Posts Tagged musings

Iceberg Lettuce and the Door to the Infinite


Photo by Gabi Helfert

The moment arrived unannounced during a set of solitary yoga postures on my plush, living room rug.  A long stretch to relieve the tension of the day popped something open inside me.  It was not a ligament or a tendon.  It was my hardened heart.

In the Hollywood version of the story, the hero manages to crawl to the phone, call 911, and then wakes up in a hospital bed after a miraculous, life-saving operation by a brilliant, open-heart surgeon.  The experience impresses upon our hero a number of crucial life lessons.  After the crisis, the hero’s character and actions towards others change profoundly for the better.

Unfortunately, life does not resemble a Hollywood B movie.  My physical heart had not split open while in shoulder stand on the rug.  A more subtle heart had opened, and with it, a door to a new world and another destiny.

It all started with Jorge, the new employee I would never have gone to lunch with if my usual lunch-buddies had not run off somewhere without me.  Jorge was Mexican, the only Latin guy on the second floor executive suite of Wallco, a wallpaper distribution company that hired mostly white Anglos in 1981, when Miami’s transformation into a multi-cultural city began in earnest.

Jorge, like me, was in his early thirties, average looking, average height, dark hair, brown eyes, thin mustache — an easy to get lost in the crowd kind of guy.  I had no idea his unheralded arrival would trigger a seminal occurrence in my life.

Wallco hired Jorge for its fledgling export division.  Jorge’s mission was to open up markets in South America and the Caribbean–approximately one quarter of the world–all by himself.  He had the ability to speak Spanish and, I presumed, super-human sales skills coupled with a pioneering spirit.  I didn’t envy Jorge one bit.

I considered myself above Jorge.  I was the high and mighty Marketing Director—Jorge the lowly new sales recruit.  I had served my time in sales.  I was grateful beyond words not to have to spend my days selling wallpaper sample books to dealers who had no more room in their stores for them.  I figured, if nothing else, I could learn something about the export market by going to lunch with the new recruit.  Besides, Jorge was the only soul left on the second floor other than myself.

Jorge suggested we eat at a quiet, natural food restaurant in Miami Springs.  My lunch prospects had just been elevated from a singular, fatty, McDonald’s affair to a tasty, low cholesterol engagement.  I happily agreed.

Over salads and grain burgers, I discovered Jorge was a vegetarian and engaged in practicing meditation on a daily basis.  Here was a subject I had some interest in, having experimented with various forms and teachers of meditation over the years.  You might say I was a semi-serious spiritual seeker.  I had reached a curious crossroads, a sort of impasse in my life.

I had everything a thirty something American male could wish for: the perfect job in a field I enjoyed; a great boss; a townhouse bachelor pad; girlfriends, a few pals to hang out with; a sports car and club memberships.  I had scrupulously followed the prescribed formulas for success.  I had cobbled together many of the accoutrements of an ideal life.

Yet I felt restless and unfulfilled.

I was terrified there was something terribly wrong with me.  I felt the cold winds of middle age blowing in my direction.  I saw myself dating one girl after another well into my eighties, until I finally abandoned the search for true love when my body and spirit caved in from old age.

There I was, sitting across from this lowly new recruit munching on his iceberg lettuce.  He casually mentioned losing 80 pounds after becoming a vegetarian.  I commented that it must have taken a great deal of willpower.  He answered, “Not really.”

I began to pepper Jorge with questions.  The guy was unlike many of the salespeople in our company I regularly rubbed elbows with.  He had a depth and an intensity that I found intriguing.

I asked Jorge what kind of meditation he practiced.  He said it was not a “kind of meditation.”  He launched into a passionate discourse about a profound experience of peace the meditation opened up for him.  He invited me to a presentation scheduled at a hotel on Miami Beach that evening.  I told myself there was no way I was going to drive all the way from South Miami to the Beach to attend some dubious spiritual seminar.

That night, I found myself sitting in a lime green, orange accented meeting room at the Carlyle Hotel.

Curiosity—and some undefinable vibe emanating from between Jorge’s words at lunch had picked me up from the chocolate brown pit sofa in my living room and deposited me in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by a room full of strangers.

Indian music played from six-foot speakers flanking a makeshift stage.  The only thing that kept me in my seat was the absence of Hare-Krishna-like chanting.

I glanced to my left and caught a glimpse of Jorge, who smiled kindly at me.  Someone took the stage and began speaking into a microphone.

The Indian Music and the microphone are the only details I recall after the program began.  My perspective slowly shifted from an external focus to a pleasant inner experience.

A succession of three speakers addressed the gathering that evening.  I do not recall a single word any one of them said.  I just remember feeling relaxed.  I had an experience that can only be described as feeling at home with myself.

For the first time in a very long while, I had actually enjoyed myself without a great deal of effort or alcohol to help me along.  I felt like an invisible hand had knocked off a layer of caked mud from my body.

It is difficult for me to describe what happened after that evening.  I can only say that it marked the beginning of a long journey that lasts to this day, to this very moment.

In the days and weeks after the event at the Carlyle Hotel, I met Jorge’s teacher, who essentially introduced me to myself.  I thought I knew myself pretty well.  I began to see that the image I held of myself was only a faint glimmer of a deeper, broader Self, filled with possibilities. 

Many years later, my life remains full of challenges, but I face them with real joy and optimism.  I have discovered that life can be every bit as beautiful as you want it to be.  It takes some courage and effort, but the possibility is real for anyone willing to step up to the plate.

I look inward now for satisfaction, rather than chasing it on the outside.  I shake hands with myself on a daily basis through meditation.  I feel more grounded.  I feel more love from within, which reflects positively into my outer life.

It occurs to me that I should have picked up the tab for Jorge’s lunch.  Jorge, buddy, if you’re out there somewhere and can read this, please know that I owe you one.

Top photo from the Dutchville Exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute

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The Not-So-Hidden-Truth About Starbucks


I am trying to write my second novel.  It is not easy, to say the least.  I am confident, however, that this is a universal truth among authors attempting to write their first or seventy-first long piece of fiction or non-fiction.  The reasons for this difficulty may vary from author to author.  My main roadblock seems to be the increasing disenchantment of sitting in a room all by myself for long periods of time.  Again, I suspect I am not alone in this predicament.  The problem apparently extends far beyond the relatively small segment of the population on planet earth attempting to write novels.  I know this because I have recently taken my laptop to a local Starbucks to resolve my isolation problem.

The Starbucks I now regularly inhabit is not your everyday Starbucks. Management recently retrofitted the place with long tables, benches actually, with stools and a strip of electrical outlets underneath to plug in battery cables.  Droves of people come here, not just to chat and caffeinate, but to do WORK! This includes college-students doing real, actual homework, not wasting time on Facebook.  Freelance, self- employed, and independent contractor types also hang out here.  These people, like myself, are hard at work, despite the distractions of noisy conversation and often-times idiotic, piped-in music.  I find this phenomenal and wonder,”Why do we come here?”  Many, if not all of us, are surely not homeless.

I can only speak for myself.  I come here to overcome loneliness—to make some sort of connection.  And I’m happy to report that my new strategy is paying off.  I’m writing my novel on a regular basis, slowly but surely.

Now that we may have some insight into the reason for the overwhelming success of the Starbucks chain, I would like to come to the point of this piece.  Many years ago, I began listening to Prem Rawat speak about an inner experience of peace and contentment.  At the time, I did not have to go to Starbucks to be around people.  I had a full time, good-paying job, a girlfriend, my parents and cousins to surround me.  Yet, something was missing.

Mr. Rawat’s message of peace captivated me in a way nothing had previously.  I followed up on his promise to reveal a source of peace and contentment within myself.  I practiced the techniques of what he calls Knowledge, and, to make a long story short, I have not been in the least bit disappointed.  Well, perhaps that statement is not entirely true.  I had the idea shortly after receiving the techniques of Knowledge that I would not need anything else, including people.  To make another long story short, that idea turned out to be foolish and a bit funny, now that I look back on it.

But there is a point here, somewhere.  Oh yes, here it is:  I need outer connections—with colleagues in my chosen profession, with friends and family, even Facebook connections. Thanks to the experience of Knowledge, I’ve learned that I need something else.  I need a connection with myself for my life to be complete.  I’m not going to put a name to what I’ll call “myself,” because I’ve learned that names are insufficient to describe it.  I will just say this:  I was looking for a missing piece of the puzzle of my life.  Prem Rawat helped me to find it.  Now, I feel my life is complete.  It is full, not stuffed with things on the outside, but from within.  And my connections on the outside are more fulfilling, because I am a more full and complete person, with more to offer to others.

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Miss Crisson


The name Miss Crisson fit her. Words come to mind, like “crisp,” “sharp,” “cross,” and “criticism.” I remember a six-foot tall, middle-aged woman with regular, Germanic features and wide, hazel eyes peering from behind big-rimmed glasses supported by a clunky plastic frame.

She wore an expression of perennial disappointment punctuated by frequent, angry outbursts. I thought then her mood was the direct result of our consistently delinquent behavior — the student body of Miss Crisson’s fifth grade class. Now I think there may have been other factors involved.

Miss Crisson did not carry her statuesque figure gracefully. Instead, she stood in an ungainly posture in front of the class, arms crossed, daring anyone to misbehave. She never seemed to feel comfortable inside her own skin, or perhaps the small print, cotton dresses she wore like uniforms were all a half size too small.

Looking back, I imagine men might have considered her sexy if she had dressed in a more colorful, modern style. Regular trips to the beauty parlor would have helped too. But she had no use for fashionable clothes or fixing herself up. Her thinning hair drooped in unenthusiastic curls. The humidity in the spring and early summer made the hair from the buns she wore march in a column down her neck like AWOL soldiers.

I recall her first name with great difficulty: It was, or is Doris. Is she still alive as we speak? She took great pains to keep us at a distance, in our place. Miss Crisson the teacher, the person in charge, we the students, there to obey.

It was not so much the things she did that I remember. It was rather the things she didn’t do. She never, for instance, sat on a chair in front of the class with her legs crossed, or in a more casual moment, on the side of her desk. She always stood, implacably, a permanent fixture in front of the class. She sat at her desk only during study periods, often holding her head while reading from her lesson plan or papers that looked to be terribly important. We spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, with Miss Crisson, surely enough time to get to know someone well, at least enough time for her guard to fall occasionally. Yet, I can’t recall any informal moments with Miss Crisson, never the spontaneous joke or appreciative laugh from the student audience.

She never spoke of children or relatives. I never learned a thing about her personal life after spending a year in her classroom. Did she spend her childhood years in a middle class tract home at the mercy of bible-toting, God-fearing parents? Did her classmates taunt her for being too tall? As a teenager, did she have many boyfriends? Did she ever have a boyfriend? Did she eat dinner at home alone every night in a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers, her hair liberated from the customary bun, hanging in loopy strands? Did she sometimes wake up to an alarm buzzing from the bedroom, slumped on a sofa in front of the television?

She came to class every day, in the full bloom of womanhood, apparently without suitors or romantic prospects of any kind, already resigned to premature spinsterhood. Perhaps Miss Crisson was a lesbian, stuck in the unenlightened nineteen fifties, a prisoner of her strict upbringing, afraid to explore her sexuality, without compassion for herself or anyone else. Her sharp rebukes for the slightest infringement of class decorum were, I realize now, a sign of frustration, the invisible weights Miss Crisson carried on her broad shoulders. We didn’t see those weights because children see only with their hearts. They respond to kindness, humor, patience and love. They don’t understand why an adult would possibly want to act any other way.
 

 

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The Offending Cashier


Why do the cashiers at supermarkets insist on putting your groceries in as many bags as possible?

Do I look like I have five hands and three arms?

Do they think the load will be lighter if I carry fewer items in more bags?

Do they do it out of spite because they have crummy, low paying jobs?

The gross profit of supermarkets would go up at least 400 percent on average if they used fewer bags.

The other day I bought five items for eighteen dollars and thirty-seven cents. The bagger put each item in its own bag.

A pack of gum gets its own bag?

The plastic bags must have cost fifty cents. The same bags will cost a dollar next week with the way oil prices are going.

Why do baggers and cashiers do this? Here’s one theory.

Imagine a Store Manager giving these instructions to his cashiers before their shift:

“Remember not to overload those grocery bags. We just lost a lawsuit that cost us forty-two million dollars because a woman dropped a banana out of her overloaded bag, slipped, and dislocated her pelvis. The jury awarded punitive damages because the poor woman is unable to have sexual intercourse without shooting pains going down her legs.

“As you all know, every cashier is responsible for supervising their bagger. It is your job to insure all groceries are properly bagged, which is to say, not over-loaded.

“The forty two million is coming out of the offending cashier’s paycheck. So be careful. This could happen to you.”

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