September 30, 2012

Peggy's Progress
        (Not to be confused with John Bunyan's tale of agony and doom!)


A few weeks ago I was driving down Highway 1 on my way to work in San Luis Obispo. It was another lovely day on the Central Coast and I was enjoying the sunshine and the quiet of the drive and I had just come down the hill south of the little town of Harmony. Little as in population of 18 which may or may not include the resident toddler who is the grandchild of some of our neighbors on our road. As I came down the hill towards the bottom where it curves slightly I suddenly sensed I was going a bit fast. At that same moment I spotted a CHP (California Highway Patrol) car parked on the side of the road and out of reflex I hit my brakes (lightly, no screeching or skid marks or anything dramatic like that). But as luck would have it at that very same moment he saw me. He had obviously nabbed a speeder earlier who had driven off by the time I got there and the officer walked casually to his car where he reached in to switch on his flashers. Next he waved his arm low giving me the unmistakable signal to "pull over lady!" Rudely rousted out of my autopilot space driving mode I had no choice but to comply with the law. As I sat there waiting for him to approach the passenger side of my car, I'm thinking damn, that's what I get for not paying attention! How totally unnecessary! How expensive! Mindfulness total failure!

It's a bit surreal waiting for what seems like that really long, slow walk to my car and then finally I see the mid-section of a uniformed body through my passenger side window. A hatted head pops in my now open window and says "Good morning! Where are you headed?" I say work and he says "well you were speeding. Can I see your license and registration and insurance?" I offered no rebuttal, after all what could I say? Yes I was speeding, but not excessively and I certainly wasn't posing a hazard on the road that had no traffic and excellent weather and visibility. But I politely and a bit sheepishly accepted my citation from Officer Gennuso of the California Highway Patrol and we both went our separate ways. So for my failure to pay attention I now have $274 fine for speeding! I actually may go into court to appear. Maybe if I show up the court will take pity on me and I can convince them that I really can't afford that, and besides I haven't had a ticket in over a decade, and they should reduce the fine. Wish me luck!

Of course none of this would have happened had I been paying attention. A painful and expensive lesson in mindfulness and what happens when you don't pay attention to what's going on around you. Which brings me to the Holstee Manifesto. The manifesto is the brainchild of two brothers and a friend who started Holstee as a small business making and selling t-shirts and eventually other products from recycled materials. The partnership, forged in the midst of the 2008 recession that provoked many to rethink the allure of the topsy turvy world of business and careers was more about a life plan than a business plan. As they describe it on their website, here is their story of how the manifesto came to be:

"Having just quit our jobs without a plan or idea of how we would spend our days, we were filled with a ton of raw energy, emotion, and ideas - a feeling that we never wanted to forget. So the first thing Holstee's three founders - Mike, Fabian and Dave - did was sit together on the steps of Union Square and write down exactly what was on their minds and the tips of their tongues. It wasn't about shirts and it wasn't about their old jobs. It was about what they wanted from life and how to create a company that breathes that passion into the world everyday. It was a reminder of what we live for."

What their Manifesto says isn't new by any means and of course it's rather simplistic so it can remain concise. What I like about it though is that it puts many of my favorite words to live by all in one place. One poster, one image and one video that reminds us of what's really important in life. We should keep it where we can see it and be reminded of it everyday so we don't forget or get too busy focusing on the unimportant stuff. I'm thinking I should have a copy of the Manifesto prominently displayed on my dashboard (maybe right next to my speedometer).

Those phrases along with some other eclectic bits of wisdom I'm fond of are probably the closest thing I have to religion. I don't really practice a deeply spiritual or religious life but simple words like those in the Holstee Manifesto are the life lessons that I am drawn to. I know we shouldn't talk religion and politics with friends, and at the risk of offending some, I have to admit I've never really considered myself much of a religious person. Having encountered missionaries while still in Japan, my maternal grandparents were Christians before they came to the U.S. at the turn of the century. My paternal grandmother was Buddhist and my paternal grandfather did not practice any religion. My father didn't want us baptized as Christians when we were kids because he thought we should be able to make up our own minds later. Thank you Daddy! We went to sunday school at a historically Japanese American Methodist church in West Los Angeles. Unlike Michael's family where they were at church every Sunday and in between, I only went to Sunday School when I spent the night at my Mom's parents and Grandma and Grandpa made us go. If I was at home or at my Buddhist Grandma's I didn't have to go to Sunday School.

The first few times Michael and I watched the Monty Python classic, "The Life of Bryan" there were many biblical and historical references that were lost on me and Michael had to explain them to me.

That doesn't happen as much now that I've seen it several times. As I described my church and Sunday school experience to Michael, he says "I was there for the snacks." And he's not far off, not much sunk in and I've never read the Bible all the way through, though will one day. And I did love going for the food, the snacks, bake sales, carnival, church choir and drama group. To this day I still fantasize about church lady food (any church and any ladies) and there is just something about the Japanese-American version of the Chinese-American dish pork chow mein. I was 35 years old when I was baptized along with my 6 month old daughter, my sister Ann and my father 3 weeks before he died of stomach cancer. As he said "just in case."

Though I pretty much think of myself as a Christian in the broadest sense, and I think there just may be a good and gracious God or gods, let's just say I'm open to all the possibilities. But the notion of living a life of good with purpose and mindfulness certainly strikes a chord with me. In this vein, I've been watching reports the last few weeks as people in India and elsewhere in the Hindu world, celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi.

The celebration is supposed to end the 14th day of the waxing moon period or in other words close to the full moon or just about now. Caveat: I had to check the moon phases with Michael, because the only test I ever failed in all my years of schooling was in Mr. Schingler's 7th grade science class. It was all about the waxing and the waning and the ibis and the gibbous. It didn't sink in then but one day I realized that waning means to get smaller or weaker so waxing must mean growing or gaining in strength. Duh! I must not have been paying attention to the moon lesson because I was distracted by the stinky cross-eyed possum and snake that used to bang his head on his glass aquarium cage that was on the counter next to my desk. Now that I see the spectacular show of the moon and stars nearly every night I can really see the progression of the moon and I really get it now!

But back to Ganesha. Lord Ganesha is known popularly not only as the God of good fortune but also of new beginnings and Lord remover of obstacles. My own Lord Ganesha figures came to us a few years ago when Michael and I went to my cousin's daughter's wedding in San Francisco. It was a beautiful and lively affair graced with meaning and ritual gleaned from the multiple heritages of the lovely young couple (she of Colombian, Catholic, Japanese upbringing in Los Angeles and he of Hindu and Jewish ancestry raised in Hawaii) with a few borrowed from Native American traditions. The reception was filled with bright rich orange and deep pink of India and their wedding favors were small Lord Ganesha figures. At the time all I knew about the elephant-like figure was that he was something of a good luck charm. For a more in depth description of what Lord Ganesha represents you can read about it here:

It strikes me that all of us can benefit from Lord Ganesha's exhortations to:

think big
listen more
talk less
retain the good and throw away the bad
the whole world is at your feet and for your asking

It's unfortunate that generally in this country we don't celebrate the virtues of Lord Ganesha (with of course the exception of Hindu-American communities.) There is much worth celebrating and in lieu of such festivities I thought I'd share it here with you today because it really is all about paying attention. No doubt we could all use a little reminder about the value of these teachings. I guess it's time for me to put my little Lord Ganesha figurine in my car!

Progress at last! - Happy Chairs

Last month I told you about my chair refurbishing project. After taking four old wooden chairs, stripping off old paint and finish and some dismantling and some regluing and structural repairs, I'm delighted to report that I've refinished the 4 chairs with supplies at the ready to do at least three more. I found upholstery fabric samples for a dollar each at Betty's Fabrics to replace a few seat covers and still have to do the high-backed chair that was Michael's Moms that I plan to paint a bright glossy Chinese red. For the first four chairs I went with all my favorite cheery colors, the orange, minty green and both the lime and periwinkle. Now just walking past them makes me smile and it will be nice to have them around as fall gives way to winter's shorter and darker days.

New on Public Radio Exchange!

A few weeks ago we sat down with Guy Rathbun and Kenny Endo to follow up on the interview we did with Kenny back in November of last year. Here is the new recording that came out of that conversation. As always, we encourage you to comment on and rate the audio on Guy's PRX page, and share it with your friends.

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