I was shopping at PCC, one of Seattle’s organic natural food stores. Outside stood “The Real Change guy” at his usual post, so called by me because he sells a small newspaper by that name. We know nothing about each other, not even first names, but I have always had pleasant interactions with him.
Real Change was created for the homeless community as an alternate to panhandling. Men and women sell this paper to support themselves and I’ve always admired the ingenuity of this project. I approached The Real Change guy to buy a paper and nodded a greeting, when he said, “How’s retail?” I stopped for an instant trying to comprehend how he could have possibly known this detail of my life. As the wheels glitched in my head he laughed. He’d seen my photo on Facebook, and recognizing me decided to read my article that was with the photo “After 27 Years Teaching Yoga, I Got a Job at the Mall.”
“You got some interesting stuff going on there.”
I fumbled around trying to find two dollars in my bag to buy a paper, but nothing materialized. I apologized and said I’d have to catch him next time but he said, “I have The Square . . . ” So I gave The Real Change guy my debit card and he rang me up.
This Friday, November 27, 2015, will be my one year anniversary at The Big Box, a department store I took a job at in an effort to give myself some perspective after nearly three decades of teaching yoga. I wrote about my decision to find stable employment in “After 27 Years”. I focused on coming to terms with being burned out, and for brevity’s sake consciously left out the financial aspect of what it means to be head of household on a yoga teacher’s income. It seems appropriate to mention a few things here.
It certainly wasn’t easy earning a living the first ten years and I have often joked I lived without furniture. Only it wasn’t a joke. It took a long time to become financially stable, and yet, there came a point when I watched my father’s jaw drop after I told him my income. “You’re kidding?” he said, more a statement than a question. But I wasn’t joking then either. However as the yoga studio model began to fall apart and definition of teacher dramatically change, I flat out became embarrassed to call myself a yoga teacher, and increasingly, hard work and “making it” had little to do with each other. I have made a practice out of reinventing myself and my work. My god, I feel like the Madonna (as in “Material Girl”) of the yoga planet, and if there is a criticism of my teaching I completely own is that it’s constantly changing. But last year I found myself at a juncture that was different from other reincarnations. I was burned out, the golden hand cuffs had turned to tin, and the field had become unrecognizable. So I turned to retail.
It’s been a hell of a year, but I have to be careful thinking it’s over. I recently blogged that I was saying goodbye to a year of crazy, like crazy was somehow over. Ten days later I was in the middle of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday the 13th. Simultaneously, Seattle PD was arresting a man who was attempting to break into my home, while my little cat Mr Man watched from his outdoor chair. I am now keenly aware I have a few days left before this year is over, and am trying not to get my hopes up that it will be uneventful.
Of course, wherever you go, there you are, and the things that make me “me” I haul along in tow whether I’m at the studio or The Box. It’s tempting to do the predictable “dig-me” here and write about how honored and blessed I am for all the things I have learned about myself and humanity through The Big Box experience, but I will simply state this: I am shocked how long I have been willing to stay at a job where I am underemployed and underpaid because I love the thrill of the treasure hunt The Big Box offers. I am in essence constantly shopping on the job, picking up clothing at discounted prices that make my friends swoon. My closet continues to applaud my choice in jobs and is now asking for a baby sister.
My mission this past year was to find out if there is life after burnout. “Is there a way to continue with my passion as a job, or am I past the point of no return?” My recovery at The Big Box Therapeutic Ranch and Spa is having its desired effect and many of the “log jams in my head” have simply vanished because frankly, I am now struggling with The Box. There was a series of events that prompted me to pen the title of an update, “After 27 Weeks of Working at the Mall, the Honeymoon is Over”.
Still, The Box continues to be invaluable because like a restorative practice, you have to unhook the mind from its conundrum via an active practice before attempting to rest, otherwise you lay there, psychically flopping like a fish on the dock, ruminating. I remember my first teacher telling me it was unwise to put a beginner in a restorative pose as they go crazy laying still. I find this to be true, and will add, “letting go” is not a passive process. It’s way more directed than the phrase implies, and we generally need to let go to something else. In a very real way our minds are like stalkers, and stalkers don’t let go of their prey until they find another one equally as interesting. Had I tried to go cold turkey from a very stressful career to frolicking in the fields with Bambi and flowers in my hair, I doubt the placid surroundings would have been enough to hold my attention. I have no doubt it would have actually intensified my struggle, because the struggle had become a habit. It’s best to fight fire with fire. Then de-escalattion is possible.
I am celebrating my first anniversary at The Big Box by picking up a 10-hour shift on Black Friday, and am totally looking forward to the pandemonium of the holidays. Unlike last year, I now have the skills to find the eye of the hurricane, and have even gotten the upper hand on Hal, the anthropomorphic cash register terminal. I have been made a specialist, which means I can override Hal’s programming when I see fit. I am anticipating, in a weird way, a Zen experience this holiday season at the mall.
Since publishing “After 27 Years” and having sufficient targets for my stalker brain to latch on to, I have gone on sabbatical from all teaching and administration of the studio and am in a bit of a free fall, which I’m fine with. Much is still very murky, but a few things have become clear. I want to spend more time writing and am taking steps to support that notion. During the last year I became heavily involved in my partner’s political career and found I like being a 2nd lieutenant to someone else’s commander in support of their dream. I’m also clear I have no idea what form teaching will take in the future, but there will be a form. And, I have decided to let my eyebrows grow in. Funny what is emerging from all this soul searching.
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