Another one of my self-experimentation challenges has been going thirty days with daily meditation and daily workouts. So every day (save a couple) I set a five-minute timer and close my eyes, and at some point during the day, I put on workout clothes and do something active for twenty minutes minimum.
The goal is, obviously, to improve my mental and physical health, but I have noticed some wonderful side-effects, such as the experience I had today in Central Park.
I did not feel like going out for my daily exercise, but part of the pro’s of inflicting challenges on myself is that it doesn’t matter how I feel – it matters that I keep my word to myself.
“Just twenty minutes,” I told myself as I left the apartment building. My phone remained in my apartment, leaving me untouchable and unbothered as I embarked on this seemingly mundane journey.
I’ve been in New York for nearly three months now, and I know more or less how far I can go in twenty minutes. I walk down 110th and head south down Central Park West. I was aiming to enter the park via Stranger’s Gate, a stoney passageway that makes me feel old-fashioned and mysterious.
Once in the park, alone among the other 8 AM walkers, I knew my twenty minutes was almost complete, but unsurprisingly, I wanted more.
I decided to try and find a specific spot in Central Park, one I had stumbled upon before – it’s called the Conservatory Garden, located in the northwest corner of the park. It’s gorgeous, and seems like something Jane Eyre would have enjoyed pacing around in Rochester’s estate. I guess I was in a 19th-Century mood since I watched Joe Wright’s absolutely perfect retelling of Pride and Prejudice last night.
Phone-less and with my Apple watch dead on my wrist, I felt thoroughly unchained from the notifications and spam of our constantly connected society. I walked, fast, but with no real urgency.
If you read my last post, you know I am experimenting with now-ness. When I catch my mind drifting into the future (which hasn’t happened yet) or the past (which is only a phantogram, a holographic memory of that which no longer exists,) I force it back to the present moment. I divert my attention from the musings of future and past, back to the ever-present now.
Today during my walk, the exercise in staying present showed me how spectacular now can be. It was mundane, seeing people walk their dogs and their toddlers, seeing people chat with each other or jogging side by side. Yet I felt connected to everyone, though we were all nameless figures flashing by. I felt the sweetness of our existence, the impermanence of it all. I felt aware that we, like the flowers that still bloom in the park, will all die one day. And despite the everyday-ness of taking a simple walk, it felt like we were all celebrating life.
Yes, I found the Conservatory Garden after following a few different paths. I spent time reading the plaques on the park benches, some of them made me laugh while others made me cry. They were all dedicated to people who had passed on, people whom I’ve never met and who will never meet me in this world. Yet our paths crossed, in some strange way, this morning, because I took a moment to read the words their friends and family had dedicated to them.
The flowers in the conservatory brought a different joy to me today. We are in the beginning of September, after what has been a decidedly different sort of summer. I overhear folks commenting that this summer did not feel like summer at all.
But the flowers spreading their petals brightly, in their last days before the winter chill, tell another story. Perhaps they sensed the suffering and unease of so many during these last months, or maybe they bloomed happily and blissfully ignorant of anything besides the bumblebees that stop to pollinate and gather nectar.
I stared at the flowers as long as my attentions could hold them in my sight – aware that soon, they would die. And the butterflies – the monarchs, and those huge black butterflies, and the little white ones – would die too. The summer is ending, but our lives go on.
I look forward to visiting the Conservatory Garden again, God willing, this winter. Winter, where everything looks dead but is really just taking a long, sweet nap. Winter, when people huddle together for warmth and live in days of increasing, then decreasing, darkness.
I find that the crossing-over months, Fall and Spring, are a beautiful and special time of contradiction. Life in Fall seems so present and bright, with the end of summer just around the corner, and a plunge into harsh freezes looming. It’s as if the flowers and the butterflies know deep inside, that these are the last days of enjoying the warm sun in their short lives.
As humans, we get the gift of seeing so many seasons. But today I realized that for the beautiful monarch butterfly, this is the only summer. I hope for the butterflies, and the flowers it loved, it has been a good one.
I knew I would write about this walk, while I was there in the garden. I thought to myself, “If only I had my phone – I would take a picture and attach it to my post.” But I know, and you know, dear reader, that a picture and its thousand words cannot convey the ethereal pleasure of these types of moments.
You know the kind – when the sunlight slants just right, and the breeze carries a specific combination of scents – and your body more than your mind feels, “Yes! I am alive!”
I should wrap up this post now, before I lose all coherence. I just overheard the man behind me at the cafe say, “Got red-bottoms on… Life is good.” And with that, I’ll wish you all a good day. ❤
Pearl (in the garden)