Sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a friend to meet me who I think isn’t going to show up (he’s bad with appointments), and listening to two people talking at the table next to me.
Man: This place is totally lifeless. They oughta put in more comfortable chairs and real art on the walls.
Woman: The coffee sucks here.
I’d been thinking the same thing.
This cafe is corporate and soulless. The woman behind the counter is probably getting minimum wage, and she's surly. And my coffee is cold.
Because of who I am and what I do for a living (design stuff) I hate it when things suck that don't need to. And I especially hate it when things I do go wrong, and its not my fault. When I work hard and my big idea falls apart in front of everyone at work, then someone crashes into my car on the way home, and my wife is doing that thing that drives me crazy when I finally get there — I react with indignation that this is happening at all. I mean, what could I have done? Why me?
There are lots of people out there that have tried to tell me over the years that the goal of life should be to move beyond that. Spiritual teachers and personal coaches and yoga instructors all offer a similar way out: Just be at peace with things. Let it all go. Be OK with it when things go wrong.
I mean, seriously, take a look around. The whole situation is completely fucked. Job, car, bike, wife, life, God, the universe, cold coffee — it’s all screwed up, and if it isn't a problem right now, it will be later. Nothing works as it should, and the only thing we really can depend on is that everything eventually changes, breaks or gets lost. Animals eat each other, we all eventually get the flu (or worse).
It's as if whoever designed this place invented the perfect lab for suffering, and even that isn't dependable because things are awesome sometimes, too — in the most inconvenient ways. I was introduced to someone a few weeks back who had just lost his pet dog of 12 years, and he was miserable, but he had a Christmas tree sweater on in February, and it was both funny and heartbreaking at the same time.
Life is more or less a series of things that never go the way we expect them to. And I never signed up for this — I was just born into this fucked up place. It's really not fair.
When unexpected things happen, most of us do the logical thing: we make a change to make things better. Deciding to attack the problem, or to run away from it, or trying to ignore it are all ways that we try to fix things for ourselves. Which makes complete sense — we do our best to get things back to equilibrium so we’re comfortable again.
Problem is, if we’re lucky that lasts for a few days or a few hours or a few minutes — then something unexpected happens again and the cycle repeats itself. And we never really arrive at that place we’re always aiming for: the place where everything works fine, where we’ve finally solved all the problems, and we’re done fixing things. Forever.
Denying that this is the world we’ve been born in to is just another way to put our heads in the sand. The spiritual teacher or Yogi who tells you to try to "accept suffering" and everything will be OK — she's just offering you another way to escape from something you can't escape from. Yeah, it sounds different because it's counterintuitive, but it's the same bullshit in a different colored suit.
In any case: something has changed for me around this whole issue lately.
I’m just losing interest in that whole game. Lately, it's all a lot less entertaining than it used to be. I guess I've noticed the pattern (problem, blame, fix, problem, blame, hide) too many times. And what's happened is that I’ve found myself dropping the whole conversation.
So there's a problem (I fell off my bike on my way to work) and it hurts (wheel bent and knee scratched). But I just stop there. There’s no “should” or “shouldn’t” any more, because every time I start to go there, I just lose interest and move on.
Fact is, accepting it or fighting it or blaming someone doesn't give me money for a new rim, it doesn't make my knee feel better, and it won't get me to work on time.
Someone (probably one of the Zen teachers I used to hang out with a lot) once said to me that being hurt is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. I’m coming to believe that the only way to ensure that we’re always unhappy is to try to avoid unhappiness.
And ironically the only way to really deal with things that hurt without making them hurt more is to let them hurt.
So, I'm sad because this cafe is a loveless place, and my knee still hurts, and my beloved bike is broken.
And of course, I can always choose to go somewhere else next time. I can even open a coffee shop of my own, a nice warm place with good coffee and good art that will attract great people, and where the people behind the counter earn a living wage.
But whatever I do, all I've got right here and right now is this cold coffee, which is suddenly kind of interesting. And the underpaid barista just smiled at me.
And the couple next to me are still complaining about all of it. It’s all they've got.