Of Chimps and Chocolate Chips
By Frank Kinslow
one of those people who always pick the slowest line to stand in? I
do, every time. In fact, I think all of us choose the slowest line.
I have never heard anyone brag about always finding the fastest
line, have you? If that were me, I’d surely let the rest of you
“slow-liners” hear about it.
grocery store checkout, I will stand aloof from the other
indiscriminant line-standers and watch to see which checker got a
good night’s sleep, how many carts per line and how full each cart
is. I usually narrow it down to two lines and just before I’m hemmed
in from behind, I bolt over to my second choice. Then I stand and
watch as shoppers, who were back in the dairy department when I
first got in line are now gleefully stuffing their car trunks full
of eggs, chocolate chip cookies, and the 2 for 1 Gummy Bear Bar-B-Q
sauce special from aisle 4.
do we abhor standing in line? Because it’s boring? Because we feel
nothing is being accomplished? Because standing there, shifting from
foot to foot, we realize that life is passing us by? Yes, to all
three. Lines are boring, unproductive and render us impotent while
we are there. Or, so it seems.
people treat life as one long line. They are always trying to be
where they aren’t. They feel they must always be doing something.
The thing is, life is not a long line. Every instant is a complete
life within itself. We just fail to adequately appreciate it. Here’s
what I mean.
everything you are doing right now and ask yourself, “What, at this
very moment, do I absolutely need? Unless you were taking a dip in
your pool when you “stopped everything” and right now absolutely
need air, your answer will have to be…Nothing. From moment to
moment, we need only the essentials like expanding lungs and pumping
heart. Beyond the basics, we have desires, not needs. Desires come
not from the present. They are ignited in the memory and fanned into
fury by the possibility of future fruition.
humans are unique on this earth, not because we can think, plan and
communicate using language. Any garden variety chimpanzee with a
middleclass upbringing can perform all three. What separates us from
our furry neighbors (of the chimp variety) is our concept of time,
particularly the ability to project our thoughts into the future.
Humans can imagine, and imagination it turns out, is both a boon and
a bane. Wielding this double edged sword, we can dream of a safe and
secure future and then build toward it. Or, we can visualize the
nightmares ahead and be immobilized here in the present.
does all this have to do with the frustration of standing in a
grocery store check-out line? Everything! Feeling bored, anxious, or
frustrated are symptoms of a restless imagination. We can imagine
that being stuck in line will make us late for the game on TV or
hold up the ladies at the garden club, or both. It’s even worse if
we encourage ourselves to think happy thoughts like sipping a quiet
glass of wine with a good friend or grooming our chimpanzee. As soon
as we realize we are still stuck in line, the emotional storm clouds
again gather overhead.
problem is not a long slow-moving line. The problem is the mind, and
that is where we will find the cure. Boredom and anxiety are just
symptoms of the mind dwelling in the past and future respectively.
do we neutralize these unwanted emotions that trample all over our
peace like K-Mart shoppers after the Blue Light special? Why, we do
what the chimps do. We pay attention to what is right here, right
now. We entice our minds into the present by paying very astute
attention to the things around us. Try it. It can’t fail. Open your
bag of chocolate chip cookies and taste one. I mean really taste it.
Feel the crumbly-ness dissolve on your tongue and explode into a
shower of sweetness, followed by the slow melting chocolate chips.
Follow the swallow all the way into your tummy. Now turn your
attention to the artichoke in your cart. Appreciate it for the odd
and remarkable creation it is. Rotate the stem and feel the points
tickle-scratch across your palm. Smell it and see if it reminds you
of musty Fritos. Pick up a banana and…
think you get the idea. To neutralize the pressures of civilization
we only have to become like animals. We forsake the meandering mind
for the joys contained right here in the present. We become like a
cat watching a mouse-hole; alert, ever watchful and absolutely
alive. Paying attention is not only a cure for boredom; it is the
remedy for the daily frustrations and anxieties of our lives. So,
get up in the morning and pay attention; feel the warmth and wetness
of your shower, taste the toothpaste and smell the coffee. Pay
attention all day long and you will thank me in the evening.
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