Mike had a Friday afternoon off work, and he spent some of it looking up mental illness on the Internet. He concluded that his symptoms were not bipolar disorder or adjustment disorder or anti-social personality disorder. All of these disorders implied actual mental illness, and Mike was not mentally ill. He was just... blah. Miserable and gray and blah. He wasn't interested in finding a relationship, and relationships did not appear to be interested in him, either. He couldn't work up enthusiasm about the beautiful spring. He didn't have any plans for the summer. He felt empty, bored with himself, out of touch with something essential. What did it all mean?
"You're a self-indulgent, spoiled prick," he suggested. "Lazy, willful, and you don't care for dick besides your pickup truck. You're a joke. You're an asshole." He didn't feel upset with himself at these harsh words, or guilty.
He went to the park across the street from his apartment, the one in front of the beautiful Idaho State Capital building. The grass was the tenderest green, the sunshine was warm, and the air was full of the smell of roses blooming. He didn't care about any of it. There was a homeless guy sitting on a sleeping bag under a tree, his backpack tied to his ankle to prevent theft, and even in his sleep, the guy was smiling. Even homeless guys managed to be happy! That was great, just peachy. How did that song go? No shoes, no shirt, no problem. They didn't know how good they had it.
Mike lay on his back, studied the pattern of sunshine and shade through the leaves of the tree. Something had to be done about the current state of his mind. No, that wasn't it. He had to do something! Yes! He had to take a step, do something to fix this dullness and boredom. Find a way to make his life mean something. Maybe find a person who felt like he did, someone who was looking for a meaningful life. He sighed and closed his eyes. Making the decision to change, that was the first step. Now he could relax a bit and think things through carefully.
Mike walked up 8th Street and around the corner to the new Vietnamese bistro that had opened a couple of months earlier. It was called Pho, and the delicate lemongrass and cilantro smell that came out of the door when it was opened was very tempting. He had found an old copy of the Shambhala Sun in Dawson Taylor's coffee shop, the cover stained with coffee rings. It looked like it had been used as a coaster, but he spotted the words on the cover like they were a beacon: "Guide to Mindful Living: Anyone can do it and it changes everything." It was all there! Happiness, cooking, work, relationships. It was like some strange accident in the universe had left this copy of the very magazine he needed, on his usual table, at the very moment he was having this existential crisis!
Mike wasn't really sure what that meant, existential crisis, but it sounded like the way he felt, so he had begun to identify his blah mood with this phrase. He said it to himself several times throughout the day, you're just having an existential crisis, and this naming seemed to keep some of the demons at bay.
Pho was delightful, and smelled even better inside than outside. He spotted a likely-looking dish on a neighboring table, a plate piled with greens and cucumbers and clear noodles and tiny slivers of grilled pork, told the waitress he would have one of those and a pot of jasmine tea. He wasn't a tea drinker, but something about sitting in a Vietnamese bistro, reading the Shambhala Sun and thinking about mindfulness meditation -- Diet Coke was just not appropriate.
He was digging into his noodles with a pair of chopsticks when he spotted the man. The cook came out from the kitchen to greet him, and the waitress gave him a long hug, patting his back. He was Thai or Vietnamese, Mike thought, or some other version of Southeast Asia he was not skilled enough to recognize. He had shoulder-length black hair pulled back from his face in a ponytail. He was wearing old Levi's and a white linen shirt that was too big for him. His wrists looked almost delicate with the cuffs from the shirt rolled up. The waitress taped a small sign up next to the bar for him, and they both stood back to look at it. "Lessons in Mindfulness Meditation."
Mike carefully set his chopsticks down on the edge of his dish, looked from the picture in the magazine on his lap to the man. His rational mind said, Slow down, pardner. This guy's not a monk. Where are the robes? Why isn't his head shaved? He was thin, his clothes were old. He didn't even wear a watch. What was he after? The world was full of hustlers and con men. Mike studied him with the eye of a banker, then remembered where he was. The guy wasn't sitting in his office asking for a loan. Real Buddhists didn't go in for the material crap, right? He didn't have time to consult the Shambhala Sun to confirm this assumption. The guy was turning to leave, thanking the waitress with another little hug.
"Wait." Mike looked at the sign, and the guy looked at his table, to the battered copy of the magazine Mike clutched in his fist. His eyebrows winged up. "Listen, can I buy you some lunch?"