In Praise of Patient People: Paperwork as a Spiritual Practice

In the process of transitioning from a full-time employed person to a self-employed writer and retired professor, I’ve had to interface with many institutions, and all of them have required paperwork and forms. This isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. There has been paperwork as long as there have been organizations and rules. 

What’s new, perhaps, is the expectation that it should be quick and easy now that it’s electronic. This isn’t always the case.

I’m impressed by the warm humanity people have shown me while slow computers did their things. I got to know them a little, learning that the woman who helped me at the Motor Vehicle Division is a fellow yoga practitioner and that the customer service person at the bank also moved here, like I did, after getting “caught in the vortex’ (the feeling you have to live in T or C after only being here a few hours).

The local enrollment counselor for getting ACA health insurance and the agent on the phone at the healthcare marketplace jointly spent almost two hours with me today resolving tangles in the system that had happened because—and it took some detective work to figure this out—someone who talked with me on the phone two weeks ago made a typo that jammed up my account. Human error. The kind I make every time I type. No one got angry or frustrated. We all kept our senses of humor. The enrollment counselor even helped me with simple things that could have been a hassle, such as the fact that I don’t have a scanner or a copier for submitting various documents and that cell phones don’t have free calls on 800 numbers when you need to make a two-hour phone call and don’t have a landline. The marketplace agent said she wasn’t ending the call with me until the problem was solved, and she didn’t.

People who are “just doing their jobs” are different from people who make their jobs into opportunities to practice kindness, friendliness and patience, opportunities to relate to the actual person they are working with, not just process papers and problems. I have nothing to complain about. I have my New Mexico license and registration; I have a local bank account; I have health insurance. And I have been treated with more than respect, treated with genuine human-to-human presence by everyone, including the helpful man two weeks ago who made the typo. Many factors made my application unusually complicated, and we accomplished important things before his finger made that one unfortunate keystroke.

I’ve read Lewis Richmond’s book Work as a Spiritual Practice so many times I gave it away when I cleaned out my college office. Every lesson in it came back to me today as these two persistent ladies hung in with me through what could have been tedious or maddening. I exited my immersion in bureaucracy energized and positive. It takes people who can turn their work into spiritual practice to have that effect. Thank you.


Image of Files: “Paperwork” by Tom Ventura

Other images, Taos County ditch supervisor and Taos County surveyor, public domain


Grateful for Beauty

The world we see through headlines seems to be falling apart, filled with violence and dysfunction, and ordinary life can be full of petty hassles. I need to get out in the natural world where life is more in balance than in the man-made one, and do it daily. Before the temperature goes over a hundred and after it goes down.

 The same conditions that make June in New Mexico so challenging during the day—no humidity, no clouds, hot winds clearing the sky—make it spectacular after dark. Even just standing in an alley, a short way from the streetlights, I can look up and see not only the bigger, closer stars, but the background billions and billions sparkling like a beach of diamond sand behind them.

 Heat and all, I still run, heading out while the temperature is only in the nineties. As I was about to start a run a few days ago, I encountered a grasshopper longer than my index finger. Yes, it held still and let me measure. Its head was marbled, its body striped and speckled, and it had golden antennae that looked like strands of broom straw. Beautiful, in its own buggy way. Along the trail, pearlescent gray lizards with radiant orange bands on their sides perched on rocks then ran away. Another species displayed glowing blue-green hind legs that appeared lit from within. I think it’s some kind of collared lizard or perhaps a type of earless lizard, but I couldn’t find one quite like it when I searched on web sites. Whatever it’s called, it’s a miracle. So is having vision to see to it and a mind to appreciate it. For all of this, I am grateful.





Southwestern earless lizard photo courtesy of the New Mexico Herpetological Society.

A New Mexico Mystery Review: Song of Lion by Anne HiIlerman

A bomb goes off outside a high school basketball game in Shiprock, and the “wrong” man dies…

Set partly in New Mexico, partly in Arizona, and entirely within the Navajo Nation, this is Anne Hillerman’s best yet. Her strengths are character, setting, and relationships, as well as a solid plot. A good mystery is not only a case to be solved, but a story about people the reader cares about. Hillerman integrates police work with family and friendships, Navajo culture, and a sense of the sacred.

Bernadette Manuelito is a strong and engaging central character, with Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn in supporting roles. It was wonderful to read a few chapters in Leaphorn’s point of view, and I admired how the author tuned into his thinking and personality, with explorations of his inner life as well as his process as he solves a puzzle. The new characters are unique and original personalities, including, as Anne Hillerman always does so well, genuine, natural humor. The bombing victim’s story is sad and true to life, making this one of the most emotionally moving mysteries I’ve read, and the man who was the real target of the attempt is developed with depth and complexity.

The various Native cultures linked to the Grand Canyon region have meaningful moments in the telling of the story, and the canyon itself comes to life as a setting. The red herrings are believable and the final solution to the mystery makes sense without a single forced bend in the trail to get there.

This is the twenty-first book in the series. A reader could begin here and not be lost, but I recommend reading all of them, the three by Anne Hillerman and the ones by her father Tony Hillerman that preceded them. When I moved, I gave away most of my paperback mysteries, but I kept these.

Click here for my interview with Anne Hillerman, done when Rock with Wings came out. It’s interesting to look back on her early plans for this book two years ago, and her thoughts on writing Joe Leaphorn’s point of view.


I’m reading a pre-publication review copy of a book on fascial anatomy and updated, science-based stretching techniques for athletes. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to review it here, but I am glad this publisher still wants a former professor as a reviewer.) Part of the pleasure in reading it today is that I could keep going for two and half hours, fascinated and intellectually refreshed. While I was working, that much unbroken time to read a book in my field was rare. Days were chopped up by e-mails and appointments and of course classes. Time was always tailgating me with papers to grade and endless pop-up tasks to organize.

 After reading for as long as I felt like reading today, I applied concepts from the book to my yoga practice, intrigued by the way the authors’ research lines up with things I’ve heard some of my teachers say and that I have discovered through exploration. The undulating wave of the breath moves through each stretch. You should experience no pain in stretching. Don’t exit a stretch by tightening the region of the body you just lengthened. Effective stretching releases connective tissue, fascia, not just muscles.

 I have all the time I need to study the charts and try out the techniques before integrating new skills into my yoga teaching—when I get around to setting up a teaching schedule. I’ll finish the review before it’s due. This spaciousness plus engagement is something I hadn’t experienced at work for years, probably not since the advent of email. In my windowless office, I used to read books like this in ten- and fifteen-minute spurts when I could grab the time, or read a page while the computer woke up. Today I read in sunlight with a view of flowering trees. Uninterrupted.