Urban Mindfulness: Seeing in the City as a Source of Joy

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Written By Laura Simms, Award Winning Storyteller

“In a time before there was day or night, when the sky was grey, there was a girl of the earliest race, who watched the fires that lit up the earth turn to ash.  She lifted  burning embers in her hands and tossed them into the sky.  It is she who made the stars.”  (from a Bushman myth)

My eyes naturally seek flocks of birds on Broadway. I see them soaring from rooftops or hunkering down in large groups in Union Square park like vacationers at the beach. The sight of a young bird on the street, however, underfoot, breaks my heart. I know their savvy speed keeps them from traffic and boots in a rush. But I want to protect them, give them an urban dovecote or abandoned ship by the river to call their own. I sometimes plan an entire room in my loft as an aviary with tiny doors for them to come and go, branches and small compartments, removable paper for cleaning the floor — and high walls that keep out the cats.

There is a homeless girl on fourteenth street. She sits on a blanket with three kittens on leashes. They romp in front of Whole Foods or play in a cardboard box. People bring her gifts of food and play things, occasional money or a warm coat. Everyone seems invested in her endeavor to be the mother of small things. It is as if she is working on our behalf. In this crowded environment, a crazy person’s song rises above the sound of trains and shoppers. He sings over and over in a high pitched nasal sound of constant preoccupation: Like a Bird.. Like a Bird I fly. Like a Bird. He wears a Santa hat even in the summer and sits on a tin can. Everyone who passes is greeted.

The pigeons were once dinosaurs. The singing man is the ancestor of an African chief and the girl and her cats are Egyptian dieties reborn. I am a storyteller. I assume I have done this for lifetimes never forgetting the shape of stories that come to me even in my dreams. I can remember fires on Atlas Mountains and singers entering Circassion villages.

At my desk, I become aware of the din of a machine that grinds stone to make cement for a building across the street A crew of men, who eat lunch in a line, have torn down the beautiful green arched windows and the brick that adorned the billiard factory built in the early 1900’s. Florescent lights blaze all night so that even the pigeons fly back and forth in unnatural search for seeds in the dark. A photograph, now torn, on the once there was a door of the building-half-constructed, shows a cold metal glass edifice. History is being forgotten. So, I turn back from my windows covered by dun colored fabric tie- dyed in another world, and take solace in the green plants, the sleeping old cat on my desk and the sight of a white dove who has rested on the wood slats across the street. I refuse to be distressed by construction. Instead I use my eyes as a source of delight and restore myself in seeing what is beautiful and holy human that can not be replaced.

Laura Simms is an award winning performer, writer, and educator advocating storytelling as compassionate action for personal and community transformation. She performs worldwide combining ancient myth and true life story for adult and family audiences.  She is the Artistic Director of the Hans Christian Andersen Storytelling Center in NY and the founder of The Center for Engaged Storytelling (new). Learn more about Laura here.

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