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Finding calm in the chaos of New York City

The meditations of a city brought back to life

After frantically attempting to catch an open cab — a task that has proven especially difficult as New Yorkers return to life at a pre-pandemic pace — I made intense eye contact with a driver a block away, and a non-verbal agreement was made. I hopped into the cab and let him know that, while I may not seem so zen at the moment, I was rushing to make my 6 p.m. yoga class. 

He turned his head toward me, shot me a wink and gave me a nod. Through this motion, another agreement was made. As his gestures promised, the driver wove through the streets as though my desperation had become his own. With only 30 seconds to spare, I hurried up the stairs to seize this hour of tranquility. My hastiness, and his, proved successful — I even scored my favorite spot in the studio. 

While this particular NYC studio was not quite as tranquil as the ones I frequent back home, I use these spaces to press pause. In my own experience, yoga acts as a way to numb the busyness of our own thoughts and allow for individual reflection — something that I felt was important as I adjusted to a new city for the summer. 

As the class came to a close, the yoga instructor invited us all into savasana — a physically, and sometimes emotionally, vulnerable conclusion to the practice for many. Feeling refreshed and untroubled, I exited the studio in a different fashion than I had entered, politely meandering down the stairs to find the revolving doors. But this illusion of serenity was promptly disturbed, and the movement of the city swept away any calm from my expression. 

Stepping onto the crowded sidewalk, I naively positioned myself in the bike lane so as not to interfere with the oncoming wave of walkers in their dedicated pursuit back home. With sweat still stuck to my warm skin, the breeze of the motion felt refreshing, and I took a moment to stand still in the bustle — this stillness was, predictably, brief. 

I heard a growling screech from the distance that quickly neared, and the voice of an agitated man drew my gaze immediately to the right. “Beep, beep, lady,” the man repeated as he forcibly approached. I barely dodged his frantically spinning wheels and, unusually, laughed to myself as I processed this notably frazzling interaction. I was overcome with a contradictory sensation — the flurry of New York City was paradoxically meditative to me. 

As I walked home from my yoga class, I realized how oddly refreshing it felt to experience the inconsequential grinds of daily life. Before the pandemic, we might have encountered some minor hindrances — a struggle to find a cab, a traffic jam on the way to a meeting, pushing through crowds of people and a scolding by an aggravated biker — and been more susceptible to feelings of frustration. But on this day, each of these happenings confirmed the actuality of my youth — a youth that has recently felt dormant. 

In the past year and a half, time has felt as though it was slipping through the cracks — spanning from age 19 to 21, this pandemic has made my youth seemingly obsolete, parking it in a state of dormancy. As the world progressively returns to a semblance of what it once was, experiencing this awakening in a city reinvigorates the potency of my youth. I have come to understand that I feed heavily off of my surroundings, and it seems there is no better place than New York City to partake in this resuscitation of life — a contemporary “youthquake” of sorts. 

Living in a big city requires you to be on your toes, to pay attention to your surroundings, to take in the smells, the people and the life around you — after a year of immense inward reflection, I find these external distractions and eternal contradictions of city life exhilarating. I am suddenly grateful for the pause whose ending has brought us back to an unexpected and novel experience of life — one that invites strange encounters, sweaty hurries and a swiveling head. With only a few weeks in the city ahead of me, I plan to not take for granted the countless unforeseeable people, places, and things that I will encounter — in this reenergized world, everything feels poignantly worth remembering. 

Willa Hancock is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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