Time, Space and a Takeout Order


I joined a group last month to meditate each day (you can read more about it here). While I must admit to missing three days out of the month, the experience has already begun to transform me.

It was also a recent pleasure to read Salzberg's article in the latest Tricycle about 'Sticking With It' ... how to keep the practice going as often as you can. In the article she suggests something powerful, about how to bring the practice into life. She said that in her own life, she decided to make the most of times waiting and meditate in those times. For her, climbing stairs is active waiting to reach the top so each step is a meditation, fast or slow, no matter what. And she said waiting in lines is another opportunity. So I took that opportunity last night and here's what happened:

I was in a restaurant (Le Pain Quotidien in Villagio for those who are local) picking up a take-out order. A very large man came to the counter. I could feel his energy as absolutely self centered and concerned. He commanded the Teller with an air of pre-indignation to get him a bottle of water. Teller was still working on my order at that moment and clearly felt torn in his responsibilities.

This customer, mind you, was as big as a House--I mean, he was like 400 pounds I swear.

House said "how much is it." The price given he pulled out a 10 QR note. "A bag? A cup?"

"Yes sir" Teller responded.

All of this was happening in 15 seconds, max, such was the rush with House. It was clear Teller was still distracted by my stuff and what to do--he couldn't look at me but I implored his back and profile, smiling mildly in his direction the whole time (ardently yet subtly involved in meditation on the breath, consciously responding where compassion was in order--realizing that there was something magical, like living Buddha, about being in my position as I chose to be).

I stood, calm, waiting to show that it was okay with me.

But Teller couldn't look at either of us, he just felt overwhelmed, wanting to finish with me first but forced by House to attend to the water, as if it were a pint of blood for a car crash victim.

House got snippy, waving the bill in his hand (we're at 20 seconds now). Teller moved to get him a cup and his change. "I need two 5s for this too," House ordered. "And the bag?"

Teller was so overwhelmed by the three simultaneous requests, and a language barrier I might add, that he just did what he could in the moment. He handed House the change and smiled. "The BAG!" House was now enraged--"what is going on with this place!"

At that, Teller handed him a bag and smiled. House snatched it and all but rolled away--45 seconds spent and gone, never to get back.

I looked at Teller, smiling. He was not able to return the gaze. Intending to inject normalcy into the situation, I motioned, asking him to secure a lid that was off center, on some soup that would spill all over my car otherwise. I asked in a mellow tone as he packed my stuff. He rushed. I said "it's alright--try that plastic wrap there?"

He moved like a bird evaluating and plucking seeds from a counter, flying from point to point between items, putting the bags inside bags, the soup inside the wrap, etc. He put everything in one bag before my eyes and finally, finally looked up at me. When he did, all he could say was "thank you, ma'am, thank you--thank you."

I couldn't take that much of it and said with a smile "sure, sure, good night." After all, it was actually easier for me to be that way--I was the observer instead of the customer in line. I was not in the same boat as either of the two--I was in a powerful place, a place to make a difference and a place to observe Teller--a person with so much strength and flexibility that I honestly don't think I could summon in a situation like that. Part of it was his lack of self concern, I observed--his perception of himself as a servant. And there is something graceful in that too.

Through daily 'sits' and exercises like this, I am finding widening gaps between observation, thought, feeling and reaction. And these gaps, without rendering me mechanical, are the combination to the lock that binds the door between me and grace.