When I moved to Los Angeles, it was my first time living in a real city. At age 16, I had lived in a rural area of the Niagara Escarpment, and in what could only honestly be called the outskirts of Calgary (the nearest grocery store was a 45 minute walk away… through 10 feet of snow!), but this city life was brand new to me. Initially, I was giddy with excitement… everything was so easy! The grocery store was a few minutes away, as was anything else I could possibly need or want; it felt like the world was right at my fingertips.
Before too long, that feeling faded, and I became overwhelmed by the realities of living in an unnatural world. There were patches of grass here and there, sure, but for the most part, everything was covered in concrete; everything I saw, manmade. Deprived of the vibrancy of the natural world, I really started to struggle.
Today is World Mental Health Day, and it likely comes as a surprise to no one that my main form of self care comes in the form of surrounding myself with nature. What I realized in LA was that, when that wasn’t possible – when I didn’t have the hours available to take the bus down to the beach and escape into the ocean, I had to seek other ways to experience what I was missing – which I came to realize in large-part was awe.
No one is better at criticizing and breaking me down than me. This is likely something a lot of musicians can relate to, as we spend so much of our lives with only ourselves in the practice room, necessarily focusing on our flaws and shortcomings, or in other words, what is wrong with us, and what we can do better. A lot of that process can be exciting – within that is a great deal of discovery, exploration, challenge, invention, purpose, and ultimately, varying forms of gratification and satisfaction – at reaching goals, at pushing oneself, at always striving to be better. But, as with anything, there are ups and downs.
This week I realized that I’m being particularly tough/down on myself. So, instead of continuing to beat myself up in the practice room this afternoon, I went on an “awe adventure.” These bore out of my time in LA, and I remember very distinctly the first one I ever went on: my challenge for myself was to go for a walk around the city for an hour and leave with 3 unexpected sources of beauty. The first one I found was a striking bit of green marble on the side of a building that I’d walked past a million and one times and never previously taken in. The second, birds of paradise peeking through a dense garden on the stairs down to the public library. The third, witnessing an unencumbered and sincere exchange of joy between 2 friends unexpectedly running into each other on the street.
I’m lucky that in NYC I really don’t have to work hard to find myself in awe. Be it of the incredible feats of humanity all around me, from truly unbelievable skyscrapers to gorgeous and intricate architectural details, or hearing 10 different languages being spoken in the span of a block; amidst the dirt, stress, and grime of city life, there is much beauty to behold. And, if I want to escape the city, I really don’t have to walk far to feel encompassed by the trees in Central Park, or marvel at the vastness of the land (and water) by the Hudson River.
Today, I indulged in both, and it was worth putting down my work and setting the reset button on my brain for a few hours of rejuvenation in this beautiful city I’m lucky to call home. Be it taking 2 hours to run all around the city, or making 2 hours for a Bikram class as I did yesterday, sometimes it’s hard to remember it’s okay not to be working, and it’s actually quite important to take care of my mental health. I’m grateful for all of the reminders today that it’s okay not to be okay, and to take a step back and take care of oneself.