Fifteen days ago at the close of business for fiscal year 2013, my small team of federal co-workers gathered around a conference table to receive our instructions for an “orderly shutdown” should there be a lapse in funding starting the next day. Always an optimist, I believed we would be back in the conference room the following morning to mark our accomplishments in 2013 and to establish goals and a shared vision for fiscal year 2014, a sort of New Year’s celebration. My more seasoned co-worker had already booked his tee-time for the next morning. Again, an optimist and an early-riser, I crawled into bed around 9:30 that night and set my alarm as usual for the morning walk to Kelly’s 6:15 yoga class at the H Street Studio. Around 2:30, my eyes popped open and I checked OPM’s website. “Due to a lapse in appropriations . . . .” Until the alarm went off a couple of hours later, I stared at the ceiling in disbelief, my heart racing a bit. When time came, I made my way to yoga class, certain this nonsense would only last a day or two.
I was introduced to yoga by a mentor while in law school, and found myself choosing the practice more often when I moved to DC to begin my legal career with the government. For some years now, the practice teaches me anew about foundations, dedication, exploration, and trust. The practice also teaches me about kindness, attention, patience, and joy. Indeed, there is a joy that is pigeon pose! And so, during this truly strange time of the government shutdown, I have continued my practice of early morning class. As I reflect in these moments awaiting the final votes in Congress to reopen our federal government, I understand a bit more why I continue to come to my early morning practice and simply notice how the practice has benefitted me these last fifteen days. My furlough has been the process of noticing, accepting, and being more mindful of the present moment.
On that first day of the government shutdown, I met other furloughed friends for breakfast after my morning practice. After we shared our meal, we stared at each other in a sort of disbelief and lingered a little too long at our table. What were we supposed to do? How long would this go on? Should we start making lists of tasks in case we would be furloughed tomorrow or the rest of the week? Or, would it be better to let go of the list and see the shutdown as an unexpected gift to just enjoy time without schedules and deadlines? Honestly, we just wanted to go back to work. As we left the café, I listened to a quiet calling within and started to walk. I had nowhere to be, just the present moment. Before I made it home that day, I walked almost ten miles, through DC neighborhoods I hadn’t seen in months, through Rock Creek Park, along the National Mall, around the U.S. Capitol. The best part of my walk was that I had no idea what time I started out or what time I returned home.
I noticed that without my usual fury, I slowly cleaned out most of the closets, drawers, and boxes in my house. Then, I happily peaked out the window to see passers-by pick up bundles of fabric, lamps, various trinkets, and a bookcase I sat on the sidewalk. There was joy and discovery in the process, not the stress of finishing by the end of the day because there is another list of things to accomplish tomorrow. Not to mention the freedom from clutter. When I noted the time in the day, there always seemed to be a bit more than I expected.
In these fifteen days, I noted the change from summer to autumn in a way that would not be possible from my office window. The furlough began on a hot summer-like day when I walked in shorts and a tee shirt. I spent time in my backyard repotting plants, planting new ones, and brushing up bags of leaves. One morning, honeybees joined me for breakfast and I watched them slurp honey off of my spoon. During the four or five days of rain, I took long walks in my silly green rain boots and talked with my elderly neighbors in the backyard about their upcoming fish fry. The other day, I spread another blanket across my bed because the weather is changing again in a day or so. I may have noticed all of these things, but my practice and unexpected time taught me how to slow down and notice more fully what each of these little gifts can offer.
My yoga practice enabled me to “just be” during the government shutdown. I could reflect and try to draft a list of all the things I did, the projects I completed, new ones I noted in the process. But the more lasting blessing is that I have noted the benefits of my practice. Noticed ways to let go and the abundance of benefits and ease that come with being present, attentive, and accepting of what the day holds. Noticed ways that I could experience my frustrations with the government shut down and be reflective about my own relationships with others. My furlough helped me notice and give words to why I love my morning practice. Each morning begins with new ways to observe and be. My morning practice marks shifts and experiences that I might not notice, but for the time to practice on my mat.
Update: Since I finished these reflections yesterday, our federal government reopened and my team greeted each other with smiles and an embrace. As we shared our furlough experiences, I smiled and swiveled joyfully in my office chair. This morning’s yoga practice reminded me about gratitude. Especially today, I am grateful to be a public servant and to be back at work with my co-workers.
Angie C., a yogi and (now formerly) furloughed federal employee