This article by Srikumar Rao originally appeared on the Rao Institute.
I remember the very first place of my own I had in the US.
It was a studio on the thirteenth floor of an apartment building on the Southwest corner of 113th street and Broadway. It must have been substantially renovated because I do not recognize it anymore.
On the ground level was a Pizza Parlor called Pizza Town. A slice of pizza cost 35 cents – the same as a NYC subway token. Two slices and a coke cost me a dollar and a nickel and the owner – or manager – would sometimes waive the five cents so I had a meal for a dollar. I am not sure how I would have survived without Pizza Town.
My studio was small. So small that even the rats were square shouldered. A tiny refrigerator came with it and the first time I opened it I heard a whisper and then a lot of scurrying. It was full of cockroaches.
The area was seedy and poorly lit. Bright sodium lighting was two decades away. Muggings were distressingly common. So common that I formulated my own strategy. If I was accosted by someone with a gun, I would hand over everything I had and pray. If I was accosted by someone with a knife I would run like hell. I could really run in those days. I frequently played five straight games of squash without taking a break.
Death Wish, the vigilante movie starring Charles Bronson, was set in that time period and in that geographical region.
So it was a pretty depressing time, right?
I was having the time of my life.
I got to hang out with spiritual luminaries like Ram Dass and Swami Muktananda. Deshung Rinpoche, a senior monk of the Sakya tradition in Tibet, was at Columbia and I spent much time with him. His interpreter became my good friend and squash partner.
Looking back, I can see clearly that the ideas I was exposed to in those days shaped my life in foundational ways.
And the grime and filth and danger? I barely noticed them as I was in America. I had made it there on my own after much striving and the streets of wonder were paved with gold.
And that brings me to a valuable lesson I would like to pass on.
What happens to you matters – but just a little.
The stories you tell yourself about what happens to you, matter a great deal.
Be acutely aware of what these stories are and make sure they serve you well.
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