The Scratchpad №64
In my home-schooled Zen training, I sometimes wonder what it’s like to be on the other-side of an American. Perhaps it’s still a great mystery and that’s why so many “risk-it-all” to get here. When I asked my mother why she left the Philippines to find a home beyond the Ocean she said, “Because this is where everyone wants to be.” Now approaching the Autumn of her life, Manila calls back in her dreams.
Back to being American. To simplify this 238 year old country, we must consider the mutant gene bred into the species: Ambition.
I heard a preacher once say the spiritual life isn’t anti-pleasure nor anti-poverty but something in the middle. The people have filled in this blank with an extremis lean towards pro-achievement. The honorable daily exhaustion does not and will not shorten the possible work. But we refuse to see this since the herd mentality is stronger than a bull. I admit, when the repetitive business magazines are skillfully performing incest with the same idea of the busiest people are the ones who get the most done, it’s difficult not to join the party.
Recently, my wife and I opened a mom and pop Depop shop. The spontaneity of the experiment was a brilliant chance to convalesce from the daily business and toil. Since I work from my home office that triples as my dojo and bedroom, any validated reason to get of the house seemed lavish.
A few weeks ago we were shopping to stock our little store at a local Salvation Army. At check out I was searching for a reply when an old man went on:
“Thrift living has allowed me to invest in a timeshare in Hawaii, fly an airplane, buy a car (a Buick), send my kid to school, and eat spaghetti and tomato sauce six nights a week.”
My curiosity of what he eats on the seventh day still remains a mystery.
He took a quick breath while his aged blues stayed locked on me, “Thrifting is the best kept secret. I learned to thrift back when I was a kid and now I don’t even think about paying full price for anything. It’s a skill that most people aren’t even aware of.”
The dignity in his voice made him feel distincted and well-satisfied. He was not young, but his energy for a well-curated life gave his gait a youthful strength. As an old-timer he was stern of manner, but seemed to care for other people. It felt like he rejected the modern term of success but wanted everyone around him to have a version of it.
Our one-way conversation had reached its peak and we both knew it. I nodded to him and said, “Thanks. I’ve taken note.” His smooth shaven face cracked a smile and his experienced eyes were alive when he sent me off with, “Good listening skills kid. You’re going to be alright.”
That night while having a modest dinner of eight jack fruit taquiots, a family sized bag of Salsa Verde chips, and a cereal bowl of guacamole, I remembered that a rogue pastor who left the institution said, “In any binary situation, there’s probably a third position.”
I hadn’t agreed with some of the unsolicited advice that the old-timer gave me. I’ll never drive a Buick and time-shares make my tongue feel like a mitten. But it seemed as though his American ambition had allowed him to curate a life he was content with.
This land doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Maybe living in the USA is more of an invitation rather than an answer? Only humility can pound you down into enough clarity to consider the possibility that existence in this country is a silent request to create the mosaic of your life — not copy the ones of others.
I’ve recently discovered that wine assists in making your brain think less like a bully and more like a mystic. So after dinner I poured a glass of Malbec (Layer Cake because this is the best I could afford) and sat in the brown chair in the doorway of my open garage under the frosty stars and thought, “People should listen more. It offers a foreign pleasure and it’s less exhausting.”
Full link: https://thecreative.cafe/what-to-do-with-american-ambition-665da8b90b23