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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 41 AT THE ICE-CREAM STAND, a bored teenaged girl awaited customers, peering out through the window at a nearly empty parking lot. Her blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was perched on a stool, chewing gum. Behind her, steel machines gleamed, white freezers shone. Cool air wafted out from the kitchen toward me, smelling like sugar. The girl turned and asked what I wanted. What I wanted. Who knew? It was a warm September afternoon, and I was on my way home from a metta, or loving- kindness, retreat—three days of silence, of walking step by step, sitting breath by breath, offering metta to my- self, to others, to the world. At meals I sipped tea, ate tofu, carrots, and rice and I practiced metta. May all be- ings be peaceful. May all beings be safe. I lived with fifty other people, and yet met no one. I passed from room to room, eyes averted. May you be healthy. May you be content. May you be free from suffering. One afternoon I was doing walking meditation in the woods and seven turkeys strutted past me. I could see their small black eyes: May you be safe. May you be well fed. A breeze. More silence. A step. A breath. A bell. Gentleness and quiet grew. I entered a still, sweet, internal space—a deeply different place from the one I’d inhabited days before, full of my young children’s demands, my work, my getting-things-done. You know what it’s like: the life you’re living, then the retreat, and the change it effects in you. But, after that, new moments keep arising. Driving home along the curved New England roads that would lead me to the highway, I felt fuzzy, light-headed, and somehow so removed from the task of driving that I wondered how I’d find my way. It was as if my mind could not catch up with a world of fast cars, of getting from here to there. Call it post-retreat fog-brain. Maybe hungry, my mind suggested as I drove along. ILLUSTRATIONBYJESSICAVONHANDORF A Thousand Flavors Scoops of cherry chocolate chunk and caramel ripple—NELL LAKE makes a heart connection while choosing a flavor. NELL LAKE is a freelance magazine writer. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts. Glucose deficit. Yes, I thought, food. When I saw by the side of the road, amid cow pastures and rolling stone walls, a squat, white dairy bar with a big plastic blue-and- white cow standing sentry out front, my mind turned to ice cream. Yes, I thought as I parked my car, ice cream. But then things got complicated. What did I want, the girl had asked. I’d just spent three days in retreat from want. How should I know? I looked up and found a list of flavors. Too many flavors, too complex. The words pistachio, coconut, ripple. A thousand flavors, a foreign language. I heard Frank Sinatra crooning from outdoor speakers: Is your mouth a little weak, when you open it to speak? My funny valentine. “Um, what is cherry chocolate chunk?” I asked the girl. “Vanilla ice cream,” she said, leaning her chin on her fist and gazing beyond me at a car speeding by. “Chunks of chocolate-covered almonds. Cherry swirl.” Did I want the flavor just described? Who knew? I gaped up again. “What is sunny caramel spice?” I asked. “Orange liqueur ice cream with cinnamon and cara- mel swirl.” She was turning her gum slowly over in her mouth, pressing it between young, white teeth. My head was swirling with swirls. I realized I was tak- ing too long to order; I felt apologetic. So I smiled at the girl, a slow, metta smile. It came from stillness—not a distracted, errand-running smile. A communion smile. My eyes met hers. I felt warmth toward this person. Here we were, together, doing our parts. I saw her face melt, the bored look disappear. She seemed surprised. A light appeared in her eyes and she smiled back. A pause. And then we were shy. Her eyes returned to the distance, mine to the board. But in that moment of human contact I woke up to where I was. Here in this world of endless ice cream flavors, of getting from here to there. This world, yes, of the suffering of choices. You’ve got to be a part of it, Sinatra sang, and I agreed. Not far away, brown cows grazed, a warm breeze smelled like turning leaves, the sky was waxing a hazy pink. There was this ice cream stand, this liminal space, this sugary portal. You’ve got to be a part of it. Yes. ➢