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Finding Enlightenment in a Trader Joe’s Parking Lot

I’m not entirely sure why I keep coming to this god forsaken grocery store, I thought to myself as I watched cars haphazardly back out of their clown car-sized parking spots amidst indifferent pedestrians at my local Trader Joe’s. It must be a zoning requirement by now for them to select lots that challenge the laws of physics, and I’m fairly certain that trying to maneuver their parking is more dangerous than finding yourself in an international war zone.

I conduct my shopping quickly so I can escape the chaotic mess of rattling carts, honking horns, and middle-aged women in their Lululemon yoga pants. Just as I begin unloading my groceries into my car, a young and energetic African American man who works at the store jogs up to my cart.

“Let me help you with that,” he exclaims. He’s probably in his mid-20s with bright eyes and a beaming smile. He has one of those friendly faces that seem to always be smiling, and the red-clad Trader Joe’s uniform matches his aura.

“Oh, thank you so much!” I reply, as I pop my trunk open.

As he lifts up my groceries to place them in the trunk, he catches a glimpse of my Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living in the backseat, a testament to my faux-intellectualism when it comes to inner peace. It was a gift from an ex-boyfriend that insisted I needed to “stop being so angry and find a little zen in my life.” That was probably the last gift he ever gave me before I ended the relationship in a furious flurry. Innately peaceful I was not, but I’m getting there.

“Oh man, you’re into zen living?” the cart attendant asks. “Have you read Osho?”

“No, who’s that?”

His face lights up and a sunbeam catches the glimmer of his small silver nose stud as he raises his head toward the sky, almost as if he’s thanking God for an opportunity to discuss Osho with someone.

“You have to look him up,” he says. “He talks all about the ego and enlightenment, how it can only come from within ourselves. We spend so much time wanting things because we’re conditioned by our environment, but the truth is that happiness comes from within and we can only create our own. We just have to shed the ego that prevents us from seeing that and is powered by society.”

I was awestruck.

“Wow, you know your stuff. I meditate but that’s about the extent of my insight.”

“Keep meditating,” he urged at me with an enclosed fist like a prophet with a vision. “More people need to learn the secret to happiness.”

I thanked him for his insight and appreciated his selflessness as I helped him unload the groceries into my car. I then began wondering to myself if his circumstances pushed him to this philosophy. Surely, being a cart attendant at one of the most crowded grocery stores in the Valley was not a zen job in and of itself. However, it probably does require a zen mindset in order to keep you from developing bad drinking habits in the evenings after work was over.

I shut my trunk and turned to him.

“I needed that today. Thank you for the advice.”

He nodded graciously and hugged me the way you would a childhood friend -- not with one arm loosely draped over the shoulder, but with both arms wrapped around and a gentle rub on the back.

“Good luck out there,” he said.

I spent the next ten minutes trying to escape the insanity of the Trader Joe’s parking lot, but without road rage and colorful curse words. I pondered his words until the moment I pulled into my driveway. When I got upstairs to my apartment, I placed my groceries on the kitchen floor and plopped down on my couch, insistent on discovering the philosophies of this mysterious Osho.

As I popped his name into the Google search bar, I saw a suggestion populate: “osho ten commandments.” Huh, I thought to myself, sounds like a good place to start.

“Life is now and here”, read the first commandment. I looked around the room and then at myself slouched down on the couch. I couldn’t say that one made me feel especially good about myself in that moment, but it was a nice thought.

I moved on to the second commandment: “Die each moment so that you can be new each moment.” Easy for you to say Osho, I thought to myself. I go into hypochondria from the common cold, so I’m not sure dying each moment will work out so well for me. Maybe I should forget this zen thing, throw away the ridiculous book in my trunk, and go back to being pissed off for a living. But since I’m here, let me at least finish these commandments.

Finally, I came to the most abstract one: “To become a nothingness is the door to truth. Nothingness itself is the means, the goal and attainment.”

This one stuck with me. I’ve never heard of nothingness as a goal before, but I could see its appeal. I suppose it could be paraphrased as becoming one with the universe, or realizing the temporariness of our existence and our actions. If that’s the case, I could not think of a place in which the epitome of nothingness was more prevalent than the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Nobody bats an eye at you there. You know your purpose when you’re there and you understand your insignificance as you’re surrounded by metaphysical networks of people going about their own day and their own business. That is, until a moment like today’s, where two paths cross to embrace their nothingness and then return to the void of the everyday world. Or, in this case, the Trader Joe’s parking lot.


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