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.

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“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.