On my way back to the east coast, I departed from Northern California this past Sunday morning to catch a late morning flight out of Arcata connecting through San Francisco. My three years “on the mountain” were officially over having graduated from the Taijiquan and Qigong program the week before. I was eager to leave.
My flights were uneventful and I got into Newark Liberty International Airport earlier than the scheduled 10:00 o’clock arrival. Worse case, I thought I’d be home in an hour. I didn’t get in until after 1:00am Monday.
The shared ride car service I used at the airport picked me up last and about two hours after I had deplaned. When we finally entered Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel, it became clear I had returned to “The Valley”. The intensity of the bright red and green traffic signal lights was exacerbated by the seemingly endless red brake lights as our driver found himself ensnarled in stop and go traffic traveling east along 38th street. He couldn’t make any turns because those streets had been cordoned off by the police in celebration of the Pride Parade.
As we moved along at less than snail’s pace, the overbearing signage from all the storefronts and the digital billboards were overwhelming visually. Consider that for the past six months I primarily looked at verdant scenery and the loudest sound I heard each day was the rooster or the dog barking. At one point, as we made finally made our way uptown, the wailing of an ambulance tracked behind us. And then there were the police car sirens...
My toughest challenges in returning have been the incessant noise and the thickness of the air quality. Whether it’s people constantly talking loud enough to be heard from the 6th floor where I reside, the blaring of rap music, the trucks, police sirens, and fire engines passing by or the revved up engines of cheap motorcycles, the noise never ends. And the air is just thick and heavy making it difficult to breathe easily compared to being on the mountain. Part of it is the heat and humidity for sure, but there is something different that I’m not able to pin point right now. It leaves me feeling tired and heavy like being underwater.
I haven’t been back a full two days yet. This morning I threw out the trash and was ‘welcomed’ by two large rats scurrying around from below the multitude of black trash bags overflowing from the metal bins. On the way to the subway station, the walking dead were shuffling about aimlessly, homeless, disheveled.
Nothing here seems to have fundamentally changed for those who have always lived here these past three years. In fact, nothing seems to have changed since I first became painfully aware of this urban blight of the spirit fifty-four years ago...Gentrification continues at a steady pace and those that have have more and those that do not have have less.
My hope, my prayer, my devotion is that this war of the Spirit can be waged successfully with those who are trained in the ways that promote and uplift the nature of who we truly are as spiritual beings having a temporary material experience. Learning and behaving as if we know how to be in the world, but not of it...