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We all make mistakes for which we should all be forgiven,” our yoga teacher announces as class begins. “This morning, I am choosing to forgive the mistake they apparently made out there.” He smiles, then motions with his chin toward the window where, across the street, two men in matching highlighter-yellow jackets are using a jackhammer to break up a new concrete sidewalk poured only a few weeks ago. The workers had become familiar to us, part of a construction crew working on a new development across from our yoga studio, their noise competing with the instructions of our sensei every Monday morning for the past year. Sometimes after class, my yogamates and I had lingered outside to watch the workers’ progress as the three-story edifice of fake brick rose up, towering over houses to the west, many of which were built more than 100 years ago. The shiny new structure—a symbol of progress, city leaders say—now casts permanent shade over the private backyards of its much smaller neighbors, their lush gardens now bathed in darkness even on the brightest of days. The workers disappeared weeks ago, so we’d assumed the new building was complete. We were wrong.

Class begins. I try to follow the example set by our instructor, try to forgive the constant staccato of the jackhammer as I’m downward dogging, try to concentrate on my breathing instead of the insistent drone of the equipment outside, a thousand angry bees threatening to descend. Our instructor announces we’re going to try a pose we haven’t done for a while, a pose I dearly love and only just realized I’ve sorely missed: The Wheel of Life. It’s a pose that makes me giddy. I don’t know why; I only know that it fills me with such joy when we attempt it, folding our legs just so, reaching our arms this way and that until, as I imagine it, we all look like human swastikas from above—the original, Native American version, not the symbol plagiarized by the Nazis. Every time we’ve done the pose in the past, I feel laughter begin deep within. I try to fight it, my stomach spasming against my mat on the hard, wooden floor. Usually, I can contain the jubilant feeling, but just barely, my yoga friends nearest me casting curious looks my way.

But this time, there is no laughter. Not a hint of it. No bliss bubbling up, no reason to turn off some internal spigot. My cheek to the floor, my arms and legs this way and that, I feel nothing but the reluctant stretching of muscles that have little more than a memory of this pose. And then, the jackhammer stops. At first, the room is filled with the echo of its insistent pulsing. After a moment, though, there is nothing but the silence that somehow sounds louder to me than the violent clatter it has replaced.

My body reacts before my mind does. I feel my arms and legs relax, my torso melting into the mat, the beginning of an involuntary smile on my face. In the loud stillness of the room, I start to feel it: a bubble of joy in the pit of my stomach, stretching wide, rising up, filling my chest, shaking my shoulders, rushing through my throat and spilling into and out of my mouth before I can stop it. The giggle turns into a guffaw and then a full-throated laugh that bounces off the mirrored wall toward which my face is turned, my cheek now suctioned to the wooden floor, my eyes closed as I revel in a feeling of pure elation.

The sound of the jackhammer suddenly returns, taking my happiness along with it. As instructed, we slowly untangle our limbs from the Wheel, push our way up from the floor. I hear it now, am fully conscious of the noise outside, feel my shoulders tense to the clamorous drumming. My breath quickens, becoming more and more shallow as I feel the smile disappear from my face. We end class as we always do, on our backs, eyes closed, trying not to think, trying to ignore the noise, trying only to relax into the moment. But this time, I keep my eyes open, alert, mindful of the discord, fully aware of its impact. And I wonder: How long have I allowed the constant din in the background of my life to play on and on, distracting me from finding joy without my even knowing it?

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

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