Why I moved to New York City. It’s probably not what you think!

It was exactly two years ago today that I first had the teeny tiniest thought that I would be moving to New York City.

It was June 2015 and my friend Sarah and I were in New York on tour, staying in an airbnb downtown.

And as things would have it, my future fate rested on one simple decision.

“Do you want to come with me to my Being Selfish salon tonight?” Sarah asked me. Sarah’s husband’s friend, Matthew, had agreed to host a book salon at his home in Harlem.

“I really don’t,” I told her. I was exhausted and still integrating lots of recent changes in my life. All I wanted to do was stay in and pull the covers over my head. Being at a stranger’s house with people I did not know did not sound appealing.

“But how about this,” I said. “I’ll travel with you on the subway, and then find a coffeeshop or someplace to hang out until you are done.”

So let’s get this straight: while I really enjoyed being in New York with Sarah, I considered myself a country girl. My idea of heaven is sitting on the earth, hands in the dirt in a huge garden surrounded by vast expanses of nature and silence. True, I was born in Hong Kong and also love big cities, but I could never imagine actually living in one.

But then this happened.

We took the C train uptown to 125th and St. Nicholas, then walked the few blocks to Matthew’s house. The directions said: first stoop on the left. As we climbed the steps to the brownstone house I regretted coming. But I decided to make the best of it and waited while Sarah rang the buzzer.

My introduction to Matthew went something like this: “Hi, I’m HeatherAsh and I need a place to hide.”

“Great! I have the perfect place. Just let me know when you want me to take you there.”

Okay, maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad. A perfect place to hide? I’m in. (Can you tell I’m an introvert?!?)

When the first guest rang the bell Sarah answered the door while Matthew brought me downstairs to his basement.

It was the perfect pixie hidey-hole, complete with a couch that I spent the next two hours sleeping on and a real human skull on a back shelf that I’ll tell you about another day. (Oooh, that is a good story.)

As I walked back upstairs after everyone left I blurted out loud, “I could totally live here!”

Because it felt like home.

That moment on the stairs kept bringing me back to the City over the next two years. In my subsequent visits to New York I kept having that sense of familiar comfort. Whether I was hanging out in Harlem, visiting my friend Lynne near Union Square, or drinking in the beauty of Woodstock two hours north of the city I felt safe, held, and nourished.

And while my brain kept saying “It’s the city you can’t live there!” my body was feeling the deep grounding strength of the bedrock and the magic that draws so many people here.


My relationship with the land here became even more intimate last summer when I spent five very memorable days sitting on the earth in Union Square meditating each morning from 4 to 5 am. Read more about that adventure:

Why I’m getting up at 4 am every morning for 41 days

Sometime last Fall I went to a park and Harlem and laid myself – heart down, arms open – on an outcropping of grey mica-flecked schist rock. “Mother,” I whispered to the stone, “if you want me to come live here make the path easy.” I took a piece of the glittering rock with me and kept it on my altar in my bedroom in Austin.

This Spring I visited with the intent to see if I really could live in NYC. I said okay New York City, give me your worst, let’s see if I can do this.

Be careful what you ask for.

I took the train from Newark to Penn Station right before, surprise!, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It took me a while to figure out why there were so many young, intoxicated people wearing green at 11 am in the morning. I’m not sure why drunkness, loud screaming, and St. Patrick’s day all go together, but it was a mobbed scene of loud bedlam. Yikes! I literally fled the subway and texted my lunch date that I was walking rather then taking the subway of inebriated chaos.

I then proceeded to determinedly drag my super-heavy suitcase a mile and 1/2 through snowy sidewalks and slushy streets.

I arrived triumphant, with a smile on my face. “I can do this, I could live here!!!” I thought, “Thanks New York for showing me my own resilience and strength.” I felt I had passed an internal test.

And then one day a couple of months ago I knew. It was time. After 12 years I was ready to leave my familiar Texas land and tribe.

On Monday, May 15th my mother, sister, and I joined a broker in seeking out the best new home space. I fell in love with the first and the fourth apartments we viewed; Tuesday, May 16th I picked my favorite and submitted my application, and on Wednesday May 17th I had a beautiful studio apartment in a brownstone on the upper west side of Harlem. Boom!


And that apartment is exactly one block over from where I first stood on a stairwell two years ago and surprised myself by saying, “I could totally live here.”

Down the street, on the same block, is a public thirty-year old garden with huge trees, a pond, compost, vegetables, flowers, and a cat colony. I now have the key so I can hang out there anytime and put my hands in the dirt. Two huge tomato plants my friend T dug out of our garden in Austin now live there, a reminder from home. I live 12 blocks from Central Park, a short walk to the Hudson River and Columbia University, and ½ hour by subway to downtown. It is unreal in so many ways still – a few days ago I look a bus to visit the Egyptian section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Whoa. So much is still to be discovered.

It is a joy to live alone again, surrounded by my books, orchids, and abundance of altars. While I’ll still be on the road two or more weeks per month, this is sacred space for me to write, reflect, and rejuvenate. I’m also surrounded by friends who are writers, and just learned about one of the best cafe for writer’s in New York City, the Hungarian Pastry shop, which is a 20 minute walk from here. I’m heading there today to explore – closes at 11:30 pm : )

I so love the diversity, creativity, and passion here. The energy is a challenge sometimes, and it is also perfect for my intent to write three books and a PhD dissertation in the next two years.

So much gratitude to Christy and T for all the help with moving: packing, driving my stuff from Austin to New York City, schlepping things up four flights of stairs, putting together Ikea furniture, helping me settle in… true family!

And any of you former or current New Yorkers feel free to share great places to visit.

With love from Harlem, on the island of Manhattan, in the city of New York, New York….

Learn more about the Humans of New York on this revealing, raw, gorgeous facebook page:


Here’s a couple of videos friends sent me as a welcome to the City; followed by pics of my apartment and my nearby garden!




Grace Jones: stretching the apple


15 thoughts on “Why I moved to New York City. It’s probably not what you think!

  1. Dear sweet mentor & friend,

    Beautifully written, as always <3
    What in inspirational story of following our hearts, to where Spirit/Source/Higher Power wants us to be.
    I love that your prayer asked for ease.
    Yes, ease & flow are my desires as well.

    How wonderful that some of the things you thought you were leaving behind, a garden, for example; are within walking distance. Happy new life!!!!!!

  2. Great piece HeatherAsh. Knew you would eventually get here (would have to share in person). It is all good.

    When I left Long Island at 18 to go to college, I “made an agreement” NEVER to return to the east coast. Lived many places. Two south of the Mason Dixon line (it is a Yankee thing).

    Moved back to my childhood home with my mother on Long Island. Stayed 8 years and she passed holding my hand in only the second house she ever lived in just shy of 95.

    Now I live technically in NYC…Queens. Deconstructed myself and now live awake in the NOW. Haven”t a clue what is next. But I do know that I am going to do the hard hat tour with my cousin at Ellis Island and finally visit 9/11.

    You sound happy. Blessings. Hard to believe I met you 16 years ago in Berkeley.

  3. YAY! I am super duper excited for you! Such courage and strength to make such a big change and listen to the deepest part of your heart and intuition. Love to you!
    SHanna Gardner (Los Gatos CA)

  4. Beautiful little sister, wishing you the best. Many hugs Love, Light, & Peace, Helen

  5. Congrats on your move and welcome to NYC.
    Have you been to the Cathedral of St John the Divine at at 112th St? It’s near the Hungarian Tea Shop and has an inspiring sculpture garden. http://www.stjohndivine.org/about/grounds/peace-fountain

    Also, they have an annual summer solstice concert starts at 4:30am (6/22)

    P.S. I work at the Met. Lovely to hear of your visit. So so much more to see here. My office is located between the Egyptian and Euro Treasures Galleries.

  6. I’m so happy for you!!! And, I’m happy to have been the first person you told, except for your mom, in Charleston!

  7. Love your resilience and joy, Hearther Ash. I wish you the nurturing of spirit that you need for the next steps on your awesome journey. Much love to you, Therese p.s Am in final editing of my middle-grade book about adventure in Iraq with Tom O’Hara from the U.S. and Alexander the Great and Mikhail from Baghdad. Exhilarating is the word!

  8. I’m moved by your openness, deep listening and commitment to aligning your body/mind in a deeper truth. A great display of courage, strength and adventure in exploring with fluidity and inspired action! Much love and richness to you!
    Jeanette Gibler (Tucson, az)

  9. Loving it for you. I spent 2 years taking the red eye to New York for Family Constellation training. My favorite time was flying in going to the star bucks near central park and watching the city wake up on Saturday morning. The people were so friendly. Always an adventure. Miss visiting.

  10. Congrats!!!! Thank you for sharing your journey and this inspiring blog. Austin will miss you, but we’ll do our best to keep the torch of love and healing burning. You and I have been on a couple parallel transitions, so I am thrilled to see what this next stage of super cronedom brings to fruition for the both of us. Keep trailblazing, sister. You are loved and cherished. Check out the Cloister Gardens!

  11. Congratulations HeatherAsh. I lived in NYC for 20 years and watched it evolve as a city. Nothing beats going to Chinatown for dinner…then cross Canal and you have cannolis for dessert.
    Blessings to you.

  12. Sending you warm wishes for your new home! It makes me happy to read we live closer, HeatherAsh, so that I can easily visit you one day 🙂 When I first discovered New York City, the thing that struck me the most was the great amount of creative energy everywhere, as though there is a creative vortex in that city. I experienced the same I-am-home feeling in Los Angeles many years ago. May you enjoy all the magic this new world is offering!

  13. Yay!!!! Beautiful. Im so excited for you and for New York. What a great adventure. Thank you for being a living example of saying YES even when it doesn’t make ‘commonsense’.

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