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Hanna: A Zen Holiday

11/30/11 7:55AM By Cheryl Hanna
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(Host) The holiday season can be a particularly crazy one. Commentator and Vermont Law school professor Cheryl Hanna has some thoughts on the madness and what to do about it.

(Hanna) My life is mad - crazy mad - like that Peter Greenway's film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Except in my world, the remake would be called, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and their Mother.

We work, we partner, we care for others, and, once in a blue moon, we steal some time for ourselves, because, after all, most of our time is owned by everyone else.
And it's trying to do so much at once without significant damage that makes modern life so comically tragic.

Just take our role as parent. My mothering memoir would be nothing like Amy Chua's The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she boasts of her uber-parenting skills - no TV, no play dates, and no drama. My memoir would most likely be called, "The Whimpering Cries of the Sloth Mother." But who am I kidding: I'll never be able to steal enough time to write it.

Recently, I did steal three days to go on a retreat. I found myself in something called "yoga dance" with 75 other women. Loud bongo drums played as the instructor had us throw our stress into the earth and then reach up to the heavens to pull down our peace. And we did this over and over again, down with stress, up with peace, working ourselves into a yoga-dance frenzy until it occurred to me that - really - this was yet another perfectly mad moment.

I had fallen victim to what I now call the Zen Myth. In the 1980's Naomi Wolfe wrote a book called the Beauty Myth in which she argued that modern culture had imposed an unattainable standard of beauty on women in response to their increasing social power.

I think the Zen Myth works the same way: As our lives grow crazier, there's a corresponding culture telling us that all would be well if we could just breathe and meditate, and downward dog. Last year, Americans spent more than $4 billon dollars on yoga classes alone.

Now, don't get me wrong. My yoga class is worth every penny. But the problem with the Zen Myth is that, like the Beauty Myth, it's just not obtainable. All the inner peace in the world won't make the day longer. It won't make two family incomes less necessary, it won't provide paid maternity leave or reliable day care for our aging parents, and it won't cease the competition to raise above average children.
And after we spend so much time cooking and partnering and caretaking and saluting the sun, there's hardly any time left to lobby our employers for more family friendly policies or our elected representatives for raising the child care deduction.

I think the Zen Myth pulls too much of our energy inward, trying to change ourselves, instead of outward, trying to change the world.

So this holiday season, my new mantra will be that we are fine. It's the world that's gone crazy. Yes, I'll do my breathing exercises, but I'll also steal a few moments to cook up some ideas on how to make my time with loved ones more meaningful and all our lives a little saner.


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