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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Empire State of Mindfulness: Returning to New York City

The ever constant beauty of New York City
at the Central Park reservoir

The last time I set foot in New York I had sat on the hard wood floor of my stripped apartment and waved goodbye to my life there as if that process was as simple as packing up my furniture and bags into cardboard boxes and waving goodbye to them. After a last lunch with friends on a freezing cold sunny January day in 2014 my life as a New York resident ended and my life in London with Mat resumed full time.

Sean at Dublin airport helping me get from plane to plane despite feet, back, stomach etc. problems. If you meet him in the future, you've met a celebrity. The guy literally knows everyone in the place.

Perhaps you might understand then, especially if you read my earlier post, that I was very nervous about returning to a place that had given me so many mixed memories of bitter-sweetness. I loved (I love) New York that I didn’t know what would happen when I returned there for a great friend’s wedding. I’m not supposed to predict the future (meaning thinking about all the things that are coming up and considering each possible outcomes that could occur). It’s actually a thinking trap or a false perception that doing that – thinking about all the “maybes” and “mights” of future events makes me less worried or stressed about them. It actually makes it a lot worse.

This can be a pretty accurate picture of the concentration of my thoughts, 
and there's little room for mindfulness (or any activity) when this happens

Now sometimes I find this useful – at work it can help me to stay on the board with the list of to-dos (and to create things that aren’t on that list but might be valuable to add to it!). With moderation so that I don’t burn out I have found this to be a career enhancing skill to possess – that ability to switch my brain into overdrive mode so that I am not only thinking about the current to do list, but the non-existent to do list, plus the overall strategic approach to the pieces of work I’m leading. However, this time I am trying to take a chill pill and stop wondering what if, and just live a bit more in the moment.

When Harry Met Sally...a classic and a depiction of depression in New York because of lost love. (Plus a happy ending.)

"...when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible." Harry Burns

The minute we arrived off the plane things were already so different. I wasn’t waiting in my apartment for a text from Mat saying he’d just got off the plane and was on his way; I was sitting beside him and he was holding my hand as we landed and looking out onto JFK. We held hands in the taxi and laughed about the traffic. (Okay, so we didn’t laugh about the traffic, we laughed about the fact that the traffic still sucked and wasn’t it annoying and he was still holding my hand when we arrived at the hotel.)

Back in NYC, the city that never sleeps. Luckily these days, for me, I do.

I guess a wedding-themed trip is always going to have a focus on romance, and I welled up like a true cliché when the beautiful bride walked down the aisle to meet her groom Phil, a friend from university. It reminded me how wonderful my life with Mat is and how lucky I am to have him – again and again. New York is very different returning as a visitor hand in hand with my husband and knowing that we’ll leave together. I am a big believer that we are all able to help to make ourselves better by working hard to put into practice the tools we’ve learned to combat those horrid thinking traps that seem to plague me in numbers akin to the number of cockroaches in this stunning and sordid city. But sometimes, it has to be said that I recognise that making an actual change in my life can make a huge difference to how I feel.

Getting hitched in the city. Perfect wedding and reminder of my own
amazing good fortune to have my wonderful husband.

When I returned home to the UK I let go of all the stresses that came with trying to have a functioning marriage on two continents, along with paying two sets of bills every month, paying for two properties and trying to live on whatever was left over. (Thank you, Subway, I am thankful for your $5 footlongs, though despite what you said the calorie count was the fact that I gained 10lbs living in the US for two years doesn’t inspire me with confidence. Sorry Jared Fogle.) The loneliness and stresses had really got to me and the physical process of releasing that, while sad, was also liberating and relaxing. Of course, then I started a new job and new challenges started, but it was great to let go of my double life.

A Picasso at MoMA. I can easily imagine the woman seeing her different reflection experiencing the challenges of existence, presenting an outward face of calm contrasting with an inward face of unrest.

New York living can be as high octane as you want to make it and I used to be someone who would just go, go, and keep going forever until at some late point it was time to stop working or partying…and sleep a bit until the next day when it started over and over again. This is truly the opposite of mindfulness. I could let three months go past and hardly notice that it had happened, because I’d never stopped the whole time. Now I am savouring my moments in New York. We have our list of the ‘must dos’ because my husband and I – in spite of all of the difficulties and loneliness - both felt we had some of happiest memories in this crazy, beautiful city.

Running the reservoir. Always a must-do activity for me

On this five day trip I’ve had a rest each day, done at least one activity (e.g. visiting a museum, a landmark, taking a slow walk-run in Central Park), one meal (or maybe two, yep, definitely two) and drinks in one of our favourite places. I've also enjoyed writing postcards home to my friends and family. I used to write them every time I went away and I've missed not sending those missives of friendship and love from wherever I go to keep in touch on paper, rather than via our internet-focused existences.

Keeping on running. A glorious day for a run (/ walk!) in Central Park

Taking a slower approach to New York is very new for me, but I have been mindful of each experience. I’ve breathed more slowly (believe me, if this doesn’t sound like much, then it really is for me. 

Savouring the hot dogs at Schnippers. Oh yes...

...and savouring the art (the SHOE art) at MoMA (all by Andy Warhol)

I am Miss Hyperactivity…or at least I used to be), I’ve looked around and noticed what’s around me this time, tried to taste (tried a good few times to taste) the pasta, the burgers and the cocktails. I’ve made myself sit down and write this today while Mat goes shopping and relaxed. (Although, dear reader, I am just a little apprehensive at the prospect of his return from this mission given that he and I, partners and compatible in so many ways, are polar opposites in this regard, so I need to practise some deep breathing in case he shows up totally freaked out!) 

A night under the stars and bright lights of Manhattan.
All dressed up and telling myself to be confident in myself.

I’ve also tried to become a bit more body confident (which is another perpetual struggle, especially after all the weight-gaining meds, to wear my clothes with confidence and feel beautiful no matter how many size double (or triple) zero sharp New York women are wandering around, which used to bother me so.

The newly re-opened and beautifully refurbished Tavern on the Green. 
Here's the terrace on a stunning evening.

I have realised that I have spent so much time on previous holidays trying to race through everything and trying hard to have a good time that I made it almost impossible to have one. I’ve answered that question that everyone always asks you on your first day back at work (you know, “How was your holiday?”) with a lie. Nearly. Every. Single. Time. So you’ll see some holiday snaps throughout this post, some of the art I saw, some of the places I returned to and looked at with my new, clear and calmer and more content eyes. And if I’m stressed out tomorrow, well, at least I wasn’t today – or today so far. And that’s good enough for me. Till next time. x

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