Of sushi and sake

I have been finding that Spirit is much more concerned with my “whine” intake and my mental sobriety. It is when I am thinking the hard stuff that I am most in trouble.

by Scott Kalechstein — 

I was strolling through San Francisco in a buoyant mood, lifted by the success of my just completed musical performance. Since my latest personal stretch was learning to be more liberal with myself financially, I decided to have dinner at a nice Japanese restaurant. I sat at the sushi bar, humming a tune and spreading my joy. The waitress approached and asked if I wanted to try the restaurant’s most popular and respected sake. “Of course!” I said with the conviction of a man enjoying being generous with himself.

At the end of a delicious meal, I perused the check. The drink I’d ordered came to $18, about $12 more than I had ever paid for sake. Calling the waitress over, and reaching down for my New York City attitudinal roots, I gave her a piece of my ego-mind. “What’s with this check?” I barked. “I would never have ordered this sake if you had told me the price. You should have said something about how expensive it was!” (Never mind the 13 years I’ve spent mellowing out in California hot tubs. When push comes to shove, I am and always will be a New Yorker.)

The waitress apologized timidly and repeatedly. I requested not-so-timidly that she just charge me the price for regular sake. Still bowing in apology, the waitress let me know that she would have to make up the difference if I didn’t pay the full price. I paid begrudgingly and left the restaurant, steaming with resentment.

Making my way down a steep San Francisco street, it occurred to me how dramatically downhill my mood had gone, compared to what it had been an hour earlier. Before, I was happy and carefree; now I was anything but. I was convinced that the waitress’ “mistake” was a grave injustice, a sin of omission, deliberately manipulating me into buying an expensive brand of sake. It didn’t even taste that much better than what I was accustomed to. I’d been ripped-off! “How unfair!” I whined to myself.

Then something happened that, at first, ticked me off even further. A passage from A Course in Miracles found its way into my mind, the kind of line that makes it impossible for me to continue cherishing my grievances and enjoying my righteousness. Oh, how I hated the Course in that moment. Nothing ruins a perfectly good whine as quickly as a sobering line from its pages. I could no longer pretend I was a victim. The quote that rained on my charade was this: “Beware of the temptation to see yourself unfairly treated.”

Ouch! “But I was unfairly treated!” my ego-child ranted back at the Course. It’s always interesting when I can catch myself arguing with truth and defending my right to be wrong. But after giving that voice some permission to huff and puff a bit, I was ready to listen to what Spirit had to say.

“Scott, why are you giving $12 and a sweet woman the power to upset you so much? Could it be possible she saw you in your celebration, perceived you as prosperous and figured you weren’t one to guard your pennies so fearfully? Is it possible that she was responding to your prayer to treat yourself more generously? Are you willing to consider that underneath this righteous anger is your own difficulty in seeing yourself as worthy and deserving?”

Whoa! That was quite a leap. Was being stingy with myself really behind this? Was it my own guilt that I had projected onto this waitress? “Beware of the temptation to see yourself unfairly treated.” I suddenly remembered two more lessons, and my righteousness dissolved completely: “I am not a victim of the world I see,” and “I am never upset for the reason I think.” The waitress was not the source of my pain. In an instant, a holy instant, my case for her guilt was thrown out of court, and I was set free.

Tears came to my eyes. How sad that I had acted on assumptions rooted in fear and paranoia and attacked this lady, ruining a perfectly splendid celebration by letting unexamined anger dictate my behavior. And then, how liberating to uncover the hidden sense of unworthiness driving my feelings and to let them all go.

I decided to change my past. I imagined the waitress before me, and I exclaimed, “I forgive myself for losing my sanity with you. I apologize and ask for your forgiveness.” I lifted my imaginary glass and said, “I offer us both the very best sake, and make a toast in celebration of a lesson learned and a job well done.” I saw myself paying the waitress with gratitude and friendliness.

I went on to review situations in which I have seen myself as unfairly treated. The phone company putting me on hold. People not returning my calls. A lover who rejected me. My mother being so negative. How unfair! How unjust! What a war I had declared on life with my grievances. How personal it all has seemed to my ego. I made a commitment to catch these perceptions earlier, before they cause me such anger and grief.

Last week I jumped on an opportunity. When a driver cut me off, I slammed down on the judgment pedal and was just about to accelerate into righteous anger. In a split second, though, I saw I had a choice — that the attack-thoughts and angry feelings were arising in me like dark clouds, and I could either engage the “I’m right!” energy or just witness both the driver’s haste and my own reactivity passing through me. This time I was able to remain the witness, never fully identifying with the point of view that I was unfairly treated by this rushed driver. The clouds passed quickly, and my mood easily returned to clear and sunny.

Of course, a driver with whom I am not personally intimate doesn’t push the same buttons as mates and mothers can, but I am very interested in refining my practice of letting go of P-BUTs (Perceptions of Being Unfairly Treated) more quickly as they arise. The better I get with the minor irritations of daily life, the more transfer value my practice has to the larger stuff.

I used to think that as I dedicated my life to serving God, I would be asked to become pure in diet and drink, and that pleasures like sushi and sake would have to be relinquished. What I have been finding is that Spirit is much more concerned with my “whine” intake and my mental sobriety. It is when I am thinking the hard stuff that I am most in trouble.


Scott Kalechstein is a counselor, coach, minister, inspirational speaker, recording artist and modern-day troubadour. Scott’s songs are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or medical condition. If while listening, you laugh your head off and your heart opens, but symptoms still persist, please see your doctor. scott@scottsongs.com or www.scottsongs.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 1, February/March 2008.

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