Can You Identify the World’s Healthiest Country?

March 19, 2019

Reading time: Less than 4 minutes 

Through my window today I can see the early red buds of Pin Oaks opening against a background of Federalist Colonial buildings, one of which served as George Washington’s headquarters as he led his defense against the British in 1776. Only a few small clouds linger in the washed-out blue sky, reflecting off the sides of The Dominick–the formerly infamous Trump SoHo—a hideous eyesore . . .
 
It’s 40 degrees outside and I’m looking forward to a day of Rolfing, after which I’ll return home, eat a light salad of butter-leaf lettuce—hopefully with a few pomegranate seeds, pepitas,  and crumbles of feta cheese, and then I might daydream a little about living in Spain, now the healthiest nation in the world, perhaps amidst the orange blossoms of Seville (where I have never been), and study a little before going to bed to wake up for my daily 6 am call with my teacher. 
 
Having moved to New York from San Francisco three and a quarter years ago I only just now feel settled. In studying myself during this transition, I notice that one of the biggest changes I experienced was the existence of seasons. The transition from winter to spring is especially notable. 
 
For me, spring here in New York seems marked by a sense of high-pitched frustration. People appear more prone to pushing you out of their way. The cold is thawing, the sky is clearing, and folks seem to want to get on with life. And yet, it’s still cold. A 40-degree day follows a 70-degree one, so progress is turbulent, frustrated, choppy, jostling, and rough. People are grumpy for having been in the winter for so long. And tired. 
 
But what, I wonder, is it that we all want to get on to, exactly?
 
It’s not a question to be answered. What is it that the oaks budding across my street want to get on to? Or the clouds drifting across the sky? These beings have no answer but their presence, their beauty, and the life they encourage by virtue of their living character. 
 
In his essay, “Here is New York,” E.B. White writes of three kinds of New Yorkers: those who were born here, those who commute here, and those who moved here for some express purpose, the last of whom he writes, make of New York “the city of final destination, the city that is a goal.” It is this city, he writes, that, “accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”
 
I’m here. Spring is coming. I have more friends than I have time to visit, and when we do visit it seems that we are just getting caught up and beginning to relax with each other when all of a sudden it is time to go because we each need to return to our various jobs.
 
But the tree, the cloud and the sky, don’t experience this stop-and-start life. Nature exists with itself seamlessly and naturally, much more like the feeling I have when our small group of five gathers to study Buddhism in the mountains and drives past farms or through a forest for pancakes at a country diner, discussing what it meant when Bodhidharma taught his disciple Huike: “Make your mind Buddha’s Mind. Then you can enter into the way.” 
 
Wanting to get on with spring, I want to get on with life—to make my mind Buddha’s mind. Isn’t this what we all want to do when we meet our friends in the sunshine for brunch, under the maple trees in Prospect Park or the eucalyptus trees in the Presidio, or by the flowering dogwoods in Atlanta? Surely, we want to live, and we do live, and feel this life when it changes from winter into spring, and more when we do so with friends.
 
Following the Romantic tradition, American history is full of naturalist writers: perhaps most famously, Thoreau, who wrote:
 
“Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him . . .”
 
As we pass into spring, isn’t the attention we pay to words — as the nutrients for our relationships — a form of meditation, self-care, or a way to happiness, or whatever it is we wish to achieve with our lives? What, then, makes for the living word, but our presence and attention to spring?