The woman in Panera
What is true? What matters? A conversation with love and a woman in a coffee shop
This post was originally published on my other blog at winter solstice, 2016.
Two months before my mother died. One month after the presidential election.
This afternoon, a friend referenced it back to me. Whenever an old post emerges inside the present moment, I trust the emergence. It tells me, it’s time to post it again.
This one seems particularly relevant to what’s going on in the world and in my life today. I hope you enjoy it!
The Woman in Panera
December 21, 2016,
This morning, as I sipped my tea, I read two stories In this week's New York Times Magazine. In the first one, Al Franken, the former SNL comedian who is now a US Senator, discusses the 'post-truth' era in Washington. In the second, a scientist at Google noticed that their translation software was beginning to sound kind of ... human. And when the team at Google Brain (where they are working on artificial intelligence) applied that accidental discovery to human language, they edged one step closer to hacking human ... deep breath .... thinking.
Reading these two articles in sequence this morning, I noticed something. A strange convergence between melting truth and melting language, which feels resonant - it feels like a symbolic out-picturing of a shift in the collective which can feel, to those of us who are not working in Washington or at Google, as if our world is a wishbone being pulled apart by competing narratives. It can feel as if our world were splitting into two equal parts, each side shouting, "You're delusional" as, at the same time our hearts keep reaching for each other. It can feel as if we are simultaneously dumbing down humanity while building up machine minds, as if we cannot see that the people we're attacking are mirror images of ourselves.
They are, you know - those others. Human beings, just like us, trying to sort out what's real.
In the New York Times article, Al Franken, who once wrote a book called, Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, is quoted. "It just seems adorable now that I could make a living ... fighting misstatements of fact. And people were like, Oh that's terrible. I can't believe it. And now it just doesn't matter."
Truth doesn't matter?
This reminds me of something that happened when my mother was recovering from open heart surgery. Drugged up and loopy, she awoke one morning, convinced that her doctors were poisoning her. It was only the male doctors, who were barred from her room. Female medical personnel was allowed to come and go.
When I tried to convince her that the drugs were confusing her reason, she sighed and fell back against the pillows. "Oh, Amy," she said. "They've got you hoodwinked, too."
Though the delusion lasted less than one day, for that little while, my mother was unable to reason outside of the alternate reality of the story world she'd constructed.
The thing is, though - we all live inside of a story and that story shapes our experience of the world. When the world was less internet-connected, individual communities were able to pretty much live inside the same story world. Now, it’s more complicated.
Remember that as I recount this next tale - a story which feels connected to my mother's delusion (and the current world story that we're in) in a way that I can sense because, unlike Google Brain, we humans can think holographically, which makes me (and you) capable of doing something which, at least for now, artificial intelligence cannot: detecting patterns of meaning AND feeling in the everything-happening-at-once zeitgeist, the collective heart and 'hive mind' we share.
Last Sunday at Panera Bread I ran into a woman I've known casually for years. We greeted one another warmly, making small talk as we waited in line. She ordered a muffin. I got a salad and, as we carried our trays to adjacent tables by the window, she turned toward me. “So, tell me," she asked. “Who'd you vote for?"
Pretty sure our politics were different, I said, "It's Sunday morning. Let's not go there. I'll read my paper. You read yours."
"No, it's okay," she said. "We don't have to agree."
And so I shrugged and I told her my vote and..."HOW COULD YOU HAVE VOTED FOR HER?" she shouted. "SHE'S A DEMON!"
And... oh my heart.I hate this kind of thing - it triggers every fight-flight instinct I have. I start searching for the exits, scoping out corners and secret passageways.
I also, now that I have my tools, know how to take care of myself.
I re-constellated to the center of my own heart. I shot down my earth roots and, even thoughI felt shocked, I was able to calmly say, "Let's not have this conversation in Panera on this snowy gray day."
Of course, she nodded but, "Can I just ask you one question?"
"Not if it's about the election."
"Okay," She chuckled, and she turned away.
A minute later, she blurted out her question anyway, asking me to tell her, “Why?” How could I justify what I was thinking when I cast that vote. “She’s a demon!” she repeated.
“Can you see how people who voted for her might feel that way about your candidate?” I asked her.
She was so surprised. She was so … scared - I realized. Scared of Hillary. Scared now, of me - and my ridiculous claim. So scared that her eyes blazed and for a moment it almost seemed like she, the woman I knew, wasn’t there.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “He’s a good man. No one would say he was evil.”
I looked at her. At her beautiful face, her carefully tended hair, her brightly colored clothing. I knew that I was supposed to stand up for my values and defend Hillary and if need be, shake this woman until she saw the world the way that I see it.
Instead, I felt love rising. Though this woman disagreed with most everything I stand for, all I saw was her humanity, her fragility - the way the lipstick had bled into the lines around her lips. The way a tiny crumb of her muffin rested on the sleeve of her sweater.
Perhaps she, looking at me, witnessed the same thing: a woman of a certain age, wrestling with a world which, right now, doesn’t make any kind of sense. Not if you’re looking for a single truth. Not if truth requires us to be with or against anything or anyone else.
I reached for her hand. "We are not going to agree,” I said and she smiled and ... agreed.
As we said goodbye, she spoke to me reassuringly. "He's a good man. He's going to help us all. You'll see."And I thought but did not say, No, you’ll see. And then I laughed a little at myself.
So, here’s why I'm telling this story.
Because nothing is the way that it was and that has nothing to do with the election.
Because every single day, I wake up and angels speak to me. Which has got to be the craziest thing anyone could say out loud. But now, I'm saying it - out loud.
Because when I look at the world I don't see two sides - I see rainbows, a spectrum of possibility beyond anything I will ever be able to grok. When I look at the world I see waves of color and sound, patterns of meaning being built up and taken apart, again and again.
I see this bird hopping up to the window, this squirrel chasing up and then down a tree. My fingers flying across this keyboard. And it all adds up to one moment in time. One moment when - as all of this unfolds around me, scientists are racing to build machine brains to replicate human qualities even as advertisers (and politicians) are using sophisticated brainwashing techniques to induce waves of artificial terror in MY body and YOURS. Waves which are designed to captivate (or worse, erase) the very qualities that make us human.
Can you see what I'm trying to say? It’s this: We don’t know our own minds any more - but we know our own hearts.
Every time we watch some program or video that was produced to make us buy something, think something or do something that does not arise from our own genuine impulse, we are colluding with the erasure of our ability to see what’s real. Every time we allow these artificial stories - this FAKE WORLD - to speak through us as we spout our political positions at one another, we are evacuating our humanity.
Because every morning, when the angels speak to me, they say: You are love emerging into a world which is also love. Here you are, this is it. Nothing is wrong.
Which is why, somehow I could see that when that woman was compelled to convert me to her way of thinking, SHE was not there. The story had taken over - it was speaking through her. This happens when we are terrorized, traumatized and abused.
And make no mistake, during this last political season, that is exactly what happened to us - to all of us.
And yet, even now, even as this war between HIS story and HER story continues to rage, there is this other story rising. A story that no one is talking about on the TV news.
The other story isn't trying to sell us anything or convince us to be different than we are. It’s just awakening inside of us, following its own nature along its natural way.
This story is the awakening of human consciousness. It’s the rising of that love that I experienced in Panera -the moment when I realized I don’t have to engage in the game of “let me fix you so I can feel safer in the world. I don’t have to engage in the game of "Are you with me or against me?" I am free.
The same is true for you. The love that you feel in YOUR heart DOES NOT PLAY that game. It doesn't argue with that game (or that story) either. It just follows its own nature.
A friend said to me this morning, “It feels insane to just let this argument go. To not take the bait.” And it does, kind of. Insane to let the woman in Panera say things that feel outrageous from inside the world that I believe is real.
But that is only because, inside this trickster game, the very definition of ‘sanity’ is pulverized to pulp. Male doctors are trying to poison us. Politicians are demons. Everyone polarizes into mirror positions, pointing fingers, pointing harsh words, pointing guns.
Inside of that game it’s a mirror world where sanity is insanity - and truth is a liquid commodity to be traded for dollars, for likes, for votes. I can say anything I want and if you don't like it, who cares?
From outside the game, grounded to what is actually real—who I really am, what this really is— I can observe the game. And when I do, what rises in me is always the same: Love. From outside the game, I have no need to fix the woman in Panera or prove that my world is real. From outside the game, there is only love.
It’s important that we stay awake to the game as we move into uncertain times. Important that we not become so fixed - so concretized in our positions that we are unable, any longer, to sense the presence of the real game we are in: the emergence of spirit into matter, of love into bodies, of the incarnation of awareness in human form.
From inside the crazy world, what I just wrote will sound insane. From inside the world of love, we know the truth and we always will.
As we celebrate the turning of the season and the return of the light, know this: We are all in training now - all invited to bring love where we are.
We sense this invitation in our grief over the world we think is lost. It's not lost - our grief reconstellates it. Our grief calls it back to us.
Truth: it was always right here, wherever we are. Each time it slips away, each time we feel the rising in our own hearts of outrage at what’s happening in our world, we are invited back home. Back here where we can abandon our endless argument with what we think is happening and sink into our LOVE for what is also here, also happening right before our eyes. The bird. The squirrel. The mother, recovering in a hospital bed. The muffin, the woman, the conversation.
We are invited by ALL of this - to ground to this - and to the ONE truth that is real and does not melt and does not change. The truth that knows itself as real - and has no need to argue with what appears before it.
The truth that no trickster can captivate because, in the light of this truth, even the trickster is love.
In this way, grounded to that truth, meeting the world as it really is - face to face, one human being to another, we welcome AND WE MANIFEST the return of the light - and together, we all save the world for love.
So many blessings on us all,
Amy Oscar: Becoming Real is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.