A Clear Conscience

Price TagsI recently had an experience that caused me to appreciate the tranquility that comes from living in alignment with my own sense of right and wrong, even though I don’t have everything all figured out.

Some weeks ago I was shopping for cheese to use as an hors d’oeuvre at a dinner party. As I collected an interesting assortment, I noticed one of the cheeses I picked up was marked with a ridiculously low price. It had to be a mistake. It was around closing time, so there was no one to straighten it out. What should I do? My first reaction was to simply put the packet back in the case and walk away. But then I wondered if I should consider the mismark a boon. I actually picked up the packet and put it back several times. As I pondered, I fished through the cheese and found two more packets with the same mismark. I was about to walk away for the last time without the cheese when I was struck by the thought, “If you don’t take advantage of this, someone else will.” Where did that come from? Potent motivation. I grabbed all three packets.

I wondered if the checker would notice and what he might say. Well, if he did, I would simply surrender the cheese. I wasn’t attached either way. And that would be a good way to get those packets corrected – and prevent someone else from cashing in. Ha! Oh brother, look at me!

Funny enough, the checker did notice, but he took a neutral position. As he examined the label I said, “That’s quite a deal huh?” He replied, “I doubt that’s the right price, but we’ll go with it.”

I walked out of the store feeling bad about the transaction. I had conversations with Jiminy Cricket all night. I desperately wanted to come up with a rule I could depend on in circumstances like this without having to think about it. I reverted to my first reaction, “If you have a question about a situation, walk away from it.” But that wasn’t entirely satisfying; it might keep me clear of internal conflict, but at what expense to my soul? After awhile I decided it was folly to come up with a rule. I was pretty sure the universe would make the next challenge just enough different from this one to confound any rule I might come up with.

After I got over the emotional charge, I decided it was actually important not to walk away from this situation. It was important to challenge myself in order to grow. This inspired another maxim: “Don’t stay out of the game – play with things as they come up, only hold them lightly.” Yes! I felt sure the important thing was to engage with as much as I could have fun with.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that the crux of the matter was holding things lightly. The lighter I could be about a situation, the more flexible I might be with options. To the degree I could maintain a playful mood, I could weigh alternatives without the bias of emotional charge.

By the next morning I had worked past judging myself and was all excited about the adventure of making things right. I was resolved to bring the price tags back to the store when the cheese manager was in and see about paying the correct price. I felt sure the interaction would be interesting and fun, now that I was back in a playful mood.

It ended up taking me ten weeks (!) to get back to that store. (It isn’t where I normally shop.) The cheese lady was in. I explained the circumstance and showed her the tags. She laughed and said I was sweet to come back and reconcile. She remembered being surprised that she sold out of that cheese so quickly; then realized she had mismarked them. She mentioned she had met the people who make that cheese and that they are really nice. She got me the correct price and told me I could settle up with any front clerk.

So I had to explain the situation all over again to a checker. He thought I was nuts. “Sounds to me like you got a good deal and you should leave it at that. Are you sure you want to do this?” I was patiently resolute. He huffed as he calculated a new total and subtracted what I had already paid. He believed mislabeling was the store’s problem, not mine.

All in all, it was a good little workout. I reflect that it was only by disturbing my conscience that I noticed the tranquility I enjoy by maintaining a clear conscience. I reflect that tranquility is good and so are challenges to it. I reflect that I am accustomed to living with a certain number of unresolved issues of conscience. I reflect that it is not so easy to live straight and be tidy in all my affairs. I wish all my wrong-doings were so easy to set right as packets of cheese.

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Beauty in the Mind: The Power of Sentiments

I recently noticed how often I call out “Father” as I sink into meditation and what a beautiful space that opens up for me. I have been ruminating on that process and the positive attributes I have assigned to the word “Father”; how I switch back and forth between thoughts of my Dad and of God; and what I intend by saying that – how I seem to be reaching out for the hand of someone larger, for assistance in getting to the place of stillness I seek.  It seems to me that I am being affected by the sentiment itself; that the act of holding a richly positive and emotional sentiment has the power to move me into the realm of the divine. 

I recognize that a classic definition of “sentiment” can refer to a positive or negative attitude. But I am using the term in a strictly positive sense – something like a sentimental sentiment: like the summary impression you might have of a subject after discussing it at length or the lingering residue of emotion you might feel after witnessing something awesome. And I think that simply experiencing a sentiment is something awesome in itself.

I became more conscious of sentiments a few years ago, after breaking up with my girlfriend. She and I had a strong emotional bond and we reveled in describing our happiness and appreciation for each other. We swore oaths of love to one another with utter abandon and superlatives galore. So much so, that, when the relationship came to an end, I wondered what to make of all those things we had said to each other. What was the truth of all those epitaphs if we ultimately decided to go separate directions? Continue reading

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Café Nell

Café Nell
1987 NW Kearney, Portland, OR 97209, 503-295-6487

Personable Service, Interesting Food, Attractive Ambiance
We were able to get breakfast items after noon. Nice. She had a simple plate of poached egg, bacon and cubed potatoes. I had the Monte Cristo. We were seated within a minute. Both the caf and decaf were hot, fresh and tasted good. Our server handled a couple special requests without any trouble. Our dishes came out quickly. The potatoes were hot and crisp. The bacon was good quality. There was something interesting in the salad that came with my sandwich – smoked salt maybe. My sandwich was perfectly presented and tasted great. I asked for a side of syrup and it was the thickest I have been served. The café is on a quiet corner between apartment buildings. They have their own parking lot. Natural light comes from a bank of windows on the west side. Although the interior is B&W tiles and bare wood chairs, there is a certain warmth here. I would like to try it again sometime for dinner, when the candles are lit.

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Good Bye Lenin

Good-Bye-LeninGood Bye Lenin (2003)

Alex’s mother, a Soviet party devotee, suffers a heart attack just before the Berlin Wall comes down and then remains in a coma for eight months. While she sleeps, Germany is reunified. When she awakes, East Berlin has transformed! The doctor warns that her condition is so fragile that any shock could result in a lethal second heart attack. Worried his mother won’t be able to handle the titanic changes that have transpired, Alex struggles to keep her in the dark about all that has happened until she is stronger. That ends up being a tall order since East Berlin is so quick to adopt western culture.

This is a touching story on many different levels with many different lines of tension providing entertainment. It is also a great romp through historical events circa 1989 from the viewpoint of people living in East Berlin. Be aware it is heavy on subtitles due a lot of voice-over. And be on the lookout for hidden references to many other famous films.

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DuplicityDuplicity (2009)

Two spies give up their government jobs to go into the more lucrative industry of corporate espionage. They collude to swindle their employers and then retire on the profits together. But as the story unfolds, more lines of duplicity are revealed. Who will pull the last string?

This is a refreshingly nonviolent caper with not a single bullet fired or blow struck. The way successive rounds of disclosures are unveiled is fun. The dance between the two lovebirds at the center hints at something elementally human.

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Coming Soon

Car Games

You probably aren’t keen about spending any more time in your car than necessary. And rightly so: commute time is some of the lowest value time in your life. Well, you may not be able to reduce car time, but you might be able to make it more entertaining. Consider these ideas for making your next trip across town a touch more interesting.

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