New York zen
Enlightenment 301
Inmate #811 | Sep 17, 2014
Topic category: Zen Enlightenment

I have been living in New York, for a long time. I love this city. It attracts the best of the best. All the action happens here. Whether food, fashion, finance or just the people that live here, anyone aspiring to greatness aspires to be in NYC. It’s a city full of chasers. We are always on the go. Always looking for something better.

As I said, I love this city.

However, the love affair hasn’t always been there. At times New York can be a grind. As every New Yorker knows, there is a price you must pay for greatness. Suffering expensive rent, harsh winters, indifferent people and massive egos are only a sampling of trials to overcome. In the midst of all this New York greatness, there is great suffering.

So for a while, something about New York, didn’t feel right. The endless searching, the self-promotion and self-centeredness became, for lack of better word: irritating. And like an itch you can’t scratch, over time that nagging irritation led to a greater and greater fixation.

I’m sure everyone goes through these periods of questioning and doubt. After all, questions about who you want to be and finding purpose and meaning are never ending. The daily grind takes a toll on all of us, right? Why I was I so troubled? Was I just being weak?

To be sure, as a Wall Street banker, I was absolutely guilty of self-centered, egocentric behavior. Wall Street being the world capital of ego, it would be odd not to have one. So a journey to rid myself of ego, was not something I thought I desired.

But as the old zen saying goes, every journey begins with a thousand steps and so my first steps led me outside of New York.

As a banker I had the luxury of economic freedom. So, traveling was at first about enjoyment and broadening my horizons. However, gradually over time, the path led me around the world and to Asia where I found meaning and enlightenment, although at the time, I didn’t realize it.

How could I?

Enlightenment is freedom from the ego. But the ultimate ego is someone that thinks they are not egotistical. No one wants to think they are self-centered or self-absorbed. It’s ego’s defense mechanism.

Yes, I may have an ego, but compared to other people, I’m a saint. That’s what I told myself. Because New York is full of gigantic egos, I became deceived into thinking mine was pretty tame.

Until I left New York behind.

The path of zen is the path of emptiness. To let go of the things that reinforce your ego. But for me, I couldn’t see what my ego had turned into, let alone trying to figure out how to get rid of it. What I came to realize was how much of the person I was, was tied to life in New York.

That was the first part of the journey. Understanding what my ego had come to expect and to then let go of those expectations. Now, try letting go of New York. Let go of the best of the best. Let go of the chase and all that represents.

In New York the best is right next door and one of the luxuries of being a banker is the means to experience all the fine things just outside my door. Having lived in New York for so long, my ego, the person I had become, expected the best the world had to offer.

Of course there is greatness to be found in other cities, but the singular attractions of New York makes it different. As a proud New Yorker, I carried with me the superiority complex that only New Yorkers can understand. There’s a been there done that kind of feeling. The ego at work.

But over the next several years, I had the opportunity to visit different countries and experience unique cultures, to see life outside the New York bubble.

And what I came to realize is the echo chamber that is New York. The same reason people are attracted to New York’s greatness is the same reason immense egos are created. For every hurdle one overcomes to prove themselves worthy of being a New Yorker it serves to reinforce the ego. The bigger the sacrifice, the more the ego needs to be validated.

“Look at what I have had to overcome to be here. I must be worthy. I must be special.” The ego will say.

And rightly so. It takes someone “special” to endure the trials of New York. And anyone who can survive, is worthy of the accolades that are heaped on them, whether that’s from others or themselves.

But as I said, zen is the journey of ridding oneself of your ego and so for a time, I referred to New York as the most “unzen” place in the world. If you’re trying to let go of your ego, New York is not the place to try to do it.

And that’s where the answers started to come. Outside of New York, separated from the backdrop of endless egos, I began to understand the freedom that comes with no longer worrying about your place in the world and what comes next. Freedom from the constant nursing of one’s ego and all the energy it wastes. It’s the joy of enlightenment.

It’s an indescribable feeling. I’m sure you have heard all the metaphors: freedom, liberation, awakening. The path to enlightenment, the elimination of the ego results in all those things. After all, it’s really just freedom from your own expectations.

When it happens all kinds of remarkable things occur. You stop lying. Lying to yourself and to others. Lies are merely a defense mechanism for the ego. Without an ego there is no need for self-promoted exaggeration or excuses.

You reach an authenticity that gives you genuine confidence. Not the shaky confidence that comes from the ego telling itself how great you are.

You also become less self-centered and self-absorbed, able to connect with others in a completely different way, sincerely and honestly. No longer needing some form of validation or control from others or the world in general.

There are so many positive changes that occur, it’s impossible to describe them all. Which is why, words like awakening and freedom are used to describe enlightenment. It’s the feeling of zen.

But seeing into one’s ego and freeing yourself from it, are two different things.

In seeing New York as “unzen” my ego had simply transferred itself from one place to another. True egolessness is the ability to transcend wherever you are.

And so that has become the next part of my journey. To remove my ego one step further. To live within the bubble of New York without being consumed by it.

How can one live without ego in the most egocentric city in the world? You embrace it. In just the same way as a new arrivals embrace New York.

I have come to realize there is no better training ground to find zen than New York. It attracts the best, where better to try to pursue zen than in the most “unzen” place in the world.

Like going to the gym to work out. The greater the resistance the greater the progress. If the goal is to build muscle, the more weight you lift, the more muscle you gain.

And that is what I have found with New York. After years of traveling, I have come home to get the ultimate zen workout. There is no better place to pursue egolessness than in this city. It’s in this contradiction that I have found zen once more, the Type Zen way.

Tags: TypeZen, Stress Management, Stress, Type A, Type A Personality, Henry Kang, Inmate #811, Zen Asylum
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