When we have to wait….

Most all of us spend time waiting in lines – including those of us who work for a living serving  customers who wait in line to get to us.  When we are waiting in line, we may get restless, frustrated or irritated – or we have the option to use that time otherwise.

  • If we notice that we have gotten to any extent upset from waiting, we can have compassion for ourselves – forgive and bless ourselves in this hurting state.
  • We can welcome the waiting as a mindfulness bell. bringing us back to this present moment.  A fortyish guy who came through my line the other day said, “I kind of like waiting – it gives me a chance to slow down.”
  • We can bless our purchases.  This may be easier if we are buying something as positive as good food.
    • We can pay attention to the feel of each item as we put it out on the conveyor belt.
    • We can feast on the colors, sizes and shapes of the items.
    • We can arrange them on the belt in some way that is fun or satisfying for us.
    • We can picture these products giving us health.
    • We can be grateful for having the money to buy them.

      We can use our time waiting to play with our food, like this customer did.

      We can use our time waiting to play with our food, like this customer did.

  • Whether or not we have a cashier who is liable to ask us “What’s been a highlight of your day?”, we can rehearse our answer to that question.  We can say it to our cashier even if they don’t ask.  We can ask them what’s been a highlight of their day.  If they have been under pressure with a long line, they may especially profit from such an injection of positive energy.
  • We can chat with the people in front of or behind us.
  • We can bless the cashier as we are waiting to get to them.
    • May they not be stressed.
    • May they be efficient and accurate.
  • This blessing of the cashier can be especially powerful when we get in front of them.  We can be a little bomb of positive energy.  Our smile and our words can be an invitation to the cashier to come out into the light.


When we don’t have access to any of these strategies – when it seems that the best we can do is to get frustrated and irritated – we can return to forgiving and blessing ourselves.

Loving the hostile old man in me

My therapist Lorrie is reading and loving this blog.  This is flattering, affirming and encouraging.  One way this is a mixed blessing is that when she sees in my writing an area where I’m stuck, she feels empowered to offer me the chance to get unstuck.

A week ago, December 21, in a post entitled “Customers who piss you off” (the search box in the right hand column will take you right there), I described a customer: “About 60 – tall and wiry – he presented very defended – strong male body armor, cold, hostile.  I immediately took a dislike to him.  I didn’t want him in front of me.”  At my therapy session two days after this post went up, Lorrie asked, “What was it about him that made you not want him in front of you?”

What made it so hard for me to respond to this guy with compassion?

What made it so hard for me to respond to this guy with compassion?

I knew immediately that I had been found out.  What made me reject him?  Well the part of me that is like him.  Some would call this the shadow.  I like my persona – what I lead with, what I identify with.  My persona is soft, undefended, warm, embracing.  It’s how a lot of people would describe me.  But it’s not all there is to me.  I have a part of me that is very defended, cold and hostile.  I hate it when I go there.  I hate me when I go there.  I have it in me to get mad when I think I’m being charged the wrong price.  I don’t go there very often, but I could go there.

So I got mad at this guy because he reminded me of me – a part of myself that I reject.  This is probably true most of the time that a customer (or anyone) pisses us off.  And the rest of the time they probably are reminding us of someone from our past who hurt us or who for some other reason we still resent.  This makes these people real gifts to us – they expose what in us still needs healing, still needs loving.

If we seem these people as gifts, we may see that they are clearly in pain – or they would not be behaving in unfriendly ways or radiating toxic energy.  If we see them as gifts and in pain, we may find it in our hearts to have compassion for them.  And the big payoff of having compassion for them is that it will open up the possibility of having compassion for the part of us that is like them.

I won’t be able to catch this dynamic right away every time it happens.  I will still get pissed off at the occasional customer.  I will need to have compassion for myself for having a hostile response to a customer.  Having compassion for myself will make it easier for me to have compassion for the hurting person in that customer.  Having compassion for them will make it more likely that I can have compassion for the hurting part of me that they remind me of.

And that’s not a bad deal at all.

A grocery store holiday greeting

(This post only started to formulate itself today – and kept bubbling up in me on and off all day.  Many or most of you may not see it until after Christmas, but my holiday wishes will still pertain.)

My standard greeting to people today was “Happy holidays”.  Besides my Jewish friends and customers, there’s Kwanzaa – and one lovely young woman in my line today said that when people wish her a Merry Christmas, she sometimes says, “I’m pagan and I celebrate the solstice.”  But when people wish me a Merry Christmas, I say it back: it’s my heritage and it is a day to celebrate Christ.  Whether or not you consider him the Messiah, he – along with others like the Buddha, Mohammed and others – certainly deserves to be celebrated.

Early in my 10-6 shift today, I got kind of obsessed with what was I really trying to communicate when I said, “Happy holidays” or “Merry Christmas”.  I realized that it’s different here at the grocery store, dealing with my customers, than it is in other parts of my life.  Here’s what I came up with.

“May the groceries I am selling you nurture you, be beautiful and delicious, and make you happy.

"May the food I am selling you nurture you...."

“May the food I am selling you nurture you….”

“May you get it that I care about you and like serving you.

“May you experience all of our staff as dedicated to your health and well-being – and that serving you is something we really like to do.”

“May the whole congregation that is our store feel to you like a community of like-minded souls...."

“May the whole congregation that is our store feel to you like a community of like-minded souls….”

“May the whole community that is our store feel to you like a community of like-minded souls, where people who care about their health. take personal responsibility for it and are willing to invest money in it come together – as a place where you meet old friends and have positive connections with new people you meet in the store, often in the checkout line.

“May all who gather around this food – at your table or someone else’s – thrive on this food and the good company,  If you will be spending a quiet day at home, may that be peaceful and fulfilling for you.

“May you have a wonderful new year, may our store be part of it, may I get to serve you again – and maybe even get to know you more, which would please me a lot.  Who knows, maybe this blog will increase your sense of connection with me, our staff, our store and your fellow customers.

“Happy holidays.”

This present moment

Today is going to be my first full-on bipolar post – particularly dealing with depression.  It had to happen eventually.  My good friend Johanna said to me the other day, “If you don’t write about your depression, the blog will have no integrity.”  It’s for sure that there’s no way to write with integrity about my experience today without writing about depression.  It makes me very squeamish: lots of my co-workers are reading this, lots of customers.  But I signed on for this – I promised to write through the lens of someone who lives with bipolar disorder.  So let ‘er rip.

It’s been a very hard day.  My cruel biochemistry is having its way with me.  My core depressive symptom – painful physical contraction – has been very intense.  Add on to that a lot of discouraged and sad feelings, and wretched self-talk and you have a recipe for misery.  It’s been punishing and unrelenting.

The physical contraction of depression can be crushing - can make it hard to stand up straight.

The physical contraction of depression can be crushing – can make it hard to stand up straight.

Except not totally unrelenting, if I be completely honest.  I have had many little positive experiences.  I want to say that none of them has helped, because I keep returning to the same miserable, contracted state.  But in fact, in the middle of those positive experiences I have had moments of release.

Several of my friends have come through my line or waved as they moved through the store.  None of that shifted my mood – but did my heart not lighten momentarily at the sight of them?  My friend Christine came through my line.  When I told her I was glad to see her, I meant it.  And when, at the end of our encounter, she said that she was happy to see me, I could see in her face that she meant it.  That touched my heart.  It didn’t matter that moments later my contracted biochemistry asserted itself – that moment still happened.

When Caroline and her husband – my “Stickers for seniors” couple from yesterday’s post – came through my line and she said, “We’ll take the senior discount – and stars”, that made me happy…even if only for that moment.

When – out of the corner of my eye – I saw my friend Jenn in my line, my heart skipped a beat.  My heart got happy – that was real, no matter what happened next.

When Caryl and Brian came through my line, we did a little happy dance about Monday’s post where I described her giving me her hat.  They loved the post as much as I did.  It was a sweet encounter.  That can’t be taken away from me.

I have had more lovely experiences in this one day than most people have in a week – or longer.  That didn’t have the power to stop my suffering.  I could pile on the punishment by blasting myself for not being able to hold on to the good feelings: “Look, you’re such a wreck that you have all these wonderful things happen to you and you waste them.”  But I don’t need to go there.  The suffering doesn’t need to invalidate the good experiences.

I had moments of joy today.  I had moments of love.  They didn’t last – but no feelings last.  Yeah, these went away really fast and really thoroughly – but that doesn’t make them any less valid.  It may make them a little more heartbreaking – to have a taste of joy and then have it snatched away.  But still it was real.

I am very fortunate to work in a setting where I get to experience moments of joy, moments of love.  The real waste is not to have them go away – that could not be helped.  The real waste would be to not be grateful for having them.  I may end the day feeling as bad as when I started – the physical contraction, at least, is not likely to have changed.  But I will end the day a richer man – a genuinely lucky person.