It’s been three years since I’ve visited the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” and I’ve missed it. I can’t even describe the feeling that I get as I step foot out of the airport and head towards Manhattan. The excitement, hopes, and dreams of every person who has ever called New York “home” all wrap around me like a blanket, reminding me that home is where my heart is… and dare I say, my heart belongs to New York City.
I finally made it back to the Big Apple over the previous weekend, this time bringing my wife. We had a blast visiting the compulsory spots such as the Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, and the various eateries in the famed neighborhoods such as Midtown, Greenwich Village, and Hell’s Kitchen. There’s a lot to see (and eat) in New York City, and obviously a lot to talk about, but there are three things that I’d like to share that were the most spiritual aspects of the trip (this is, after all, my attempt at a “spiritual” blog).
Even though Chicago is known for it’s art scene with its Art Institute and Museum of Contemporary Art, New York has always been the big leagues. Both of New York’s monumental art galleries – Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary art – are home to several renowned pieces by some of the most influential artists such as Kahlo, Dali, Van Gogh, Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse, Monet, and Pollock. My wife and I spent several hours in each museum slowly absorbing the brilliance of the several works of art one by one.
The most arresting piece I encountered was the “Buddha of Medicine Baishajyaguru” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were walking through the endless maze of the Met when I stumbled upon this amazing 25’x50′ mural of the Medicine Buddha. I was so taken by the healing energy of that painting that I had to sit and meditate with it.
From the Met’s description of the painting:
Healing practices, physical and spiritual, played an important role in the transmission of Buddhism throughout Asia. In this mural, Bhaishajyaguru (Yaoshi fo), the Buddha of medicine, wears a red robe and is attended by a large assembly of related deities, including two seated bodhisattvas who hold symbols for the sun and the moon. The twelve warriors, six at each side, symbolize the Buddha’s vows to help others. The robust, full-faced figure and the shallow spatial construction are characteristic of the work of Zhu Haogu, who was active in the early fourteenth century and painted both Buddhist and Daoist imagery.
What I love about art is that with every visible stroke, line, and object you see, you can get a glimpse of the artist’s soul at the moment that they’re expressing their true selves like a window through time. With every artist, you can feel their joys, sorrows, and anxieties through their work. You can hear
them call to you, asking you to listen to their story. Paintings and all forms of art are alive because their creator’s spirit lives inside of them.
One of my all time favorite artists is Jackson Pollock. I know this sounds pretty dumb, but I can’t tell you why I love his work, but I do. There’s a beauty within the chaos of his famous drip paintings, but you can tell that within all of that disorder, there was deep, healing intent to it. After all, Jackson Pollock had a very chaotic soul, you can see it in all of his pieces. To me, it’s the painting equivalent to how Huber Selby Jr describes his creative process – he simply shut off his mind and began to work, and his story was coming from deep within the divine and on to the paper (in this case, canvas). Pollock’s work, to me, is the manifestation of Tao… that beauty lies in spontaneity, and the non-contrivance of Wu-Wei, in order to express one’s true organic inner nature.
It was in 2008 when I visited New York for the first time as an adult. I decided to take a random trip up there to walk around the city to visit all the places we see regularly in the media, and Central Park seems to be the main staple in movies and television shows. So I walked around and found that not only is it really fucking big (roughly half the size of Lincolnwood, IL), it’s also beautiful and serene. At some point, when you get deep enough inside the park, you won’t hear the chaotic hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle at all. You can fall asleep watching the ducks at a pond or a lake, or sit on top of a rock staring at the sky, and completely forget that you’re in the middle of the modern-day equivalent of ancient Rome. In Taoism, it’s the absolute Yin inside the absolute Yang. It’s a gross understatement to say that it’s peaceful in Central Park.
Back in 2009, two months after my father passed away, I decided to take a week off from acupuncture school to wander around aimlessly in NYC in hopes to boost my spirits and gather myself, which I called my “Holden Caufield Experience.” It was then when I found myself at my favorite place in NYC called Turtle Pond (because of the abundance of turtles and ducks swimming around there), pondering under a weeping willow tree. I chose this particular tree because it was isolated at the bottom edge of the pond, away from where most people were hanging out. I sat beneath the tree, opened up my journal, and wrote for the first time since Dad passed away. It was then when I wept and wept, and wept some more. It felt good to finally let it all out. I sat underneath that tree for hours, and visited that tree every single day of that trip, and every trip to New York since.
This last trip to “my tree” was different though. It was the first time that I’ve visited the tree after being initiated in my Chinese Shamanic Qigong lineage and cultivated an energetic sensitivity so acute that I could communicate with nature. So just last Sunday when I was finally face to face with my tree, and energetically spoke to her. She spoke back to me. Not audibly like people would think, but in a spiritual/shamanic way. She remembered me well, and most proudly told me how powerful I’d become. And we stood there facing each other, giving each other thanks. She told me that my father would be so proud of how far I’ve come. It was a powerful experience, and when it was time for my wife and I to leave, I threw myself onto a park bench and wept.
National September 11 Memorial
This is the first time I’ve been to the site of the World Trade Center since 2008 when they were still clearing out the area to make way to build the memorial. When my wife and I got there, there was definitely a heavy vibration coming off the site. If you’re at the least bit sensitive to energy, you can feel it… and I indeed can, and very acutely too. I don’t tell most people this, but ever since I’ve been practicing Chinese shamanic Qigong and Taoism, I’ve been so sensitive to energy that I can hear, feel, and see entities. For the first few minutes of being at the memorial, my awareness was in the mundane realm, just admiring the site.
But eventually, my awareness shifted into the spiritual realm as if being pulled into another dimension. And there they were – the spirits of the victims of the 9/11 attack howling with sorrow and despair. I felt so much of their pain and suffering from their unexpected death that I couldn’t hold back my tears. I then found myself leaning over the memorial, weeping in sorrow. My wife, knowing that I have these sensitivities, knew what was going on and she urged for us to leave, but I said that I owed it to myself and to the spirits to finish touring the site. So I slowly gathered myself and continued walking. When we reached the end of the memorial, we sat for a bit and I prayed for the lost souls that have never made it to the Light. I prayed for them to go into the Light, where they’d find peace. Some of them actually went, others were too attached to their former existence that they simply couldn’t. I prayed for them to. And before we moved on to Brooklyn Bridge, I projected healing Qi into the entire WTC site with the intent that many more will find peace and move into Light.
People often find it hard to believe that I feel more like a New Yorker than a Chicagoan, and normally find me a bit of a traitor to Chicago (for which I don’t blame them). But when people ask me why I like New York City so much, it’s like asking me “so why do you like things?” I mean it’s a difficult question to answer, other than the fact that New York City seems to fit my personality, my tastes, preferences, my hobbies, etc.
But an even harder question to answer – on a spiritual level – is that why on earth would someone like me want to move to NYC, considering that I’m so exceedingly sensitive to energy that I can’t even attend a sports game without feeling so painfully overstimulated by the crowd that I get physically ill? My only answer is that NYC is simply just a different place. NYC is so vast, like an entire universe in itself, that somehow there’s enough “space” for me to create my own little protective bubble. It’s easier for me to shield myself in NYC than in Chicago for some odd reason. Or perhaps I’ve become strong enough to be able to shield myself from crowds and collective consciousness. I wish I could clearly tell you.
Besides, most people think about Midtown Manhattan when they think about NYC, when in actuality, I can see myself more specifically as a “Brooklynite” New Yorker more than anything since it’s so eerily similar to Chicago. I love Brooklyn more so than any neighborhood in Manhattan. But that’s a blog post in its own.
But overall, I love that damn city with all my heart. If by some god-willing power that my wife would give us the green light to move there (especially to Brooklyn), I would do it in a heartbeat.
Tagged: art, buddhism, dao, daoism, daoist, meditation, metropolitan museum of art, museum of modern art, new york, new york city, nyc, Qigong, shamanism, spirituality, tao, Taoism, taoist, travel, urban monk