The universe is always listening, and responds accordingly

Published 9:00 am Saturday, December 9, 2017

By Erin Smith

The universe has a wicked sense of humor. She sends us messages in interesting ways. Newton got that apple. Moses got a burning bush. I got a smoking piece of metal.

Let me explain. I was running on my treadmill last week when it quit abruptly. I restarted. Same thing. The third time, it gave up the ghost, belching noxious smoke and powering down for the last time.

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I stormed into the kitchen, “Well, the treadmill just broke! How will I run this winter?”

I was taking it quite personally.

Izzie squinched her eyes and wrinkled her nose, assuming the face all teenagers use when their parents are being especially dense.

“Mommy, you just said the other day you wanted to get off the life treadmill,” she said, using air quotes around the last two words.

David chimed in. “You always say we should be careful what we wish for because the universe is always listening.”

Blurg. They’re right. I pretty much manifested the treadmill’s demise. The universe is always listening. I had wished specifically to get off life’s treadmill, to forge a path with a slower pace. The broken treadmill was just another divine bread crumb in a trail I had been overlooking.

I hated that treadmill. I like running, but I hate running to nowhere. No matter how fast or hard you run, you never actually move forward. And you cannot slow down; if you stand still for even a moment you get swept off. Treadmills were used in 19th Century English prisons. Prisoners would push a horizontal bar jutting out of a vertical shaft for four or more hours a day. The shaft, on an axis, would spin to supplement the nearby windmill. The prison guards noticed the prisoners were too exhausted to fight or cause trouble, so they then started forcing the prisoners to walk for up to 10 hours a day as a simply punitive measure. The treadmill became nothing more than a punishing torture device.

Yeah. I get that. The treadmill certainly feels punishing to me. For the last decade, cold or rainy weather meant 30 minutes of treadmill time. I would watch TV or listen to books on tape, anything to distract myself from the mind-numbing monotony of being stuck on the perpetually looping belt machine. And all I have to show for it is some logged miles and burned calories? Is real life about beating your best time? Does deep fulfillment lie in chasing some Fitbit number?

One year when I was teaching at Trapp Elementary, my classroom adopted a hamster named Henry. Henry was a mean little critter, always ready to nip someone with his sharp teeth, a truly terrible pet for a kindergarten class. But when I think about it, I empathize with poor Henry. How tedious and monotonous his poor life must have felt. How Henry must have longed for an opportunity to escape that rodent conveyor belt and chart his own life’s course.

Humans were designed biomechanically to move forward. Our limbs work in such a way as to propel us headlong into the Great Yet to Come. Our minds are intended to constantly grow too. New experiences challenge our neurons, forcing us to problem-solve and learn from mistakes. We were not designed to take steps to nowhere. The repetitive movements of the treadmill cause our minds to move on autopilot too, until the entire experience is an exercise in simply checking out of our own existence, either too bored or too uncomfortable with it all. We become zombies, shuffling ever forward but with no purpose or spark. Zombies do not grow or learn or comprehend or move on.

I don’t want to sleepwalk (or run). A path should take you someplace. I want a trail with surprising twists and turns, an opportunity to adjust my pace based on intuition and energy rather than some mocking digital number. I don’t need to know where the path ultimately leads, but I want to at least move forward. Life should be more about the journey and less about the destination. A meaningful path will have some scary and risky moments. Obstacles will test us, challenge our minds and hearts and physical bodies. A truly connected life is one with no preset direction, only your best guess as to the next right step.

I want a deliberate path. I don’t want to stay on that mindless loop for one more moment. We dragged the treadmill to the curb for the garbage collector. In its place I unrolled a yoga mat. I added a bolster, some blocks, a tiny Ganesha statue to oversee my new sacred space.

The next day was cold and rainy. I stood on my mat and brought my hands together in prayer pose, my heart beating in time with the pitter-patter of the rain. I had no plan for my yoga practice, but mindful breathing revealed it in time. I smiled as I watched the sky weep. I was stuck indoors, but I was finally free.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films.Send her a shout out at or play along at