Featured Board Member
Interview by Dharani Diana Diaz
Mary Conway-Spiegel is the newest member of the IYINY Board of Directors. She grew up in the modern-dance world in New York City and danced professionally before she transitioned to the fitness industry in the 1980s. Mary spent 20 years teaching group fitness and personal training; she also managed boutique aerobics studios before founding Aerobics At Work. Aerobics At Work offered a variety of group fitness classes and wellness seminars to Fortune 500 companies in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Boston, and Washington, D.C. In 2010 Ms. Conway-Spiegel founded Partnership For Student Advocacy, a nonprofit whose mission was to raise funds for students in closing schools that were located in impoverished, underfunded districts and neighborhoods; PFSA closed in 2014. Currently, Mary is a full-time parent to her three emerging-adult children.
What brought you to IYI?
I wanted to commit to a daily meditation practice but was struggling mightily with jump-starting it on my own. I started looking for courses in meditation. Then I stumbled upon IYI’s open meditation; I do not remember how. At first I thought it was really strange, and, as often happens when I embark on a spiritual journey, I resisted. I resisted chanting, any form of pranayama, and sitting up (I was caught lying down by more than one Swami). Then, slowly, I surrendered, and I can’t tell you why, but I kept being drawn to the 12:15 time, so clearly I wanted to be there.
Yes, I’ve seen you consistently in our online noon meditations. You’ve mentioned the joy of group meditation. What draws you to it?
It’s simple. Rarely, if ever, does a group of people sit in silence for a prolonged period of time; it’s powerful, it’s unexplainable.
You wear a lot of Karma Yoga hats here, from watering the plants to producing our fundraising film. Tell us about that.
Service/seva is the key to self-forgetting. Being self-involved, thinking that I am the center of the universe, usually means I’m in my head, and being in my head is almost always unpleasant. I think that most of us—especially women—are beating ourselves up when we’re in our heads, comparing ourselves, coming up short, and so on. The act of getting outside of my head via service/seva has always (bar none!) helped me; in essence one could say that service/seva is both selfish and selfless: I do it for me.
What inspired you to join the board?
The wish to be of service. I’ve always, all my adult life, volunteered. Giving back to an organization that has given me so much is just payment.
What do you hope to contribute to the board?
It’s too early to say. I’ve been to three (give or take) meetings.
What has sustained you the most during the pandemic?
My relentless love of and reliance on routine. At any time during any day anyone who knows me knows where I am and what I’m doing. From eating the same foods over and over, to making my bed every morning, to being at meditation every day, to being in bed at 9:30 p.m. most nights—my steadiness has sustained me.
What has surprised you about yourself during this pandemic?
My fierce love of and commitment to New York City. I have four T-shirts that say, “New York or Nowhere” on them.
What is one of your hidden talents?
I don’t know…that’s a good question. You would have to ask the people in my life about my talents. It’s not something I think about, honestly.
Anything else you’d like to share about yourself?