‘Have you had a nice break?’ is a common question from my students when classes begin again in September. Luckily no one asked me, because I would’ve said: ‘I’ve had one of the most challenging times in my life and I’m on my knees – so the answer is NO!‘ The Summer did at least provide me with a good opportunity to test what yoga has done for me in my forty odd years of practice. I was tested in my ability to be resilient, to endure, to be patient, tolerant, accepting, kind, determined and strong.
The reasons for taking on my summer challenge were as follows: I was fed up of being held to ransom by Npower, and sitting at my computer mid-winter in my Granny’s fur coat and fingerless gloves. Because it was like Siberia at the top of my house in winter – especially with a south westerly wind blowing through the gaps around the windows. So after fifteen years of discomfort, I finally arrived at the decision to insulate the walls and ceilings at the top of the house. All insulation, followed by re-plastering and re-decorating, would have to be done from the inside, because the rooms are in the roof. But I’d be doing my bit for the environment, I told myself, and I’d be practising ahimsa (a little less violence towards the planet.)
So as soon as my classes finished in July, everything was moved from the top floor down – mostly into the back of the yoga room. While we were at it, I thought we’d better re-wire as well. Then the the joiners piped up “You don’t want these skirting boards do you ?” (having already ripped half of them off.) Then it was “you don’t really want these carpets do you?” (having effectively destroyed them with a thick layer of dust and rubble.) The top of the house therefore became a building site and the job kept getting bigger.
I’d planned to put a shower room up there but in order to create it, a ‘partition’ wall had to be removed. The wall turned out to have a damn, great truss in it. This was the first major hitch. New drawings were hastily prepared which led to an unplanned (and not exactly needed) fifth loo in the house. I had other difficult days, for example when neither the electrician, nor tiler, nor joiner could agree on where the hole in the wall for the extractor fan should be. It was moved back and forth, and back and forth, until the electrician had the final say. He moved it back to where he’d put in it in the first place – even though he’d put a light in its way.
My days were spent making cups of tea, fielding questions, making endless decisions, getting yet more paint and almost daily trips to the tip. (The guys at the Penny Pot Lane tip are friends now.) The lack of private space, peace and quiet was difficult for me – there were even a couple of occasions when I was asked questions through the door whilst sitting on the loo. I soon realised the only way I was going to cope would be with a 6.00am start to the day – getting on the yoga mat and off it again before the guys arrived, which was any time between 7.45 and 9.15am.
In amongst the chaos, I was trying to run my business and a few hitches arose there too – such as over-booking one of my classes. Then just when I thought I couldn’t cope with another thing, water started pouring through the ceiling of my temporary office and onto my computer desk. It transpired that the plumber had hammered a nail through a central heating pipe he’d just installed. The ceiling of the most recently decorated room in the house was thus ruined. I had an important meeting in my ‘office’ that afternoon. My visitor was no doubt bemused by the sight of a baby bath, pudding basins, washing up bowls et al, spread out around the room to catch the drips. Some receptacles were on my desk, others were precariously perched on top of the piles of files spread out all over the bed.
In effect I was the project manager of the job and I learned a lot. It’s inevitable in a big house renovation project that unforeseen problems will arise. As I said at the start of my blog, it was an opportunity to test my ability to retain certain qualities in the face of challenge. On the whole I think I did well. For example, I didn’t blow my top with the plumber regarding the leak. I told him we all make mistakes sometimes and that I had no doubt about his skills as a plumber. So I managed to be tolerant and kind. (However I did curse out loud to myself and moaned to friends that ‘I’d never be able to recreate that perfect paint colour‘).
The project was a test of my endurance and strength – there were many days when there was no respite – on my feet all day, constantly being asked questions, so much to sort out, I couldn’t even leave the house. I needed resilience and acceptance when plans had to change – not necessarily for the better. I needed patience when we ran out of paint, tiles, wallpaper, thus prolonging the job. And the most difficult challenge was dealing with the time constraint – all the stuff in the back of the yoga room needed to go back upstairs before the September start of classes. At one point I was so stressed about this, that unable to sleep, I went for a walk round Harrogate – delivering letters at 4 o’clock in the morning. Having so much to manage on my own started to take its toll. I became exhausted and grumpy, and began to fantasise about selling up, giving up yoga teaching and going to live as a hermit somewhere. No one else quite had my sense of urgency, but my determination to meet the deadline brought it all together in time in the end.
If you’re not a long standing yoga practitioner, you may have thought that you’d get a more flexible body and the ability to chill out from practising yoga, but not a lot else. In fact, if we get on the yoga mat every day, day after day, year after year, the effects are much more profound. Being steadfast about doing yoga practice helps bring a steadfast quality into daily life. The body becomes stronger and more enduring. Meditation brings the ability to pause, to witness oneself and gain insight into personal process. So that when for example, unexpected problems occur in the midst of a house renovation project, there’s less tendency to react in a knee jerk way (angry/blaming) and much more of a tendency to collaborate and just get on with finding solutions. Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche puts it nicely here:
‘Meditation – is not just for relaxation; it’s primary purpose is to develop the capacity to respond skilfully and gracefully to life’s difficulties as well as its joys.’