Wait, what? Yes, that’s right. I believe New York is the most mindful place on earth.
I’ve been commuting between Toronto and New York for the past ten years and at the start of this year, officially made the move down here and have loved every moment. The city has further inspired my mindfulness practice in so many ways.
From off-the-grid to on-the-grid
Monasteries, retreat centers, hermitages and other places designed for intentional mindfulness practice are often situated in remote areas surrounded by nature. They provide a structure that allows one to go off-the-grid. I’ve been fortunate to have the means and time to visit many such places over the years and have enjoyed these supportive environments.
I have found that it is easy (as much as going inside oneself can be referred to easy) to meditate on top of a mountain or in a quiet cave (which I have not yet done). Try learning to meditate in the middle of Times Square, while riding the subway or in line at Starbucks.
New York, with its endless hustle, dynamic energy and accelerating speed, represents a different type of nature, one that is very human. We created it and instead of escaping it, can learn to live mindfully within it. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to face real life in a busy city, which is a “forced mindfulness”.
When lost in thought while walking down the street, the cabbie honking without end, the pedestrian at the corner yelling into their phone and the fruit vendor trying to catch my attention, all immediately bring my mind to the present moment. It’s very difficult to sustain mind wandering for more than a few seconds in New York. While on retreat, I can be lost in mind wandering for hours and it’s an effortful practice to bring my mind to the present. However being on-the-grid of Manhattan, my attention is grounded in the here and now, effortlessly.
Meet my mindful friends
The density of people in New York means that it’s easier to find your tribe. At least that’s been my experience.
One evening earlier in the spring, I hosted a small gathering of like-valued people who share an interest in mindfulness, technology and entrepreneurship, at my apartment. As the evening came to a close, I started to smile inside as I realized that I did not know a single one of these new friends even two months prior. And here we are, sharing a meal and a deep conversation.
Interested in exploring mindfulness communities, with the help of a researcher I found on Upwork, we built a spreadsheet of the many group meditations available in New York. We stopped the list at 100. That is right, we found over 100 different opportunities to meditate with other people, in real life, on at least a weekly basis. From free to luxury, from downtown to uptown, from religious to secular, every type of practice has a group in New York that practices together regularly.
I have been on a mindfulness tour of the city, visiting many spaces (15 or so thus far), finding new communities and making new friends. Here is a guide to meditation in New York I have been building to help others navigate and connect.
The absolute number of people interested in, committed to and practicing mindfulness in New York has to be the largest in the world of any city. Yes, there may also be the largest number of people practicing mindless activities as well, but they are not the ones I am inviting over to my apt to meditate with me.
The city’s population density, concentration of financial wealth and cultural diversity all lead to infinite choice. If you’re into pizza (which I am), there’s an endless selection of varieties and price points. If you like deserts (I don’t), just name it and you can find it in the city. The choices for entertainment range from comedy, improv, musicals, plays and more. Transportation options are countless, you can walk, take the subway, rent a Citibike, hail a cab, call for a Lyft, arrange a black car or even take a helicopter. Yoga studios are plentiful, with any practice from ashtanga, vinyasa, heated, humming, ariel, and more available near you. You get the idea.
Infinite choice has helped me build two skills that are core to my mindfulness practice (and to yours).
Awareness. With so many choices, I am learning to be more discerning. What to eat tonight. Which yoga class to attend. What show to see with a friend. The feedback loop is fast. I quickly become aware of how choices impact my physical, mental or emotional state.
Acceptance. In the face of choice, learning how to accept a decision and not fall into a cycle of regret, optimization or wondering ‘what if’ because of second nature. I get to practice acceptance far more frequently in a city with so much choice. And in fact, acceptance itself is a choice.
These are some of the many ways that New York has further inspired my mindfulness practice. I hope that some of this has inspired you (even just a little) to consider how your environment is supporting you versus feeling a need to escape it.