New York City is an incredible mirror.
Some days, I leave my warm and bright Brooklyn apartment and walk down my tree-lined block, board the train, and then stroll the streets of Manhattan with a sort of joyous might. I feel simultaneously enveloped, dwarfed by the buildings' size and the swarms of people, and energetically expansive, fully embodied, fully alive. I witness NYC in all its glory -- a cornucopia of nationalities and personalities amidst sparkling skyscrapers. The performers entering my subway car imbue the city -- and my day -- with a delectable charm. The characteristic gruff accent of the city's inhabitants is endearing. The vibrancy of the city is palpable. I feel fully alive, and -- on days like these -- there is no place I'd rather be.
On other days, it's quite the opposite. My walk to the train is a slushy drudge through samsara. The subway station's characteristic odor is off-putting, the mystery liquid dripping from overhead (and occasionally onto my head) is terrifying, and the rats scurrying around the trash-laden tracks invoke disgust. I find the unsolicited banjo player who enters my subway car annoying. The glum faces of my fellow passengers further this gloom and doom -- and the crowds on Manhattan streets seem angry and aggressive.
Now, one might think that such drastically different scenarios could occur because of changes in weather and/or the city's overall mood. And, I agree that it's absolutely easier to feel joyous and light on a day when the sun and a warm breeze greet my skin... than when my parka is drenched in sleet.
However, there are also many times when both scenarios (or at least less extreme versions) occur within a single day. At one turn, New York City is incredibly vibrant and charming; just hours later, I resent the urban annoyances. Nothing external has changed, and yet the city appears radically different.
It's then that I remember just how much of these two scenarios reside in my own mind. Yes, the beauty and vibrancy of NYC are real, and so are the rats. Yet, SO much of how I view this city is affected by my state of mind. And, that's why the city is a perfect mirror (and a great motivator to practice mindfulness).
I believe meditation practice on the cushion is exactly that -- "practice" for the rest of life. When I sit down each morning to meditate, I hone my power of concentration. When I recognize that my focus has left the breath (or mantra), I am strengthening the same awareness I will use later to recognize when my mind has wandered to negative objects. By bringing my attention gently yet consistently back to the breath (or a mantra), I cultivate the capacity to redirect my focus. This same skill helps me choose the objects of my attention in daily life. And, that can mean the difference between a murky urban dungeon or a sparkling, expansive city.
And, so I'm grateful to my adopted hometown for being such an excellent mirror... and motivating me to sit my booty on the meditation cushion each morning.
Post originally published at http://www.sharonsalzberg.com/realhappiness/blog/jamiez/how-i-stay-motivated-meditate