“For their sake he saw people live and do great things, travel, conduct wars, suffer and endure immensely, and he loved them for it. Their vanities, desires and trivialities no longer seemed absurd to him; they had become understandable, lovable and even worthy of respect…
Within Siddhartha there slowly grew and ripened the knowledge of what wisdom really was and the goal of his long seeking. It was nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life. ” – Herman Hesse
So I’m sure by this point each of us has become all too closely acquainted with the fact that change is not easy… for anyone. In fact we are so averse to the concept that it is quite possibly the hardest thing anyone could ask us to do. In life, we are all faced daily with a glaring contradiction between this culturally induced, irrational fear and the knowledge that life and all that it is comprised of is as transitory as transitory can be. A series of changes has brought each and every one of us to the point we now stand and will continue to push us with varying degrees of force to propel us forward on this winding path. When we resist rather than confront the inevitable changes of our lives, we preclude ourselves from embracing them as lessons and opportunities that the universe is purposely setting into place for us to overcome in order to become. To change is to grow; to live, and the faster we could all come to terms with this the better off we would be. Obviously easier said then done, I have found that deliberately doing AND saying things that are consistent with this natural law of life often makes it easier to accept over time. Perhaps that is why the inward change I recently experienced was welcomed rather than met with opposition. Uncannily enough, this deep perspective shift happened to coincide with my completion of Siddhartha, so, naturally, I was compelled to write a blog post about it;)
I don’t know how else to explain it other than to say that something simply clicked within me throughout the course of this week and I feel drenched – as though everything is sinking into my porous and unquenchable spongy self. I’m really (finally) settling in to myself and my job and my life here in the concrete jungle I was initially very quick to renounce. To me, it was pretty damn ironic I had somehow ended up living and working in a city that I was weary of from the outset- quick to determine that I did not vibe with the trash ridden urban sprawl of New York’s boroughs, nor with its overwhelming millions of hasty, corporate-minded and consumerist residents. With its pockets of immense wealth juxtaposed to the rampant homelessness among many other blatant reminders of societal abandonment in other, less rummaged, ones, I found it hard to reconcile my face-value judgments with the image of New York held by the international imaginary as the ultimate testing ground for immigrants’ high hopes nestled in the American meritocracy. It is no secret that people the world 0ver subscribe to the belief that New York is the cradle of hope and opportunity, Wall St. and Broadway. Of course, I was definitely drawn by the appeal of its alternate persona- the hundred years of history, art and culture produced in the Harlem Renaissance and the incredible and timeless feats of civil rights activism that occurred on the very streets I casually stroll daily. I cannot deny that my new place of residence lives up to its reputation as the most lively, diverse cultural hotbed for incredible musicians, artists, 20-something activists and entrepreneurs from all walks of life drawn together in this one anomalous place. I tried to convince myself that there truly was no better time than my post-grad point in life to experience this (despite the fact that I’m broker than broke), that it wouldn’t make sense to go hole up in Rural, Nowheresville… no matter how badly I missed (miss) trees. But my strong convictions called for far more than just a little convincing. The entire process of slowly digging beyond this outsider perspective involved whopping amounts of reframing on my part, forcibly re-angling my vantage points and squinting like mad to discover new ways of appreciating the nuances operating behind and emanating from the nonstop chaos in the streets and the towering trash piles and even in the various smells that waft from every direction in this city of nightmare-esque dreams.
You know that whole grace period you give yourself to acclimate after a huge life transition? I feel like some of them end more subtly than others. Since the moment I moved to New York, I have been engaged in this agonizingly gradual process of habituation- consistently trying to reflect on all of these face-value reactions, thoughts and consequent opinions I’ve been forming and collecting. I repeat the spiel in my head, the premeditated mantras I give to those that ask me how I am adjusting, what I am doing now, and why. As I have a ridiculous amount of commute time, I often find myself reflecting on them in a sea of sleep-deprived strangers that, for however brief a period of time, are all forced together in that small physical and temporal space; each one a different and complicated protagonist in the play of their own lives. Plays in which we all only stand in as momentary extras that odds say will probably never be seen again. It is strange, but I began to realize that this precise setting, one that I so easily denounced as an annoying inconvenience, was actually a rich and nutrient environment in which to plant small seeds of appreciation.
From within the hurried crowds began to sprout small saplings of recognition that certain preconceptions I was using as defenses no longer rang true. At some point or another I had, in fact, completely out-grown the opinions I had clung to so strongly before. I began to recognize that the very same principles I had been operating within professionally were also starting to apply to the deepest depths of my own personal development.
Through a series of serendipitous and organic moments of connection, and conversely- disconnection (read: singing and dancing in the Times Square subway station and truly paying no mind to anyone else around me), I found that I deeply appreciated how liberated in the anonymity I was beginning to feel. Being my “grit and bear it” type self, I honestly was not anticipating ever reaching a point where I would be able to say this about any aspect of New York. But my preconceived notions about myself and the people and place around me were the only things that managed to delay this realization of the beauty, value and freedom in the bustling life all around me here. I have come to find that my days are filled to the brim with such constant, new and genuinely diverse and incredible stimulation everywhere I turn, and in that so many opportunities to connect with the people who supply it; to surprise them; to make their day just by acknowledging their worth and our sameness despite the fact that we are strangers that happen to be in completely different walks of life… I had a hankering from the start but every moment of my days here really just emphasizes the mere fact that we are ALL THE DAMN SAME. With each his own but glaringly similar “vanities, desires and trivialities”. It’s actually sad to see how taken aback people are when I just take the time to ask them about themselves or their families, to simply listen and try to convey how genuinely thankful I am for whatever interaction or transaction we share, even if it’s just being open to chat as we wait for the subway at 3am. And then to see it reciprocated every time (mostly in the form of free food, which has been awesome) just solidifies how grateful they are to be recognized as human- to not be devalued just because of their job or position in society, something, I have found, that is not taken for granted here in the city.
And wouldn’t ya know, all of this just so happens to relate to the most basic and amazing aspect of our roles within the world of Social Work. This pure drive to humanize and empower families simply by showing them empathy, respect, and letting them know that they are not alone in what they face, no matter how much our individualistic culture forces them to believe otherwise. I am of the belief that this egalitarian approach to humanity as one unified and powerful community organism can and should be spread beyond the families that we work with in our professional context, for both their and our own sakes. It is something that has easily bled into my perceptions in a lot of ways and its exciting to be in such an anomalous place that allows me to practice it daily and with everyone that the universe puts me into contact with- for however long or short a time. To have so many opportunities to share all these powerful moments of warmth and positivity with people allowed me to realize how my spirit could be nourished, rather than defaced, by the bountiful ecology of New York City. It basically felt as though I had discovered the most perfectly fabulous pair of prescription sunglasses at the Salvation Army- the ones that allow me to see and experience the world in the perfect tint of appreciation and acceptance (which turns out to be this lovely and iridescent shade of tangerine). In more ways than I can explain, this has helped me to deal with this crazy transition into my adult life as a Preventive Case Planner in Harlem- not only helping to quell the random bouts of loneliness and emotional distress but simultaneously allowing myself to remove the barricades I think we all surround ourselves in to be able to share in that consciousness of unity and oneness that envelopes the world. Sure, I’m cohabitating with mice in an 8′ by 14′ office space and I’m stressing about the realizations I have slowly been making about this field and our limited role within it. But, all in all, that seems like a pretty palatable corollary of mastering this secret and sacred art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of this fleetingly beautiful life.