Molly Fisk: “How’s It Working for You?”


Sometimes, when you least expect it, an idea comes into your life and radically changes your perspective. I don’t think this happens very often, or at least it doesn’t to me. Maybe ideas float around us all the time, but we aren’t always open to hearing them. Or maybe the right idea for each of us is rare, and our openness is rare, so the intersection is sort of a miracle. I have no idea. But I got lucky this week, and two complementary ideas walked in my open door hand in hand.

The first came from a student of Sufi who drinks coffee at the same place I do. My significant-but-uncommitted other asked this man—an unassuming guy named Robert—if there were any signposts on a spiritual path. A big smile broke out over Robert’s face and he reeled off three statements. The first two slipped past me, since I was trying to get the last of the latte foam out of the bottom of my cup and hadn’t really been paying attention, but the final one rang inside my head like a Chinese gong. Robert said the last signpost was to ask yourself now and then: “And how’s that working for you?”

All three of us started laughing and couldn’t stop. The sentence can be taken at face value, of course, and some of the time it should be, but it also contains so much ruefulness and irony that it seems to encompass the whole of human fallibility in a very kind way. And it points so directly toward what isn’t working, even though—or especially when—we’re trying to believe it is.

Something I’ve been trying to believe is working for me is an old pattern I have of talking before I think. As a writer, I feel that I do get a certain license to write my way into the subjects I’m thinking about; that’s how I find out what my real opinions are. But it’s also a style of discourse I’ve been using since I was a kid, and lately it’s been getting me in a lot of hot water. I blurt out things that occur to me, and then realize I’ve just betrayed a confidence. Or I say something before I’ve checked the facts, and then I have to backpedal because I don’t have sources to support my statement. I end up feeling like an idiot.

And it gets worse. In this new world of girlfriend-hood I’m wandering around in, not only do I say things before I think, I do it in the heat of argument and blame my partner before I’ve thought something through. He, being a logic-maven as well as just as righteous as I am when we’re fighting, takes great offense at this, and several times has been able to show me that I’m pointing the finger at him when it’s really my mistake.

I don’t know what he thought of when we heard that “How’s it working?” phrase roll off Robert’s tongue, but I was thinking about this pattern. How’s it working for me? Not so well. The laughing helped me swallow the bitter pill, as laughing usually does. But then I was left with the question of how to stop the behavior.

My partner and I left the café and went to look at a mandala some Tibetan monks are painting with colored sand in our town. They do this every year, but I hadn’t seen it before. Under the vaulted ceiling of what used to be a church, the only sound was the tapping of the long silver tools the monks use to let out three or four grains of sand at a time, and sometimes a word or two in Tibetan. I could feel my breathing and heart rate shift. Suddenly everything inside and outside me seemed more open.

I walked around the mandala table, watching this laborious process, thinking about the displaced Tibetans, counting the 42 Tupperware containers of colored sand, and the second revelation slipped quietly into my brain. “Oh, of course,” I said to myself. “It’s simple. You just have to radically slow down.”

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.