Before and after the thunderstorm

IMG_25July16RainBlue walls, red curtains, and gold-framed mirrors that reflect who is up on stage behind the microphone. Clothes damp, shoes soaked, a number of us had gathered to hear the Bennington Writers fiction reading at Cornelia Street Cafe while a thunderstorm raged over New York City.

IMG_25July16Reading

When the storm hit earlier in the day, I watched the sky cast charcoal gray from my perch on the eighth floor at the Center for Fiction. I headed out onto the Midtown streets joining the herd of commuters rushing to get underground before the clouds broke open again. I passed a man selling umbrella’s for five dollars and didn’t listen to the voice that said, “buy an umbrella, you may need it.”

At a West 4th street subway exit, slowed down by a line of people reluctant to go out into the torrential rain, I looked for another way out but this was it. As I made my way to the front of the line, a man played a lively guitar that matched the mood.

With ten minutes left to the reading, I surfaced risking a good soak but I found my way to scaffolding and eventually an umbrella as my partner showed up just in time.

During the event, I went first and read an excerpt from my short story, “Exposed.” At a transition in the story, as if on cue, thunder boomed, lightning crackled—I paused to let the storm have its space. Then I continued on reading a flashback about crossed wires and mixed messages.

IMG_25July16Sun

After the reading, the sun broke through the clouds. Buildings lit up in a warm, orange glow. We walked a stretch along Bleeker street on to the next destination for the evening.

What did the storm signify? Was it meant to be foreboding and fearsome? In my experiences, rain has often been a blessing. Rain has arrived on days filled with happiness like the day I got married.

The storm last night provided a measure of contrast, a way to be present in the experience of the evening rather than getting caught up in the flow of traffic, pre-event tensions, or tangential thinking. It was a much needed cooling down. It took nervous energy and turned it into awe and a bit of glee.

Contrast

How yoga can help you become more present

Credit: KatalinaStudio

It is easy to get caught up in the wandering mind that cycles through fear, worry, memory, planning and a whole host of other emotions, perceptions, and thoughts. While the mind wants to take you on a wild ride each second of the day, a number of techniques taught in yoga and meditation can help you remain centered and focused on the present moment. These include focusing on the breath, noticing sensation in the body, and being aware without judgement as well as practicing loving kindness towards yourself and others.

You are bound to be distracted throughout your day but pausing to breath and tune in can help you navigate whatever challenges you face. To learn more, check out my recent feature on the Yoga in the Heights blog, “How to become more present in your daily practice.”

Beauty at the beach in Jersey City

Jersey City Winter Beach

Winter scene at Jersey City’s waterfront facing downtown Manhattan.

During most winters, I live at the edge of resistance, fighting against the cold and doing my best to stay out of it but a walk to the Jersey City waterfront quickly nullifies any need to do battle. The sun glimmers off of the Hudson River and the crisp, cool air brings the New York city skyline into sharper focus. Breathing in the afternoon’s surrounding stillness, I let go and relax into what is.

In that space between the breaths, between the paragraphs, between the distracting, grumbling, “complaining about winter” thoughts, I find openness and acceptance. I’m free to move on and just be.

Why don’t we allow ourselves to just be? Why don’t we give ourselves permission to stay in the present moment and to open up to whatever exists in front of us? Perhaps we are inclined to get carried away with our memories or our to-do lists or resistance or rejection of something or someone because of the uncertainty that exists in that moment of “now.”

Meditation is one way that I’ve become more comfortable dropping in to that present moment. Using the breath as a guide, I’m able to see what’s going on. I’m able to appreciate the beauty of winter’s beach.

In her book, “How to Meditate,” Pema Chodron says, “There is incredible wisdom to this open, present space. We are opening to the wild display of surprising richness, the organic and unique display of the present moment. We aren’t trying, trying, trying. We aren’t controlling or attempting and efforting our way through it.”

So instead of trying to escape winter, trying to stay warm, trying to make summer happen now, I am in the practice of opening up to the wild richness of its current display. That it is here to stay as long as it wants to. That there is nothing I can do to change that.