One of the first aspects of meditation I was introduced to is that it can be taken anywhere and practiced at any moment. But over my first few months of consistent practice, I developed an increasing aversion to finding new spaces in which to meditate. I had my ideal space at home dedicated to my practice, which felt like enough when I considered...Read More
On Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, I attempted to escape the city and go back home like thousands of other travelers, wary of the incoming weather. Everyone at work had already left for the day, and I hurriedly closed up with the anxiety of catching a flight pressing me forward. At 5:58 PM, two minutes before I intended on being out the door and searching for a cab, the phone rang. Annoyed, I answered and went into autopilot, not giving the client on the other end of the line my full attention. At 6:10 PM I was out the door, beginning what would be the longest trip to the airport I’ve ever endured. Already nauseous from the lack of food in my belly, I pressed my forehead against the cold cab window, trying to steady myself as the bumper-to-bumper traffic sent my body into a dance of never-ending undulations from the quick and frequent accelerations and stops. After the first hour of what was usually a thirty-minute trip, the driver and I started commenting on the enormity of the traffic. It took me a moment to realize that I had been so focused on getting to the airport that I had almost forgotten I was sharing the same enclosed space with another human being.
He told me that he was from a tiny little village on a mountainside in Kashmir, in a place you could only get to by mule, not car—a place that didn’t have electricity until 1985, and where he remembers using kerosene lanterns in high school. He told me that he laughed deeply when he heard on the radio that the oldest man in the world is 111 years old. He said that his relatives are older than that, but no one would come across their village in the mountainside to know. His uncle, who he claimed was 114 years old, is still walking, running, talking and growing hair. He said his grandmother lived to the age of 112. When he told her that he was moving to America, she couldn’t understand why he would want to leave their mountainside. “You have everything you need here, what more do you need?” she asked him.
He told me that his grandmother never touched money a day in her life. He asked her, “Grandma, what about food?” She told him, “We have a goat, we grow rice, we don’t need anything else”. Then he asked, “Well, what about soap?” She answered that she makes her own soap. And finally he asked, “But grandma, what about the barber? You have to get your hair cut.” She told him that the barber comes to visit and he trades her for rice. Although his grandmother lived so long, he told me that he would not, because of the high stress and lack of simplicity that he experiences here.
What started off as the longest trip to the airport ended with an explosion of thoughts and a deep appreciation for the gifts of storytelling and wisdom. He must have apologized five or six times for “speaking too much,” but I assured him he was not, and that I wanted to hear more. This made me think about the fact that in this beautiful city filled with millions of people, who are doing a billion amazing things, so many tend to function in autopilot. How often do we get from work to our doorstep without having any recollection of the journey? Oftentimes, I find that I slip into autopilot as a tool to combat the stress of the many tasks I have committed to. It seems that New Yorkers especially are prone to overscheduling, frequently getting swept up into the ceaseless current. Being trapped in the car for two hours wasn’t something I had planned or thought I had time for, but after reflecting on the day as a whole, I realized that I had gotten so much more out of that two-hour cab ride than the nine hours spent at work. Sometimes we forget we are humans first, not just vessels with which to get “work” done. I am reminded of this every time I get back on the mat. Sometimes it’s difficult to set aside time for your practice when you have so much going on. But like my trip to the airport, setting aside that time is what you need in order to get everything else done. It isn’t the number of emails we answer in a day that benefits us on a larger scale: it is the times that remind us we are human.
"Mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine." - Isaac Asimov, excerpted from his 1964 New York Times essay "Visit to the World's Fair of 2014"
I know all of you who are artists and performers just cheered. I did when I read this excerpt too. Who doesn't want to be one of the "lucky few" or "the true elite of mankind?"
On Christmas Eve, I was discussing this phenomenon of an increasingly unwell society at dinner with a friend's 84-year old uncle. Let's call him Sal. Sal is sharp and funny and I liked him instantly. We talked politics, literature, and film. He told me about restaurants opening up in my trendy Brooklyn neighborhood. What a hip gentleman! Then he told me about his lifelong weight-lifting regimen and the 18-holes of golf he routinely plays. In fact, he recently had a pacemaker installed because he felt he was slowing down to only 11 holes and that was not going to do it. Talk about wanting to live life to the fullest!
We steered into a conversation about the amount of time people spend online and he expressed his frustrations. Let me be clear. Sal also has his own Facebook account and uses it to keep in contact with friends and family. He is no luddite with technology so I took him seriously. We are both of the opinion that while technology brings us innovation opportunities and connectivity benefits we should tap into, it also invites us to become swallowed up by it. He kept pointing at his niece and saying, "Why is she always on Facebook so much? She is talented and outgoing and a great writer so why is she wasting her time on that thing?"
I am sure each of you has had an experience when you go in to check an email and then several hours pass you by. This practice cannot be good for our health, mental or physical, as we sit and stare at a glowing box. There is also something about that time and space going away without noticing that strikes me as counterproductive to creating a mindful society. No wonder we feel detached, lonely, or even depressed. This brings me to another point.
We are humans. We need to see and interact with other humans to remind us of who we are and why we are here.
One of the reasons I love my work so much is that it involves active communication with people, IN PERSON. I am constantly grateful that I have to show up to a space in the flesh to teach and work with my students or to dance and choreograph. I hope that never changes. The performing arts, martial arts, yoga, and meditation are some remaining activities that require a commitment of body and mind. Even some of these crafts are being threatened by online versions so people don't have to leave home to participate. I would argue to be a true practitioner of the arts or mind/body practices, you must be present. Additionally, you cannot get bored when you are interacting with time, space, and motion as it interacts with you. Vitality and health comes along with interactive living.
Perhaps Asimov's quote will inspire you to logoff right now and go do something active or meet up with a fellow human. If you are a creative person by profession, commit to your work and craft with newly inspired support that there is wisdom behind your physical presence being part of your process. Is there an email you are sending to a friend that could be replaced by calling them up and meeting for tea instead?
Let me return to Sal in closing this Monday post. As we lamented the world of online life overwhelming actual living, I asked him at one point if he had ever tried Wii golf and weight lifting games. Sal scoffed, "Not the same thing. You know what I love the most about lifting weights? Figuring out how to use the breath." He is truly one of the "lucky few."
- TaraMarie Perri