New York City Nate Cooper

Are New Yorkers Inherently Mindful?

I like to think I resisted this a bit but I think I’m slowly coming to terms with being a digital nomad. I’m typing this while in the back of a Lyft which is taking me from Long Beach California to Santa Monica where I have set up shop for the Summer. When I was younger, growing up in California, I used to fantasize about being bi-coastal.

I thought that might mean having an apartment in San Francisco and one in NYC and travelling back and forth for work. Now I think that’s a bit limiting. This country is mighty big, it’s true, but the world is mighty small. After spending time in Mexico City, Brussels, Berlin, and London last year I figure: why limit myself? I still feel like a New Yorker though. Perhaps that’s why I’ve resisted the moniker Digital Nomad.

True nomads, I believe don’t really have a home base. I like my home base. It feels good to “go home” from time to time (as I am about to do this week to teach some classes in NYC). Perhaps one of the reasons I feel at home there, is that it takes a long time to *feel* like a New Yorker. NYC is a brutal place at times and at other times – the times tourists seem to not understand – it is one of the best places on Earth.

I’ve had friends I care about, and strangers I’ve spoken to slam my city because of the brutish pride with which New Yorker’s speak about their home. “It’s the greatest city in the world” sounds incredibly ignorant especially to those who’ve been there. I think those who speak the most ill of New York are those who have tried living there and find it wasn’t to their taste. “It’s just a city. Why do people wear living there with a badge of pride?” It’s not a terrible question to ask, rhetorical though it might be.

Shall I answer it with an equally rhetorical and cryptic response? Do you think if you have to ask, maybe you don’t get it? I constantly hear from current and former New Yorkers, that we denizens of this city can be narcissistic. Having spent the past month in Los Angeles I can’t say I don’t notice the differences. Though I’d be remiss to say I haven’t witnessed a fair amount of self-absorption here. Indeed, I’ve been very curious about interrogating the differences between narcissism and self-absorption. If you figure that one out, let me know. But is being focused on one’s self entirely bad?

Understanding Adaptive Narcissism

I can’t say I don’t see the criticism that New Yorkers are self-focused as valid at times. I do, however, also sense that there’s something missing in the critique. I went so far as to find this article by psychology today that suggest narcissism isn’t all that bad. How can being aware of one’s self be bad if balanced with understanding one’s limits and an extreme focus on empathy? Is the adaptive narcissism described by Psychology today realistic?

On both coasts and abroad I find that there’s a renewed interest in meditation. Long the realm of crunchy culture, meditation is being considered seriously by science and is making it’s way into corporate culture. Having spent a couple Sundays in Long Beach taking meditation classes, I think I’ve found another word that encapsulates this kind of adaptive narcissism: Mindfulness. Merriam Webster (sorry brits) defines mindfulness as: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

A friend commenting on the differences between Los Angeles and New York said that New Yorkers are hard on the outside but soft on the inside because they know the struggle is real. What registers as smug self-absorption by outsiders, sometimes is, in fact just the opposite. I think New York breeds its own form of mindfulness. Don’t stop walking on the sidewalk. Don’t stand at the top of the stairway leading to the subway. Don’t have a long phone conversation on the train. Look forward and at others and: walk. fast. Does this mean everyone follows these rules? Of course not. As Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

People in LA I’ve spoken to found New Yorkers to be rude. “The people at the deli counter seem set on getting you in and out. No chats or pleasantries. Others cut in front of you on line.” I think this is the quintessential New York experience. It’s not that we don’t see that as rude sometimes. It’s that we don’t give a shit. Life is too short. We have our own shit to deal with. If you think we haven’t seen some shit, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. We just refuse to let it get us down. We are hardened on the outside but knowledgable within. That’s why you can take the New Yorker out of New York but you can’t take the New York out of the New Yorker.