Monks at Starbucks and New Year's Resolutions

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Monks at Starbucks and New Year's Resolutions

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Jan 11, 2011

Time flies.  Time is money.  Time is of the essence.  Time and tide wait for no man.  And, according to Benjamin Franklin, lost time is never found again.

When you live in Hawaii, you actually live in your very own time zone.  Officially, it’s called Hawaii Standard Time.  Locals call it, simply, “Hawaii time.”  Visitors call it “vacation time.”

Whatever you call it, we all know time is precious.  One minute can make a big difference in lives.  Take the Rockford, Illinois twins.  One was born at 11:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, and the other at midnight on New Year’s Day.  Two babies.  One minute.  Two years.  

Some say time operates differently in Hawaii.  What they mean is that time moves more slowly here in these islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—far removed from the goings on of the epicenter of American financial life in New York City, political life in Washington D.C. and the entertainment nexus of Los Angeles.  They mean that things take longer in Hawaii.  That people don’t race through their days.  That people don’t watch the clock.  That it’s perfectly acceptable—the practice, daresay—to arrive five to 10 minutes late for dinner, a get-together, at a friend’s house.

I never go anywhere without a book.  What’s more, I always pack a “back-up book.”  Because what would I do if I finished one book but didn’t have another one to start?  Books are my drug.  I read the printed versions.  I read the Kindle versions.  I listen to books on audio.  If I could, I would inject books into a vein—mainline them straight into my brain.  

And not just any books, but books with narrative.  I love to be immersed in a good story.  I’m not the only one.  Neuroscientists and psychologists have long studied the human predilection for storytelling.  Storytelling transcends country, culture, generation, gender and religion.  It seems our brains are wired for stories.  Case in point:  I recently inhaled a great book called Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

I carry books with me just about everywhere, because you never know when your plane is going to be delayed—I travel a fair amount—or your car will break down—I don’t drive the most reliable of vehicles—or your doctor will be running late.

Earlier this week, when I arrived for my doctor’s appointment—on time—and learned he was running 40 minutes late, I huffed and puffed and got all uppity and, then, I pulled out my iPhone, plugged in my earbuds and settled in with The Age of Empathy by Frans de Waal.

Getting antsy—well, to be honest, I’d working myself into a lather with every passing minute at the audacity of my doctor to waste my precious time—I headed to Starbucks at Kauai Village Shopping Center for a grande-five-pump-no-water-soy chai, all the while mumbling that my time was valuable, too.  I stomped my way in line behind two men, whom I recognized as monks from Kauai’s Hindu Monastery.  Both men wore their hair long and pulled back in a knot on their heads.  Both wore a red dot on their foreheads, which I’d learned on a recent visit represented the third eye of spiritual insight.  Both wore the requisite orange garments of swamis signifying a lifetime—lifetime—commitment to their spiritual practice. 

Kauai’s Hindu Monastery sits at the end of a residential road, four miles up a mountain on 353 acres overlooking the north fork of the Wailua River.  According to their website, the monastery is “…a secluded, cloistered home and theological seminary to two dozen dedicated monks from six nations, who live and serve here full time, striving to fulfill the dual goals of selfless service and self-transformation through ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga, which begins with good character and piety, and leads to deep meditation and ultimate enlightenment.”

Devout Hindus and casual visitors from around the world visit.  The main attraction at the site is the Iraivan Temple, the first hand-carved, all-stone Hindu temple ever erected in the Western Hemisphere.  The work started 7,900 miles away in India where the granite was quarried by hand and, then, hand-carved into its final form using simple chisels and hammers. Each piece of granite—all 3.2 million pounds—was transported stone by stone from India to Kaua‘i, where a team is assembling the structure, governed by the ancient Chola style of architecture and designed to last a thousand years.  This kind of work takes time.  Actually, when complete, it will have taken 23 years to craft this structure.

The temple is slated for completion in 2013 and includes unusual works of stone art, such as a 32-inch bell and stone chain carved out of once piece of stone and eight lion pillars, each with a floating stone ball carved inside the mouths of the lions.  Just one lion pillar took two silpis (stone carvers) over two years to create out of a ten-tone granite block.

As I stood in line, one monk turned and looked at me.  He smiled.  I smiled.

I wasn’t going to make a New Year’s Resolution this year.  Oh sure, I want to lose a few pounds and exercise more.  But who doesn’t?  Last year, I vowed to “be the first to smile.” 

But, today, after grumbling about a rude doctor who apparently thought his time was more important than mine, this monk beat me to it.  He smiled first.  What’s more, he smiled with dancing eyes.  I mean the guy’s clear, blue eyes sparkled brighter than any fireworks display I've watched from my lanai on New Year’s Eve.  His eyes shined brighter than my best friend’s daughter’s million-faceted, diamond, engagement ring.  How does he do that?  When it was my turn to step up to the barista and place my order, I wanted to echo the words of Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.  I did.  I really did.  I wanted to say, “I'll have what he’s having.”

But I didn’t.  Turns out, I wanted chai, not cappuccino.  

I returned to the doctor’s office, chai in hand and The Age of Empathy

piping through my earbuds, and I continued to wait.  When, finally, a nurse called, “Kim Rogers,” I glanced at the clock on my phone. “It’s about time,” I uttered under my breath, noting a full hour had passed.  And, then, I decided to make a New Year’s Resolution, after all.  I decided to be the first to smile, with diamonds in my eyes.  I'd have to make some changes in my life--like practice yoga, meditate, think positively, stop judging, eat healthier, spend more time in nature, hike, walk my dogs--and that could just very well lead to a couple other benefits--becoming a better person and, bonus, losing weight.

I could. But I'm no monk. I don't do diamonds, either. I'll just stick with being the first to smile. Because I need the practice.

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