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Finding The Higher Path

A writer’s journey to cultivating presence and introspection in the midst of New York City

by Micky Ayoub

July 4, 2018


My dad once told me that I must always remember “these moments”. At the time, I was too young to understand by what he, my father, a much-lived man, meant when he said these words to me. It was my high school graduation. I had barely made it through those four years, from a passable GPA to harmful self-worth issues. Looking back, I’m almost ashamed of how naive I was, because it wasn’t that charming, entitled naiveness that plagues one’s late teens. I was unwittingly blind to the realities around me. I wish I had appreciated my father’s words when he first said them to me.

“These moments” — here’s one of them, the one that propelled me into a path toward a greater sense of self, my truth, self-actualization, or whatever the catch phrase variation that’s in at the moment.

That day was one like most before. I woke up in the afternoon feeling like death had crept up on me, because staying up past the sunrise had become a distinction I wanted those around me to acknowledge. The New York City downtown nightlife was my life. I thought I was living. Myself and those around me looked down on everyone else because we were certain that our lust-filled vie for sunrises lifestyle was what it was to squeeze all of the juice of being alive. But I was lost. I had no idea who I was or what my life actually was.

My brain felt fried. All of the true friends I had I pushed away, and those I did have were vampires — we used each other for the means to next fix of what we thought being alive was. The winter sun was quickly dying, I remember the clock on my phone said 3:46PM. I gave up on the day, a non-day as I used to call it. Going to the movies had always been my way of forgetting — the one thing, I thought, I could enjoy that wasn’t self destructive, and would remove me from my personal reality. I walked to Sunshine Cinemas, Charlie Kaufman’s film “Anomalisa” was playing. He has that perfect touch, his films always hit me in the same melancholic kind of way. When the movie finished, I walked down Houston Street toward Whole Foods and immediately thought of my sister. She had taken me there for lunch on my first day in the City, and as we sat upstairs by the windows overlooking New York City, my brain couldn’t grasp how could so many different things could be going on so smoothly. She saw my pale face and said, “Don’t forget why you made this leap. You came here because you wanted more of yourself!”

Standing there, I realized I had been spending my early years lost in a tunnel of self-destructive behavior. In that moment I heard her voice, again. It was one of “these moments” my dad told me about — and I felt more lost than ever. All the emotions of not knowing who I was or what I wanted in my life floated above me and through me. I wanted more than what I was having. I didn’t want to hang outside of bars making sarcastic jokes and smoking cigarettes anymore. I wanted more — I realized I wanted to feel more connected, to experience more of something I knew existed but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to find out who I was — I felt this imperative need to go into myself.

The universe knows, is all I can say: I felt numb when I got home. My roommate was making her go-to stir fry and over the sizzle of the pan she says to me. “Micky, I went to this mediation wellness thing tonight. It was really interesting! You should go next time. I think it will be good for you.” I didn’t respond, and went to my room and laid down. When my head touched the pillow, I got a call from India. My brother answers from the other side: “Can’t talk for long, we are about to head up the mountain. Just wanted to say, I love you.” “Love you too. How are you?” I ask. “I’m ok, love. So much to tell you. The bus is leaving. Remember to meditate and do all of the stuff I told you. Take care of yourself. Love you! Bye!” That was his second time out East, and it was the second time since he left two months before that we had spoke.

The state I was in, the man that looked back at me in the mirror, and my brother and sister’s pleas gave me no choice.

I went to that mediation thing my roommate told me about the following month, and my perceptions of the mediation and the wellness community completely changed. I met real people — real New Yorkers — who were similar to me. They made me feel at home, accepted. There was an energy around them that was unlike what I had experience in the downtown New York nightlife scene. It was incredible.

Inspired by the ‘wellness scene’ proliferating in New York City and my brother’s path, from fashion magazine editor to Himalayan ashrams, I decided to make a change. I understood the imperativeness of mindfulness and of a meditation practice. When I made the choice to follow that soft voice in the long dark corridor we call life, I began to be able to see, not only the light at the end, but my hands and its ability to make change.

Through cultivating a meditation practice and deep introspection, I began to find the most beautiful gifts occurring: becoming acutely aware of my true nature, the palpable static that connects all living beings. As Alan Watts perfectly said, “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.” The deeper I started to go within myself, the further I felt compelled to go outside of my means of life to be of service to others. This is the beauty of this practice, by accepting my humanness, my flaws, it has made me even more keen on evolving my present-self. I’ve become able to identify the traumatic moments in my upbringing that have made me struggle with self-doubt and self-worth. It has allowed me to not only accept and move past those memories, but to appreciate them — to see their beauty because they have made me who I am today.

“The deeper I started to go within myself, the further I felt compelled to go outside of my means of life to be of service to others.”

And, science backs all of this up: Multiple studies have found that a daily practice of meditation and mindfulness reduces depression and anxiety by 50%. In another study, researchers found that seventy-eight percent of participants reported a reduction in total ADHD symptoms.

Its been just over two years since that night at the movies. My goals have changed. I have acknowledged the flawed idea I once held of what defines ‘success,’ and this journey has led me to discover my inherent need to be of service to others. To make all of my goals the goals of my surroundings. My surroundings, my immediate surroundings, I now finally see is everything and everyone! The people I now have my life are friends who choose a life striving to the same creed — everything is considered to be an Us. I found I always had the same superficial interactions without ever going deeper to my core. Connecting genuinely with others was often the major topic of my troubles. I used to let people walk all over me. I would forget my own personal wants and needs thinking that this was what it meant to connect. One of the most life-changing things I have learned is how important reciprocity is to any healthy relationship.

The more I’ve connected to the world around me, the more I’m able to deal with challenges as they present themselves. Before, I was plagued by apathy. I thought it was was cool to not care about anything; now, I am engaged. I often catch myself having empathy to those I feel are doing wrong, from politicians to random people on the street to my own family.

In today’s world, where it’s easy — regardless of the issue — to have contempt for others, one must never forget that we are all leaves in one tree.

The tools I have acquired in this search are strongest when cultivated. This is why I try to be as diligent possible in my practice, but sometimes things just don’t go the way you want them to. But that’s a part of surrendering. I’m still learning about the journey — this type of thinking and lifestyle must be nurtured everyday — through relationships, practice, moments of quiet. The road will be long, I know this, but one thing I can say is that it rewards those who put in the work.