March 8, 2018

How I Turned my Avoidance & Anxiety into Love & Compassion in New York City.

Head down, headphones on, and walk as fast as you can because for some reason in New York City you are always late.

Looking back on my behavior, I realized this was my armor from the scary people and things that constantly happen in the city. I felt like if I didn’t see it, I didn’t have to deal with it.

When I came to New York from Victoria, British Columbia 11 years ago, I smiled at everyone on the street and even said the occasional “hello” to strangers walking by.

I had a content feeling in my heart and lightness to my step. In Victoria, we didn’t worry too much about strangers on the street but here in New York City things were different—and that scared the crap out of me. Fast forward a few years and I was rushing down the streets (while trying to avoid poop and other unidentifiable goop on the street), avoiding eye contact, and generally trying to ignore everyone and everything around me.

Early in my life, I learned to use yoga, meditation, and inspirational books to deal with my anxiety. I realized a few years ago that I needed those tools in my life again. I was having trouble with a coworker and I was slipping back into my old patterns and not coping well with the situation.

By practicing yoga and meditation regularly, we can create space and get clear on what is important in life. These practices enable us to take moments for ourselves and not get wrapped up in the stresses of daily life. Connecting with our mind and body can help us to concentrate and relieve stress. These are meant to guide us into meditation and beyond (not to get the best butt on the upper East side, contrary to popular belief).

Once I started practicing and learning more, I found two Buddhist teachers and practices that helped me to overcome the feelings of anxiety and isolation and move toward compassion and connection.

Here are some lessons I learned about how to reconnect when we are feeling overwhelmed:

Pema Chödrön suggests that whenever we notice ourselves judging someone, we should simply note that thought. We should not label the thought as good or bad but simply note the thoughts as they come, and then let them go.

I noticed myself doing this a lot—even though I consider myself an understanding and compassionate person. I was constantly judging and evaluating myself, too. But when I am aware of my thoughts and not judging them, I can feel the tension and anxiety leaving my body.

“Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.” ~ Pema Chödrön

These are Sharon Salzberg’s most important practices that I’ve learned on how to cultivate compassion:

  1. Look at everyone as if they were your family member.
  2. Loving-kindness, which is where you wish for yourself, a benefactor, a neutral person, a difficult person, and for all beings to be happy, healthy, safe, and live with ease. Along with this as a sitting meditation, she suggests for us to wish these phrases of loving-kindness to all the people around us at any given moment.
  3. I learned we can look at strangers as they might have been playing at home as children with their families. It is hard to have a negative reaction, anxiety, or fear when you think of someone in that vulnerable state and we have all been there.

With this increased compassion and connection, we can look at each other knowing we are all fundamentally good people who want to be happy just like us. Eye contact and a smile are simple and sweet gestures, and even if they don’t feel like much at all, I think they can change a moment from anxiety to peace. All these little moments make up our lives.

These are daily practices and it is easy to fall back into old habits of judging and isolation, but if and when we remember we can make these subtle changes in perspective and feel more connection and compassion.

Yoga and meditation can help us uncover what is always there and is just hidden by fear and anxietyand that is love, who we really are.


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Author: Yvonne Perry
Image: Kevin Lee / Unsplash 
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Travis May

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Yvonne Perry