By Travis Masch
As a cafe owner now, the term "service industry" carries a spiritual message with it. I believe that serving others leads one to develop the two most fundamental requirements for a truly spiritual path: being humble and letting go of ego. A customer walks up to the counter to place his order, and I must surrender an important personal phone call. I see that it is my attachment to encounters like this that lead to irritation or anger. If I dwell on someone's impatient manner it will only interrupt the flow of situations that arise and fade away. Our customers come and go in quick succession and my place behind the counter is an island where I stand rooted in the ever-flowing stream of requests and demands, as well as words of kindness and praise.
My task is to find a way to feel whole within myself. To do this I follow my breathing to unite mind and body and I also look for "bells of mindfulness" to help return to the present moment. Music can be such a "bell." "International" or "World Beat" music not only helps me find a natural and age-old rhythm to make my movements smooth and flowing, but also creates awareness of other regions of the planet. Despite war, poverty, and hunger there is still a song to create joy, community, and encouragement.
There are other opportunities to help me return to the present moment and myself. Holding a paper cup and listening to the sound of falling trees needed to make it encourages me to offer discounts to people who bring their own ceramic cups. When washing dishes I observe my breathing while reciting the gatha: "Washing the dishes is like bathing the baby Buddha. The profane is sacred. Everyday mind is Buddha's mind." When I prepare food, I look deeply into each ingredient and see the long chain of events that brings it into my cafe. For example the tomato seed in Earth's rich soil, its green leaves reaching for the sun, the fruit slowly filling out with water from above and below, the farmer and his family who work the land and make a living, perhaps under more difficult conditions than me, the trucks and the gas and oil used to transport all the produce, the chemicals used to fertilize and preserve the fruit, give me a chance to look for ways to lower the burden such treatments impose on the Earth.
These contemplations can lead to nervousness in a customer who wants his sandwich NOW! as his lunch break is short. I hand over his lunch sack with a smile, knowing that with it he takes the "secret ingredient" of mindfulness. I hope that it is that which brings him back day after day, perhaps not realizing that he himself as well as I and the Earth and sky are all contained within the small brown paper bag that he takes with him back to work.
Travis Masch lives in San Francisco, where he owns the "One World Cafe."