My Moment of ZEN

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I'm coming with you!" Henry, my 6-year-old, had his bag packed. "NOOO! Uh, I mean, No, darling. Kids aren't allowed." This was an obvious lie — Henry had already seen photos of frolicking towheads on the Omega Center website — but the whole point of my weekend was to get away. Away from him, his twin brother, my husband, my life. At the best of times, I'm a tense person. But when I recently found myself engaged in Stroller Rage — actually kicking a double-wide that had the audacity to pause in front of me when I least expected it — I knew I was in trouble. So off I went to "Intro to Omega Living," a 101 weekend on balancing the body/mind/spirit.

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Situated on a former Jewish-kids' camp in Rhinebeck, NY, the Omega Center is no Golden Door: The sandals are Birkenstock, the armpits unshaven, the heads balding with ponytails. But it's been gussied up just enough to attract comfort-craving city-dwellers like myself.

The 10-hour seminar was a taste of the essentials for a balanced, low-stress life — what instructors Cindy Dern and Nancy Plumer called the "five dimensions of health": social, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual (SPIES!). There was an intro to yoga and a lot of movement and relaxation exercises. Here I learned two valuable lessons: 1) I cannot "honor my mood" by dancing with a scarf; and 2) The only way I'll ever be truly "in the moment" is if that "moment" includes sex with James Gandolfini and a quaalude.

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Plumer talked a great deal about reframing the problems in our lives. "Everything that is a 'have to' is stress," she said. "Stress happens when you don't have choice." She then suggested alleviating tension by changing all those "have to's" into "choose to's." So, "I have to visit my mother" becomes "I choose to visit her; it makes her happy and I love her."

Perhaps the most important takeaway was the realization that meditation isn't just for flakes. Sure, there's substantial scientific evidence showing its benefits (the Dalai Lama has lectured at MIT on how meditation can affect the brain), but somehow I never thought it applied to me. And I discovered why: Having to focus on any word or mantra sent me into a panic. I must have tried and rejected 30 words in a five-minute exercise. Shockingly better were breathing and visualization techniques that left me, dare I say it, calmer and more centered in just 10 minutes.

Of course, I also learned something that's apparently evident to everyone but me: You don't have to be hysterical all the time to be smart. I'm not sure when this idea sank in; maybe it was the third time a total stranger said to me, "You're like a character in a Woody Allen movie!" But if I'm not a nervous wreck, then who am I?

This much I know for sure: I've been back from Omega for two weeks, and I haven't kicked a single stroller.

For more info, go to eomega.org.

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