Now back in London after two years living abroad where the sun was always shining and people buoyantly greet you on your walk to work, I am struggling to assimilate back into big city life. Don’t get me wrong, I love London. I love it for its history, the constant buzz and sense of excitement and how culturally diverse it is. But London is a place on a constant mission, paving the way for an anonymous existence.
On a recent venture around town I registered how un-noticed one goes amongst the sea of black coats. People walk past you, into you and even straight through you whilst performing the classic head-in-phone dance. So having just flown back from blissful Bali where you are greeted unceasingly by tourist and local alike, I now feel very anonymous. I am craving the contagious grins of street vendors and cheeky winks from surfers and passersby, all seemingly interested in where I am going.
As a little social experiment on a walk to my local coffee house, I counted how many out of 10 people looked up and either simply acknowledged my being there or even better, smiled. The result was 1! I wonder if perhaps the sheer amount of clothing worn to keep warm is somehow metaphysically blocking the ability to connect to another. I decided to actively try and engage the following 10 passer’s by with a smile or a ‘Good Morning’. (For anyone that has been to London you’ll know that walking down the street proclaiming ‘hello’ to a string of pedestrians one after the other is not the norm and won’t necessarily be well received). But I achieved slightly better results and managed to crack a couple of smiles and one ‘Morning’. A small but improved success!
I am conscious of the fact that both my body and mind have been engulfed in glorious sunshine for the past two years, leaving my outlook a little different. I also acknowledge that I have been living around different socio-cultural norms. However, I imagine that most people who have lived, are living or have visited a large city will have also experienced this lack of recognition or more tersely phrased, existence, at least once. Feeling dispirited and wishing I could dissapparate to any spot along the Bukit peninsula, I spend a few moments deploring the evolutionary hardening of human perspective.
In a state of rumination, my thoughts land on the memory of cycling through the rice paddies in Canggu. There in stark contrast against the sea of green is the brightest stretch of blue graffiti announcing ‘The Zen Revolution’. Musing over these words I consider the two years spent abroad recuperating what I felt my London life had extracted. How many days will it take commuting on the Northern line with backpacks thrusted against my wind-burnt face for my woosar attitude to evaporate? Does anyone else feel that in order to get into that sublime holiday feeling we have to work just as hard at relaxing and letting go as we do when pushing ourselves to accomplish the required daily tasks of work and home life? To then return to ‘normality’ and see all our hard earned Zen undone by the banality of work emails, public transport, traffic, bad hairs days and so forth. In James J. Lachard’s poem An Interview with God he draws an evocative observation of the cyclically unavailing routine of how many of us live;
“That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health. That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live neither in the present or the future. That they live as if they will never die and die as if they had never lived.”
…Well thank you James for that damning epitomization of millennial urban living.
Perhaps it’s time to call for a world-wide Zen Revolution! A way of being amongst the beautiful madness of daily life that allows for a stronger sense of Zen and a deeper connection to those around us. A revolution that encourages us to walk down the street and genuinely, actively connect with everyone sharing that sidewalk with us. Namaste is not just restricted to the sweaty walls of our new fad hot pod yoga class. Understandably, we cannot be all happy Gilmore all the time but, relatively so, we can all inject a little more human being-ness and companionship into our daily adventures. To try and really SEE the people around us. Whether it is just a smile or something a little more like asking how someone’s day is and genuinely caring about their answer. Over time I assure you of positive psychological effects equal to the sensation of a tasting peanut butter for the first time. (You can’t read my articles if you don’t like peanut butter). Then in Mr Lachard’s next interview with God we might get a slightly better review?!
One final note. Fellow TKE team member kindly reminded me that in whatever I do, no matter how mundane or tedious, that I should try to do it joyously. So on my cold and grey train ride through the industrial estates of London (from which I brainstormed this article) I simply appreciated that this moment would never come again. That I would never be here again in this precise moment and place in time, as a 26 year old woman, in a bright pink bobble hat, next to a man in an overly revealing quilt. So I chose to do it joyously and with connectedness…and in full appreciation that my train carriage was heated!
Let’s start a Zen revolution!