On Friday night, we have dinner with our hosts. Our new tradition is to go to La Casita, a little Mexican joint on Bethel Rd that we all like. Tonight, it’s hopping. Gill, Pat, and I arrive first. Gina will meet us there, coming directly from work. It’s only 5:30PM when we arrive with the blue hair crowd. We have no trouble getting a table, but by the time Gina arrives, the restaurant is full.
We have our dinner and a round of margaritas. Then, Gill and I, Gill having had no alcohol and me having consumed only 1/2 of my margarita in the past hour and a half, drive the two cars back while Gina and Pat order another round. Gill drives the two of us back to the restaurant again and we return to our table to hang out until two friends Gina and I are meeting arrive. We send Gill and Pat home when Vivienne and Andrea get there. Gina and I are now free to indulge in margaritas knowing that Gill, who doesn’t drink, will safely get us home when we are ready.
Unfortunately, I have a hard time letting go of feeling like we’re inconveniencing others. It’s Friday night and we have already occupied the table for 2 hours by the time our friends arrive. I watch the crowd grow–standing at the door holding beepers–and try not to feel bad. I am not sure if my conscientiousness when it comes to making people wait came from some childhood trauma or if it’s just normal politeness, but I seem to have honed in on “Thou Shalt Not Make Others Wait” in etiquette while I am simultaneously oblivious to many other basic rules of consideration. So much so that things like sitting at a light for more than a split second after it turns green creates anxiety in me.
I had to learn early in my career not to be several minutes early to meetings because it not only wasted my time, but it made others think I didn’t have enough work to do. Learning to be fashionably late to parties was another tough adjustment. I’m still often the first to arrive. This is a case where my impulse not to keep others waiting puts me in the awkward position of potentially inconveniencing the host by arriving before he or she is ready for guests.
In cases where I know the host well, I have made arrangements to come over early and help with prep just so I won’t have to go through this anxiety. In cases where the host is an acquaintance, I have sat in my car contemplating which is more awkward: to be the only person at the party or to be seen sitting outside in my car. This led to the practice of drive-bys.
Tonight, when we decide to pay the check and start over when our friends arrive, I try to dispel my anxiety by tipping the waitress generously. Apparently it wasn’t generous enough because she doesn’t seem to notice and I am still anxious.
Our friends arrive and I’m relieved that one of them orders food. I order another margarita not because I want to drink it but just to try to run up our tab a bit. When it comes, I take two sips and realize that I desperately need water, but I’m not about to ask for it.
After everyone has had their fill of food and beverages, we decide to head over to Vivienne’s house. I tip the waitress more generously this time. I do a calculation of what her total tips would have been had she turned the table over 2x with 4 people ordering entrees, which seems about right since we’ve now been there 3 1/2 hours. Apparently I did my math correctly; this time she smiles at me and says thank you when she walks by after taking the checks.
Now that I have alleviated my anxiety, I relax and enjoy this collection of women. We are an eclectic mix. Gina and I became the best of friends after sharing an office at work. Interestingly, sharing office space seems to work well for me when it comes to making friends. Many of the closest friends I have are women I shared space with most of the day Monday-Friday for some period of my life. My other friends, Andrea and Vivienne, I met through Gina.
The three of them, along with a collection of other wise and wonderful women, had formed a book club around Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. Gina and I, as close as we were, had never ventured into such topics. I was never particularly interested in anything related to “spirituality.”
It’s funny how you can push away something and have no interest in it and then it suddenly pops up at a moment some window opened a crack when you weren’t looking.
When I got past the point in life when I was dreaming about what my future would be like and instead realizing that the future had come and gone while I wasn’t looking, I was left asking myself, “Is this it?” As I matured (if that’s what we call it), drama receded into stability and with stability, life somehow lost its luster. I suspect the timing of this sudden sense of disappointment was also a factor of not having children. Without the distraction of young people taking up my time and energy, I had the space to notice that my life was disappointingly mediocre.
There I was with this little nagging feeling that there had to be more to life when Gina introduced me to Vivienne and Andrea and A New Earth. For me, A New Earth introduced a new world. The simple state of Being and simply feeling present allowed me to feel connected to life in a way I’d never felt before. Although these teachings have apparently been around in countless forms for thousands of years, this book was like a portal into a realm I’d never entered before. Unfortunately, like so many lessons in my life, it was fleeting and I found myself completely losing the ability to experience a sense of connectedness as quickly as I discovered it.
As I continued to explore Tolle’s teachings with my girlfriends, I got further away from the experience of and more into thinking about those teachings. Eventually, we stopped pretending to be meeting about the book and just got together to socialize. The realization that laughing and sharing together was a lot easier than seeking enlightenment overtook us. Truthfully, a glass of wine with empathetic friends is its own form of enlightenment.
Now, at Vivienne’s house, Vivienne and Andrea introduce a new book to us. It’s called Nonviolent Communication. I have to smile. I have been curious about Nonviolent Communication for some time. I have seen flyers for workshops, received emails advertising classes, and seen references to it repetitively enough to realize the blinds have been pulled up even if the window hadn’t quite opened yet. Now, here is a book on the topic and friends who want to learn it’s content together.
I am thrilled to have something new to read and secretly hope it will help me reestablish my lost connection. But a little bell goes off in my head somewhere behind all the excitement: seeking is not the way to find. Being is just being and you can’t find it by looking for it; you find it by doing it. I am reminded of one of my favorite Yoda quotes (gotta love StarWars wisdom): “Do or do not; there is no try.”
I appreciate the wisdom and insights my friends bring to our discussion. Every time I talk with them, I learn something new and have many ah-ha moments. It’s funny how addictive momentary insight can be. It gives me the impression that I’m getting somewhere.
As we wind down the evening, I wonder how much of this book will actually make its way into daily practice in my life. I wonder what space I will need to make for it and how much time incorporating it will take. I wonder why reading about changing behavior is so exciting while actually changing it is so burdensome. I think about the cycle of hope and despair that comes from the belief that we can change. That we can be better people. We can feel connected and fulfilled. And then, the realization that maybe we can, but it’s hard. It requires making choices–consciously stopping mindless habits that happen on autopilot and choosing a new way instead. Finding the energy to even notice mindless habits is often the most difficult part. I smile, amused at myself, as I think, “Maybe this time it will be different.”