eggs, toast, coffee, juice, tip and delivery charge.  Like everything in New York City, living here is expensive.  

In my 20’s I lived in the heart of a major city in a high rise.  At first it was a major thrill and I thought I had really made the grade to be there.  Over time though I began to notice little things like there was no where I could hook up a hose and wash my car.  The big grocery stores were all out in the ‘burbs’ and in town were just small markets with large prices.  The color of anything in living green began to be noticeably absent replaced by concrete gray and asphalt black unless I wanted to walk many blocks to a park.  And even there I was often put off by doggie “do” and homeless residue.  

This morning I realize how blessed I am to get to travel as I have.  There is much gratitude within to have witnessed many places most will never see.  From the wilds of the South and Central America, to the cultural contrast of Eastern Europe to Western Europe, from life on an island to that between London and Zewatinaho I am lucky to have witnessed what I have seen and experienced.  

Where it has all brought me is to a hearty appreciation of where I live and of the life I lead daily.  I am grateful to live in a medium sized city with 90% of the advantages of a major metropolitan area and only about 10% of the headaches and troubles.  Nor am I deafened by the silence and solitude found in a remote area like where I grew up.  It is life in the “middle” that suits me best and for it I am so very grateful.  However, I am further thankful that anytime I need to lose myself in the quiet of the country or the noise of a city I have the ability to visit there. 

I truly do live a magnificent life with so much good fortune I am humbled by it all.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.  Mark Twain 

Seeing Beyond Just Looking

I have no certainty where exactly I got the idea.  It may have been from something I read or several things Icame across blended together.  It may have even been a spontaneous realization.  But in the last 10 years I have learned to “see beyond just looking”.  I can’t do it all the time.  Actually that is probably impossible for a human being.  If I could I suspect I’d end up over dosed in goodness like Woody Allen was with the “orb” in the movie Sleeper.  Seeing beyond looking does happen for me frequently and the more I intentionally try the more frequent the activity comes without thought or effort.

My discovery was I mostly only acknowledged what came into view.  I would mostly just walked without really noting  what was right before me.  Mine was a bad habit of hardly ever really “truly seeing” much of anything.  My mind seemed to always be racing forward thinking about where I was going, what I had to do and what issues I needed to deal with.  Or else, I was looking backwards trying to solve some past emotional riddle or find some meaning in an episode of life I wanted an explanation for.

What I began to do, inconsistently at first, was to just stop and really take in visually what I was looking at.  There was amazement the first intentional time I took 30 seconds to study a beautiful tulip, to see its unique form and texture and to take in its vibrant red color.  I was stunned to look and see so much always detail missed before.  It was during the early times of intentionally having these experiences when I noticed how beautifully blue the sky really is (which is still one of my favorites to marvel at).

How touched I became when I locked my vision on an elderly couple watching the man help the fragile woman out of the car and attending to her to get into a restaurant.  Eating at the same place as they were I watched the smiles they exchanged while eating and from a distance the conversation they were having.  I saw a couple deeply in love just moving in slow motion;  true romance at half speed.  Without looking closely I would have dismissed them mentally as “old people” and hardly noticed them at all.

I found delight in watching a toddler in a park giggling wildly while chasing a grasshopper like it was the greatest find of the year.  Truly sitting and watching birds through a window enjoy a feast of crumbled bread I put out for them on top of a big snow allowed me to notice the quirky uniqueness of each breed and what appeared to be joy in the abundance they had found.  And then there is nature!  A walk in the woods or a park became a sensory banquet.

When was the last time you sat and watched a sunset or sunrise?  When was the last time you actually “saw” a person instead of just looking at them.  How long since you gazed in a mirror and actually saw yourself instead of just acknowledging your reflection?  How long has it been since you focused on something to the point to where you found sheer delight in what you were looking at?  For me I am glad to say “no long ago”.   I am grateful to have stumbled across this activity and to have cultivated the habit.  As time passes with consistent effort I find I am able to more truly see with greater depth and frequency.  If life is a feast, then this is the seasoning for the meal.

Taken from “Seeing Past Myself” – Don Iannone

Sometimes I have trouble
Seeing past myself
Blindsided by who I think I am
To the vast world of possibilities…
I clean my glasses twice a day
Unfortunately it’s to see what I want to see
And not beyond that
I guess I’m no different –
Than you, or anyone else.
My self-image directs my eyes.
There’s a solution you know
It’s not as hard as we think
Open our hearts to unknown possibilities
Accept that our version of reality
Is but one of many out there.

The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.  Marcel Proust 

Seeing the Bluest Blue

No matter how many times I have tried to photograph a blue sky, I have never been able to capture the same image my eyes see.  Yesterday was an exceptionally beautiful day and offered one of those bluest blue days I have seen.  Rain and a cold front moved through in the two days previous which scrubbed the air to look crystal clean.  There were little whiffs of clouds scattered here and there in the sky, but nothing that was organized.  What I saw touched me.

In years now past I can remember looking at paintings in books, magazines and museums and thinking the artist did not portray the sky accurately.  He or she overstated the color and made it a much brighter color than reality ever shows.  I had that opinion of sunrises, sunsets and especially the blue of a clear sky.  There is something about the first half of life that causes many of us to sleep walk through our surroundings.  I suppose it is because we are so inward focused in those years that it prevents us from really seeing and noticing things as they truly are.  That was certainly the case with me.  The sky was always just there with its presence acknowledged by me but never really seen.

My recovery from a painful divorce a few years ago and working past my own stuff that was largely the cause brought me to a new way of being.  One of the activities that helped bring about the change in me is to at least once per day profoundly notice something and really see it.  At first it was a hit and miss endeavor, but after a couple of weeks it began to settle in as a new habit.  It was then that I was able to stop and look pointedly for a short while at a flower and see how wondrous it was  in color, texture and form.  I also began to really see people and was struck by how serious and unhappy most people appeared seemingly all wrapped up “inside them self”.  The exception is most young children who have an unbridled zest for life.  Even when pitching a fit they put themselves completely into the moment.  Now I can’t help but smile whenever I see a 2, 3 or 4 year old’s  marveling over something.

Early on in my awakening I discovered the marvel of a blue sky.  When I really stopped to “see” it, my amazing discovery was it was so blue it did not look real.  The first time I was stunned by a blue sky I realized if I was able to capture the sky as I saw it, most would think I doctored it in Photoshop.  Iwas a member of that “most” group most of my life.  Life is so much more interesting, amazing and touching when outward awareness is open, awake and alert.   

I challenge you to try my little habit that changed my perspective so soundly.  At least once each day look up from where you are and what you are doing and really see something.  Look for beauty, color and life in ordinary things rarely noticed.  Study what you see for 30 seconds or so and take memory snapshots of what you are looking at.   I’ll bet you will find what I did:  there are amazing things all around us all the time to be dazzled by and to be grateful for.  Really seeing  helps balance the difficulty and challenge of life and makes living taste so much sweeter.  If you don’t know how to get started just go watch some little kids playing or look up and really see a blue sky the next time you come upon one.   Once your eyes open wide enough to truly “see” you will never be the same again.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  G.K. Chesterton

Loving the Rain

The ivy on my patio has been loving the rain of the last couple of weeks.  So have I!  For me there is no greater pleasure than a rainy day with a window open so I can hear the rain, then sitting down close by with a good book and spending the hours richly soaking up the minutes.  I absorb more from what is printed on each page and the mental images the writer’s words put in my mind are more vivid and alive than when reading on a sunny day.

I really do love the rain and the misty, overcast days when the hours are drizzled away.  I feel safer on such days as even the robbers and burglars are not as likely to be active on a day when it is raining.  There is such comfort for me from the constant drizzle and ocassional thunder. I feel closer to life, softer inside and memories flow easier for me with a sweeter taste on such a day.

I believe my thoughts and feelings are rooted in my childhood and being on my grandparent’s front porch in the rural south on damp, wet days.  When a couch became too worn for the inside, it became a fixture on the front porch until the outside exposure did it in.  Usually about the time a new couch appeared inside and another old one was ready for the porch.  There on the couch and and under a quilt or two I borrowed from inside the house I sat, watched, sometimes read and often took a nap.  The porch was one of these BIG Southern front porches long and wide enough that the rain rarely reached anywhere near me on the couch.  Watching a good thunderstorm from that vantage point was extra special!  I always felt safe.  I never thought much about the fact that sometimes the dogs slept on the couch too.  I don’t remember ever getting fleas!

My top of mind gratitude this Sunday morning is for the rain… the beautiful showery drizzle that I enjoy beyond my ability to express it.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s loving description of the rain is far better than any I could ever write:

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs
Like the tramp of hoofs!
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!

There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is.

Albert Einstein