I have a confession. I am in love. I have been having an affair for many years; more than 2 decades to be exact. We first met when I was twenty-one, during my senior year in college. But truth be told, the roots of this love began years before our first physical touch.
If you have ever been engaged in an affair of the heart, you may have had a similar experience of reflecting back to where it all began. If I could trace it back to its inception, my love affair with New York City began while I was a child, waiting for class in the lobby of a converted ranch house at Miss Donna’s School of Dance. I sat in my pink leotard and white tights, looking at the picture on the wall of the older dancer from my school who “made it” in NYC as a Rockette. I was in awe of her beauty and how the picture seemed to sparkle. I watched as other people took notice of her success and from that moment I wanted to go to New York City. Before stepping foot into her pulse, I knew in some way that this city was special. We sang songs about her in the recitals that inspired my curiosity…“if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere…” “Give my regards to ole Broadway…and tell them I’ll be there…” Every Thanksgiving, my highlight of the holiday was to catch glimpses of the city’s character between the floats and the bands of the Macy’s parade.
Fifteen years later, I finally consummated the projection of my dreams and we met in person fall break of my senior year in college. I convinced two of my best friends to join me on the adventure. This was before cell phones and GPS, so we traveled on foot with our worn out city map in hand, trying hard not to look like tourists. My confidence grew as we learned to navigate the subway system and call cabs. We did the typical tourist things and stood in line in Times Square for half price tickets to “Cats.” Afterwards, we partied so hard that we actually got cut off at the bar near Madison Square Garden with the horse statue out in front.
I have returned back to the city almost annually since 1999…which was the year I became a Yoga instructor. That year, I scoured the city for the most diverse Yoga classes…finding some as far and wide as the brownstone walk up (I think it was Sivananda Yoga Center) with the Satchitananda cardboard cutout in the corner, where we practiced on big, dusty, old oriental rugs. I found the hip class in the basement of Crunch fitness in the black room. I arrived early and watched the New Yorkers. I wanted to be one. I wondered why they seemed so different. I found the space that used to be Yoga Zone before Alan Finger got bought out by the Yoga corporates. I was seeking the “true Yoga” in the city. It was a time before the Yoga boom, and I loved the places that were under the radar where one had to seek the hidden. After each class, I would retire to a little nook in a coffee shop, and write in my journal about the class, the sequence, the teacher, the experience. I dreamt of a day that I would be one of the NYC Yogis.
At the end of 2001, my plane ticket was already booked for a long weekend at the end of 2001 when the WTC towers came down. My friends thought of cancelling the trip…driven by the fear that the entire world was feeling at the time. But, the fear is what drove me back into the arms of the city again. I needed to be there, to feel her, to experience it firsthand, not from behind the screen of the television. I needed to be with her while she grieved, and feel her sadness. The pain of the attack cut me to the core, and I needed her presence to fill the hole that was carved in my psyche.
This time, the reconnection was a bittersweet one. Like two lovers testing their perseverance after an indiscretion. For days, I could feel my guard…protecting me. I attempted to look into the eyes of the people on the street, offering my love without words. After all…there were no words to be said at this point. The emotions in the eyes said it all. We knew.
A couple of days pass before I could go “there”. In silence, I walked to the site where the towers once stood. The waffle like wall of the collapsed building had not yet been removed. A chain linked fence separated me from the mass grave of destruction where love and futures still smoldering, buried under the rubble. Photos of lost loves were placed by the grieving. They were no longer looking, but were still searching for ways of saying goodbye. We all needed our unique closure. I stood in a reverent reflection, the closest thing to prayer that I can explain. I finally allowed my last wall of protection melt so that I could feel the spectrum of emotions that the city was pulsing. So much had changed since that day.
Sadness, empathy, connection, support. I was grateful to be there to see and feel for myself what was really happening. I returned different, with the need to be truer to my heart. After that trip, I traded my television for an antique mirror, and haven’t owned a TV since, knowing that the constant media images were a source of a downward spiral in the months following 9/11. I realized that there was no more time to sink into the hole of despair, or even continue down a path that no longer inspired me. I quit my job and opened my Yoga studio six months after I returning from the city.
A couple of years after the studio opened and we were managing to make ends meet, I returned again to NYC. I was desperately attempting to reconcile a depression after my business partner and I could no longer stand to be in the same room with one another. Another failed relationship. I remained, trying to hold the Yoga studio together while not doing the best job of holding myself together. My friend, Diane, encouraged me to join her at the Yoga Journal conference, but I was hesitant. My body hurt so bad from the mental and emotional anguish that I could not (or would not) let go of. I wasn’t sure I could make it through hours of Yoga, let alone a weekend of nonstop practice. But, she nudged just enough and I realized this may be the best medicine: returning back to the arms of my place of inspiration and magic.
The opening speaker that night was John Friend. Diane and I chose seats on the floor of the hotel ballroom, waiting for the conferences festivities to begin. As we sat, awaiting the opening ceremonies I could feel that something special was approaching. The crowd hushed, signaling the start of the keynote address. We chanted a chant. I didn’t know what it meant, but the vibration coursed through my body and sent chills through my spine. This pudgy man with white curly hair and spoke for over an hour about his life lessons and the death of his mother and about embracing the full spectrum of emotions as a practice. His story helped me to start seeing that there was value in my pain and that it could be a teacher to me. That story was a starting point in my recovery.
After I changed my course of the weekend’s events to study with this man and the teachers that were proselytizing his work, I again curled up in a little nook…writing about my life through the lens of this new philosophy. A few minutes later, in the lobby of the midtown Sheraton, a little boy walks up to me as I sit in the formal red velvet chair and asks if I am a writer. I immediately respond, “YES!”
And, now, over ten years later…many trips back to the city behind me, another dissolved business partnership and life realignment, I am again led back into the arms of the lover who nurtured me, taught me and excited me decades ago.
I usually like wandering through the NYC streets alone. I have always had the fascination of how one can be anonymous and so alone in a city where there are millions of people rubbing up against each other in crowds and trains while packed into a small radius of the island of Manhattan.
Years ago, I received a treatment from Susan. She relayed to me the messages of my spiritual work: the messages that I could not see on my own yet. I came into the session that day with some questions about the next unraveling relationship in my life. She held her hands on my temples as I lay on her healing table. She pauses, as if receiving the message from beyond her own mind, and states matter of factly, “On this path, you will need to learn to be alone.”
That statement struck me like an arrow in the heart. I always took Susan’s statements seriously, but with this one, I became a little exasperated, wanting to hear the exact opposite of what she was reflecting to me during my session. I wanted so much to be loved by this person who was rejecting me, and wanted to understand what I needed to do to make it happen. I would never have guessed that the answer was being along.
In the years since, I have given in to the earnest effort of practicing aloneness. During the seven years since Susan dredged up that duty, I have become friends with it. I now know that the aloneness is a condition that actually comforts me. It feels very familiar. Maybe it’s because I learned this way of being as I was ushered into the world. My parents didn’t get me until 2 months and 6 days after I was born. I often imagine people not wanting to bond too much with me because I was going on to the next place after the ink was dry on the adoption papers.
But tonight is different. Tonight, the aloneness feels confusing, stifling. Tonight, it’s coupled with a visceral entanglement just below my ribcage and above my navel.
The February air directly blasts my face as I turn onto Church Street on the walk back from my late massage appointment. I look at the phone. 10:30pm. I thought a soak and a massage would be the trick to help me get rid of this pit in my stomach. It didn’t. I feel into the sensation, and realize that I haven’t eaten since early this morning.
I am sure that my body needs more than the 2 day old pasta and half bottle of Prosecco waiting in the apartment. When I get like this, I often forget to eat. As I attempt to feel into what I really need to nourish myself, I pass by a sandwich board, situated just beyond the plastic covered entrance of a bar at the corner.
Kale and Brussel Sprout Salad, the board displays as the first special of the night.
This is what I need, I think to myself.
I turn back around, and enter the darkened bar to feel out the scene. There are people, but not too many. The bar is flanked with small groups at either end, but the spaces in the middle in front of the beer taps are free and seem like they are waiting for me to occupy the space. There are still groups of people in the back tables finishing dinner. Lana del Ray plays in the background.
I choose my seat at the bar, and the bartender approaches me.
“What can I get ya?” He says with an accent I can’t quite put my finger on.
“What are your drafts?” I reply at the same time I answer my own question and look up to the blackboard of choices above the bar. “Can I try the wheat?”
“Why sure you can.” He gives a big toothy grin.
I take the taster that he pours, not in the mood to be friendly or talkative.
“Good. I’ll take one of those, and a kale salad.” I order, choosing not to look into his eyes.
He passes me the beer and walks away, and I am assume he tunes into my desire not to be bothered.
I turn to my phone and start checking my mail and Facebook messages. I feel a need to be connected to my community. The day before, I saw the message that an uncontained wildfire was threatening the land where I previously lived. Although the owners of the retreat center no longer want me there, still I have a deep affinity to the home I created in my initial 5 years of living at the edge of the Costa Rican jungle. My friends still live there, and their homes are being threatened if the fire is not managed within the next day. I check the pictures in the community social media groups to see exactly how bad it is.
As I see the fire’s destruction, I wonder how much longer I can stick it out in Nosara. Is this fire an omen? The pit in my stomach growls a little gnarlier, and I take a swig of the beer that sits in front of me. It helps somewhat. I become more curious of the energetic tangle and try to feel into what is tethered there.
I have just gone through an existential crisis, of sorts. I reason with myself. A couple of weeks ago, I was sent into a pit of despair when my wallet and passport were lifted from my bag the day after I arrived for my month-long getaway from the jungle. I still have no structured plan of reclaiming my identity other than, “One step at a time.” It would have been easier to replace a stolen passport in Costa Rica, I have realized, in the days since.
My parents are on my case for not being better prepared for something like this. I stop them each in their judgements and ensure them that I am doing a good job beating myself up. They don’t need to add their own fuel to my fire. One of my worst fears has come to life. I have to come out of hiding and attempt to prove who I am.
Perhaps the loss of my identity is what gives me a deeper experience into the bigger void of aloneness. I have felt this pit before, but mainly in fleeting moments when I give myself permission to be hidden in the house, windows covered with music prompting me to dance until the tears and emotions finally flow. It is there in hiding that I can truly let go.
But now, I am in the city that is not my home. I am couch surfing again, and although I am being welcomed with open arms by friends who have an amazingly spacious apartment in TriBeCa, it is challenging when I am not in my own space with my own stuff around me.
I put the phone down, take a deep breath and survey the scene around me. The bar is too quiet for what I imagine a Saturday night to be in New York City. My attention wanders to the front window of the bar. It stretches from floor to ceiling. It’s apex is an arch, and the panes divide an image on the building across the street. I look beyond the window frame and stretch my vision to the faded image on the side of the building at the corner of the vacant lot.
It’s her. It’s the dancer. The lover. The knot in my upper stomach begins to unravel.
Her pointe shoes are still the most evident part of the 75 foot mural that stares back at me from the other side of the glass. She is leaping with heart open and head facing the sky.
I stare back at her. It’s as if she is telling me, It’s time…Time to leap.
Come here and dance, she beckons, reminding me of that moment in the dance studio when I dreamt of a place far away. It’s now here.
As I feel the tears well up from inside the tangle, the bartender arrives to deliver my salad. I attempt to make small talk to the people at the end of the bar when they realize I have been holding a deep trance outside on the larger than life dancer. They, too, take notice.
The bartender stands directly in front of me while I make my typical effort to hold back the tears. People don’t like to see other people cry, especially at a bar. I push the Brussel sprouts around on my plate, trying to find the hunger that ushered me into this darkened space and the empty stool in the direct line of the dancer’s image.
As he scrolls through his cell phone, I want to reach beyond the bar that separates us and punch him in the gut.
Why can’t he leave me alone in my space so I can cry and eat and drink in isolation? That’s really all I wanted tonight, to be left alone to nourish myself, surrounded by a room of people who have no idea of who I am.
My anger is internally palpable now. I have always had a hard time getting to the core of this emotion, so it surprised me that it took the bartender invading my energetic space from his perfectly positioned side of the bar to ignite a fire that slowly burns through the tightness of my knot.
I put my fork down for a moment, let out a deep sigh and take another swig of beer. I watch him to see what he is looking for. And, then I realize. He is looking for a picture of the dancer.
I sit for a moment and let the anger dissolve.
In the moments the bartender continues searching, my pause gives me the space to feel the dissolution of the knot. I let my tears come and silently fall. In the dimly lit bar, this is acceptable.
He finds the picture and shows it to me and the group at the end of the bar.
A street artist plastered the image on the side of the building of a principal ballerina in the New York City Ballet. I remember my days en pointe and what I learned from dedicating to such a practice.
And, now, this dancer was staring at me through the window, giving me a message. I felt it.
Remember me? I’m your long-lost love.
Why did you stop dancing?
Dance with me.
You will reclaim your identity here.
Keep dancing…when you don’t know the next steps, keep dancing through the unknown.
In the other jungle, I stopped dancing. I was no longer welcome on the finca that I once called home. My adopted Costa Rican Gringo family rejected me. After taking space away from the situation, I eventually understand why. Our vibrations and perspectives are too diverse. I was no longer willing to play the games of the land. I want safety and security. I long for community and family and sacredness. They could not provide these things, although I expected them to. It was unfair to all of us to try to stay when we each had our own side of the resentment.
The anger is balled up in that knot. I’m angry because I thought that staying and working harder should have been enough.
The knot continues to unravel as I remember back to my initial work from my first plant medicine ceremony. It showed me my deepest patterns. I was a leaver. I left before others could hurt me. I was good at that.
In 2005, my teacher encouraged me to take on the work of staying. I spent more than a decade practicing the art. In this night, the dancer met me and asked me to leave the resentments behind and dance with her. Leave the resentments, but stay in the dance.
I look again at the images of the encroaching fire. The land that beckoned me in 2009 became my home. The message that welcomed me back then came through the soles of my feet, while I stood at the center of the finca under the Pachote tree, only 500 meters away from where the fire looms currently.
It’s ironic that tonight the message comes through my fire center. Like the initial spark of a fire stoked by the heat of my own emotions triggering the deeper questions of “who am I?” and “where do I belong?” I don’t necessarily have the answers yet, but am ready to dance again into the space that remains that is waiting to be filled.
Now is the time, she says. Take the leap.