THE WINDOW TO MY SOUL
My grandfather, my most inspirational mentor, used to say, ‘’work hard and then you can play hard.’’ He was a master at his own life’s philosophy and I admired him unconditionally. For me, his words were gold, so I would spend concentrated hours clearing out unwanted toys, games and trinkets from my bedroom, rearranging the posters on my walls and making space. Space was important to me. It offered me room to feel and ‘’just be.’’ Then, once there was nothing more to get rid of or rearrange, I would spend endless idle hours riding my bike, hands in the air, feeling the wind whipping through my hair and the thrill of being free.
As a college student, I studied hard, making the library my second home, rewriting my notes, highlighting the already highlighted and beginning my research papers the moment the assignment slipped from the professor’s tongue. I liked to be ahead of the game. Then, and only then, could I enjoy the freedom of being lazy on the beach with friends and going out till all hours of the night.
As an adult, I became an expert at making lists of ‘’things to do.’’ The sheer pleasure of eliminating one thing after another with an old fashion pencil classified me as an archaic purest. Unlike most of my friends who needed 3 or 4 days to settle into vacation mode, I was fully present the moment I stepped foot on the plane; only because I had just crossed off my last ‘’thing to do.’’ It was rare that I would find myself in the trawls of pure uninhibited pleasure before my list was completed because the pain of lingering monsters of ‘’things to do’’ would haunt me and fill that space of freedom.
But life goes on and as we grow older life can become just ‘’one big thing to do.’’ There was a husband, a baby, a house to clean, endless piles of laundry to wash, bills to be paid, a yoga center to manage, classes to be taught and then just more laundry and more bills and then 2 cats and then more cleaning and finally my list ‘’to do’’ became taller and larger than my 5’2’’ frame. I was submerged in ‘’doing’’ and had so little time to play hard. There was no more balance; there was no more space, no more freedom to ‘’just be.’’ Life squeezed all the juice out of me and I was nose-diving toward the bottom. No matter how much I meditated nothing could counter balance the imbalance of my ‘’doing’’ except, not doing, but the laundry kept piling up and my anxiety became too much to handle. Burnout and breakdown filled my space. I had hit rock bottom.
I carefully constructed my last ‘’to do’’ list before leaving and crossed off the last item as I boarded the train. Ahead of me, lay 14 days of silence and sitting at a Buddhist meditation centre, nestled somewhere faraway from the piles of laundry and the bills to be paid. It was a strict regime. Awake at 5 am, alternating every hour from seated meditation to walking meditation, with 90 minutes of daily karma yoga, two simple meals and an hour of dharma talks.
Upon my arrival, I was assigned the karma yoga task of cleaning the windows. There were forty of them in total and they were large, very large but as of day one I had already calculated that if I worked quickly I could have them all cleaned by day 10 and then I could have 90 minutes a day to enjoy the rolling emerald hillsides cupped within the jagged snow capped Alps. Freedom! Ahh! By day 8, my right wrist was sore but my mantra in the tune of that old song, ‘’100 bottles of beer on the wall’’ became ‘’just 2 more days to go, 6 windows and 180 minutes before space and freedom could be mine.’’
As calculated, on day 10, I silently handed the head director my bucket, sponge and squeegee. He looked at me with a kind and compassionate smile that most Buddhist have, as he handed me back the bucket and pointed me towards window one. He explained that doing karma yoga wasn’t something to do and check off as a final destination but it was more the art of being fully present within the journey that was pleasurable. I just didn’t get it! They were clean, all 40 of them!
I let go. I didn’t have a choice. I returned to window one and did as he said. I slowed down; I watched I observed, I allowed myself to feel. I allowed my hand to move slowly feeling the sensation of the water trickle down my wrist, the sound of the sponge against the glass like swishing waves against the shores, and enjoying the idea that there was no where to go, nothing to accomplish and nothing, absolutely nothing, to cross off but ‘’just be’’ fully present in this sacred moment.