Tag Archive | economy

Traveling Makes Thinking Too Much Too Easy

White lines on the road cachunk, cachunk, cachunk, as they slide under the car, producing an acute and swift sense of numbing boredom.  Thoughts drift to world conditions.

Politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouth.

Media brainwashing.

Information overload.

Brutal economy.

A sense of helplessness, despairing and irritating, pound upon the shoulders like jackhammers, straining the neck.

The car glided down a hill into a small hamlet along the Mississippi.

The town’s  Main Street runs parallel to the river.   Trees line the riverbank, peppered among the iron benches and brick sidewalks.  The varying shades of green give a respite to the eyes and other things start coming into view: white gulls; red geraniums; purple and pink hyacinth bushes.

A small diner on the right boasts a large, affordable breakfast.  There is a parking spot in front, a couple of cars down and nearer the corner.  There are no parking meters.

The building is a freestanding, two-story structure with narrow posts in front supporting a short balcony on the second floor.  The structure gives the impression that it may have been a home once, built for possible flooding.  That must have been before the lock and dam was erected, which surely controls the water level now.

The first floor is light stone.  The front posts, balcony and entire second story are a dark wood.  The narrow building has an extended, closed-in entryway framed by triple windows on both sides.  Two small wrought iron tables and several chairs sit outside, to the right of the entryway.  To the left is a fenced-in yard.

An older couple walking in ahead held onto the door, making sure the door didn’t slam into anyone behind them.

The smell of strong coffee, bacon and toast zapped the nostrils and lingered in the air, casting a spell of thirst and hunger.  There was also something doughy and cooked on the edges…like waffles nearly done.

To the right, almost the entire length of the diner, was an eating counter with ten metal, padded stools, snuggled up against it.   All but one was empty.  Condiments were grouped on the counter in strategic places, an arm’s length apart.

Straight ahead and in the center of the diner were six large metal tables.  Dark, wooden beams the length of the diner separated the tables from the vinyl booths that sat against the wall, under curtained windows.

Handmade crafts decorated the booth wall:  a golden-rule message needle pointed, a patriotic olive branch wreath with a flag, and red, white and blue ribbons tied in bows.

The linoleum floor was cracked and had seen better days, but it was all aglow and shining from a recent scrubbing.

Within seconds of sliding into a booth, a waitress in blue jeans, tee shirt and a ponytail, stepped away from the grill, grabbed a pot of coffee and an empty cup, and was now standing next to the booth, with a friendly smile.

“Coffee?” she cheerily asked.

There was no radio or TV to boom out the news, so perhaps that was the reason for her optimism.

She poured the just brewed coffee into a small, white, heavy cup made from porcelain.  The coffee steamed, bursting with freshness.

The complete menu filled two sides of a small, rectangular placard, covered in laminate.  Practically one whole side was devoted to breakfast.  The other side listed French fries, baked potatoes and tacos as appetizers.  Dinner entrees were chicken, shrimp, and cod.  There were fifteen different sandwiches available.

More people continued to file into the diner.

The front wall held a few small posters, listing the schedule for the Catholic school’s basketball team, advertising a cleaning service, announcing a farm auction, and offering Avon beauty products at really low prices.   A wire stand left of the entry door framed the headlines of a national newspaper.

Multiple conversations filled the diner with various voices, like choir members all chattering in that moment before the conductor lifts the baton and says, “Attention, everyone!”

Notes of  “How was the fishin’ yesterday?” from the back table of six men in fishing garb, harmonized with the “It’s our anniversary, we’re not goin’ on a cruise or nothin’,” timbre of the middle-aged couple in the front booth.  The “How’s the baby?” drawl from the counter rang in at the end.

As soon as the waitress left with the order of a young couple, the girl got up, grabbed the diner’s copy of the newspaper, and shared half with her husband while they waited for their food.  They read without reaction or distress.   They read quietly, patiently waiting for their pancakes.

A pair of grandmotherly types slowly inched their way out of a booth, remarking to each other while they wiped their lips and gathered their purses, what they thought of the candidates for the town’s upcoming elections.  It appeared unanimous that the candidate must have manners and exhibit patience when answering folks’ questions. Similar comments cropped up from other patrons, and people who only stayed long enough for a quick cup of coffee.

Conversations continued to flow and ripple as smoothly as the Mississippi River went past the front windows of the diner.   Respect for the other’s right to voice an opinion stopped any deluge of anger.  Interest in the topics being discussed released all well-thought out observations and insights.

A woman came in to place a to-go order.  She sat at the counter on one of the metal stools, answering inquiries into her mother’s health.  She had come in frowning, obviously preoccupied, but when she left with bag in hand, her brow was relaxed and she was smiling.

The fishermen changed to the topic of hunting, and how they spotted a deer once but couldn’t shoot it because it wasn’t deer hunting season yet.

Two men in overalls came in, greeted everybody, and sat down in the booth towards the back, discussing the rising grain prices, economy and inflation, in a calm, matter-of-fact way.

A paddlewheel boat pushed upriver towards the lock and dam.

With a final chug of the remaining coffee, my breakfast was over.

A smiling teenager nodded in friendly greeting and held the door open for me.

The remote control to the car beeped, unlocking the door.

Traveling makes thinking easy.

White lines on the road cachunk, cachunk, cachunk, as they pour past the car, producing a peaceful rhythm that echoes the mind’s song.

In a small hamlet in eastern Iowa – and probably in hamlets scattered throughout the nation – there is a meeting room where intelligent, astute, kind, law-abiding, and hard-working individuals, model the secret to living happy and serene.   Things they cannot control are not given attention.  Their family and friends are treated with respect.  They live their life as the best person they can be, and somehow, the larger world takes care of itself.

All the spiritual books and great spiritual leaders confirm what those people live.

“Start with yourself.  You be the change you want in the world.  Then go local with it.”

Cachunk, cachunk, cachunk.

It’s turned out to be a beautiful day for a drive.

© St. John 2007

Let it snow let it snow let it snow!

This is the winter of our discontent.   The storms that pelt against the windows, shellac the grounds with ice, and fog in the small aircraft, are mere reflections of the inner turmoil we are feeling.

Perhaps the last time you felt good about job opportunities and housing prices, the critical thinking skills our children are learning, the national budget and the cost of preventive and healing medical care is too long ago to really remember.  Or, maybe, you never felt these things.  Ever.

The absolutely astounding thing about these things is that we never stop wanting them.  Of course, it eventually becomes harder and nearly impossible to retain hope for an easier and less costly way to live the American dream of a high quality life.  You try to stay positive through months of job searching; you avert your eyes at all the foreclosure signs in the neighborhood; you refuse to watch Fox channel’s biased and unfair news or NBC’s news sound bites between unlimited commercial breaks; you try not to count the zeroes in the national debt figure (twelve); and, you pray fervently you don’t get sick and need a doctor or operation.

It’s exactly this effort that makes it virtually impossible to be content and peaceful throughout your day.

I remember being peaceful, once.

It was about a hundred years ago when I was nine years old.  My best friend was out with her folks and I was bored.  I wanted to ditch my older brother who could be such a nuisance some times and have some peace and quiet.  I felt it best not to ask permission to leave the house for a while, as I probably wouldn’t get it and would instead be put to work sweeping the kitchen floor or babysitting my baby brother.   I casually sauntered across the living room floor acting cool, and made it to the screen door without incident.  I stood there for just long enough looking uninterested, then slowly pushed open the door.  I was soon outside on the porch.  Made it!  I took off at a fast pace across the lawn, onto the sidewalk and around the corner.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning in early summer.  The birds were happily singing and hardly anyone was outside yet, which was just perfect.  I lived in a very small town where everyone knew everyone else and would tattle to my parents if they thought I was wandering too far from home and getting into trouble.

I walked the two blocks to the main part of town and took a right.  I was into my rhythm now.  Not too many people hung around the car repair shop or the farm implement store, and the tavern wasn’t open yet.  I started to skip down the sidewalk.  Right before the street ended, I stopped at Almira’s yard and picked myself a few grapes.  She was an old spinster lady who was always nice to us kids, so I knew she wouldn’t mind if I helped myself.

I kept walking past the dead end and right up to the wooden fence.  I scanned the pasture and smiled:  the cows were gone and the bull was nowhere to be seen.  I climbed over, jumping to the ground.  I steadied myself and walked purposefully across the flat grazing land, heading straight for the little creek.  I knew exactly where the spring  fed into the creek bed and helped myself to a few handfuls of fresh water.

After I had refreshed myself, I reached down and picked a few sweet purple clover buds.  A short time later I had made it to a small hill and was settling my little frame onto the grassy patch by the big bush.  I could see the entire town from here, and more importantly, if the bull decided to come by.  I wasn’t afraid of cows, I rode them on my uncle’s farm when no one was looking.  I would have preferred a horse, but I made do with what was available.  But a bull was an entirely different proposition.

I munched on the clover and then laid back for a rest, my arms up and my head on my hands.  The sky was a beautiful blue and the clouds seemed whiter and fluffier than usual.   A gentle, wispy breeze blew across my face like angel wings.  Immediately, a wave of enormous joy rolled over my little body and I felt one with everything, and everything was perfect, so I must be, too.

I thought great thoughts that day while looking up.  I just knew everything was going to turn out just perfect.  I’d have a great teacher that fall and I’d be really smart in class, maybe one of the smartest.  I wouldn’t fight with my brother nearly so much and I’d get a new dress to wear every Sunday for church.  Oh.  And a horse.  I’d definitely end up owning a horse.

When it was time to go back home, I was peaceful and content.  I got myself up, walked back across the pasture, climbed over the fence and began to walk the four blocks to home.  I waved to my neighbors as I passed them.  I was feeling pretty cocky because everything was going to be so perfect.

I often wish I was nine again, drinking fresh, clean spring water, crossing an open field of clover, thinking wonderful thoughts about my life and everything in it.  Instead, I have to be content remembering instead of being, feeling grateful that it all comes back to me so easily.  Once you know what peace truly feels like, you never stop trying to live it.  That’s a wonderful gift for a nine year old to give to the world; well…mine, any way.

Something good is going to happen next year.  I can see it in the sky.

— ( c ) St. John 2011

Are you feeling uneasy in 2012?


There’s no getting around it.  2011 was a bad year upon a not-go-good year, going into an iffy year.  There is not one person who has not suffered in some way, innocently or by their own behavior and actions.

We are all in this confusion and void together.  It’s not the best way to be united as a country, as a people…I’d rather be dancing…but there is strength in standing together and facing it down.

Whether your grief has been emotional, physical, economic, or spiritual…or a combination of more than one or all of the above, the wall of pain can be walked through.  You can come out the other side not only intact, but with greater peace.  I may not have the answers to get you through it, but perhaps I can lean upon others for inspiration to help guide you.

It’s hard being in a void.  The economy…environment…government…world unrest…nuclear threats.  Who knows what the heck will happen to the world tomorrow…next week…next month.  Election year only makes the void echo insanely because it is the same ole, same ole, with few promises acted upon.  Andrew Peterson, EdD, in his book “The next ten minutes” looks at the void a bit differently though.   He absolutely agrees it is a place of uncertainty and how we human beings are not wired to like uncertainty.  But he happily goes on to say about the void, “…it’s the gap between the poles, where all things are possible.  It is, in fact, the present moment.”  He’s particularly delighted about that, because that’s what his book is all about:  being in the present moment.

All spiritual books point to this present moment.  “Be in the moment, in the now.”  But when the present moment and the now are painful, why would you ever want to go there?!  Give me a great fantasy escape any day.

But I get their point.  In spite of our humanness to avoid uncertainty, we cannot avoid the lure of beauty.  And there is beauty in the moment, even if it means just paying attention to how you breathe and how you don’t even have to think about it to stay alive.  Can you imagine how tedious it would be if you had to remind yourself every few seconds to breathe?!  If I want to be reminded to “breathe…just breathe” or to “take a deep breath,” I want it to be because I am so excited about something that if I don’t slow down my breathing, I will surely faint dead away in pure delight.  But it doesn’t have to be as common as paying attention to your breathing…whatever causes you to concentrate so heavily that you hear nothing else around you…that’s the present moment.  That’s the now.  That’s pure delight.  That’s the best escape fantasy going.

I certainly hope that Andrew Peterson is right, and that all things are possible at this moment.  Because that’s how I want my dreams to come true…when I’m not paying attention because I’m having so much fun, just being.

Next I turn to Julie Cameron, a particular favorite artist/writer of mine (The Artist’s Way, Transitions, etc.).   In an inspirational prayer book she offered this consolation:

“Sometimes people fail us in terrible ways.  We are betrayed, abandoned, cast aside.  In times of such personal trauma, we must hold to the larger picture….I realize that while people may indeed fail me and turn away, there is an underlying goodness to the Universe which brings to me new friends and new situations.  These gifts heal and soothe me.  I see the merciful hand of providence despite my pain.”

The larger picture can mean many different things to each of us.  For me, it’s the idea of goodness; that it can exist in one human being or another without ever disappearing completely.  When you can reach outside of your pain and grab on with all your might to that goodness – kindness and respect – and offer it to others, you find the friends who are connected to the higher picture and can elevate you to that higher place of healing and peace.  And, better yet…

sometimes those friends even find you.

But for me it’s Don Miguel Ruiz and his book, “The Four Agreements” that really brings things home on this idea of we humans suffering at the hands of others.  Maybe I’m quoting directly or maybe I’m paraphrasing…I’m most certainly jumping around…but he gets the credit for the following perceptions:

We all love the best we can.  We all can trust ourselves.  We all suffer.

We can’t always give what the other wants or needs.  Sometimes, someone leaving your life or disappointing you is a gift.  It hurts to be with some people.  But the hurts will heal.         When the hurt heals, you can choose what you really want, how you really want to relate to others.  You don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choice to be with them or not.   Your sadness, anger or humiliation will disappear.  When you establish a new belief you won’t be in that hell of pain ever again.  You will become immune to disapproval, shame and harsh resentments.

As for the gossips, the hell that they create when you go your own way, don’t take it personally.  It won’t affect you.  You can stand in that hell, in serenity.  The poison of harsh words will poison the sayers of them, not you.  You are not responsible for their words, neither is your behavior responsible for their unkind actions.  You did not cause the harshness, resentment of abuse.  You can stand in the middle of this pain and still experience inner peace and happiness.

Every day you will become better at being you.  You will remain a beautiful soul and you will live up to that soul.  Accept yourself.  Do not commit the sin of self-rejection.

Regardless of how high or down you are in this challenging year of 2012, one bit of prophecy or truth, if you will, keeps popping up…kindness and respect connects you to the innate goodness of the universe to other like-minded souls.  So if all those you are connected to are neither kind nor respectful, just hang tough and don’t waiver…those who already are will be grounded in your space even more deeply.  You and the goodness of others in your space will draw to you the same.   And the best part is, that those in your life who aren’t kind or respectful and can’t/won’t become so, will suddenly find there is no room for them at your inn.

Too bad, huh.  And you didn’t have to do anything, except be your higher self and stay the course.  See?  Life can be good.

(Because chose it to be.)

— ( c ) St. John 2012