My new Swiss friend told me stories about giving his elder father a rambunctious cat. He told me about his experience being a nurse for people who knew they were on their last leg of life. He wants to quit his job of sixteen years and revolutionize the way people...Read more
I don’t remember why I first went in—it’s not like I have a thing for bagels. But I entered the shop into a long line and began the difficult process of not being a “bagel regular” and having no idea how I wanted to eat these plump round rolls with a belly button. (NYC bagel etiquette #1: Never call a bagel a roll.)
“Next!...Next!” The whole shop was a wave constantly shifting forward as customers shouted their orders à la carte to the men behind the counter. Dishes of flavored spreads are in tinted pastels. Would I like it toasted? …um, yeah? Three sets of arms fly through spatulas, grills, and toasters true to the noise and speed of a New York minute. I hear someone behind me request a plain. You have a plethora of options and you order a plain??…with regular cream cheese…?! Siddhartha Gautama grew up as a prince with wealth and plenty.
When I make it to the register, there it is, miraculously waiting for me, gift-wrapped and slid into a paper bag with shoved-in napkins. I’m spit out the door in under five minutes and five dollars. Made-on-site, I’m eating a morsel of NYC tradition and history. I’m gonna let you make my day dear bagel. At an outdoor table nearby I relished this brilliant orchestration of breakfast. The sun was shining and the event kept coming back to me.
On my next trip, I’m ordering for two and need to make a close train. My blood sugar is low and blood pressure high. My bag is extra heavy and forehead dewy. I can’t make a decision. I hate making decisions. Nothing sounds appealing. What a chore! It’s so clamorously LOUD in here. “NEXT!!” Oh! I spill out an unconfident order and anxiously twiddle my thumbs—at whatever pace the line is moving, it’s not moving fast enough. The cash register dings and I realize nothing aboutthe bagel shop has changed, but the experience I was hoping to repeat had vanished.
The third time, it’s the quietest I’ve seen the shop and there’s no line. A woman in white polka dots orders a large coffee with skim. Her pleasant expression is framed in air-drying ringlets. She’s bent over the counter while the cashier explains that she’s handing her one single, and then one five. She’s blind. I watch her leave with her hunched back reaching down to the harness her dog wears because it’s one that sees the streets.
Just outside, a woman with a healthy set of white hairs poking from her chin is clothed in an oversized tee that reaches her knees. A caretaker is nearby and her eyes don’t look like they’re registering anything. Does she ever get outdoors? Siddhartha steps out of the palace and sees illness and age for the first time. Or maybe he stubs his toe on the daily newspaper. Difficult realities can be a necessary attitude check. I sit underneath a park umbrella thinking.
So I had a mystical and humbling set of experiences sponsored by a bagel shop: a high, a low, and a dose of hardship. I learned a few lessons from my three sandwiches, but what happens the hundredth time I go? (Whoa—I don’t want to think about eating that many bagels!) But how do I sit for the thousandth time on a meditation cushion? Or always walk the same path to work or pick up a fork to yet another meal? We endlessly rise to another twenty-four hours of day separated by the concepts of months and years.
Yoga to me is more about the relationship and routine than about what’s being practiced. The material doesn’t change, yet we approach it in different ways and with different levels of education. I’ve heard Marianne Williamson describe a miracle as “a shift in perception.” We all have our own bagel shops, mats, and routines where we can compare our perspectives. Our practice is in understanding how we perceive and in coming back to the awareness of that fluctuation. What is the constant underneath? This can be pulling teeth or randomly easy.
I can have a euphoric sense of oneness and think that I’ve got “it,” but I know how often the cash register DINGS! me back awake, and I feel shameful about how I project my negative moods upon those close to me. The classic Buddha story covers ignorance and avoiding, or overly seeking, until there’s acceptance. I repeat this pathway on an hourly, if not moment-by-moment basis. If you really pay attention and are curious and observant in your routines, I think you’ll find the same lost and found repetitions. Life is all of these.
I don’t know the ultimate key. I don’t think there is one. All I can tell you are the times that I’ve been humbled and how many times I’m willing to try again. I can tell you that I prefer a bagel with the right “pull” and inner consistency, but how it tastes will depend on my perspective. And it won’t always be the latter half of bittersweet. Can I have two eyes, a slice of reality, and a spread of gratefulness on a WHOLE wheat EVERYTHING.
Photo by Callie Ritter
The following post was written by Callie Ritter, a certified yoga teacher through The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and a Restorative Exercise Specialist as of summer 2015. She's professionally trained the connection to her body and movement as a Modern dancer for over 15 years; she aims to spend the future helping others in their bodies with her accumulating knowledge and passion. Callie was born and raised as a cowgirl in Southeast Idaho, but currently resides in New York City.
I was appreciating an average but perfect glass of rosé when I caught my reflection in a window: solitary with a wandering gaze. I grimaced at the thought of going back to my accommodation for the night, never mind, I leave for the airport at 6 AM tomorrow morning. I left my extra euros for a smiling waitress with good English, and began the hour walk back, my eyes up and watching. I shared paths with a goose whose yellow gaze studied me carefully; I secretly took pictures of people’s window displays; I asserted myself to some young punk men: “Can you please leave me alone?”
I killed time by watching the underside of a tree.
Traveling is a lonely and not-lonely thing. It brings you into the unknown, where your perception zooms out and blows open your mind—yet it also zooms in, bringing into focus the intricate texture of an experience. The edge requires you to pay attention, helping you remember what it feels like to be awake.
I made a friend from Sao Paulo named Cauay. I remember his dark eyes shifting serious when he paused to see if his physician skills were needed in a huddled crowd in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. He later ordered Nutella-smothered waffles with such introverted, boyish excitement that it made me smile. I already had my pack on as he stirred from sleep on his bottom bunk. I wished him luck and shared our last glance.
Ellie was a mother and daughter and asked about my love relationships as we sunk our bare feet into the sand of a windy beach. We rode cruiser bikes under arches of great green trees, and on our path the sun laid Dalmatian-print shadows. She told me about being a new Singaporian, and how you can always start over—because you always have a choice. Whenever she orders tea, it’s usually for the biscuit that comes with it.
I had too many clothes on for the temperature inside the bus, but was too busy scanning for a recognizable street sign, my stomach unsettled. Quit pretending to know what you’re doing Callie—because the truth is you don’t. This is all new.
Traveling sharpens the perspective. I feel and see much more than I do in my normal life. I breach the ‘stranger wall’ by crawling over to ask someone for help, or if they mind having company. I open myself up to the experience—however uncomfortable, bland, or blissful it may be. I take in my surroundings and spread my consciousness, and something truly unique happens; I feel like I’m a part of it all.
Intersubjectivity is a philosophical and psychological term to define how one’s subjective, identity-driven experience relates to another’s. It’s typically found in anthropological and social contexts describing shared common culture and things we agree upon. On a deeper scale, it can provide a pure definition of relationship, where and when it is that we see eye-to-eye, or rather as I want to venture: eye-into-eye.
I implore to the goose, “Come on, be my friend. I’m sad I’m traveling alone.”
The goose replies by sidestepping away. “You’re a strange and tall creature who seems to want something.”
The city’s energy fades like a weekday, and the light from the west is dimming golden into blue. I’m wearing sneakers without socks and have a belly full of bread.
Traveling isn’t comfortable, and branching into new territory can be risky, but it requires you to absorb information at a heightened intake. This newly expanded awareness leads you to observe a moment so deeply that you begin to merge with it. Merge with the glance of the waitress, the sip of glassy rosé, the wet-foot smell of a hostel, the way sun comes through the trees. When you’re open to the smells, the sounds, and how you feel in a situation, you view yourself from the outside and you see what all around you sees as well. This is intersubjectivity: relating to everything else to the point that you dissolve into and overlap realities. You find that feelings of discomfort can actually help seal in how real an experience can be.
The Third Nobel Truth of Buddhism states that a remedy to the inherent discomfort of life is a state of Nirvana or connectedness. Christos Yannaras, philosopher and author, writes, “We know God by cultivating a relationship, not by understanding a concept.” Connection is about living in a state ofrelationship where all comes into focus. This is my meditation. My practice as a yogi is to try to come back to this state of intersubjectivity over and over again, and do so on and off the mat.
I step off the plane into the humidity of a high noon. Fulton Street is full of color and swagger and fresh ripe mangos in rows. I’m home but I’m not the same. What does this feel like? What are they wearing and saying; what’s in that window?
Can you experience the same walk home freshly each time? Can you get out of your head and into your body and your environment, and touch it with your perception? Wherever you are, do you hear the birds? The sirens? Humanity’s breath and profanity? Yourself inside this moment? Whatever the experience is—don’t you want to be here for it? Within it?
Photography by Callie Ritter.
I am intimate with two worlds. One is in the countryside, wearing worn denims and boots in the high-desert climate of Southeast Idaho, on a working cattle ranch. The other is in the concrete of New York City, sweating in a dance or yoga studio. In New York, people think I’m crazy for looking them in the eye and saying “hi." Conversely, people in Idaho think I’m crazy if I don’t! I come to Idaho for respite, to be around animals and mountains, to take time for study, and to practice teaching yoga in the neighboring city of Idaho Falls. The contrast between my two homes is as wide as a gorge.
In places like my hometown, (high school graduating class of sixty-six students!), community is a necessity. People rely on ongoing relationships for goods and supplies, or already-established friendships with those individuals who provide the services. You must play fair. When dealing with people you don’t recognize, you know that you at least have mutual friends---it’s expected that you acknowledge each other.
My other world…the five boroughs, is a city of strangers. My thoughts are stuck on myself and where I need to go, and what I have to get done. Most likely, New Yorkers have learned from experience to withdraw and keep to one’s self, out of safety, out of fear, out of too much to do--or maybe because that’s just what everyone else does. It is unrealistic to think that we can connect with everyone we pass by. However, if I have the courage to extend myself, there is something special that happens: a feeling of presence.
What vulnerability! What little spark of energy in these moments of knowing youseethe other, and theyseeyou, both coming to the instantaneous understanding that each is the protagonist of his or her own universe, and yet can meet in the middle, here in the window to the grand scheme. These occurrences always warrant a smile in me. We remember that we share the same world, and that we influence that world with our many daily decisions.
Since my family raises beef cattle for their livelihood, they ask, what do cows need in order to be healthy? Grass. Then what does grass need in order to be thick and plentiful? How does the land need to be managed? The water? How is it that to keep my own self fulfilled, I must ask how to keep you fulfilled? The answers that surface are ideologies akin to those of native cultures: everything balances the other; relies on the other; and you must replenish what you take or else arrive at an unsustainable situation. This relationship applies to the Earth Community as well as the Human Community. Extending ourselves and asking what the other is seeking helps us to remember that every single thing is connected to the other’s wellbeing.
ONE WORLD IN PRACTICE:
My yoga practice is an ongoing relationship that helps me gauge my reality. Any chronic and intimate association will do this, but especially one like yoga that is dedicated to cultivating awareness. The closer the relationship, the more quickly your actions will be reflected back. Yoga urges me to ask myself, what am I seeking? What do I need in order to feel fulfilled?
I laughed at myself when I took off my ‘teaching hat’ and grabbed the cowboy hat that I had stashed in a cubby at the yoga co-op where I teach. I was about to drive an hour on a gravel road, into the mountains where the cow herd was for the summer. I shook my head at my strange reality… I whispered a ‘namaste’ to myself: thank goodness I have people to teach. Thank goodness they come and that they require me to extend myself, to learn their names, and to stop thinking about myself.
Relationships are unavoidable. They are constant lessons that force us to reckon with our own self-focus, and discover if that is truly a fulfilling place to be. Eleanor Roosevelt doesn’t sugar coat it when she states in her book, You Learn by Living:
It is easy to slip into self-absorption and it is equally fatal. When one becomes absorbed in himself, in his health, in his personal problems, or in the small details of daily living, he is, at the same time, losing interest in other people; worse, he is losing his ties to life. From that it is an easy step to losing interest in the world and life itself. That is the beginning of death.
The decision to reach out accumulates in myself a feeling of connectedness, of being alive. I am lucky to make partnerships with duties, students, and nature. Regardless if the gesture is returned, the everlasting gift is in the giving, not the receiving.
You know this, but do you act on it? Do you notice the cashier’s name-tag? Do you give a nod to a fellow student you see in class each week, or let someone else go first through the subway doors? Where is your attention? Learn that with meditation. Experiment with looking at something square in the eye, whether it is human, animal, task or organization, and notice how that creates compassion. Note how that small extension makes you feel. These moments are love--of course they take bravery.
Individuals are what make up the Human Community. Names. Faces. Stories. New York City runs on an unnoticed collective of service people, who handle maintenance, trash, and all the food that is shuffled daily into the city’s borders so that millions of people can eat lunch! Everyone plays a part, everyone desires to be seen, and also, to see.
As beings who can use inner will to direct and change our brains, we are giventheresponsibility to create a world that is fulfilling to us: and that world typically demands bliss-producing sacrifices.
Cassie, the Border Collie dog, says “hi” from Idaho. (She helps herd the cows.)