Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Mathematics homeworkImage via Wikipedia

My youngest started first grade last week, and we are now getting to experience that parent-child bonding opportunity called homework. When my daughter was in elementary school, I dreaded helping her with homework. There was never enough time, and she battled with me whenever I tried to correct her work. After working a long day, I prayed she'd finished her homework in after school care so I didn't have to try to squeeze a homework fight into an already tight dinner and bedtime routine. I breathed a big sigh of relief when she got to middle school and no longer needed homework supervision.

Because I am no longer working full time, I'm home after school and available for homework help. So far, first grade homework has been pretty painless. My son seems to like homework, although sometimes it is difficult to get him to focus. Until today he's been doing his homework at the kitchen table, but today I got the big computer desk unpacked and organized enough to use, so he's sitting at the next workstation working on math. It's nice to have him so close.

I'm still getting used to this new lifestyle. I never thought I would appreciate cooking and cleaning, but I'm finding doing mom stuff very satisfying. I find more zen moments in washing dishes and folding laundry than I did sitting in an office banging on a keyboard. I feel more alive hearing about a day at school than I did rushing from meeting to meeting. I am more grateful for having 5 minutes to sit on the couch with my son and listen to him read than I ever was for my paycheck.

My family made some big sacrifices when we left New Jersey for the wilds of Upstate New York. We have to live with less, and do so in a smaller home. But there is truth to the old adage that money can't buy happiness. We may not have much, but we have time for each other. Homework is much more fun this way.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Yogini vs. the Spiders

The True North Yoga studio is in the community room of a church that's been around for over a century. It's a great old building, with a stone foundation and a special energy from well-established sacred space, but it also had a few years of accumulated dust in the corners. Occassionally nobody will come for a scheduled class, so I've been using that time to clean.

One of my favorite things about the space is a wall of big windows. Since I've been burning candles and incense regularly, I have to clean the windows to combat the buildup of soot. One quiet day I grabbed the Windex and some paper towels and started to shine the glass, inside and out. I got rid of the old cobwebs and dead bugs and dirt. Pane by pane, the windows got clean.

When I opened up for my first class the next morning, the bright sunlight was streaming through the newly cleaned windows. The light made patterns on the floor and sparkled off a jumble of spider webs in one window. Wait, hadn't I just gotten rid of those? A tiny Adirondack spider had been very busy overnight. After escorting the spider outside, I grabbed the broom and took down the web. My windows were spotless again - for the moment.

It turns out the spiders were not going to be evicted without a fight. The next day I found more webs. When I swept the vestibule, there were other spiders that had to be encouraged to move on. I have nothing against spiders, in fact I love spiders for their appetite for the nasty bugs, but the webs make the space look dirty. I have tried hard to be gentle as I show them the door, practicing ahimsa, or non-violence, while I clean. Adirondack spiders, I've found, are just stubborn.

Spider relocation and web removal have become part of my weekly routine. Round after round of showing the spiders the door hasn't helped much. I might get a rest in winter, but I think, when the bell rings, it will be a draw.
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Friday, September 11, 2009

Being Present

Students in Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana (High...Image via Wikipedia

I'm one of those people who multi-tasks. When my hands are set to one job, my mind gets busy on other things. Back when I was an accountant (last month) I would routinely put numbers into spreadsheets while listening to an audiobook, occasionally adding something to my shopping list. I was never totally focused on anything, and I didn't need to be to get everything done.

It took me years of yoga classes before I stopped multi-tasking on my mat. My body would be in an asana, but my mind would be critiquing my position or checking out the lady next to me or working on some problem. I'd be trying to figure out how to get my kids to the places they needed to be later or worrying about what time my husband would be home for dinner.

My breakthrough finally came at a time when stress had driven me into a deep depression and, after not having time for yoga, I returned to my practice seeking some relief from the stress. Desperate to escape my life for awhile, I started paying more attention when my teacher told me to quiet my mind. My mind still chatters every now and then, but even just moments of stillness have made a huge difference in my stress level.

When I started teaching yoga, my mind started chattering again. When I practiced on my own, I went over the poses in my head, memorizing how to instruct them. When I took a class, I was more focused on learning from the teacher's example, listening for nice phrases and good instructions to mimic when I taught. My practice fell apart, because I wasn't doing yoga for myself anymore. After awhile, teaching came easier and I found my way back to my own practice.

Lately I have noticed that, while teaching, I have to stay present to what I am doing with the class. As long as I am totally focused, the class flows effortlessly. It's as if some higher power is speaking through me, and I am just delivering his message. If my mind wanders, I lose my connection with the divine guru and I start to stumble over words, lose track of my lefts and rights, and can't think of what to do next. So I try to stay present. That means no worrying about what the kids are doing, no thinking about the next tweet or Facebook status update, no planning ahead to the next class. Just like I do in my own practice, if my mind starts to chatter, I have to take a deep breath and let it go.

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