I'm on vacation this week. An open-ended vacation, as I've now decided to call it, the kind where there are no plans other than the plan to not wake up early and never, ever go to work. This could either be the worst or best kind, but since I am horrible at planning exciting adventures for myself, this is usually the best I can do with those magical days I get paid to stay home.
For me, the funny thing about a week off with no plans is the disorienting effect of reclaiming 11 lost hours a day. Those hours of commuting and lunch breaking and working are suddenly free, open, empty mugs. My natural inclination is to fill them up! Do exciting things. Travel somewhere. Or in the very least, work like mad doing things at home.
But for the sake of that ongoing pursuit of stillness I talked about months ago, I suppose the greatest way to use them up is to take them as they come, find ways to insert a little meaning into them, get reacquainted with my hometown, and try things that I otherwise never have time or energy to do.
Hence, I took a community yoga class.
If you know me, then you know why this is hilarious and potentially embarrassing. Unflexible, uncoordinated, ungraceful me, contorting my body in odd positions is bound to be an interesting event. But, with a borrowed mat and the realization that the older I get, the more comfortable I am with making a public fool of myself, I decided to give it a shot.
"I don't want you to look at your left or your right," the instructor warned. "Go your own pace, and don't worry if you can't do all the poses. This is for you."
Good advice, considering we were eight women, already self-conscious enough in messy hair and workout clothes, standing in a downtown Mt. Dora cobblestone courtyard and about to perform for anyone who happened to walk or drive by. What would ordinarily be a sweltering summer evening actually turned out quite nice -- low hanging clouds, full of unreleasing rain, and a gentle breeze off the lake. A good thing too, because I never dreamed stretching and breathing would be such a workout.
There's an understandable skepticism about this kind of thing among some Christians... the ties to Eastern religion, the idea of disciplining the body as a means to meditation and spiritual practice. But honestly, it's hard to feel spiritual when every fiber of muscle tissue in your arms is screaming at you on your eighth downward dog pose, or when you're trying to make a tree pose that doesn't resemble a sapling in a hurricane.
Somewhere midway through the hour, I felt myself breathing deeper. By the end, lying on my mat under the gray sky, though my thoughts were still more along the lines of "Thank God that's over," at least I was quieted enough to feel the pulse of blood through my veins and my aching muscles. It wasn't some weird New Agey spiritual bliss, but it was a glimpse of that elusive stillness, just enough to ease the craving.
The mindset of our culture is to fill every moment, always be doing, and working hard. A strong work ethic is important, but I wonder if there's also a suspicion ingrained in our souls that if we are not constantly battling, studying, watching and tense, that the prowling lion of evil might have its way in us. Madeleine L'Engle, in Walking on Water, discussed the virtue of time for simply being:
"I sit on my favourite rock, looking over the brook, to take time away from busyness, time to be. I’ve long since stopped feeling guilty about taking being time; it’s something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don’t take enough of it.
Perhaps this is the missing thing, the time to lie still and feel the blood rush, to watch the clouds race, to know that your heart still beats and be grateful for it. Perhaps even, it is time to hear the laughter of your Maker in the breeze.