I haven’t written in a few weeks, I have been caught up in American culture. I went to a college sorority reunion and spent a few days at an ocean resort. I reside now in a sort of purgatory. I’m a student of Eastern practices (mindfulness and meditation) living in the Western world. I’m a typical American striving to become rather than just be. With baby boomer enthusiasm, I flit from activity to activity hoping in retirement to make up for lost time.
A typical day starts with my morning weigh in. As I squint to see if the numbers have gone down, I remember to put on my glasses. On a recent morning, I didn’t have time to feed the coffee maker and press its buttons. I wasn’t able to watch the news to find out if our country was stable or at least kind once more. I knew in my heart nothing has changed. Maybe I watch every morning because I am mesmerized by how many different ways the same old stuff is presented over and over again. I had to be at the car dealership on this particular morning to have repairs done to my rack and pinion steering. Being an independent woman, I knew what that meant, it was expensive. $500? $1000? No, $1500. I cursed silently in my mind. I have an emergency fund. It will come out of there but my mom taught me to be a saver so the money will have to to be replaced.
My car was repaired, the bill paid, I was agitated. I had courtesy coffee at the dealership but I decide to break one of my rules and have a midday coffee. Under the circumstances, I felt I deserved it. I knew just where to go. I put on a gentle jazz CD in the car player and headed down the highway. I slowed down a bit as I passed some trucks and heavy construction equipment along the side of the road. A group of workers watched as a yellow machine attacked a tree and like an angry dinosaur munched it to pieces.
My destination was a quick stop that boasts of the best coffee in the world. The beans are ground on the spot for each cup. I approached the computerized wall of robot coffee servers and programed one of the screens on their bellies. “Columbian, small”, and then I chose the prompt “leave space” rather than ” fill to the top”.
I decided to stay instead of running home. I sat at the very last table at the end of a shaft separated from the rest of the quick stop by a glass wall. Alone in the corner of this “temple” of capitalism I searched for a little peace. I became mindful, awakening all my senses. Since the entrance was at the far end of my secluded tunnel, I could hear and watch customers come and go. I concentrated on the taste of my premium coffee, felt the temperature of air around me, and smelled the hot dogs perpetually traveling on a revolving grill. My mind took over as I looked ahead. I became uncomfortably aware of the manufactured symmetry, the labels and branding on everything. All objects were priced and ready to be bought. I moved my attention away from my breaths to my traveler’s mind which always seems to contemplate oddities and the lessons they bring.
My eyes settled on a sign over the lottery dispensing machine, “find real riches”. Real riches. What are real riches? Are they all the things that money can buy? Do they bring real happiness?
My mind went back to India, to a Hindu temple with a holy man on duty who was sitting peacefully as if he was waiting for me.
I approached him, bowing and saying “Namaste”. He asked if he could bless me. I had left my purse on our tour bus and I told I had no money with me. He said it didn’t matter and when he was done he tied an orange string around my wrist.
After three and a half months, the token from this kind and gentle man still remains on my wrist.
And I think his blessing still remains, also.
By chance, I happened to be listening to a morning news program when a young Indian man, Parag Khanna, was being interviewed about his latest book, The Future is Asia. I searched out a copy and discovered it was about international opportunities in business. It was extremely interesting because it contrasted Western business models with those influenced by Eastern thought. Asian philosophy encourages unity of self with others, an alliance of man and nature, and an open ended approach to knowledge as something that can change according to circumstances. In Western cultures, we don’t always respect nature and the environment and we are more interest in the advancement of individuals over groups or community. We are more interested in wealth maximization than the welfare of people. Mr. Khanna presented two different business approaches. First, he talked about our current Western approach, “global rules based on order”. And then he quoted a Chinese saying. In it is a vision for our rapidly changing diverse global society, namely that we should strive for “a community of common destiny.” Since I strongly believe, and will always believe, that we are all in this together, I will chose to live this second path.