Seven years ago I seamlessly slipped into big city life, packing up what belongings I deemed necessary for my new life and settling into my tiny, cinderblock Weinstein dorm room on New York University’s ‘campus’ with the help of my parents. Shifting from suburban life in Wisconsin to a city with a personality as tremendous as New York City’s boggled most people’s minds on either side of the equation. For me, the transition was osmotic. Surrounded by such diversity and such drive, I simply opened myself to get washed into the river, to join those commuters and dreamers, transforming into more than just a student heading to class. I found New York City’s mass of humanity to yes, allow for anonymity at times, but on the other hand, to also allow for each of us streaming through the streets to be exactly who we were. There would always be someone wearing a crazier outfit than you, and it was perfectly normal to cry or sing or laugh on the street; the sheer number of people here makes for the materialization of all forms of human emotion and behavior. In moving to NYC, I found I inherently received permission to explore and embody vastly differing aspects of myself, and without apology.
And yet seven years later, while my city life has charted more growth than I ever could have imagined in myself, I crave, more and more, space. Space in my external environment. Space for my mind and body to rest (which always seems like such a sin in a city that offers so much opportunity and is fueled by the unyielding aspirations of individuals). Space to explore and dig deeper without having to spend so much energy on surviving. Each day I recognize an ebb and flow inside myself – my love for my life here and the distress that it brings weaving in and out of my physical and mental consciousness, sometimes to a point where I feel rather crazed. But having visited one of my brothers in Wyoming and Utah for a week with my parents recently, I have come to wonder what sort of impact your environment has on your mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual states.
My brother Nick moved to Evanston, Wyoming for work in March. Seeing photos from his weekend hikes and rock-climbing ventures, I knew I had to go visit, and soon.
Even though I was in the company of my parents and brother almost every moment of every day that week, I found myself on a very personal investigation of my 25 years – what has passed, what is, and what might be coming. My body and my mind reacted to the wholly natural, supreme knowing of the beautiful natural world that literally towered over me much of the time by probing, and craving the chance to act on what little bits of insight arose, though I knew that deep down patience and time was a better way of working with all that surfaced. Talk about svadhyaya – a period of self-reflection!
Slipping out of our routines and venturing away from our everyday inevitably opens our eyes to new perspectives of our lives and that of the greater world. I can’t help but believe that certain aspects of various locales affect the way we walk through the world. Perhaps that seems like an overly simplistic idea, but I was amazed by the way my mind cleared in just driving and hiking along roads and paths where we could see 70 miles in every direction. Without even trying, my breath slowed, my body settled and became more grounded, and my mood shifted to one that was more content, manifesting joy in both quiet personal and more spirited ways socially. And while thoughts flooded my mind much of the time, there was still this fascinating quiet there, as if its mode of working was also gentler, more serene, and still grounded.
I became fascinated by the ways we humans resemble nature, and it us: the ‘vessels’ of the White Rim Canyon that reminded me of our blood vessels, as well as the subtle energetic channels of our body (nadis); the powerful, yet graceful curves of the rock arches in Arches National Park; the combination of smooth rock (slickrock) and gravel that lived together along the trails that reminded me of the way both our smooth and our bumpier parts make up who we are.
In climbing up and down steep, sometimes rocky and unsteady mountains, I was prompted to consider how I was and was not letting go. Could I really be stable if I didn’t loose my hold on my footing and instead give weight to my legs, and my feet underneath them? Trying to hold myself up by my will wasn’t as effective as giving in to the ground beneath me. On our whitewater rafting trip through Westwater Canyon, I observed the way our guide never led us straight into our target, but rather watched the water’s patterns and natural course and let our raft follow that until the last possible moment when we rowers had to take action to direct our path.
I never had imagined I could learn so much from nature and be so grateful for the awareness my yoga practice has brought to my consciousness until this trip. But if I couldn’t have traveled across the country to discover all this, what could I have done closer to home, and within my everyday life, to attain such knowledge as well? Is it possible to dive to such depths even in this crazy city?
Here’s to open eyes, and ears, and skin, that enables us to learn every day, and to put that education into action, for the benefit of our entire world.
- Liz Beres