I cleaned the yoga studio this week during the afternoon, when people were around, instead of at night, all alone, like I usually do. It was rough for me.
I had to get over myself again and again because my head wouldn’t shut up about how far I’ve fallen because I’m the cleaning help. I wanted everyone to know that this manual labor is a temporary thing for me and that for decades I paid other people to clean my house.
I hate that I’m so full of it. I wrote in my book about the beauty of samu, or manual labor, an opportunity to quiet, deepen and energize our minds. In most Zen monasteries, mornings are spent sweeping, dusting, scrubbing and gardening. For thousands of years, writes Roshi Philip Kapleau in The Three Pillars of Zen, “manual labor has been an essential ingredient of Zen discipline.”
But I was worried about what these people hanging around the yoga studio might think. Did they know that I’ve been a powerful, well-compensated magazine editor? Did they know how long I’ve spent carefully crafting my image? Did they know who I am?
Lord, I hate that phrase. I hate it as much as the reverse epithet that was too often hurled at me when I was a child: Who do you think you are?
I sprayed the bouncy studio floor with special solution and pushed the mop across it. I cleaned the toilets and emptied the trash, happy with the music that Nikki, the studio owner, put on the speakers. She played songs I would play, by Jack Johnson and Bob Marley. Bob sang, “Don’t worry about a thing,” which is my cell phone ring tone.
I didn’t dance like I do when no one’s looking, of course, but the music and the good company helped my mood.
I chatted with the owners before I left and felt blessed that I now have a neighborhood studio and a schedule that allows me the time to help out with it. I’m grateful that this new studio gives me the opportunity to leave behind the mirrors that were central to the teaching at my last studio.
Stepping away from those mirrors is a metaphor for where I am in life.
When I first stepped in front of the Corepower Yoga studio mirrors a decade ago, I was struggling to lose baby weight. I was 35 pounds and a couple sizes larger than I am now—normal by sane people’s standards—and I could barely stand to look at myself. The image I saw in those mirrors bordered on obese.
As I so often do, I took on losing that weight with a single-force dedication and zeal that overwhelmed me. I came to love those mirrors because their harsh reflections kept me focused—and returning to the studio for hot, sweaty classes day after day.
I relied on the mirrors to perfect my alignment and scrutinize my body’s fat content as I twisted and sweated away all the weight I had called baby weight and then more. And more. And a little bit more.
Instead of mirrors, my new studio has huge windows that look out over the Flatirons, the miraculous slabs of red rock that dominate Boulder’s scenic landscape. The windows connect us to the weather and the sky while we practice tree and pigeon poses.
Without mirrors, I’m learning to rely on the feeling in my body, rather than an image, to check my form.
I think I’m on the right path. One day—maybe even one day soon—I might know who I am.