I am learning to quiet aspects of my thinking mind that judge myself and others against an ideal standard. I have a well-developed sense of order that maps onto apartment living (right down to where to place each type of glass in the cupboard), maps onto how I do business as an executive, maps onto how I assess strangers’ actions on the streets of New York. These judging thoughts occupy much of my emotional energies, and while they are familiar interlopers in my mind, they cause me and others significant harm.
In my life as a nonprofit executive, educator, and NYC parent, I have confronted the NYC DOE as an enemy on most days of the 14 years I have lived in New York City. Many employees of the DOE have represented immediate threats to the wellbeing of me, my family, my staff, and countless students and families. My righteous warrior has held the sword of equity and justice aloft many times, ready to sever the monster’s head from its body.
There is a separation I have carefully maintained, a duality in my thinking where the DOE is concerned. I cannot comprehend its threats to the order I have constructed to maintain my life, my values, and my livelihood. I go into battleship mode automatically, and my thinking mind carries in the interlopers who assess the damage, plan the next attack, justify and amplify the anger. It’s me against the DOE. Me fighting for order and righteousness.
This perceived enemy is teaching me a great lesson today, that my dualistic thinking does not serve me, and that it is time to invite in new practices that allow a more curious set of friends to join me on my journeys living in NYC. These friends are curious observers of what enters through the senses. They are practices that ease me from constantly comparing my sensory experiences against my preferences for order, justice, and human decency. It is exhausting to be me, inside my thinking mind, fighting to always be the arbiter of what I experience. I am learning to let go of this responsibility and the mind habits that have nurtured a great beautiful sidewalk choking oak to grow up around me.
I tried a new mindfulness exercise today. On my morning walk around Morningside Park, I turned up my curiosity by inviting in all the springtime experiences I could find. I looked for flower buds, new leaves, buds shooting up from the semi-frozen earth. I smiled with every flowering tree I identified in some stage of blooming. New tulips pushing up towards bloom gave me a burst of excitement for what might become next week’s flowers.
For thirty-five glorious minutes, I did not think about setting things right. I did not feel annoyed by passersby’s actions of entitlement. The trash strewn across the park did not bother me. I simply appreciated the beauty and presence of spring in my neighborhood park. And in my heart, I let go of my hostility to the NYC DOE. I felt deep appreciation for the pain of my righteous anger, and I felt deep appreciation for my new teacher the DOE. We can be so determined to hold our perceived enemies close. Our thoughts root them in our hearts and they even disturb the health and beauty of our bodies. We can use these strong feelings to see the need for creating spaces of observation, spaces to cultivate curiosity, spaces for new rituals of presence.