Last month, I had guests from Turkey. I did my best to show them the daily life in NYC. I shared my enthusiasm and affection for this city. I have grown very fond of New York City after the tragedy of 9/11.
Over the years, I have had many visitors from Turkey. NYC is a great attraction for Turkish visitors. They are attracted to the intensity and the liveliness of this city.
I have never had a guest who did not like NYC until this time. They are my relatives so they would not mind me saying this. NYC was just too overwhelming for them. Even the teenagers who are growing up in a globally connected world thought NYC was too much. They confessed their feelings at the end of their two weeks stay. Until then I was very puzzled by some of their reactions. For example, the 16 year old said to me that there are not enough lights in Times Square. I have lived here for 16 years and I still go to Times Square at night every once in while to experience the lights, the colors and the people. It is not just the lights it is the people. I love it! There is so much energy there. It is impossible for a teenager not to be impressed by such experience but he said he was not impressed at all.
Similarly, when we were on the roof of the Rockefeller building (“Top of the Rock”) the overwhelming beauty of the aerial views did not impress them. They wanted to get down as soon as possible. I admit that the views from the top of the Eiffel Tower are unmatched in the world but the views from the “Top of the Rock” are very impressive too. I am not talking about a natural beauty; I am talking about the amazement I feel at the human ingenuity. Humans built cities like Paris and NYC. I find this miraculous.
I realized that human mind can go deaf and blind when it is over-stimulated. NYC is definitely over-stimulating. My relatives were turned off and refused to see the beauty of this amazing city.
I remembered the first time I visited NYC in 1990. The city was in bad shape. The Times Square was very different from how it is today. I remember smelling urine in many street corners and subways. That turned me off.
In 1990, my perception of NYC was like a developing country. I thought I was a in a different country. When I told a friend of mine in Dallas about my impressions of NYC he shared his feelings. He said that he felt like he was in a different planet when he visited NYC in the late 80′s. Another friend who did his Ph.D. in Physics at Columbia University in the 70′s described the city as a cesspool.
When I moved here in 1997 the city was in a much better shape but the smell of urine was still a problem in the subways and in the PATH system. Thank God, we don’t have that problem anymore. Today, the only complaint I have about NYC is the unnecessary ambulance sirens. The never-ending ambulance sirens can be overwhelming even for me.
As part of my spiritual practice, I try to see the Divine Beauty in every object and in every person. I don’t always succeed but there are rare moments that I get a glimpse of Divine Beauty. In those rare moments everything looks so overwhelmingly beautiful. It is an incredible feeling! Even a gritty city like NYC looks beautiful especially the people of the city.
The reactions of my relatives to the sights and sounds of NYC reminded me that maybe the reason we don’t see Divine Beauty is that Divine Beauty can be overwhelming if we are not ready to perceive it.
Our nervous system and mind are not yet developed enough to perceive Divine Beauty. Meditation and other spiritual practices increase our strength and develop our aesthetic sensibility. Poetry and music help tremendously. For me, though, the key words are acceptance and receptivity.