A good bartender knows a secret about life

I recently had a conversation with friend.

“How are you doing?” they asked.

This friend deserves the truth from me, so I emitted a guttural sound that was my attempt to say,

“You know there are parts of my life that are absolutely brilliant and beyond my highest hopes. There are parts that bore me to tears, and there are parts that terrify me so deeply, I won’t even give them manifestation as words, let alone, burden you with that information. If I do some math and average them all out it sounds like this.”

A purée of human experience fed through the ear holes.

If a grumpy lion could really feel Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” and utter the phrase faithfully in cat language, that’s the sound I made.  It reminded me of the particular groan I resonated as I was in the depths of an acid trip in which I peeled back every layer of the onion of being-ness and arrived at the very core from which all layers emanate, finding myself to be a tiny glowing ember, devoid of conventional identity, beyond ego and self observation and even language in a dark corner of the Universe looking out upon all of creation in total awareness of the multiplicity of it all.

I digress.

I just didn’t feel like bullshitting her and saying, “Great! You??!” as the Utahns do, so I went for the grunt.

“Oh, no… that’s not good enough!”, said friend retorted.

I realized something. This friend’s reaction looked like concern, but with a twist. Because they are fundamentally uncomfortable with their own struggle, they are triggered by mine. The first line of defense is to encourage me cover it up and be cheery.  My moment of honesty created a mirror where they had to see their own situation for a second, if even just subconsciously.  I don’t say this out of criticism, but observation. This is human nature.

A basic example of this is the parent who over-reacts when their child falls and scrapes their knee. The over-reaction is an expression of their own fear.  A parent who just holds steady and waits for the child’s actual reaction will see that a lot of times, the child never cries. The scrape really isn’t that big of a deal. This is next level parenting.

Later that evening:

The night was close to being over. The city was quiet, the rain having put a damper on activity and a glassy shine on the streets.  Amongst the long line of dark and sleepy facades of storefronts was one faintly glowing spot. A few silhouettes moved inside.

It was one hour to closing and I was comforted to know that this one little place still pulsed in the city tonight. The small tavern has a dozen stools at the bar, a couple of tables and one pool table in the back. The wall is a museum paying tribute to the tradition of canned beer:  large display cases holding hundreds of vintage beer cans. A survey of the labels becomes a study of the collective consciousness of society over the years.  The bartenders are old timers who pour properly priced cold beer and remember your name 6 months later. The patrons range from local celebs to blue collar city folk and nobody cares about the difference.

A good bartender knows one of the secrets of life:

Given the right mix of space, support, and spirits – humans are wonderfully resilient creatures. The most healing thing is to hold space for someone’s suffering, not to solve it.

Look at your hand for a moment:

Look at the lines. Then the smaller lines intersecting those lines. Imagine those little boxes of lines in your hands subdividing all the way down to the cellular level. Each cell in your hand contains all of the information it needs to build a new one of itself millions of times over. This is true of our hands, and our hearts.  Except for in a few rare instances, I believe that I have all of the information I need to solve all of my problems – I just need a safe space to do it in. I believe this about you, too.

So does the bartender.

“How’s it going?” he asks, preparing to hear your drink order. He’s not even being insincere when he asks it. There’s an unspoken understanding here that I’m going to keep it real, and he’s going to keep it chill: the banter and the beer.  I can say exactly what’s going on and he’ll hear it out, without lathering on his own discomforts. It’s an incredibly refreshing interaction, and not just because the beer is fresh and cold.

When you can bear one another’s burdens, making them light; when you mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort – this is a sign of your healed, wise, and fearless heart.

The next time you encounter someone’s raw truth about their pain or discomfort in life, pay attention to your gut reaction.  If you are uncomfortable – that’s okay! Just know that this person is a mirror for you to see some of the unhealed wounds in your own soul at the moment.  If you find that you are able to be like the bartender: to serve them something comforting while giving them the space to solve their own problems – know that this is a sign of your ascension toward The Divine. Take a moment and give thanks to those who have helped you arrive in this state of grace.

And when you sit down at the bar for a cold beer, raise your glass in honor of awareness and then sip your sacrament in gratitude for the process.

Cheers, my friends.


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