We have a strong tendency in our day-to-day lives to behave unconsciously, this isn’t abnormal behavior at all. We live very routine lives, and that’s comfortable for our brains, it’s the way our brains like to operate. But only because our brains don’t know better; imagine feeling comfortable living consciously, being able to react to each moment with intent, deliberately and rationally. Most of us think that we already do behave and react to our surroundings with a sense of conscious urgency because we relate to the immediacy of that particular belief consciously as we’re thinking about it, so we’re convinced that we relate to all the interactions and experiences in our lives the same way. We don’t. Living consciously, in the present from a moment-to-moment basis is possible and, like any habit, it requires foresight, acknowledgement, and repetition—to develop the habit requires work, it’s a reward for growth.
I am actively working on being present outside of the story that I’m narrating in my head. We’re all novelists, in a sense. As we budge through the day, we’re telling ourselves stories about our experience. The people in our lives are, of course, our characters and we are the protagonists, and every single interaction we have we’re creating stories about our perceived experience of that interaction and developing our characters along the way. We’re developing our characters as we see fit based on our own experience of any particular interaction.
An interaction is little more than an interaction, how we perceive and attach a story to it is arbitrary, and in most cases how we perceive our next interaction with a person is largely dependent on the story we’ve told ourselves about the last. We are capable of rewriting, and even tossing that story at any given moment but we don’t, we allow it to unconsciously develop and unfold and possibly change the course and outcome of our entire lives without even the slightest knowing that it even occurred. And we’ll continue to behave this way again and again unless we not only actively acknowledge it but, also, do the work to realize that we are not actually living that story, it’s only as real as we allow it to be. Living consciously also creates clarity.
I’m working on it, but the progress of development like this can be difficult, for example, there’s a coffeehouse in Bozeman, Montana, called Rockford Coffee. I was spending a lot of time wandering around the streets of Bozeman through August and September of 2022. An hour, or so of each day went to people watching at either Wild Joe’s Coffee or Rockford, both of which are on Bozeman’s main street, a couple of blocks from each other. Rockford’s is never quite as busy as Wild Joe’s, the coffee is better at Rockford, the fact that Wild Joe’s is more crowded is nothing more than one of those things. Wild Joe’s has more of a bohemian feel while Rockford is more understated, maybe postmodern. People judge you based on the clothes you wear and the places you spend time, it’s part of the narrative we create of ourselves.
I prefer going to Rockford, simply because the coffee’s better and it’s less crowded. I always find a seat. I’m here now, at Rockford, sitting near the front entrance in the bay window. I ordered a Cardamom Latte, as far as I know it’s a new flavor here, I ordered and returned to my seat to organize my things, it takes some time for a good cup of coffee to be made.
When the barista called out my coffee and left it waiting on the counter I walked up and there was a gentleman standing there looking at my latte. My first thought was that he wasn’t sure whether the coffee was his or not. I noticed him earlier; he was standing at the counter waiting while I was sitting at my table. The guy practically had his nose at the rim of my latte and when he started reaching for it with his finger, as if he were going to poke it, I said, “I’m sorry, sir, I’m pretty sure that’s mine.” The impression that I got of him based on nothing really was that he was the type of person who would have mistakenly grabbed a coffee and after sipping it and knowing that the latte wasn’t what he ordered, he would continue drinking it thinking only that the barista made a mistake, not that he took someone else’s drink, and that he is too passive or too polite to say anything.
I said what I had about the coffee being mine, and he said, “I know, it’s just so pretty.” I don’t know, maybe that’s strange or—and as a friend of mine put it—maybe he was just smelling the roses. In any case, I grabbed a lid and said, “I’m OK with you looking, just please don’t touch.” And this gentleman said, “I’m sorry,” as he took a step backward.
The sincerity in his apology was so profound that I immediately felt a rush of regret for how I reacted. The thing is that I know most people would have reacted the way that I did or worse, however, I also know that my reaction was wrong. There are so many different and better ways that I could have handled that. I could have simply said, “It is, isn’t it?” and grabbed my coffee and walked away, and even that simple gesture would have been more appropriate. My friend suggested that I should have bent down closer to my latte, my face only inches from his, and said, “What are we looking at?”
It’s these moments, how quickly they come and go, and how most people might move on to the next thing and the next thought, never again thinking about the encounter, that are so important. The moment is practice learning how to act and to react from a higher more conscious place, instead of from the small, immediate place from within our own thoughtless narratives. I missed a moment to show the world and myself that I might react genuinely and thoughtfully, that I might react in the way that the person that I want to be would react. I did not react in a way that I would have wanted to react in that split second moment where my soul was more responsible for my behavior than the immediate and familiar way that a mind cluttered with story and routine. Our lives can constantly be at play but we have to be present and it takes some work, it might be difficult but it’s worth it, and the alternative eventually leads to disrespect of ourselves and everything else.