My five dirty secrets

See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

In my store, we give people bonus points on their membership account when they bring their own bags. These points eventually apply as a discount on your grocery bill. I have five dirty secrets about how I implement these bonus points:

  1. I frequently forget to touch the button on my touch screen that applies these points.
  2. To counteract this tendency, my policy is to give the points right up front to everybody who comes through my line – including people who take bags and thus don’t deserve the bonus (remember the parable about the laborers who work different durations in the fields), and people who don’t belong to our frequent shopper program and for whom these points are completely irrelevant.  (I picture them poring over their receipt at home and asking, “Bag points?  What bag points?”)
  3. Our system is a little screwy and often requires people to re-enter their credit card at the end of the transaction.  Sometimes, however, when I tell people “The machine is asking you to swipe your card again” a more honest statement would be, “I just realized at the end of the transaction that I had not yet entered your bag points.  Touching that button at this point in the transaction caused your credit card info to fall out.  I understand that the hassle of once again pulling out your credit card may greatly outstrip the value of your 5 measly points.”

    See the happy, smiling cashier.  This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points.  This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

    See the happy, smiling cashier. This cashier is not worrying about giving out bag points. This cashier is thinking about getting laid tonight.

  4. Sometimes, after the transaction is over, I have a moment of wildly neurotic insecurity in which I ask myself “Did I give them their bag points?” Then, in an environment that greatly values conservation and where we are all proud that we recycle unwanted receipt slips, I print out another copy of the receipt so I can see if I actually did dispense the magical five points (value 5 cents).
  5. More often than not the receipt says that I actually did give them the points.  What’s more out of it – to forget to do something or to do it and not remember doing it?

I really, really want not to care very much about all this: we’re talking about five cents, for chrissake!  But it haunts me.  It adds stress to my day.  It makes me feel like a bad cashier.

Oh, here’s the deal: it haunts me when I’m depressed.  When I’m manic I don’t give a shit.  

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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.

“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.

Making art

Yesterday I wrote how I struggled through to affirm the value of the positive experiences I was having at the cash register, even though they didn’t lift the punishing biochemical depression that had me in its grips.

But there was another dynamic at work.  On and off throughout the day – and especially towards the end of the day – as I was having these positive experiences and these miserable experiences, in my head I was writing about them…planning to write this post.  During my afternoon ten-minute break I wrote (dictated, actually, into the voice recorder in my phone) about them as fast as I possibly could.

So for much of the day I was operating on two tracks: on the level of my immediate physical/emotional/mental experience, I was having moments of release followed by the return of crushing contraction – but on another level, I was detached from all that…was observing it.  The writer in me was observing – was creating a state of mindfulness, where I was not caught in my experience but could stand outside of it and notice it.  And mindfulness is liberating – to the extent it was operating, part of me was free from the suffering that was still going on.

Once again I celebrate my old meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who taught me lots more than I understand about mindfulness.

Once again I celebrate my old meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who taught me lots more than I understand about mindfulness.

So writing can trigger mindfulness and that can be freeing.  There was one other way that writing this post in my head was freeing.  Writing is a major identity for me – it feels like a big part of my mission in this world.  And right now writing this blog – writing about my job, about customer service, about bipolar disorder – is at the heart of that mission for me.  So even while my biochemical/emotional/mental suffering continued unabated, part of me was happy – was doing a little dance.  “I’m writing.  I feared that this depression would keep me from writing, but it’s happening.  I may hurt like hell all day, but I’m going to come out of it with a pretty interesting blog post.  I may end the day as fully in the grips of biochemical contraction as I started, but – regardless of how late it may be (and I do have a meeting tonight), before I go to bed I am going to write.  Depression can’t take that away from me.”

And now, at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday that’s exactly what I’ve done.  I wrote Thursday’s post and this post to go up on Friday – and I feel good about both of them.  My body feels like crap, but my spirits are good.  I may feel lousy all over again tomorrow.  I don’t want to program myself to feel bad, but lots of hard experience tells me that this is likely.  But I have written.  I have found meaning in my experience.  I have created something that could possibly be helpful to somebody else.  I have transcended my pain.  I have made art.