The other day, I woke up after a sleepover at my grandmother's beautiful northern New Jersey home, and meditated during sunrise.
I went outside and sat in stillness, listening to the sweet sounds of birds and the tinkling of wind chimes. I felt the sun on my skin, and deep peace within my heart and mind.
It was so easy to drop into presence while surrounded by all that natural beauty.
My experience with daily meditation in my cramped, dark (but beloved!) Brooklyn apartment, however, has been a horse of a completely different color.
I struggled for years with how much I didn't like meditating in NYC. It was such a struggle for me to sit down and stay. My apartment didn't feel as peaceful as I wanted, I didn't like the idea of taking the train to a meditation center (because then I had to deal with people) ... until I quieted my noisy mind enough to realize that I was missing the entire point.
Any city or urban environment — especially NYC — is the ideal place to do meditation. But why?
It seems like a huge challenge — noisy traffic, small living quarters, unwanted pests, insanity during rush hour, distractions from roommates, children, partners or pets. Depending on where you live, there can also be a lack of access to nature, fresh air, or natural light.
But it's precisely that challenge that becomes the sweet and gritty gift that big city meditation gives us; if we can do it there, we can really do it anywhere.
And isn't that the point?
Does our meditation have to be pristine and lovely at all times? No, because that's not life. Life can be beautiful and full of wonder, but it can also be strange, noisy, and full of unexpected turns and changes. Shouldn't our meditation practice be as flexible as we aim to be in our everyday behavior? Soft to changes and jagged edges?
We touch mindfulness just by surrendering to the reality of exactly where we are. If we can do this, we're already more than half way there. Meditating in NYC has completely changed (and saved) my life, and here are six things I did that deepened my practice considerably:
1. Let every "disturbance" be an Om.
Sink into, rather than bemoan your noisy neighbors or the traffic outside. Consider every "disturbance" to be an Om from the Universe.
2. Meditate everywhere.
You don't have to wait until you get home. Meditate on the train, on the bus, while waiting in line for a museum or for lunch. Meditation and mindfulness can meet us everywhere and anywhere we are. The more we show up, the easier it becomes.
3. Let the chaos be an exercise in compassion.
Imagine blessing your fellow straphangers, or forgiving rather than cursing someone who bumps into you on the street. Every interaction in a crowded city is a opportunity to be a mindfulness bell, a reminder that we always have access to compassion.
4. Consider your home an urban ashram.
Even if you're couch surfing, you can zen-ify your space. Get some lovely incense, a candle, some crystals, a plant, or even photos to lay out during your seated meditation. It can be a wonderful offering to your practice, and can help to deeply relax you.
5. Prepare your space.
Lay out your yoga mat, or meditation seat before you go to bed. This is a great tip no matter where you live — it can help so much with eliminating and overcoming resistance to beginning a sitting.
6. Let yourself soften to anything.
Softening to chaos rewires our brain for stress and regulates our cortisol levels. The more we allow ourselves to touch peace and presence in the midst of chaos, rather than hating the experience and pushing it away, the more we can rewire our brains to stay calm in the same environment.