How to Find Peace in a Big City

As my summer in New York City starts to wind down, I’ve found myself spending a good amount of time reflecting on the experiences that I’ve had over the past two months. After spending three weeks studying child development in Denmark last June, I didn’t think anything could live up to last summer…until I got here and realized that this summer was going to be equally as important and exciting for me.

The NYU dorm that I’m living in is located in an awesome area, but I share a room without a door, which basically means I’m sleeping in the kitchen/common space. Because I’m usually out and about, it hasn’t been a huge issue, but it’s hard to ever feel entirely relaxed and at home in the apartment, let alone to find a time or place to be alone in the city! As someone who needs a decent amount of time to introspect, I was initially overwhelmed simply by the idea of New York City. I pictured the entire city as one big Time Square, which I’m told is a common amateur assumption to make. In fact, New York was the last place on my list of places to look for summer internships. (Here’s the part where I tell you that I have truthfully have grown to love this city)

While I like that there’s always something to do here, it makes it even harder to slow down, which is something that I already struggle to do. When I find myself over-planning and keeping constantly busy, it usually means that I’m avoiding being alone…which in turn usually means that being alone is exactly what I need. Sometimes we’re afraid that if we slow down, we’ll give all of our feelings and fears time to catch up to us, but to be honest, sometimes that’s just what needs to happen – we need to acknowledge those emotions before we can move past them.

Silence is a source of great strength.

Carving out little pockets of time and space for silence in a brand-new, big city is definitely a trick. It takes lots of exploring and trial and error, but I’ve learned that it is possible to find places that allow me to feel at peace, despite the constant surrounding commotion. One of my favorite places to escape to (and probably the most expected) is Central Park. Admittedly, I never realized how huge the park was until I got here and have been pleasantly surprised by how much space there is to wander. Sure, sometimes I sit down to journal and someone sits down next to me and complains on the phone about a botched sandwich order for a good ten minutes (true story) or the bike taxi men might get a little obnoxious asking if I want to pay $3/minute for a ride, but I have still managed to find my “places” there.

On my days off, I’ve explored the free galleries in Chelsea, which are usually pretty quiet and are full of wonderful, inspiring, thought-provoking art. There’s something special about being alone in a room with a piece of art. I’ve also taken advantage of free music in Washington Square Park – not silent, but another form of art that encourages reflection.

Additionally, I’m a strong believer in the idea that whenever you’re in a new place for an extended period of time, it’s important to have a go-to coffee shop. Maybe this is because I’m an obsessive coffee consumer, but I’d like to think that it’s a pretty universal rule that coffee shop vibes are generally good vibes. Although I love trying new places, I’m a creature of habit and tend to find one place and stick with it – which I did this summer. I still can’t get over how friendly the staff at this coffee shop in particular are and how good the treats and coffee are. I’ve also had a few spontaneous, enjoyable conversations with other coffee shop goers, which is always nice. One woman pointed out the Ohio sticker on my computer and we chatted about our shared roots. Another guy noticed my headphones and ironically enough, was writing a marketing pitch about them, so we talked about that. Random people gave me the “can you watch my stuff while I use the bathroom?” look and I don’t know why, but there is a sense of trust in the place that is hard to find elsewhere in the city. Simple conversations and experiences like this bring me peace.

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it

Another important part of finding peace in the city comes from knowing when to remove yourself completely. One weekend, I was invited to go to the beach with family friends and was able to find peace swimming in the ocean. Another night, a friend and I had dinner in another quieter borough, just to disconnect from the heart of the city for a while.

It all comes down to knowing yourself and being realistic about what you need. If you seek it, you can find peace anywhere, and sometimes making time for silence allows peace to actually find you – even in the most chaotic of places.

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