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Burnout Retreat (*fiction)

By Morgan Dick

Maya couldn’t keep her eyes closed for longer than a second or two before her thoughts began to scratch. Each bar of the tinkling meditation music brought another vision of the accounts she wasn’t auditing, the bills she wasn’t paying, the six-year-old she’d left at home with Nana.

At the front of the room, a blonde woman sat cross-legged facing the group, tattooed arms draped over her knees. This was the firm’s new strategy for preventing mental breakdowns: force its CPAs to attend three-day “burnout retreats.” Unpaid.

“One short breath into the belly, then another up into the chest, then out through the lips,” said the teacher. “In, up, out.”

Maya tried to breathe. She really did. Of the twenty or so participants, she was the only one who couldn’t seem to do it.

“In, up, out.”

There wasn’t anything Maya couldn’t do. She did the work of two accountants, easy, plus all the mothering stuff, so really that was three jobs, three, and she did it with no partner, no one, not unless you counted the guy next door who signed for packages and shovelled the walk and pretended not to notice that one time when he caught her weeping on the stoop.

“In, up, out.”

She maintained a strong investment portfolio and an immaculate house: crumb-free carpets, sheeny countertops, empty sink. She cooked using organic ingredients. She never missed a laundry day. But this—sitting and breathing—was too hard for her?

“In, up, out.”

Maya hated this place. She hated the soft lighting and silver-leafed plants.

“Now, breath of fire, everyone,” said the teacher. “You remember how it goes. We’ll start on the count of—”

“No,” Maya said.

“I’m sorry?”

“No.” The word was candy in Maya’s mouth. How many times had she tasted it in her thirty-seven years? Not nearly enough. “I’m not doing it.”

The other participants, peeling their eyes open, began to shift and titter. These were Maya’s colleagues, her fellows in sleep-deprivation, the people with whom she compared Ativan prescriptions. Like Maya, they didn’t deserve this.

Maya clambered upright and ground her toes into the flesh of the yoga mat. “Do you not see what’s happening here? They make us work sixty hours a week, then they corral us into this stupid little room and tell us to, what, breathe deeper? Like that’s the problem?”

“I work seventy hours,” said Nancy from risk assurance.

“I work eighty,” said Miguel from finance.

“That’s the beauty of this practice,” the teacher sputtered. “It doesn’t matter how many hours you work.”

A frisson of collective fury ripped through the room.

“It matters to me,” Maya said. “It matters to my kid.”

Murmurs of agreement.

“Right,” the teacher said. “That wasn’t what I—”

“Who are you to tell us how to breathe?” Nancy said.

“Yeah,” Miguel said, “I’ll breathe how I want.”

The teacher muttered something about cultivating a deeper sense of presence, but it was no use. The flame had caught. People were rising, flinging yoga mats aside, stepping toward the front of the room.

From the tips of her toes to the crown of her head, Maya shone with beautiful rage.

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