Stillness in the storm

I just got back to New York City after 10 days on Cape Cod. Coming home this time, I was struck by just how loud and busy New York City is. After a lifetime here (yes, I was born and raised in NYC), it has become so easy to ignore the breakneck pace we live at, the constant onslaught of stimuli we encounter.

So after a peaceful week and a half at the beach, I was even more thankful for my headphones and trusty podcasts to get me to work. That day, I was listening to Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara talk with Ethan Nichtern about the Boddhisatva Vow. Roshi said something along the lines of dharma (the Buddha’s teachings) is certainly in books, but dharma is also out in the street, which coincidentally was playing a supporting character in the talk, as traffic noise bled in.

Moments after Roshi spoke, I had an example of this very idea.

I had gone into my favorite lunch place, a Korean buffet right near my office in midtown. I sat in a place I usually don’t sit. I found a place at a central table in the back rather than my preferred window seat. From where I was sitting, listening to the closing credits of the podcast, preparing to eat my lunch, I saw two things: One was the huge line to enter the restaurant and get food stretching out the door with more and more people packing in, the other the line to pay and get back out, which wrapped around the back of the dining room. People were rushing and hustling and going, going, going all around me, and there I was in my still-point. Stillness in the storm.

The dharma-teaching in this moment was that even in crazy NYC, we can find stillness. We can slow down and make space amidst the bustling crowds. This moment also made me better understand why I meditate, and why I encourage essentially every patient to to begin meditating too. The reason, I think, this practice is so important is that even one person finding stillness, finding breath, sends that stillness back out into the world. Maybe people don’t see us on the cushion, but they see the after effects linger when they pass us by on the street, just like (hopefully) the people in the restaurant saw me sitting quietly and eating mindfully as they circled around me. Maybe somewhere they filed that quiet away to remember it as they sit down to a future meal. Maybe they’ll decide to breathe a bit more as they eat that meal. There’s hope and promise there.

I’m thankful for the work of Roshi O’Hara and Ethan Nichtern. I hope their words continue to reach out into the world, to help people find stillness amidst the storm, to create peace.

If you’re a non-meditator, I hope reading this might lead you to try it. There are many opportunities to meditate in a community here in New York City. If you’re a lapsed meditator, welcome to the club. You’re in good company because we’ve all been there. And if you’re a regular meditator, I hope this blog post was meaningful to you.

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