Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    Launch date: Waiting for stuff, man

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    Leaving a subway stop earlier today in midtown, I noticed a line of people standing still on the stairs. Initially, I thought that these people waiting to exit the station, and in fact some departing subway passengers went straight to the end of the line. However, the exit seemed clear, so I kept going up the steps and emerged outside.

    Soon, I realized that these people were waiting in line for something. The line snaked around the corner, so I wasn't sure what that "something" might be. A few possibilities ran through my mind: celebrity sighting, free crepes, or the chance to be an extra on "Law and Order." As I rounded the corner, I saw that people were waiting for a clothing store to open. In the window, a sign indicated that the store would open at 9 a.m. for the "launch date" of a familiar-sounding clothing designer.

    My first reaction? To glance at my watch and consider whether or not I had enough time to wait in line for the store opening. Did I know this designer? No. Did I know what a "launch date" is? No. Did I need new clothes? No. Did I even like the clothes that I saw through the store window? No. Yet, my automatic programming was to check to see if I could wait 40 minutes in order to attend the "launch date". This process occurred almost instantly, without any conscious awareness or reflection. While it only took a few moments of my time, it profoundly demonstrated what has happened to me as I live in a hectic, “consume”-oriented environment.

    Here in New York, we are constantly bombarded by information competing for our attention. Much of it can prompt us to think and react in particular ways, like my experience at the clothing store. Any one instance is not particularly earth-shattering or distressing. Yet, over time, we can feel a little like the ball in a pinball machine as we get bounced around mentally from place to place. We notice something, then react, then we notice something else and react, and so on. (Of course, what we notice might be our internal thoughts or private experiences, as opposed to something more external, like a huge puddle that we're about to step in.) The practice of mindfulness can provide some relief from this process. We notice sooner where our attention goes, and we notice its effect on our body, emotions, and behavior.

    With reflection, we can change how we react.

    With mindfulness practice, we can change that we react.

    So, I invite you to explore the resources available on our website. Check out a local meditation sittings listed on our calendar (we endeavor to include ones that are not preachy or "guru-ish"). The present moment exists until we die. We can always check-in and notice our breathing, our thoughts, or the world around us. Why not start now?

    Nostalgia mindfulness: Staying present when your past creeps up on you

    By Irene Javors, LMHC

    I have lived in NYC my entire 60 years. I have seen whole neighborhoods undergo so much change that they have become unrecognizable to me. Usually, I do not think much about any of this and I just go on my way. But, today I felt differently. I was walking along fourteenth street between sixth and seventh avenues to meet a friend for breakfast. As I passed the discount places, shoe stores, jewelry dealers, and sidewalk hustlers, I remembered walking along this same street with my father on a Saturday morning in the mid-1950's when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Every week we shlepped in from Brooklyn so that I could take guitar lessons at my father's union headquarters. At that time, fourteenth street was a dump. As I remember, the avenue seemed to be perpetually cast in steel grey tones.

    Today's walk along this selfsame street conjured up these memories from very long ago. I felt a nostalgia for the past and found myself removed from the now. I became mindful that I felt a longing and a sadness for a world that no longer exists except within the inaccuracies of my mind. These feelings were also attached to others: I felt really old and I wondered if anyone else remembered fourteenth street the way that I did. I resented all the changes and I wished that life didn't have to change so much.

    Through all of this mess of fluctuating emotions, I remained mindful of the importance of staying in the present. The 'nostalgia trip' that I found myself on was a way to distract myself from dealing with my own relationship to change and aging.

    Not clinging to the past is really difficult. The wonderful thing about NYC is that it is ever changing and ever new. The city may get a bit tired and dragged out at times, but Gotham always finds a way of renewing itself. The city has been around a long time yet it knows how to 'optimally age' - do the most with what its got- by maintaining its openness, curiosity, spontaneity, and humor. Cultivating these qualities within ourselves are the best way to stay present and not succumb to the 'nostalgia blues.'

    Meditate NYC Week

    On Sunday, November 9th, there will be a series of meditation workshops offered on the Upper West Side from 2 - 7 p.m. During the following week, various mediation centers will be hosting “open houses” for interested New Yorkers. Check out the Meditate NYC website for details:

    Meditate NYC


    By Rob Handelman, Ph.D.

    Meditation teachers use the analogy of the mountain to describe the experience of solidity and groundedness we strive for in meditation. To help with this, we go on retreats removed from civilization to reduce distractions. Well, in the city, there aren’t many mountains to remind us of our sturdiness. The sheer speed and rhythm, all of the moving things, the number of people, are enough to make us feel like less like a mountain and more like a tumbleweed.

    Often the best we can do when stressed or overwhelmed is to retreat to the relative comfort of home, or the office, or even the restroom. When I’m feeling particularly tumbleweedy and tossed around by my active brain, often the best I can do is remember to pay attention to my body, listen to it, not fight the experience. The one thing that we always have is the power of attention and awareness, at all times in the present moment. Here are some steps to solidity when you’re on the go in the city:

    • While standing on line or waiting for the walk signal, take a moment or two to stand still on the sidewalk.

    • Turn your attention inward.

    • Take slow, deep breaths (not if you’re behind a bus of course).

    • Pay attention to the bottoms of your feet as they are supported by ground.

    • Notice the sounds, sights, and smells of the lively city around you.

    • Listen to your mind, perhaps feeling embarrassed that you are standing still while no one else is.

    • Congratulations! You have brought the mountain to the meditator.


    How much is your family worth?

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    Two days ago, the actress and singer Jennifer Hudson offered a $100,000 reward for the safe return of her 7-year-old nephew who was abducted. Tragically, the young boy was discovered dead soon afterwards.

    In offering this reward, Ms. Hudson clearly expressed a core value of loving her family more than money. For most of us who worry about losing money, savings, and investments during the current financial crisis, we have still have our family. It’s time to notice mindfully who--not what--we have and how much we treasure them. After all, how much is your family worth?