It was a simple encounter, or so it seemed. I was buying a pair of boots at Nordstrom’s, and as the salesman was charging my credit card, he asked, “Is your house built on sand?”
I was confused and thought I misunderstood him. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what people are saying through their Covid mask. “What’s that?” I asked. “Your address,” he explained, gesturing towards the computer terminal. “It says here you live in Pismo Beach, so I was just wondering if your house is built on sand.” “Oh, no,” I said. “We live on the mountain side.”
He places my shoes in a bag along with the receipt, and as he hands it to me, he looks deep into my eyes and adds, “Smart decision. I don’t understand why anyone would build their house on sand. Not advisable.” I nod in agreement, thank him and head off.
As I said, it seemed like a simple encounter, but as I started down the escalator, my mind began to spin out of control. What did he mean about building a house on sand? “Not advisable.” It sounded a bit threatening. And the way he looked at me, with a little twinkle in his eyes. As if he knew something more than what his words revealed.
I drove along the Pacific Coast Highway lost in thought, replaying our exchange over and over in my mind. I was becoming obsessed. Not just about what he said, but about the man himself.
There was something very unique about this guy
I don’t know what it was specifically, but he had this sort of mystical quality. As if he was from another place. I’m not suggesting he was an alien with an oblong head, or almond shaped eyes, but he was definitely other worldly in some way, and not in a creepy way. In fact, he had an incredibly attractive quality about him. It was as if I could feel his aura of love and compassion. Listen, I know this sounds insane and I get that this guy is a shoe salesman, but Jesus was a carpenter, so who am I to judge?
The question continued to play over and over. “Is your house built on sand?
I was driving on autopilot at this point, and found myself turning down a dirt road. I pulled off to the side of the road, killed the engine and headed down a set of steps leading to the beach.
I’ve been to this stretch of beach countless times over the years, but never paid much attention to the homes. All of them built on sand. I studied them to see if there were any signs of weakness or collapsing but everything seemed fine. The homes here are supported by pilons, huge steel beams drilled deep into the earth, then encased with cement to form massive pillars. These houses may be built on sand but their foundation is impenetrable.
The air grew cooler as the sun began to set . I pulled my hood up, enclosing myself in my thoughts. I stared out at the ocean wondering what it will be like once winter takes hold. The pandemic has made it a long seven months but at least we have been outside. What happens when temperatures drop across the country and around the world? Will this be our winter of discontent?
Fear and Vulnerability
Many of us are already struggling with fear, vulnerability and loneliness. My thoughts drift to our elderly who are home alone all day long. They put themselves to bed at night hoping their children and grandchildren will be allowed to rush into their arms when they arise. We assure them this will all be over soon, but time is not on their side.
It has been a difficult period for everyone. People losing their jobs, wondering how they will pay the rent or put food on the table for their family. Even my wealthy friends, some of whom live in these houses on the beach, are having trouble coping. Their houses may be strong but the existential threat of death has shaken their emotional houses to the core.
Holy shit, that’s it! That’s what the shoe guy was talking about! I grew excited realizing that I had stumbled into the hidden message behind the salesman’s words. He wasn’t asking about my physical house, rather he was referring to my emotional house. He was asking if my emotional state of being is built on sand or if I have a solid foundation, a core, that can endure the storms of life.
It is a question we should all be asking ourselves. Is your house built on sand? Have you developed inner strength and resilience? Is your emotional life, your consciousness, residing on solid ground or will you be knocked over when a storm blows? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What happens when find yourself arguing with your parents or friends?
- How do you react when someone criticizes you?
- Do you curse at the person who cuts in front of you while driving?
- How do you feel when you see a homeless person on the side of the road asking for money?
Do any of these events send you reeling? Does your anxiety level raise up? Do you find yourself reacting with anger or rage? Or, do you have a solid foundation that allows you to see things just as they are? My friend is hurting. My parents are scared. The driver ahead of me is anxious and caught up in their own drama. And how about the homeless person? Do you feel somewhat agitated by their presence? Do you avoid eye contact? Or, do you have the strength to look at them in the eyes, even if you have nothing to offer them, and simply acknowledge their humanity. Have you considered the possibility that seeing them, simply recognizing their presence, is enough to alleviate some of their suffering?
Can you see that the daily gyrations of your life are really just testing your relationship with compassion towards yourself and everyone else?
Are You Prepared?
The worldly winds are blowing heavy these days. We turn on the news or flip through our social media feeds and see that life is messy. Are you prepared for the emotional challenges that will inevitably be a part of your existence?
How does one know if they are emotionally prepared, or if their house is built on sand? There is no solid knowledge here. It is an ongoing practice. A daily practice with an intention to cultivate compassion for ourselves and offer compassion to everyone else. This is a start. It is the first step on a journey of building a solid emotional foundation.
Compassion means having a spacious heart. We take a deep breath in, filling our bodies with air. And before we exhale, we wait just a moment and feel that space. Then, we exhale, and when all the air is gone from our body, we again notice there is space. We sit with that for a moment before bringing air back into the body. By repeating this for several minutes every day, maybe even more than once a day, we become familiar with a simple breathing practice that cultivates spaciousness. And this spaciousness leads us to compassion.
We begin to feel connected to ourselves, to our bodies. We sense our anxiety and fear leaving our body. And in time, as we become more comfortable being compassionate with ourselves, we begin to feel connected to our heart, and to each other.
Taking a few moments every day to pay attention to our breath is such a wonderful gift to give ourselves. Our breath is the one thing that stays with us throughout every moment of our lives, yet we rarely take the time to appreciate its presence. Give yourself the gift. Take a few minutes each day to notice your breath, and begin the wonderful process of building your house on solid ground.
For a more detailed instruction on the breathing practice, see my post entitled, Becoming The Water.
P.S. Since writing this story, I have gone back to look for the shoe salesman on four different occasion. I have yet to find him. Did he exist? Does it matter?