In retrospect, I believe it started with the purse.

In late February my mother and I flew to Southern California for two days of visiting gardens. I was racing through the Burbank airport when I realized that I didn’t have my purse. My purse, it turns out, had exited the plane during our stop in Phoenix when Momma and I had changed seats. After settling into our new spots, I went to the bathroom. While I was in the bathroom, a flight attendant found my purse left in my old seat and had it removed from the plane, thinking it belonged to a passenger who had deplaned in Phoenix.

Although losing my purse was inconvenient on many levels, I handled it remarkably well. No, I couldn’t rent a car and drive as planned, but while Momma wasn’t thrilled about the idea of dealing with the traffic in southern California, she could and did. I had no credit card, ID, or cash, but again, I had Momma. There was the issue of getting back on a plane in two days for our return trip home sans identification, but it turns out that while a driver’s license is helpful in getting through security, it isn’t totally necessary.

And, of course, there was the time-consuming task of calling the airline and tracking down the lost purse, but all said, I didn’t let the lack of a purse ruin my trip with my mother. Instead, we had a terrific couple of days touring gardens. It will, no doubt, become an annual event. Moreover, I felt very smug about how well I dealt with the inconvenience. Clearly, the whole thing proved that I am a very centered and grounded person, unable to be fazed by small life annoyances.

One of the tasks awaiting me back home post California garden tour was to deal with a state tax audit, having to do with gross receipts. Our third such audit in 18 months, in fact. For those of you from outside New Mexico and have never heard of gross receipts (lucky you!), let me explain. (Warning: gross receipts are boring. You might want to skip the following paragraph.)

New Mexico requires a gross receipts tax on services. This means any job that might generate a 1099 (freelance work like piano lessons, payment for rehearsals or performances, or contract work of any kind) are all subject to gross receipts taxes. The tax rate changes, just as you expect sales taxes to fluctuate. Right now it is 7.5%. This means that 7.5% has to backed out of any income you receive and sent to the state of New Mexico, where they, no doubt, fritter this money away. The remaining income (excluding the 7.5% GRT) is what is subject to income taxes, a whole other subject.

I told you gross receipt taxes were not interesting.

As you might imagine, gross receipts are a freelancer’s nightmare. Some folks simply ignore the requirement and hope they never get caught. Some file haphazardly. Some file dutifully (that would be me.). And yet, here we were subject to the THIRD AUDIT IN 18 MONTHS.

The first time we got a notice of an audit, I panicked. It took hours and hours to figure out the problem, but we won the audit (see above: “Some file dutifully.”). The second time we got an audit notice, I was just irritated. I was in the middle of a kitchen renovation, had family visiting and was trying to get my fall teaching semester off the ground. (We won that audit too.). The third time, Matt said, “Yeah, this is getting old.”

Back to the story. The Monday after I arrived home from the mother/daughter garden adventure, I was at the computer finishing up my not-friendly letter to the New Mexico auditors when there was a knock on the door. It was FedEx, delivering my lost purse. I finished up the audit letter, took it out to the mailbox to post and mentally wiped my hands of the whole mess.

In retrospect, even though I was handling these minor inconveniences very well, I should have known that my inner equilibrium bank account was being tapped.

Two mornings later, I was puttering around the house making coffee and feeding the cats when I realized that we had no heat. Twenty-four hours and $500 later, heat is restored. Inner equilibrium account? Still fine.

That night my sister and nephew arrived for a 10-day visit. While a visit from my sister does not upset my equilibrium, it is a demand on my time and attention. Duly noted.

I could not make up the next part of the story: The following day I was literally leaving a massage when I picked up a message from an employee at New Mexico Taxation & Revenue telling me that although they were closing the audit (this is code for “I have once again won.”), I needed to call them back because “there was a problem” with my account. Listening to this message, I could feel my inner equilibrium dipping dangerously close to the red line. All positive effects of the before-mentioned massage had disappeared completely.

I called them back. The phone call Taxation & Revenue was a “courtesy call.” (I would hear this phrase several times in the next 20 minutes. In other words, I should be grateful. I was not grateful.) The “problem” was that over the last 12 years (specifically since 2006), I had ignored 79 letters from them telling me that I was filing my gross receipts wrong. While I am prone to exaggerate in order to make a story better, I would not have the nerve to make up a number that big. Thinking I had misheard, I asked the employee making the “courtesy call” to repeat this several times. Yes, I heard it right: 79 letters.

Everything about this was insane. “I’m sorry,” I said to the government worker who was clearly following a written script, “there is no way I have ignored 79 letters. To what address have you sent these 79 letters?”

It was the wrong address, of course. A place that we have not lived since 2005. And yet they had managed to send notices of our audits to the right address. At this moment, the red line had not just been crossed; I was beginning to totter off the edge of reasonable and polite behavior.

Two days later, my computer crashes. As one might imagine, tech support is not helpful. Or supportive.

The next week involved time dealing with the computer and several phone calls and meetings with our accountant (that this whole thing happened during income tax prep time only added insult to injury.). I may have won my three audits, but now I have to pay someone to fix my problem going back a dozen years.

On Friday afternoon of this trying week, I received this voice message on my phone, “This is the IRS. You have been named in a tax evasion and fraud suit. Do not ignore this message. You must call this number immediately before you are arrested and thrown in jail.”

It was 45 minutes before my monthly performance class. Matt was out of town. I began going down the list of students in my studio whose parents were lawyers, wondering who I should contact first. Even though the IRS call was clearly a scam, I also found myself wondering if jail time might provide an escape from a life that was quickly unraveling.

Because there was no longer any attempt at pretending. I had officially lost any equilibrium I had ever possessed. I was a crazy woman, distracted and emotional, unable to concentrate, sleep or carry on logical conversations. Yes, I continued to practice and teach, play rehearsals and go to yoga classes. I swam laps and spread hundreds of pounds of compost on the garden. I put in my daily time on the meditation cushion, but there was no blissful stillness. My thoughts spun in circles, crashing wildly against the walls of my mind. Internally, I argued with the tax people and the folks at tech support (I won all these mental arguments, of course. In my head, I am pretty and witty and bright, and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.). I made multiple lists of all my grievances. I calculated how much time I had lost thanks to my problems and obsessed about all the things I could have been doing instead.

That, in a nutshell, was March, “March Madness” taking on a new and significant meaning this year. But as entertaining as this story may be, my takeaway was not a reminder to pay better attention to my personal items when traveling (although I should). Nor was it that New Mexico Taxation and Revenue is out to get me (although it seems like they might be). Nor was it that our dependency upon on technology makes us vulnerable to problems (although it does). Nor was it that I should watch out for phone scams involving the IRS (although obviously they are out there).

No. My takeaway was this: in spite of all my grounded practices—my daily time at the piano and on the yoga mat and meditation cushion and in the swimming pool and garden—in spite of all those things, when challenged I am just as likely as the next person to lose my grip on reality. In other words, there is a bottom to my inner equilibrium reserve. It was very humbling really.

Which only serves to remind me that anyone can practice in a vacuum. But can our practices hold up under the pressures and difficulties of the real world? That’s the question. That’s the practice.

Now, of course, one could argue (and I have, trust me. Anything to make me feel better about myself here.) that my practices did, in fact, hold up. After all, refer to the above: “I continued to practice and teach, play rehearsals and go to yoga classes…swim laps…garden…meditate…” All of that is true, and good.

However, equally true was the part about not being able to concentrate or sleep. About my mind spinning endlessly. About being unhappy and angry and generally a not-fun person to be around. I did not gracefully rise to the occasion (or occasions as the case might be). Quite literally, there was nothing graceful about me. I’m not proud of that, but there it is.

Spiritual teachers, I believe, are everywhere. And the toughest, most demanding ones are the ones we find every day in the most ordinary of places. They are the brother that always pushes our buttons, the post office worker who announces they are going on break when we’re standing at the back of a line out the door, the employee at in the state’s auditing office delivering their “courtesy” phone call. The lost purse. The 79 letters sent to the wrong address.

Clearly, there is work to still to be done. Back to the piano bench, yoga mat, meditation cushion, swimming pool and garden.

In the meantime, Matt has taken to calling me his “sexy tax-evading fugitive.”