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The first thing you can’t help but notice about the Pond is that it’s literally right next to Grand Army Plaza and Fifth Avenue. Yes, the most well-known avenue in all of New York City. Upon entering the Pond and its surrounding areas, the stark contrast is felt immediately. The chaotic nature of one of the busiest areas in the city suddenly turns into a contemplative paradise. Since the Pond is set below street level, you may miss it altogether unless you peer down over the ledge at Grand Army Plaza. This was our story, spending years in New York City while being woefully unaware that The Pond ever existed. But for Midtowners, The Pond has provided a vital reprieve for years from the hustle and bustle of city life. For us, it wasn’t so much about discovering the Pond itself as it was about stumbling upon the hidden gems that exist within its surrounding areas. The types of places you’d have to be looking for to actually find. The Pond itself is somewhat well-known, but these picturesque getaways only the most informed locals would know about. But before we present these lifelines of natural serenity to you, some logistical notes on getting to the Pond. Easiest access comes via the N-R-W line at the 59th Street station. Within mere steps of getting off the train, you’re at the Pond. But if you don't live near one of these trains, there are other options. Most of lower-mid Manhattan is within a 15 minute bike ride or scooter ride from the Pond. We’ve mentioned this with other getaways, but it’s worth investing into your own e-bike or electric scooter if you plan on making frequent trips to The Pond. You can also walk over from the West Side at Columbus Circle, which has access to many of the major subway lines.

D.U.G.B.O.

Okay, so this isn’t the official name of this location. We coined the term, because this hidden treasure doesn’t actually have a name. As implied, it means directly under the Gapstow Bridge overpass. Literally off-the-beaten-path, there are multiple spots to unwind within DUGBO. As you walk alongside the east side of The Pond, you’ll notice narrow dirt pathways that lead to alcoves under the bridge. Our favorite alcove is actually when you walk across the bridge and turn directly right after passing through. There’s a beautiful meadow under a magnificent oak tree. Bring a blanket to lay out on and glisten under the sun for the ultimate contemplative experience.

LOCATION

GAPSTOW BRIDGE OVERLOOK

This next spot rivals the Hernshed Rocks for our favorite contemplative spot in all of New York City. The Gastow Bridge Overlook, which is also not the official name of this location, is not even listed on Google Maps. But we’re here to give you the inside scoop. As one of the highest elevation points in the city, this beautiful lookout has sweeping views of the Gapstow Bridge, the city skyline and all the surrounding greenery. In the fall, with the changing of leaves, it’s quite simply heavenly. To get there, look out for a hill on your right as you enter The Pond area and pass by the Lombard Lamp. There’s a narrow dirt path that leads up to the Overlook. Bring your blanket or simply lay out on the natural rock outcroppings. From our view, there are only two drawbacks to the Gapstow Bridge Overlook. One, depending on the time of day there can be a bunch of passerby traffic who come by to see the view. And secondly, depending on how clean city-dwellers want to be, unfortunately garbage gets left behind here. This can cause your occasional rat to scurry back and forth. But generally speaking, both of these things aren’t frequent issues. Go and enjoy this glorious paradise for yourself.

LOCATION

HALLETT NATURE SANCTUARY

Technically not a part of The Pond, the Hallett Nature Sanctuary sits directly west to the body of water. The Hallett most recently underwent a major restoration project that was completed in 2016 and is the least-known of the three woodland areas in Central Park. Compared to the North Woods and the Ramble, the Hallett Nature Sanctuary literally feels like it’s right off the street. This can leave you with a sense of disbelief upon your first visit, trading the chaos of the city for a walk in the woods in mere minutes. Because it’s such an unknown part of Central Park, it’s easy to miss the entrance points to the Hallett. So once you travel over the Gapstow Bridge, keep an eye out on your left for signs to the Hallett. Upon entering, there are winding trails that lead to multiple lookouts. At the top, a 360 degree tree hugging bench provides the opportunity to sit and rest.

LOCATION

SILENCE & SOLITUDE

If you prefer a more active contemplative experience, there is a beautiful walkway with multiple alcoves that border along the south end of the Pond. This path will take you through the left hand side of the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. Far from the busy nature of locations like the Great Lawn and Sheep’s Meadow, the common thread between all of our getaways is that they are off-the-beaten-path and provide you a contemplative reprieve from the energetic nature of the city. A report from Yale University recently revealed, “the studies point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.” It’s clear from the science that getting at least two hours each week in green spaces is essential for our well-being. The goal then, would be to start developing a lifestyle of reflection and contemplation as you regularly visit these serene backdrops. Which goes to say, long before these scientific discoveries were made, we see Jesus adopting these rhythms in ancient Israel, often retreating into nature. In what would later be called silence and solitude, this was just one of the compelling rhythms we see built into his way of life. For Jesus, what happened in the wilderness became the fuel for him to go back out and be equipped to engage the culture around him. We’d argue that this has never been more relevant than in modern-day times. When we’re out in nature and captivated by its beauty, it often produces a wonder and heightened awareness of the world around us. How could such a beautiful place exist? That wonder can lead to an awareness of the One who created all the transcendent beauty that surrounds us. And here’s the transformative part — we can allow that awareness to drive us into connection with God. For Jesus, this is what getting away was all about. Being out in nature was about who he connected with whilst he was out there. When we encounter God in these environments of refreshment, we are able to acquire the strength and perspective we need to go back out into the world. We need this to love other people well. To create the change we long to see. To become the truest and best version of ourselves. These rhythms are essential for our well-being. As we see from the science, they are built into the very fabric of our existence. We benefit spiritually, mentally and physically from these environments of refreshment. For much of human history, these were our natural habitats. You could argue that the construction of modern city life is unnatural in this sense, as the constant busyness and distraction prevents us from getting perspective and moments of reflection. So especially living in New York City, modeling this “in-and-out lifestyle” will help us thrive amidst the weariness of 24/7 connectedness and hustle culture. We’ll leave you with a few practical tips before you wander into the Pond, which include:

1) Pick a time & place

There's so many different options within the area surrounding the Pond, so consider where you will regularly go and when you will do that. Is it before work in the morning? Is it midday if your schedule is flexible? Which part of the area is most accessible to you? Being intentional about this will be key towards starting a rhythm.

2) Start small & build

Success is in simply showing up, nothing more. If you’re making the effort to get away regularly, you’ve already hit the goal. Also, habits are formed by starting small. Rather than saying we’re going to visit the Pond for 90 minutes every morning, try retreating for 30 minutes at least 2-3 times a week. If you get in a rhythm doing that, maybe increase that to an hour in the Pond for 2-3 times a week. And so forth.

3) Put your phone on silent

We’ve said this everywhere, but consider keeping your smartphone on silent. Why? Because to be connected while you’re attempting to disconnect would be counterproductive. Resist the urge to pull it out and over time, build up your tolerance.

4) Consider your wiring

Because the area surrounding the Pond is so diverse, it provides a perfect environment to immerse in, no matter your wiring. There is no “right” way to do this. If you like to be active, consider engaging your body by walking through the Pond. Take in all the sights and sounds as you navigate the trail.

5) Bring a blanket

Particularly for DUGBO, a blanket is a great accessory to make the most of your time at The Pond.

6) Bring a journal

One of the foundational aspects of learning to be present with yourself is to take a temperature on your thought-life. Fight against the urge to stuff away your thoughts by actively processing them through this form of feeling prayer. Journaling helps you identify how you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. Name the emotions coming up - envy, greed, sadness, grief, etc. Like Jesus, our emotions are a place to meet with God.

7) Contemplate scripture

This ancient practice, called Lectio Divina, involves picking a small passage to meditate on. Even if you haven’t read scripture in ages, this could be as small as a Psalm, a Proverb or the words of Jesus in the gospels. Let’s say a verse comes up about humility or loving your neighbor, we then pray for a greater understanding of how to model that in our lives. See what comes to mind. You can pick up a copy of the new Passion Translation here.

8) Practice gratitude

Gratitude is hard for us. Sometimes it feels like we suffer from chronic short-term memory loss, only able to see what we don't have or how our circumstances are less than ideal. And while there might be truth in that, this perspective causes us to miss the precious things of life that are sitting right in front of us each and every day. Take some time to write down prayers of gratitude, even for the smallest of things.

9) Be silent

Hallett and DUGBO provide the perfect environments for silence. Which goes to say, consider the concept of a “silent retreat”. Embrace the sounds around you. The birds. The breeze. And start becoming more aware of yourself.

Here’s our invitation: start today. The Pond is the closest getaway in Central Park, in the sense you can walk there in a matter of moments from midtown. It’s sitting there waiting to give you a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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