Home Improvement, Yoga, and Taharas Hamispacha (Family Purity)

(The picture isn’t of me…I only do yoga at home in private.  Although, I might do it in the wilderness if it was private.  🙂 )

Preparing to move has meant that this summer has involved several small home improvement projects.  On Sunday, I decided it was time to tackle the one that I’d been procrastinating the most on…painting the master bathroom.

Let me just say that I don’t mind painting, but I think bathrooms are the WORST room in a house to have to paint.  I’ll admit, I haven’t yet painted a kitchen, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but in the past year, I have now painted 3 of the 4 bathrooms in our house and this third one is the one I was dreading the most and putting off the longest.  When we moved in, it was clear that a previous owner had tried to remove the textured wallpaper in there.  There were patches of it missing.  It was also clear that they’d considered just painting over it and then decided not to.  One quirk of our home is that the master bathroom is the smallest and most cramped of all the bathrooms as well.

Eventually, we hired someone to try to take down the rest of the wallpaper.  The workman that came spent hours stripping and discovered that the previous owner had actually used drywall mud between the layers of wallpaper!  There was no way to completely rid ourselves of the layers without damaging the walls, but the workman stipped back as far as he could.  For a few weeks, we just lived with the walls looking like something out of the pictures you see of abandoned buildings.  Finally, Sunday, I felt like I had built up enough strength to work on them and we bought primer and paint and I set to work.

I do most of the painting when it needs to be done.  Mr. Safek is better on projects that require strength.  He can pry bolts loose and hammer through things with the best of them.  He can change oils and fluids and filters, install sinks…he’s amazing.  However, his hand is about as steady as his singing voice is on-key, which is to say that painting is not among his talents.  He usually comes in after me to do some rolling, but it’s up to me to do edging and the other tedious, fiddly bits.  Bathrooms also are cramped enough without adding another person.

I started with the primer and a paintbrush.  I found that if I stopped worrying about the outcome of the project or how long it was taking and only focused on the small part I was working on, I no longer felt that same negative feeling about doing it.  My discomfort with having to do this project really was tied to my resistance to it, not the project itself!  I let myself kind of turn the painting into a meditation, focusing on my breath as I painted and occasionally letting my mind wander to think of the family that might buy our home.  I asked Hashem to bless them.  Let them be happy here.  Let them not have to go through fighting the water heater as we did, but instead, let them feel welcome here.

It reminded me of something I’ve begun doing again.  I recently took back up a daily yoga practice.  In particular, I do yin yoga, which means spending a lot of time in a pose, getting really deep into it.  Basically, you get into a really uncomfortable position that stretches you in places that don’t necessarily feel good and then you stay there for 5-10 minutes.  During that time, you try not to distract yourself from the discomfort and focus on your breath.  Very often, I find that the discomfort I’m feeling is my resistance to the pose.  I am often holding myself up out of fear of pain or injury instead of relaxing and letting my body open into the pose.

Which again, as with everything else, brings me back to Judaism.

The places where mitzvos are difficult to keep, I find, are most often the places where I am resisting.  It’s the resistance itself that makes them unpleasant, but just like it can be hard to see that when I’m looking at a project I don’t feel like doing or a yoga pose that I’m wishing was over already, it can be hard to see that the resistance isn’t part of the mitzvah itself, but something else entirely that I’m choosing.

As an example, I have struggled with the laws of family purity (taharas hamispacha) over the years.  In these laws, there is a period of separation between husband and wife that corresponds to her monthly cycle and a week afterwards.  There are also many rules in place to help the couple keep that separation, called harachot.  In effect, this means that for half the month, a married couple doesn’t touch.  No hugging, no kissing, no holding hands.  For me, the actual separation and the details of the laws aren’t so bad, but not being able to hug my husband or enjoy a warm embrace after a hard day?  That can be so hard.  The first time we implemented the rules, I immediately began looking for every loophole.  When we took our break from conversion, they were the first mitzvahs to go.

When we began to observe them again, this time, we put them into place slowly and gradually, like slowly getting into a yoga pose.  I began to poke deeper into why I felt such resistance to them.  What was it about a hug that felt so good after a difficult day?  Was there any other way to get that feeling when I was niddah (in that period of separation)?  Why was I so sad when I couldn’t have that hug?  Did it mean I felt less loved?  As we put the rules back into place, I worked on what was under my discomfort with them instead of just accepting my discomfort as being part of the mitzvah itself.  It helped so much.

And I still wish I could have a hug when I’m niddah, but I know I can make it through by just focusing on what I need to do now rather than being preoccupied with how many days it will be until I can have one or dwelling on the fact that I can’t have one right now.  I’m happy seeing that there are other ways for my husband and I to connect and comfort each other.  I still don’t really like painting bathrooms, but I’m also happy seeing how much better the bathroom looks.

Letting go and relaxing into my life rather than resisting it, thinking I know better than Hashem does how things should go actually makes it all so much less uncomfortable.  I just have to breathe, trust, and let go of trying to force things to stay where I think they should.

The rest is up to Hashem.


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