Last night, it was Babe’s Macaroni Grill and Bar in Utica, New York. I had a burger and fries. Tonight I tried Mingo’s Sports Bar and Grill in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In the interest of consuming a wide variety of food, I had a burger and sweet potato fries.
Last night, I told my bartender friend Michelle about the silent meditation retreat I’ll begin on Wednesday. She was fascinated about longterm meditation. I told her about falling in love on my last long retreat (a mistake), about the peace I felt in the meditation hall, about the Dalai Lama telling an interviewer “My religion is kindness”, and my opinion that the truest realm of spirituality is in the real world when I’m one-to-one with another human being.
Michelle told me about the Grafton Peace Pagoda, erected in the 1990’s by a Buddhist monk as a monument to world peace. And guess what? Grafton, New York was on my route to the retreat. This afternoon, I climbed the steps of the pagoda – a giant white dome shining in the sun, way out in the woods. A large statue of the Buddha was inset in one wall. Plus carvings depicted the demon Mara tempting the Buddha with power, glory and pleasure while he refused to abandon the peace that had enveloped him. All this majesty spread before me on a sunny winter’s day.
Tonight my companions were sports fanatics. That’s okay. So am I. “Go, Leafs, Go!” (That’s the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League.) The bartender was waxing poetic about football’s Super Bowl. Next Sunday, he’ll be experiencing spasms of delight or agony while I’ll remain blissfully unaware within the grounds of the Insight Meditation Society.
Next to me at the bar was a fellow watching a women’s basketball game between the Universities of South Carolina and Tennessee. “Which team are you cheering for?” I asked. “Neither. I’m scouting South Carolina. They play UConn in thirteen days.” The gentleman has been a University of Connecticut basketball fan for thirty years. They’re the top women’s basketball program in the nation. I learned about their marvelous coach and the factors that have made UConn the best, such as conditioning and defense. I marvelled at this man’s universe, about which I knew little.
Such different conversations one night to the next. But just like the burgers, they were somehow the same. Human beings reaching for the sun.