My Moment of Zen by Christina Knowles

MeditationThose of you who are Jon Stewart fans, like I am, know where this line comes from. At the end of every show, Jon would show a clip of something unbelievable, ridiculous, or ironic that reveals a not-so-surprising truth, at least it shouldn’t be surprising. Well, my personal moment of Zen came a few weeks ago when I had a heart attack at the end of a long day of stress, work, dehydration, and lack of sleep—during the summer break when I should have been having fun and relaxing. It’s ironic because I’m the youngest in my family, the one who eats organic, does yoga, and exercises every day, and the only one who has had a heart attack. It was not-so-surprising because I was a workaholic perfectionist. I say “was” because this epiphany-causing event has changed my focus from work to living my life.

With that said, this is not an instant fix for my workaholism. Like any addiction, working too much and trying to make everything perfect are things that are not easy to give up. Having started the school year, I am bombarded with opportunities and requests to work around the clock that have to be ignored. This is not easy for someone like me. I have a list of things to do that seem urgent and could never be accomplished in the work-day, but I’m trying. I have to constantly put my list out of my mind and do something purposefully peaceful and get to a place where I feel comfortable doing what I want to do with my free at-home time.

According to my list, this weekend, I have to create leveled reading groups for two classes, grade sample writing, create some unit modules for my website, look over and record pre-tests, and fill out some teacher evaluation goals and self-evaluation stuff. All of these things seem urgent. Ideally they would be done by Monday, but I worked very hard all week, and I need to relax and have fun, as prescribed by my doctor—I’m not kidding. Besides that, if I die next week, will I rather have had fun with my husband, or have gotten my “goals” written for the state evaluation, which are not really my goals, but what I think they want to hear anyway? I know what I want to do today and it’s not that.

In a few minutes, I’m going to meet some friends in nature to meditate and drink coffee—not at the same time, of course. Then I’m going to hang out with my husband and go see an art/photography opening by a friend of his. Later, we will do something with our dog. It’s his birthday month, so we’re celebrating our little guy. Maybe I’ll do a little reading later, and if I feel like it, I might do one thing for school—probably create those leveled reading groups. Then I will go back to focusing on my actual life until Monday.

I have to keep reminding myself that work doesn’t own me; it rents me from 7 am to 3 pm and occasional evenings. It’s just what I do when I’m not home, living my real life. I love it, but it is not who I am; it is does not define me. Who I am is here with my friends and family and experiencing the life I want to live. That is my Zen, and I will go on reminding myself of this until it comes naturally. Peace.—Christina Knowles

Photo snagged from gabby.tv

Balance? Yeah, Right by Christina Knowles

Snagged from  Jacinta-Yoga
Snagged from Jacinta-Yoga

 

I’ve always believed people should live balanced lives: you know, mind, body, spirit. I learned this was important through life-long yoga practice, reading philosophy, and talking to wise ones who successfully practiced this path to peace and contentment. However, I’ve NEVER been able to achieve it–not even for one whole week. I live a life of never-ending to-do lists, schedules, alarms, and obligations. I even make to-do lists and schedules to make sure I schedule time to relax, but no matter how hard I try, something important is always neglected.

I am naturally motivated to improve my mind. For this I need no prompting. I don’t have to try very hard to make time to learn something new, read, or write. I once spent an entire summer studying philosophy and theology. Because I am a teacher and a writer, it is easy to justify time spent on these activities. But I recognize that there is more to life than my intellectual pursuits. The first thing that drops off my list is usually physical exercise.

I wasn’t always a sedentary person. When I was younger, I was an enthusiastic runner, I took Karate, yoga, and figure skating lessons. I used to dance. I admit that I never liked team sports or traditional working out at the gym. Actually, I loathe it. But running and skating cleared my mind, yoga relaxed me, Karate–well, that kind of sucked, but I liked the idea of being able to defend myself. However, after four knee surgeries, my doctor told me that I was not allowed to run, skate, or do karate. Ever. To avoid major knee reconstruction (which would involve breaking my legs and sitting in a wheel chair for almost a year), I was told to take up cycling. The doctor told me that even swimming would be too hard on my knees, and walking should be kept to a normal strolling pace. So I bought an exercise bike and have been pretty good about riding it on a regular basis. The only thing that motivates me to do this is that I literally cannot walk if I stop for any length of time. I also still practice yoga, but not with any consistency. Needless to say, my daily 20-30 minutes on my exercise bike is not really meeting my aerobic needs.

As for the “spirit,” I tried meditating and yoga, which does relax my mind and body. I also nurture my inner self by spending time with people I care about and by pursuing my artistic interests. I think I need to spend time outside in nature as well, maybe even be a little adventurous. I need to spend quality time with my husband, family, and friends. I need to just do nothing sometimes. I long to do nothing, but I am really NOT good at it.

So, as usual, summer vacation from teaching was the time when I planned to regroup and get my life back in balance, as if it ever were. I immediately made preposterously unrealistic goals, to-do lists, and schedules to accomplish everything to attain this balance. Of course, I thought, it would be balanced because I made sure to include something from every area on which I wanted to work. It turned out to be the opposite of balance. Before I knew it, I signed up for three courses to help me with a new class I’ll be teaching in the fall, I started writing a new book, and I’m helping some students create an e-book short story anthology. I have about 15 books on my must-read list. I’m riding my bike (a real one) daily, spending time outside walking my dog and gardening, fitting in time with friends and family, staying up really late with my husband, trying to fit in a few hours of writing every day, re-organizing and cleaning my house, and basically going crazy trying to keep up. And there is never time to do nothing. This is worse than working full-time. Well, almost.

My husband tells me that I need to prioritize, that I can’t do it all. But isn’t that the point of balance? Doing it all–at least some of everything? Making sure that I meet the needs of all the different aspects of my being? When I try to prioritize, everything seems like a priority.  I don’t get this balance thing. I think I am incapable of it. Or perhaps I just need a better schedule. I’d better get right on that.–Christina Knowles

 

 

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