As a graduate student and a perfectionist, I constantly am asking myself, “Is this productive?” Now, as the end of the semester approaches, it’s even harder to answer that question affirmatively if what I’m doing doesn’t directly pertain to my courses, my personal projects, or theatre in general. But I’ve been told by the director of my program that sometimes “getting a latte and taking a long walk just to tell yourself I’m here, I’m working, I’m happy” is the best way to spend your day, I’ve been trying to feel a little less guilty for my “soul” activities.
This week, I have been rewarded for taking this time away from my direct projects to go to church and to practice yoga. I don’t expect or want it to happen every time, but this week, both instances led me back to my theatre/grad school world with new inspiration and some important new discoveries.
On Saturday night, I was feeling pretty good. I’d spent most of the day working hard on my various school projects, especially preparing for this week’s Modern Language Association conference in Milwaukee. Travel preparations were beginning to stress me out. And then I realized that there were a million theatre shows I should be attending, other Toronto theatre contacts that I should be meeting. Instead, I called up a retired lady who lives down the street and asked if I could come to church services with her and her husband. She had mentioned this particular service, an artist-led meditation service called Bread and Honey, on Halloween. I knew I had to go. I have been to Bible studies since I arrived in Toronto but no church services; I seemed to be busy every Sunday morning or early afternoon and trying to coordinate schedules to go with York friends just never seemed to line up. Not to mention that there seem to be no United Methodist churches in the area . . . Odd since I went all the way to Oxford and found one just a few blocks away.
It was great just to be in a church again, a real old Anglican building in the center of Toronto. We walked in the doors and suddenly the hustle and bustle of College and the Spadina streetcar were long forgotten in the quiet, incense-laden chapel. The service gave me time to meditate, to chant Taize hymns I remember from the Rice’s Wednesday night services, and to really take in the collective quiet. I’ve tried meditating at home, but there’s something special about silence in a room full of people, especially after you’ve just heard the Gospel read aloud in an echoing church.
We finished the service and they fed us with the most delicious soup and homemade bread. I ate way too many of my week’s carbs but I couldn’t force myself to care. I felt as if the church was feeding my body as well as my soul. At that point, I thought that the night couldn’t get any better–and then I met another worshipper who happened to be a poet and playwright who worked in the Toronto theatre scene for over 20 years. Suddenly I had an expanded list of plays to read about Canadian drama’s history. Most importantly, I felt validated as a Christian and an artist. I needed nights like this to feed the soul, the part that feeds the rest of my work both academic and creative.
Tonight, I felt myself in a similar spot: I worked most of the day on preparing for the conference and getting the rest of my schedule in order to keep up with school projects, but it didn’t feel like enough. I didn’t know what else I could do to prepare, and yet I didn’t feel ready. So instead of panicking, I made time for yoga. I joined a studio near where I live. It’s small and could just disappear in between the Italian grocery store and the TD bank branch that I also frequent. Some weeks I go and it feels like I’m just going through the motions, either because my allergies keep me from breathing properly or my thoughts keep me from being present.
This week my mind and the yoga class aligned. It could have easily been a disaster. I could have scolded myself more for buying cookies at the Toronto Public Library’s bake sale. I could have beaten myself up for taking extra time to finish The History Boys before tromping through the rain to the studio–instead of going home to rehearse more for my MMLA conference performances. I could have been thrown off by the new teacher and refused to trust her. But I didn’t. I gave in to my intention: to be in the room and to love my body. For once, my body listened and my mind stilled to be fully present with it.
Best of all: the new yoga teacher shared a poem with us at the end of the class. As we lay in the final meditation pose, the words washed over me and inspired me. They seemed to link to my Design class project and my ideas about my own writing process. All the bugs of other thoughts that were invading my mind were swallowed up into the yoga practice and blended into it. I arose with new confidence.
Looking at the next few weeks until the end of term, I don’t know how many more times I’ll be able to make time for my soul without deadlines and term papers drawing me out of the present moment. I do hope that I can continue to see the value in them for the chance connections they create, and for the times when they are just there for my sanity. Amen.