What am I going to eat now?

One perk of working in a health food supermarket is that you probably are going to eat better.  A tough part is that it can expose the weaknesses of your diet and make you feel some pressure to eat better.

After years of being a slug around food, in denial about the effects of diet on mood and overall health, I know now that I need to change my relationship to food – but I only have intuitive glimmers of how.

I have four factors waking me up.

  1. My shrink put me on a new mood stabilizer (Zyprexa) that he all but guarantees will cause me to put on weight.  He recommended a low glycemic diet and gave me a handout with the glycemic index of various foods.
  2. After years of being dormant, my prostate cancer is getting more noisy (my PSA blood test numbers are going up).  After the biopsy I have scheduled in a few weeks, my urologist may start pushing me to have radiation – and I’m pretty clear I don’t want to go there.  I’m taking a new anti-inflammatory supplement that I’m pretty excited about (Zyflamend from New Chapter) and I want to give it time to work.  And I want to explore various cancer prevention diets.
  3. My sugar addiction is still out of control.
  4. Now that I’m willing to really look at my diet, I’m ready to really face the possibility that factors in my diet negatively affect my mood – and that there might be one or more diets out there that would be good for my mood.
People like to tease about  sugar addiction, but I know it's a serious thing for me.  But how serious?  How much does it affect my mood? My cancer?

People like to tease about sugar addiction, but I know it’s a serious thing for me. But how serious? How much does it affect my mood? My cancer?

 

I’m not very knowledgeable in this area, but have some intuitions about where I need to go:

  • I need to stay off of sugar.  I don’t know how to do refined sugar in moderation.  But I’m lousy at negative discipline – just saying no to something.  I need something positive to focus on – an optimistic new diet that includes no sugar.I’ve always just focused on sugar desserts as the culprits, but there’s sugar in lots of things.  How scrupulous do I need to get?  What about fruit?  I sure don’t want to give up fruit, but we’re talking about a potentially fat cancer patient here.
  • Do I need to go gluten free?  Grain free?  I’ve been hearing about the book Grain Brain.  I’ve tried being gluten free for a couple of weeks two times, then abandoned it when I saw no change in my moods.  Someone told me once that you should see a change in that amount of time, but someone has told me it could take longer.  Lots of carbs turn into sugar pretty quickly in the blood stream.  I bet I need to stay away from processed grains – white bread at least is going to have to go, but maybe bread period.  I think I’m going to  get a loaf of Ezekiel sprouted bread for starters – maybe as a transition, maybe as a new regimen.
  • But bread is the staff of life, right?  I like it so much - is it feasible for me to give it up?

    But bread is the staff of life, right? I like it so much – is it feasible for me to give it up?

    How important is system acidity in all of this?  I’ve come to believe that we are meant to be alkaline, but most of us are actually running acidic.  (I’ve been testing myself with little strips of paper and am definitely acidic.)  I’ve heard a couple of people claim that cancer needs an acidic environment to grow.  I have started drinking high alkaline water.  I’ve got a hunch my beloved coffee is too acid-producing.

  • My friend Mary said that it sounds from the way I talk like I might be migrating towards the Paleo diet, about which I know very little.
  • She also talked about macrobiotics as an option for me.
  • Lydia, who came through my line today and seemed very knowledgeable about all this, talked about
  • the GAPS diet (“gut and psychology syndrome”) and
  • the Gerson diet.

I’ll keep you posted on all this – and will welcome any information or experience you might want to post in a comment.

As I have been writing this, I have – in my over-tired state – been bingeing on all the desserts I have stockpiled here over the last few days.  That settles it: I can’t wait for after the holidays to clean up my act around sugar – we start tomorrow with no refined sugar.  Then we’ll see what comes next.

Just that time of year…

My Christmas poem.

Really kind of long – and dark in places, like the season.  But worth it, I think.  Set aside maybe 5-10 minutes or more (it’s most satisfying consumed in one sitting), get yourself in a comfortable chair with a good cup of coffee or tea or a glass of wine – and maybe with a journal and pen.  My journey is not your journey, but perhaps in places they may touch.  I wish you love and hope at this dark – for some of us at times very difficult, but really still pretty special – time of year.

winter dark 4

 

Just that time of year…  (Majo, 12/15/14)

It’s that time of year again
Jingle bells and all
But is there really all
That much to celebrate?

The cold and dark have returned again
Do pretty much the same time every year
I try to be cheerful about them
But this little whoosy man
Gets depressed with the onset of the shorter days
And pisses and moans pretty much the same
The whole winter through

The events in the world
Wars, gang shootings
Racial profiling and horrific injustices
Seem no better than ever
I want so badly to believe
That the human race and societies
Are somehow evolving
Somehow getting better, smarter
More fair, more loving
But can see no signs
That this is true

In my own so-limited human life
What sign is there of positive change?
My biochemistry maintains as cruel a reign
Over my desperate moods
As does the Islamic State over
Its desolate segment of humanity
Oh, I’ll give you that
I have not now been suicidal for five years
No more trips to the hospital – or even close
Housing – with Tom and Will for two years
And with Lotus Lodge newly now
Has been a good part of my life
OK, actually very good
After some extended tsuris before that
Alright, I can’t deny that work has been good
A really good year at my new job
With no end in sight

winter dark 2

OK, I will not deny that
There are some good things
OK, very good things
In my life
But what about my moods?
My moods!
Ten days up, fourteen down
Pretty predictably these days
Now is that fair!?
The steady repetition of the cycles
Is so discouraging
The ups slightly to more-than-slightly
Out of control
If also predictably a lot of fun
But the downs, the downs
So painful, so disheartening
So much self-hate
So much of everything looking ugly and wrong

I had my one big shot at a shift
October 18-25
Eight days of training in
Brainwave Optimization
I put a lot of eggs in that basket
My Chicago friends Sally and Mary Ellen
Who knew a lot about it
And who deeply love and support me
Had very high hopes that it would help
Gave me financial support
To make it happen
My friends Byron and Nancy
Took this traveler in
For ten days in my home Chicago
I got to see my beloved brother Terry
Three times on this visit
Instead of one on my last week-long visit
Just back in May
His new chemo is hitting him less hard
He has more strength
For spending time with his
Intense handful of a brother

winter dark 4

The brainwave treatment is very subtle
No effects promised for 3-6 weeks
But half-way through I got depressed
And everything else looked like shit
In the throes of depression
Nothing ever seems to have changed
And I have no hopes
For anything new to help

On November 6, the Shine Expansive
A very exciting personal growth workshop
Stood before me like a shining city on a hill
But I got depressed the day it began
And was significantly depressed for all three days
But the Shine did have power – enough power to
Keep me moving, with even some real high points
And I came away with a new mission statement
“I shepherd my flock”
Which seems to pull together
All the threads of my life up to this time

But my mood swings
Remain unabated
What of the Brainwave Optimization?
What of the Shine Expansive?
What of any of it?
What of positive change in the world?
The dawning of the Age of Aquarius –
My youthful dream?
What of my hopes for humanity?
For the world?
What of peace on earth?

winter dark 8

But then there is this blog…
Born 11/24/14
Now 21 days later – an adult?
Not in blog years – still a baby
70 followers in three weeks – unprecedented
In my personal experience with writing blogs
1085 page views
261 on one particular day
55 yesterday
So many people posting beautiful comments
So many people emailing me encouraging words
So many people telling me on the street
How much the blog means to them

Except for an occasional poem
My writing had been stuck
For over a year
Now completely unstuck
My sense of purpose in my life
Fully reborn
My mission from the Shine
“I shepherd my flock”
Being lived out

winter 1

I have now several very potent flocks
The community of people sharing the blog
My community of co-workers at my store
One of my blog posts is in our cashier log book
At my boss’s suggestion
And many of my colleagues are talking about it
I will soon post one of my blog entries
By the time clock
(Again my boss’s suggestion)
Where all my coworkers can read
And maybe return to the blog on their own

My customers are a flock
I tell them about the blog in the checkout line
The other day, two customers
Friends to me but strangers to each other
Discover that they are each fans of the blog
And begin an animated conversation about it
My boss says
“When you print up business cards for the blog
Give them out to customers”
Amazing support from the store
I had thought that if I gave out cards
From my cash register
I might get in trouble with the brass
And so I will print them up and give them out
The blog creates for my customers
A sense of connection with our store
With our staff
With each other
With the cashiers of the world
And with me

winter 2

And what of those cashiers of the world?
About ten years ago
Working as a cashier
At the Enmark gas station on Merrimon Street
Standing in that little kiosk
Selling gas and cigarettes for a year
Until I got fired for calling a customer a bitch
But oh she deserved it
I didn’t just use the term
When she said
“How dare you call me a bitch”
I looked her straight in the eye and said
“Sometimes it just fits”
She took it badly
But I never regretted it
Even my boss did not blame me for it
“I never would have fired you for this
But she went straight to a company VP
I had no choice.”
It was a great moment in cashiering
Though obviously a strategy
I cannot recommend in this blog
Except in moments of great trial
And when your integrity demands it
I used to teach Empowerment Training
At a local community college back in Chicago
And taught people to say “Fuck you”
When no other assertiveness technique worked
And when their sense of self
Was at stake

But I digress
But then it’s my poem
And I did tell you to curl up in a good chair
With a good cup of coffee

So there I was spending all my work time
In this little kiosk
I wrote a blog on customer service
My own model
Authentic Customer Service
I got really very excited about it
46 posts, 2650 page views
Check it out
http://authenticcustomerservice.blogspot.com/
There’s really some very good stuff on it
A great payoff from that at times boring
At times very stressful job
Along with some very good
Experiences with customers
(No coworkers there in that lonely kiosk
One of the biggest downsides)

winter 3

So I have this blog
My ability to keep writing when I am down
Unprecedented in many years
Perhaps the Brainwave Optimization is working
And the Shine Expansive
And my newly refined but longtime mission
To shepherd my flock
I have a walking stick that Annie gave me at the Shine
When she so ably facilitated us
Through our mission-developing process
A flag hanging from the handle reads
“I shepherd my flock”
Amazingly more apropos for a staff
Than if it said “I sell more widgets this year”

So maybe I do have more light in my personal life this year
Even as my grueling moods remain unabated
Maybe I don’t get to have my whole Christmas list
Delivered for me under the tree
But then the human race
My brothers and sisters
Do not get to suffer appreciably less this year
And maybe you readers of this poem
My brothers and sisters
Still have pain in your lives parallel with my moods
My brother still has his cancer
My friend Bob still has his grief
From his wife Nina’s so-recent passing
My roommate Jesse has his
Search for a fulfilling job
My old roommate Tom has his
Pressing need to unload
His desperately financially depleting house
My old roommate Will has his frustrating
Quest to live out his calling as an artist
My store has its battle to contend
With all the supermarkets
Flooding this saturated market
My coworkers have their struggles
To make ends meet on paltry wages
To live out their gifts
As artists and musicians
To manage their relationships
Their health, their work aspirations

winter dark 7

Everybody, it seems
Has their struggles and their sorrows
Caroling at the hospice last night
In the Community Room
I looked around and it looked like only us present
“Where are the dying people?” I thought
Then I looked to my left and saw
In a little pod, three of my dear friends
Who have had tragic losses
In the last few years
I realized that we were singing
Not just for the shut-ins we were visiting all evening
But also for ourselves

We – all of us
Need to buck up our spirits
At this dark time
We – all of us
Need all of us
To come together
To love each other
We – all of us
Need this poem
We – all of us
Need to create
Whenever we can
However we can
We – all of us
Need to hope for the future
For our writing and painting
And music-making
And our gardening and cooking
And parenting and love-making

We need to come together
As we are reading this poem
As we read this blog
We are coming together
As all of us staff at my grocery store
Are serving all of our customers
We are coming together
As all of our customers
Rub shoulders in our store
Stand next to each other
In our checkout lines
Greet and often hug their friends
You are coming together
As all of us front-line customer servers
In all of the various stores
Serve all of our customers
Who, at other times
Are all of us
Who, when we are not working
Also patronize these other stores
We are all
Every one of us who deals
With customer servers
Coming together

We are serving our customers
Trying to put a smile on their face
Trying to put a smile on our face
Trying to get our customer’s needs met
Trying to check them out
Quickly and accurately
Bagging their groceries tenderly
Ripe avocados on top
Trying to exchange some pleasantries
And, when we are lucky
Even some meaningful exchange
Some “What’s been a highlight of your day?”
Trying to be real for each other
And to be kind
Trying, trying, trying
All of us humans trying
To make things work
To make this a better year
And when we are lucky
To love, even

winter final

 

“Bring on the cash!” (and the kale)

Yesterday, based on an experience at my Friday evening dance, I got aroused around mindfulness – especially as applied to cashiering.  Having been off on my cash once last week, my rallying cry became, “When the cash comes out, the chatter stops – focus on the money!”)  I put my “Cash only” mindfulness sign right in my cash drawer, where I would see it every time I dealt with cash.  (This did not guarantee that I would always pay attention to it.  Like all the mindfulness props I use, it would eventually go into background.)

Show me the money! Nothing gets past me!

Show me the money! Nothing gets past me!

I had thought that mindfulness of the groceries would for now take a back seat to mindfulness of the money, but I quickly found that they worked well together – that paying attention to the groceries helped me to pay attention to the cash.  And I was carrying a real sorrow about how relatively mindless I had been at the dance the previous evening.  I couldn’t shake the memory of the last piece of music – haunting bells and chimes – which pretty much flaked everybody else out and which I really didn’t hear because I was composing yesterday’s blog post.  Today I was hungry to be in the present moment.

I discovered several things about the groceries:

  • Produce was the best fodder for mindfulness practice. The color, the texture, the different weights.  It’s alive!  The source of life.  Great.
  • The dill today seemed an unusually dark green.
  • If you look close enough, flat parsley (Italian parsley) really is clearly distinguishable from cilantro – and it’s prettier.
  • Grapes are great.  All those little bumps.  Fascinating – and so satisfying to run my hands over.  I hoped this lady didn’t notice or mind me lightly resting my hand on her bag of grapes.
  • I adore our “Holiday” grapes – boy are they succulent!  I made a strategic choice that I could get away with asking this young woman, “Could you please take out one of your grapes and give it to me?” Then I popped it in my mouth and said, “Man that’s great!”  She adored it, but that will never go in any manual of good cashier techniques.
In the right state of mindfulness, grapes are a gas to touch.  Holiday grapes - which look pretty much like these, only fatter - can be orgasmic to eat, worth the risk of the customer saying that they actually don't want to give you one.

In the right state of mindfulness, grapes are a gas to touch. Holiday grapes – which look pretty much like these, only fatter – can be orgasmic to eat, worth the risk of the customer saying that they actually don’t want to give you one.

  • Cans are also pretty cool – the hardness, the heft.  Satisfying to handle.

All in all, a great shift – facilitated by the fact that I have shifted from depression to a little bit of mania.  Now the issue is to keep my feet on the ground – and mindfulness is the perfect tool.

“Shut up and dance!”

Last night it looked like, after twelve days depressed, my depression was shifting.  This morning I was right back in the crapper, but this afternoon my mood was rising – and I decided to risk it and go to my Friday night ecstatic dance.  When I’m up, I adore this free-form improvisational dancing; when I’m depressed I hate it.

I had a good time during the warm-up and it was clear that I was going to have a good dance.  After the opening circle, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to write a blog post about dancing?  I’ve been writing about cashiering and about bipolar disorder – let’s write about a fun topic, dancing.”

And a voice in me screamed “No!! Don’t spend the next hour on the dance floor thinking about what you’re going to write about it!  Just shut up and dance!!”

Nothing I do on the dance floor looks like this, but on a good night some of what I do is exciting to watch - especially when I can turn my mind off and just dance.

Nothing I do on the dance floor looks like this, but on a good night some of what I do is exciting to watch – especially when I can turn my mind off and just dance.

And I had some luck doing that. (I really am very mental.)  One set of thoughts that came right away and I felt fine about went, “How shall I apply this mindfulness/not thinking principle to the cashier dance floor?” The answer was clear and immediate.  One day last week I was off on my cash at the end of the day.  This is not good for a cashier.  A previous time when I was off, in a different grocery store, my boss gave me some very sage advice: “You’re good with the customers – you have great conversations with them.  But when the money comes out the chatter has to stop – only focus on the money.  Then you can finish your conversation when your money is straight.”  I may have to apologize to a customer for interrupting our conversation – “Give me a second to take care of this money, then we can finish talking.” They’ll understand – they want you to get their money right.  I will put a sign on my cash register saying “Cash only” to remind myself of my intent.

Cashiering groceries begs for mindfulness practice: stilling the mind by focusing only on the colors, the texture, the weight.  It's food!  The source of life.  And still I forget.  For right now,  I'll pay attention to the food the best I can, but focus especially on mindfulness of the money.

Cashiering groceries begs for mindfulness practice: stilling the mind by focusing only on the colors, the texture, the weight. It’s food! The source of life. And still I forget. For right now, I’ll pay attention to the food the best I can, but focus especially on mindfulness of the money.

You may need to come up with a different mindfulness break for your job, but I bet you can.

One other little glimpse of the dance floor, from my dance with sweet Mary.  How differently can you dance from each other and still be dancing together?  On the dance floor and in my relationships, I want some times when you are moving sensuously in rhythm, effortlessly mirroring each other’s movements – like Darlene and I did tonight – and other times when we go way out into our unique, quirky self-expression, yet still know that in some intuitive way we are creating something together.

Getting up on a down day

You don’t need to have clinical depression or bipolar disorder to have a down day – everybody has them.  They may not usually be as ferocious as mine or last for twelve days straight, as mine just did (I think I’m lifting out of it now, but can’t tell for sure).  But everybody has rough times and is faced with the challenge of how to keep going – and everybody who works (including stay-at-home parents who work with their children) is probably faced with the challenge of how to get up for work when then they are down.

How do you get up when so much inside you is taking you down?

How do you get up when so much inside you is taking you down?

Here are some of my favorite strategies.  Some of them appear in other blog posts.  I started my day very depressed and most of these I used today in one form or another.  You may need to adapt them to your particular work situation.

  • Focus on your co-workers.  Interact as strongly as you can with those who are closest to you – but interact also with as many as you can.  Reinforce the notion of having a community at work, to whatever extent that is your experience.
  • Interact with your customers as robustly as possible.  Call them by name if you know their name – or it is available to you on your screen or on their driver’s license or their check.  Make them real.  Get your focus on them.  Ask them my favorite question, “What’s been the highlight of your day?” – or some other question that goes beyond, “Hi, how are you?”  Show an interest in them – get yourself interested in them.  If it in any way fits for your situation, focus on the overall group of staff and customers as a community – and draw strength from that.  I am fortunate that in my particular funky grocery store it really does make sense to think of our workplace as a community – if you are willing to go there with it.
  • Pay attention to your product – here, groceries.  Throw your attention there, and off of your depression or down state. Pay attention to the tangibleness of it – the texture, the heft, the color.  Interact with your customers around their groceries – what you’ve had, what you’ve liked, what you would recommend that they try, what you’re curious about – what you’d like them to tell you about.
  • This next one may be too philosophical or psychological for you.  If it is, forget about it – it’s not important.  Use it only if it’s helpful for you – it is for me.  I like to ask myself “What does all this mean for me today?  What is it that I’m finding out about this business of cashiering, about my relationship with my customers?  What is it teaching me about how to be a whole person?”

So, like I said, I used most of these strategies today.  And on a day that started out in the crapper, it progressively moved into a good zone.  I’ve learned to not predict what the next day will be like: I can have a great evening, then have my biochemistry reset to solid depressed the next morning.  But this was the best day I’ve had in a while – and I know these strategies helped.

“Open your heart already.”

Today was a very hectic day at work.  Two days before Thanksgiving, everybody was out getting their festive preparations.  There was pretty much always a long line at my cash register.  It was go-go-go.  Mostly I enjoyed it – it felt very festive and mostly people were in a good mood.  Mostly.  It had been that way all day.

Halfway through the afternoon, a slender girl presented herself in front of me with about $16 worth of groceries.  Her credit card was declined.  She somewhat sheepishly had me put back a couple of items and run her card again – still no luck.  She really quick called somebody to consult.  “I put back the cheese and the milk”, she said. “What should go next?”  You could almost see sweat break out on her brow.  There was a long line behind her.

To my chagrin, I observed myself being irritated with her.  Some wiser part of me knew that this reaction was out of whack.  This was a poignant situation – this girl was in pain.  She was about to go home without her bread and I’m irritated with her.  As she put back more items, little by little my heart started to melt.  By the time she finally punted on the whole transaction, a sweetness had taken over and I genuinely cared for her and her situation.  She had to go home with no groceries.

I think it was because of this little lesson that when, fifteen minutes later, two very old women came through my line – who were very slow about everything, again with a long line behind them – I felt no irritation.  I felt very sweet towards them, very compassionate.  Helping them had some challenges, but everything was hard for them.

As I move into this Thanksgiving, I can be grateful that – even though I don’t have a lot of money – so far at least I always have a little bit of money left at the end of the month.  I can be grateful that it has been a long time since my credit card was declined.  I can be grateful that I never have to go home with no bread.  I can be grateful that – unlike many of my co-workers – I never have to wait until payday to buy my groceries.

I don’t like it that sometimes my heart turns cold.  But I can be grateful that – in this one instance at least – when my heart was cold, some angel whispered in my ear “Let go.  Care. Trust. Feel. Love.”  Nothing is more painful than to have a cold heart.  And nothing feels better than to have your heart open up.

Buddy can you spare a dime?

On Thanksgiving I was talking with my friend Nancy, who works at Manna Food Bank, about our drive at work to raise money for them.  We have a Manna display in front of each cash register and ask customers if they wish to donate.  Some of us do it better than others.  I do it well sometimes, not so well other times.

It was great to get Nancy, who is so close to the action, talking about where the money goes.  She was talking about “food insecurity”.  The vast majority of people helped by Manna are not street people – they are working poor who at certain times in the month don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  They may have to choose between food and paying a utility bill.

We had a pretty fabulous spread at Thanksgiving - wonderful food, beautifully prepared, abundant.

We had a pretty fabulous spread at Thanksgiving – wonderful food, beautifully prepared, abundant.

My plate - I ate well, and I had been to another feast a few hours earlier.

My plate – I ate well, and I had been to another feast a few hours earlier.

I liked getting a better picture of the issue because I am not all that great at asking for money.  When I am “pumped up” (manic), I’m pretty good at it.  I don’t take it personal when people say “No” – it just feels good to ask, to feel like I’m doing my part for the cause.  When I’m depressed, the “No”s feel punishing – they grind me down.  I just don’t have the energy to ask.

My friend Feather who I worked with at another store said of these kinds of drives, “You’ve got to not care whether they give or not.”  There’s a lot of wisdom in that – and it has helped me hang in there.  But now I think I’m taking it a step farther.

When I am asked to give money – at a cash register, on the phone, or on the street – sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t.  I don’t always know why.  I’m fortunate enough that usually there is at least a little bit of money in my checking account at the end of the month – I usually could give a buck or a few bucks.  It’s not as simple as mania and depression – they don’t directly correlate to giving or not giving.  I just know that sometimes it feels right to say “Yes” and other times the only authentic answer i can come up with is “No”.

Sometimes to come up with an authentic "yes" or an authentic "no" is a victory in itself.

Sometimes to come up with an authentic “yes” or an authentic “no” is a victory in itself.

If sometimes my genuine (healthy?) answer is “No” – and I don’t know why and can’t predict when – then who am I to know what is right for the person on the other side of the cash register?  This may be a moment where saying “No” is a truly life-affirming thing for them.

So now when I pump myself up to ask for money for Manna Food Bank, I coach myself with three points:

  1. Don’t profile them. That skinny little girl who you assumed had no money gave $5.  The gruff guy who you assumed would bark at you gave $2.
  2. Give them a chance to give.  Giving feels good.  If you don’t ask, you are depriving them of a chance to feel good.
  3. Get over the idea that you know what’s right for them to do.  It’s deeper than “don’t care”.  Go ahead and care about them – and want them to do what’s right for them to do.  And you don’t know what that is.

For me, the deepest reason for asking is that it gives me the chance to practice humility, to practice not knowing, to practice letting go.  There is no deeper life lesson.  I don’t want to miss a chance to practice that.

 

“I need a supervisor!”

I guess I just needed to throw a fake tantrum.

It was the day before Thanksgiving – the busiest grocery store day of the year.  The previous day (the second busiest day of the year?), the pace had also been very intense, but the whole atmosphere had felt really festive.  I had fun.  Was today more intense because the holiday is right on us?  Or was I just more worn down?  Maybe both.  I had been going full-throttle, no slack moments, for two hours and was due for a break.  I guess I was also due to snap.

The day before Thanksgiving - some people are doing their whole big shopping trip and some are grabbing things they forgot to get last time.  The lines are long. Customers and cashiers are stressed.

The day before Thanksgiving – some people are doing their whole big shopping trip and some are grabbing things they forgot to get last time. The lines are long. Customers and cashiers are stressed.

 

My customer – a very pleasant, somewhat stocky 60ish woman – pulled a paper shopping bag off the stack to bag her groceries.  (We don’t have baggers and are glad to bag for people, though most of our customers seem very happy to bag for themselves.)  She said, a little frustrated but not apparently irritated, “This bag has a hole in it.”  She set it aside and picked up another.  “And this one is missing a handle.”

I took a step over to the faulty bags.  “No handle?!” And I threw it violently on the floor.  “A hole?!!” Throwing it on the floor.  “This is terrible.  I need a supervisor!” (Loud enough to sound like I was yelling, but not loud enough to actually get the attention of a supervisor.)

By this point, I was really having fun – and I could tell, out of the corner of my eye, that the customer was enjoying my theatrics, so I leaned into the tantrum act even a little more.  I kicked the bags back to where I had just been standing, then stomped on them.  Sherry Lynn, who was working back-to-back with me, stopped what she was doing to watch all of this, but we goof around all the time and she obviously knew I was playing.

“This is disgusting.  Something’s got to be done about this.”  Then I went back to ringing up my customer’s groceries as if nothing had ever happened – and she picked up a functional bag and commenced bagging.  I winked at her and she winked back.

My break was a half-hour late in coming, but my stress had been released and I was in a great mood.  When I did get my ten-minute break, I spent it furiously writing this post.  I have a pretty strong hunch that my customer left the store in a good mood too.

“I could use a blessing right now.”

Julie was 40ish, 5’2″, cute, sweet, gentle and even as she walked up to my register I thought she seemed a bit wistful (but I so sometimes make shit up in my head, so I wasn’t sure).  I asked her how she was spending her Thanksgiving.

Packaged cranberries are fine, but I love them floating around in the bin.

Packaged cranberries are fine, but I love them floating around in the bin.

“Just a low-key time at home.”

“Oh, by yourself or with friends?”

I've got a hunch Julie wasn't having a turkey.

I’ve got a hunch Julie wasn’t having a turkey.

 

“Just by myself.”

I was searching for some element that could make this a positive, life-affirming experience.  I asked

“Do you have any little rituals that make the day special for you?”

“No.  when I used to eat meat there were things I used to do, but not now.”

(I was not sure what meat-eating rituals there might be, but chose not to follow that one up.)

I was stuck.  We were down to her last few items to ring through and there were people behind her.  She was keeping on a game face, but I sure got sadness from her.  I wanted to do something, but I needed to do it fast.

She gave me just the opening I needed.  She asked me,

“Do you have any rituals?”

“Yes, in fact I have a ritual for blessing food that I like a real lot.  You could use it if you want – I’ve        posted it online.”

Thich Nhat Hanh blesses food by acknowledging its connection with all of life - see 11/25 post

Thich Nhat Hanh blesses food by acknowledging its connection with all of life – see 11/25 post

 

Julie brightened right up.

“Oh, I could use a blessing right now – where would I find it?”

“Google ‘Real life in the checkout line.’  Leave a comment about how it worked for you.  My email address is in the right column.  I’d love to hear from you.”

Julie left with a spring in her step.  And I stood taller.  I had the highlight for my day.

Blessing our food

It’s Thanksgiving time – a time when we pay extra attention to being grateful for our food, to blessing it.  My old meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh – the world’s foremost Zen master and I think our greatest living spiritual teacher – is currently extremely ill and is very much on my mind and in my prayers – as he is for people around the world.  It seems like a good time to share his practice for blessing food.

Thich Nhat Hanh - his students call him Thay, Vietnamese for teacher.

Thich Nhat Hanh – his students call him Thay, Vietnamese for teacher.

Thay teaches “Interbeing”: things inter-are.  They exist within each other.  They require each other to exist.  Everything exists within a great web of life.  It is from this backdrop that you can view the blessing of food.  All of life is contained within the food we eat.

“Thank you for this food.  Thank you for the rain which nurtured it.  Thank you for the sun which made it grow.  Thank you for the earth in which it grew.  Thank you for the people who tended the crops and harvested them.  Thank you for the people who brought it to market – and to the cars/trucks/boats/trains/planes that got it to us.  Thank you for the market that sold it to us.  Thank you for everybody and everything that helped us to have the money to purchase it.  Thank you for the cooks.  Thank you for all of us around this table who will eat it.  Thank you for everybody in every other home who is also celebrating this feast (eating today).  We send our love and compassion to everybody and every sentient being who is not eating today or not eating enough.  May all people and all beings feel love and find peace.  May this food serve us for health, healing and happiness.”

And let’s add, may our beloved Thay, who taught us these concepts and this relationship with food, feel the love that so many people around the world are sending him today.