I grew up in Colorado. My dad was an avid rock climber, mountaineer, and outdoor enthusiast. He was even a rock climbing instructor with the Colorado Mountain Club, which tells you a little something about his athleticism. Needless to say, we spent many weekends of my childhood camping and hiking in Colorado’s numerous state and national parks, surrounded by the Rocky mountains. Nature is a way for all of us to tap into our spirit. Many people crave the sound of crashing waves at a beach. For me, the thin air at the top of a mountain is what gives me the most spiritual joy.
Climbing a mountain takes effort and requires risk. But once you reach the top, your view is expansive and seemingly unlimited. At the peak you have more space around you, as the Earth bows down from under your feet. Up there you have a clearer perspective: not only do you gain a 360 degree view around the horizon, but also a nearly 360 degree view longitudinally as well. With all that open space around your body, you can see for miles and feel totally free.
Mountain climbing is a perfect metaphor for a yoga and meditation practice: it might be a challenging path to the peak, but the journey is well worth the freedom and expanded perception you gain
I went to college in New York state, and during those four years would regularly travel back to Colorado to visit family, and my home state. Honestly, I would miss both equally. There was always a particular feeling I would get when I was back in Colorado, which took me a few years to define – it was a combination of inspiration mixed with yearning. For once you’ve climbed a mountain, and your view expands to see what is on the other side of the peak, your mind starts to question, “What’s on the other side of that peak over there?” And the desire naturally arises to keep moving, to keep exploring and discovering.
When I first moved to New York City and people found out I grew up in Colorado, the reaction was almost universal: “Colorado is so beautiful; why did you move here?” I always found the question quite funny, because in my mind, I could find lots of parallels between New York City and Colorado mountains. Yes, of course New York City is more crowded with people, and the trees and animals are rather limited. But all the tall buildings are very much like mountains. When you are at the top of a tall building, you gain an expansive view. When you are at the bottom, the city skyline blocks your view of the horizon just as much as a giant mountain peak rising in front of you. The congested streets of New York City can make it feel like a struggle to get from point A to point B, kind of like scrambling through a boulder field. And at least in the early 90’s when I first moved here, the city also felt a little wild and dangerous.
I found many of the skills I learned from camping helped me tremendously as a financially struggling young artist in a big city. For example, I already had learned how to live with only the bare essentials (food, water, shelter) and knew it was possible to live peacefully without non-essentials (entertainment, eating out, fancy clothes). I was conditioned for long hikes with hills (New York City is a walking city, with many stairs to climb). And I knew to always carry clothing with me for both hot and cold, as the weather can change quickly. (Who knows what temperature that subway car will be? And hot or cold, it will be at least 20 degrees different from the subway platform, where you will wait for at least 20 minutes…)
Most mountains have names, which give them personalities. Here in New York City, many of our buildings also have names and personalities, too: the Puck building, the Grace building, the Empire State building, the Dakota, to name a few. Our city landscape is not as old as the Rocky Mountains, but the history and the stories are just as colorful and diverse. You can discover something new here, and learn something new about yourself, every day. The buildings both shelter and whisper secrets to us at the same time.
Walk down any large avenue in Manhattan, and you’ll hear a variety of languages and accents from all over the USA and the world, and smell the food from the restaurants that offer a memory of home for all those people. So many different cultures, histories and personalities – the people have always been what makes New York City so interesting. Although many people are born and raised here, New York City is one of those places that also attracts short-term and long-term visitors. This is a place people come to reinvent themselves.
And no matter why you come here, or what your interests are, with so many people in this vastly diverse place, you will find a group of people whose interests match your own, and you will find your community. Large cities have their own type of inhospitable wilderness. And yet, you can always find your home here in New York, if you want. Perhaps the Colorado landscape is more beautiful than a city landscape, but a lot of beauty can be found in the people of New York.
Even after living in New York City for 15 years, every time I left my apartment I had a daily excitement for what would be my newest discovery or adventure. But at some point New York City developed and changed, and the regularity of daily life transformed my excitement into comfort and predictability. It was at that point I started to travel a lot. Each new place I went had unfamiliar things to discover, rekindling that feeling of inspiration mixed with yearning. Of course, I would always return home at some point, and with somewhat fresh eyes, I would notice different aspects to living in New York City I had forgotten while I was gone: Oh, I forgot, the city is so noisy. Oh, I forgot, the city is so dirty. Oh, I forgot, the city has such great food and restaurants. Oh, I forgot, we have amazing museums. Oh, I forgot, the city moves so fast. Oh, I forgot, trends begin here. Oh, I forgot, this is where I live… this place where they make movies, and dreams are both made and broken.
New York City has now been my home for 30 years. And even though my relationship with the city has matured as I’ve matured, sometimes I wonder how I could live without a view of mountains to nourish me. Whenever I question why I still live here, I just use a little creativity to see through the concrete and steel of the buildings to recognize that the spirit of a skyscraper matches the spirit of a mountain. I have come to learn that for both objects and people, the spirit is more essential than the outer covering.
Metaphor is the language of the spirit. What’s in your heart will always be with you, no matter your surroundings.
About the Author
Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, is an E-RYT 500 certified Yoga instructor of close to 25 years, while during a large portion of those years also being a professional aerial acrobatics performer. Her most influential Yoga teachers include Dharma Mittra, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee and Susan Braham.