Recently, David and I recognized we are “shooting from the hip” in regards to the multitude of projects we need and want to do at the retreat center. Each morning, we take a walk with our steaming cup of coffee to enjoy the grounds and bask in the glory of what we are building here….. only we don’t bask much. Mostly we wince and point out fallen branches that need to be removed, areas that need to be mulched, deteriorating arbors and places where the lights have gone out and need to be rewired. I sigh when I see my bottle garden has withered to look all but forgotten with bottles knocked into ferns from the dogs bounding through them after lizards. Other bottles get filled with algae from rainwater and frogs, even though I’ve tried to cap them off several different ways over the last years. The sun has bleached out the colors of my precious bottles, so they need to be stained and clearly, the overhaul I need to do to recreate a beautiful bottle garden will take many, many hours of work. Sigh.
So, recognizing we have way too much to do for two people to handle, and way too little time to devote to the business we love, and our scattered approach to fixing only what we run into first each day is a mistake, we made a to-do list and vowed we would work only from this list directly, so as not to get distracted from what we agree are the highest priority jobs. We also have to stop getting all enthused and excited by new ideas, when there is so much grunt work demanding our energy. New projects are fun. Re-doing old projects is a drag. But the key to not getting buried by our own creation is to keep pace with the workload – or at least to try, and this means we have to stop adding unnecessary tasks to our list.
The list we made is four pages long, beginning with the most pressing and important projects (like finishing off the parking lot and cutting away a huge fallen tree branch behind the yoga center) to the projects that we really should do (re-mulch the garden and repaint the labyrinth) to those we want to do (close in the mudroom for storage and put a new pathway in by the yoga center), to those that are pretty much a wish list for dreamers. (Build a neat Zen tea house overlooking the creak behind the yoga center.)
The problem is, we don’t stick to the list. In fact, we can’t get to the list because every day, something new happens that requires our attention. Someone drives into the fence so it needs to be repaired. The rain plummets an area and we find we have a leak in the roof. The water filter stops working. The air conditioner breaks and David has to put in a new one. The door to the chicken house falls apart and the watering system breaks so I have to hand water the birds every day until . . . . Etc. etc. etc.
As soon as we made the list and made a pact to discipline ourselves to stick to the plan, a storm rolled in. The pelting wind and rain blew down one of our huge almond trees in the garden. This 18 foot blooming tree just toppled over onto the bridge. So engineer boy David tied the trunk to his truck to haul the tree upright, and staked the base hoping to give the tree a chance to re-root. The next day, another windstorm came with more rain. This time the tree topped the other direction, shading the blooming plants beyond the garden wall and starving them from the sun while pulling more root from the ground. We couldn’t get to attending to the tree for several days due to other obligations. On the first day off, David tried tying the tree up again. More torrential rain came, as is customary in August in Florida, and of course the tree acted like a weeble that wobbles and doesn’t quite fall down, leaning over and pulling even more roots from the ground again, careening to the bridge and taking out a few more hanging air plants and a Buddha stationed there for inspiration. Now, I also have to worry about what people think as they visit the garden to meditate or relax, only to be faced with this eyesore issue of a downed tree.
I am sorry to see the tree struggling. I have pruned and nurtured this tree for four years. What began as an unruly small bush has been painstakingly groomed into this lovely smelling, wonderful shade tree by our Heart Chakra, matching 5 others situated to give balance to the garden. But now the weak roots make the tree dangerous and unstable so saving it is not an option. Instead of handling anything on “our very important list”, David spent the weekend cutting down the tree, digging out the roots, then purchasing and staining wood to build an arbor in its place to protect the plants underneath, fill in the gap where the tree was, and provide ambiance and shade at that particular meditation bench.
New projects are always lovely and welcome, and frankly, it will be fun to do some redesigning in this area as the light and moisture shifts due to changes above. Always fun to make artistic choices in the garden and see something new emerge and bloom. But another weekend got eaten away by a project we didn’t expect, which seems to happen over and over and over, so we never get to the pressing list.
People assume my job here is teaching yoga. Honestly, teaching yoga is the easiest thing I do work-wise, and only a fraction of what is required as the owner and director of a Yoga Retreat Center. I spend time on bookkeeping and management, grounds maintenance, designing and keeping up on 5 websites, scheduling and staffing, studying and developing new programs, and shopping to keep the yoga center stocked with toilet paper and tea. These things don’t even make the list but they are pressing too.
I am not complaining. I’ve made the conscientious decision to devote the last years of a lifetime of teaching and small business management to this remarkable project of building a place for people to learn, reground themselves, and find solace in a world that is too busy, too stressful and too diminishing of the spirit. Building a retreat center and teaching authentic yoga feels like right livelihood for someone my age who has seen a lot, experienced a lot, and done a great deal of living. I want to contribute a bit of wisdom to others before retiring from service to society and yoga is a remarkable platform to reach out to others and to make a difference. Helping individuals to be happier, balanced and more fulfilled ripples out to impact society in a positive way too. If you believe all things are truly connected (and I do), you also believe small shifts and contributions do make a difference in the greater collective.
So it is time to practice what I preach and apply a bit of non-attachment to the situation. Yes there is a lot to do, and not enough time to do it. Yes, we make plans to knock things off our list, but life keeps throwing us curve balls. Yes, I get tired, and annoyed, and some days I swear the harder I work, the less gets accomplished. But yoga teaches me acceptance and surrender to the things you have no control over (like excessive rain) and to spend time being grateful for what is good rather than overly focused on what is not. No one has forced me to build a retreat center. This was a choice. There are easier ways to spend your midlife for sure; easier lifestyles to pursue- probably better investments to assure a secure future. Most people my age are slowing down or retiring. Many forfeit the struggle of building something and invite ease into their existence due to risk factors and thinking time is running out. These are years to live a little and enjoy much earned leisure. But there is a reason I’m here. My spirit calls for work that is real, and I can’t forget how important it is to be engaged in life, busy with something that counts. I have to catch myself when I feel envious that others seem to have a calmer and cushier life at my age, and remind myself that having a purpose that is bigger than self-perseverance or self-interest is vital to feeling happy, at least for me. So, while the work is endless, it won’t be an issue if I find joy in the effort.
Sunday night, as we took stock of what was accomplished this weekend, David and I expressed frustration that the unexpected disaster of a fallen tree ate away another weekend that we really wanted to allocate to other jobs. He hoped to at least finish this one project, but more rain stopped him from staining and completing the new arbor and getting it in the ground so he could plant new vines, so this chore will spill over into next week’s evenings, meaning the things he planned to do after work this week will be backed up as well. Our list is as big as ever. But the tree didn’t take out the bridge when falling. No one got hurt when the tree toppled. Removing the tree does pave the way for something new and lovely in that place. Most importantly, the tree provides us both with the opportunity and the choice to decide how to react. We can embrace a negative response to what happened, complain and feel life sucks, or employ emotional discipline and not over react. We can’t use this unexpected problem as an opportunity to play a victim of circumstances and act all put out by our personal struggles or we can just handle what comes our way with grace and an understanding that there is a lesson here to learn. Perhaps we need a reminder to revisit and strengthen the inner spirit and to use the tools of yoga to endure, accept, and find beauty in life’s every struggle, big or small.
We still need to keep the list to prioritize and be organized. Eventually, we will need to address the problem of an overfull list if we really can’t knock off the important projects one way or another ourselves. In the struggle to find the time and strength to attend to the never ending list lies important life lessons; opportunities to gain insight on who we are and why we make the choices we make. We may not have wanted the rain to come and didn’t ever expect the tree to topple, but we must take ownership of the workload we have invited into our existence. After all, we planting this tree. In Florida. Where it rains. We thought creating a garden would enhance our life and the lives of others and proceeded eagerly to that end. We worked hard and took risks to become the caretakers of a retreat center.
In the end, we must remember that dozens and dozens of small decisions we make every day join together to make the foundation of our existence. Accepting this, we need to tend to the gardens we, ourselves, planted.