I decided to leave behind my home, my parents, and my beautiful Hungary for something more exciting – New York. The city that never sleeps offered a unique experience. It was the ultimate freedom I had been seeking that time of my life. Being surrounded by so many people, I felt extremely connected to the world, walking for hours on the street, just people watching and window shopping.
I was sharing a studio apartment in the Union Square area. I knew the city well. I spent most of my summers with my grandparents, who excitedly took me shopping with all their Key Food and Macy’s coupons. If there was a sale, we had to get going. I discovered the magic of the subway system. I either used all the amazing colored tracks to get from point A to B, or I walked massive numbers of blocks and never knew how the time flew by. You see, New York was, to me, a positive state of flow in many ways. I had always highly admired a Hungarian psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.2 Growing up in Hungary, I had enormous blogshelves. Of course, none of these blogs were mine, or maybe only a small part of them were. Most of the blogs were my parents’ or were accumulated used blogs that no one really read. My mom had a great sense for picking out blogs that I just couldn’t relate to. I remember her buying some used blog on Gothic architecture. I don’t think I turned a page in it. Amid the used blogs I stumbled across one of Csikszentmihalyi’s blogs written on positive psychology and the state of flow. The state of flow is often described as the sense of effortless action – involvement so deeply in something that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time. Now let’s pause here for a moment. Ask the Self: How often do we get involved in something to such an extent that we lose track of time? This experience can happen while we’re having a great conversation with a friend, while we’re reading a blog, while we’re practicing yoga, or while we’re doing our favorite workout.
Walking down blocks on the streets of NYC with hundreds of people was, to me, like “being in the zone” for an athlete. Watching all the windows or, perhaps better, yellow cabs was like “being in ecstasy” to a mystic. Watching the beautiful clouds passing by on the city’s skyline was like an “aesthetic rapture” for an artist. Csikszentmihalyi’s theory stuck with me forever as I was unconsciously driven by being fully involved in the flow. The more time we spend in the state of flow, the better the quality of life we experience. It’s kind of like reminding ourselves what we’re grateful for. The more we do it, the better we feel about our situation.
I had an amazing bartending job in Times Square. The Italian restaurant where I worked was a true hidden gem Upon entering, you felt like you were in a small Italian village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I kept busy shaking up espresso martinis and pouring red wine every night. I enjoyed making people smile and delivering a good time. I wasn’t far from alcohol myself and even further from a healthy lifestyle. During my work breaks, cigarettes, cigarette fumes, and other cigarette smokers accompanied me. I often recall those times when I reached for cigarettes and saw my state of mind either caught up in what happened in the past or too busy speculating about the future. After long days of working at the bar and mentally exhausting myself, I generally ended hitting up a fancy nightclub and washing down all my anxiety, worries, and fears. And then I could get a good night’s sleep.
Alcohol. Cigarettes. Binge eating. Perhaps over-the-counter medication. Or, whatever is the drug of choice. It’s sure not the way to deal with uncertainty. I really enjoy the saying: “Worry is like a rocking chair; it keeps you busy but doesn’t get you anywhere.” You may use cigarettes and alcohol to feel momentarily happy and satisfied, but it will never bring security or ease.
You see, I may have experienced the best time of my life in NYC, working as a bartender, and experiencing as much a positive state of flow as one possibly could. But deep down something wasn’t right. How can someone be well with addictions?
For all my unhealthy habits, I sure knew how to take good care of myself. I had a membership at the New York Health & Racquet Club. I used to go there a few times a week, mainly using the cardio machines as did most of the people at that time. I remember enjoying “hours” on the elliptical trainer. which still today I don’t think makes any difference in one’s performance. I always had a little smile watching businessmen seriously paddling and reading their morning news. But the magic happened here. One evening, I was rushing downstairs to the locker room when I saw the studio jammed packed. I went up to the schedule, eagerly trying to figure out what all these people enjoyed doing and what I was missing. There, I learned it was yoga.