Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Seeing, Really Seeing

Am I a bad, shallow person to enjoy places like Liberty so thoroughly?  Only the one percent can actually buy anything there, right?  True, although I did buy some nail varnish, as they call nail polish in Britain.  It cost £12 ($15)—the most expensive nail polish I’ve ever bought—but I love the color and it reminds me of my day there.

But no regular person can actually afford to buy a pair of pants at Harrods.  Isn’t that wrong?  Isn’t it criminal that people spend £1,500 on baby carriages made by Maserati?  Or £2,000 for jeweled clutch purses, or £200 for a canvas tote bag because it has the Liberty look and label?

Isn’t it outrageous that people spend £95 for a small plate with a Liberty design on it, when they won’t give £5 to the homeless person sitting on the pavement outside the store?

Yes, it is outrageous.  And I’m glad there are people designing, making, selling, and buying beautiful things in this world.

Maybe, if the contents of all the high-end department stores were liquidated and the proceeds given to homeless people, those folks would get new clothes, get jobs, find apartments, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

Nah.

Some would, some wouldn’t. Some might use the money to start a small business, and build it into a business empire … like Harrods.  Some have such intractable problems that no amount of money or social service intervention can solve them.  Some poor people would be offended by the offer of cash and continue on their own path of working their way up.

No, it’s much more complicated. I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations almost my whole career and I know that rich people and businesses can be part of the solution.

I just searched the Liberty website for the terms “donations,” “charity,” “corporate social responsibility,” and “philanthropy” and came up empty handed.  It would be nice to think that they hired ex offenders or donated unsold shoes to charity auctions.

I would be happy to help them start a corporate philanthropy program if they would just allow me to work from that green velvet sofa.

For better or worse, I have an “eye” for color, composition, and all things beautiful, whether they’re manmade or natural.  You may be thinking, “Well everyone loves beautiful things!” but you would be wrong.  I have friends who have nothing on their walls.  Nothing.  No art, not even Art-in-a-Box from Target.

They come to my house, look around, and say, “Wow, you have so much stuff on your walls.  Interesting.”  As if it has never occurred to them that they could do the same, much less surround themselves with beautiful, interesting, uplifting objects.

I have been told that I notice things, in general.  The other day, I was in an old-timey grocery store in St. Paul and said to my friend, “Hey!  When was the last time you saw a grocery store with a ‘Grits’ aisle?”

She laughed and said, “You always notice things like that.”

Doesn’t everyone?  I guess not.

I asked my landlady, “What are those tracks?”

“What tracks?”

“The ones there—that look like a snake made them,” I pointed.

“Oh, those.  I’ve never noticed them.  Maybe a mouse?”

I am in a hyper-state of noticing when I’m traveling.  It was good to know I could see things—delightful, humorous things—right at home.  This new year, I’m going to try to pull it in even closer, and notice things in my house that I use or pass by—sightless—every day.

Back at Fortnum and Mason, Heidi and I worked our way slowly through the food hall.

I bought a box of Earl Grey tea for Lynn and a box of English Breakfast for myself.  I didn’t buy these exact containers but you get the idea of the packaging.

Yes, they cost more than a canister of PG Tips at Tesco.  They may not have been grown in a socially-responsibly, environmentally-sustainable manner.  But so what?  They’re beautiful, and six months later I am still dipping into my stash and enjoying the tea and the memory.

Suspended

This is a series of posts about Belize that starts here.

We sat in the sand under a shade tree enjoying our lunch break before more snorkeling.

Here’s something I never knew about snorkeling: it is very dehydrating.  There are lots of articles about it; it’s something about the lack of gravity when you’re in the water, apparently.  Whatever the case, the public toilet on the island was half a mile off, so we all started pretending we couldn’t get enough of the water, wading in and saying things like, “Ooh, I just can’t stay away from of this beautiful water!”  What else could we do?

Emily and I had become pals.  We had both lived and worked or gone to school in other countries. We lived in the same neighborhood now.  And we had both been observing the martyrdom, endless list of food restrictions, and other “interesting” behavior of our fellow tour members.

“Do you have any gluten-free options?” asked Joan as the pulled-pork sandwiches were being handed out.  Lincoln, our boat captain, smiled and shook his head no.  Joan sat back in the shade, her arm still in a makeshift sling from her fall the first day.  She didn’t say, “I’ll just go hungry then,” but she didn’t need to; it was all in her body language.  Neither she nor Liz had gone in the water. This wasn’t surprising about Joan, who was stick-thin and sickly looking and had fibromyalgia.  But Liz was in good shape.

“Ah just didn’t feel lahk it,” she drawled.  If she was hoping we would ask her to explain why, she was disappointed.

The rest of us really couldn’t wait to get back in. As we were putt-putting out to the reef area, I spoke with Vanessa, our guide.

Vanessa had finished two years of college to become an English teacher.  Then she got this summer job as a snorkeling guide and she never went back.  I can’t say I blame her.  When she said she missed writing, I suggested she could write a blog about snorkeling and she liked that idea.  I hope she does it.

We approached a boat where fishermen were cleaning their catch of conches and throwing the leftover scraps into the sea.

We jumped in, and almost immediately I said into my mask, “That looks like a turtle!” only it sounded like, “Flaploogglaga blurpple!”

And it was a turtle, an old Loggerhead about five feet from snout to tail.  This is not “our” turtle but it’ll give you an idea of what she looked like.

She reminded me of my son’s ancient dinosaur-like dog, Willie, without the purple bandana.

Then there were the rays—Eagle rays and Spotted Rays—also as long as I was tall, also prehistoric looking, also a photo stolen off the web.

I wish I could say I took these photos, but as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I take terrible photos above water, never mind below water.

But other people in my group had Go-Pros and water proof cameras.

Here I am, looking like a scene out of Jaws:

Lincoln and Vanessa kept calling out, “Over here!  There’s a lobster / Garfish / Lionfish / Clownfish!  Everyone would swim after them to have a look.  Everyone but me. I reached an area where the sea floor must have been 30 feet below me but the water was so clear it felt like I was suspended in air.  Suddenly I felt panic that I would plummet to the bottom.  That passed and I just floated meditatively.  Doing nothing, going nowhere.  No To-Do list.  I caught myself thinking, “I can’t wait to do this again!” then laughed at myself and focused on the fact that I was there, in heaven, right now.

The meditative mood stayed with me for the rest of the evening.  Walking back to Jeanie’s, we were passed by a teenage boy on a tuk tuk—a motor scooter—with a fat baby balanced on the handle bars.  The baby was laughing with delight as the scooter bucked up and down over the potholes.  I vowed to be more like a baby—unafraid, in the moment, joyful.

Wherever You Go, There’s a Screen

“How was your trip?”

What was the highlight of your trip?”

“What were the top three things about your trip?”

These are questions I always get when I get home from a big one.  The first one is so broad that all I just say, “It was great.” If the asker is genuinely interested in knowing more, he or she will ask more questions.

The other two are meant, I think, to keep the returned traveler hemmed in so he/she doesn’t go on and on.  I don’t blame the asker; not everyone has time or interest in hearing details about someone else’s trip, but when you see someone at work who’s been gone for a month you have to ask them something, if for no other reason than to be courteous.  Personally, I love hearing about other people’s trips, as long as they’re not cornering me on the way to a meeting or shoving their cell phone in my face to show me videos of their roller coaster ride at Disney World.

When people ask for the “top three” they are probably expecting me to say:

  • The Coliseum
  • The Amalfi Coast
  • The Alhambra

Or some such check list of tangible things.  But the highlight of this trip was that I was in the moment.  I wasn’t planning ahead or analyzing what I should have done differently.  I didn’t have To-Do lists, coupons or business cards or post-it notes with reminders to myself stuffed into every pocket.  There are no piles of things by the door ready to return to a store, or library books to return, or bags of plastic bags to take to the recycling center.  I pretty much wore the same two outfits for three weeks so I didn’t have to decide what to wear.  There were no cleaning or DIY projects, unless you count hand washing my socks and underwear—a meditative activity in itself.  I only woke up once with an alarm clock

I hadn’t set out to be mindful, and now I wonder if this is one of the things I’ve loved about travel all along but was never aware of.

I was traveling alone for the first 10 days so I had to really pay attention to, for example, what time the train left.  I had to be aware of my surroundings for safety’s sake.  I needed to remember to ask the hotel front desk to print my boarding pass when I had a flight the next day.  So there were things I had to attend to, but this reinforced being in the moment, I was nothing like the Human Doing I am at home.

Being in the moment doesn’t mean you’re never irritated.

Am I the only one who doesn’t love the screens embedded in airplane seat backs?  They’re great for watching movies.  But they are set to be on, all the time, unless you turn them off.

On night flights, my routine is to gulp down a glass of wine, choke down the “food” Delta calls dinner, then don my ear plugs and sleep mask and try to get a few hours of sleep so that when I arrive I can tell myself I had a good night’s sleep—when I really only had four fitful hours.  (I also bring a full-size down pillow on night flights.  It makes a huge difference; you can use it to pad the wall or the arm rest, or smoosh it up and hunch forward over it.  It’s not counted as a carry on item.)

I woke up at some point during the flight and staggered down the aisle to the toilet.  Delta requires people to lower their window shades and turns off the cabin lights.  But 90% of the screens were on—hundreds of “Delta” logos glowing white and red.  People were sound asleep with these screens a foot from their faces.

Back in my seat, I looked at the guy across the aisle and one row in front of me.  His screen was on, his wife was asleep but her screen was on, and he was playing solitaire on his phone.  And we wonder why it’s so hard to sleep on planes.