The Yoga of Data Roaming
So there I was, living the good life in San Miguel de Allende just a few weeks ago, enjoying the slow lane, mucho tiempo, hot springs, frosty margaritas, blue skies, and super-conscious of just how inexpensive everything was in my new found attempt to simplify my life when Caroline, one of my colleagues back in my Woodstock office, sends me an email explaining how we just got a data roaming bill from AT&T for $1,790 -- a bill that was due in three weeks.
$1,790? For roaming? Where? In the Pleiades? Pluto? Some parallel universe where the streets were made of platinum? No way, Jose. No way. Not me, Uh uh. Sorry. Not after these last six months of cost cutting and, for the first time in two years, actually having a positive cash flow. Uh uh. Nope. No can do.
Semi-catatonic, but still curious to find out WHICH of the five phones on our AT&T plan was the culprit, I quickly discovered it was my first born, my number one (and only) son, the carrier of the family name, the Digital Media Maven, the honorable Jesse Pouget Ditkoff, a 19-year old lad at the time who, upon landing in Mexico City (and not having been on social media for the five hour flight from Newark) somehow FORGOT to turn off his data roaming and proceeded, for the next 311 minutes, while he made his way to San Miguel, to reacquaint himself with Instagram, Facebook, and who knows what other online universes, all of which were now available to him through the grace of oversized cell towers where Mayan pyramids once stood.
Yes, they stood tall and technologically advanced, but THEY WERE NOT A PART OF MY CURRENT CELL PLAN -- the one I didn't buy, fully believing my request to both of my kids to TURN OFF YOUR DATA ROAMING WHEN YOU GET TO MEXICO, would be the teenage mantra of the week. It wasn't.
Thus Caroline's phone call and my newly emerging existential choice of whether to offload my angst onto my son, plead insanity to the POWERS THAT BE, obsess all weekend, or... THIS JUST IN... choose not to entertain a thousand dark thoughts about DEEP DEBT, RIP OFF PHONE COMPANIES, or TEENAGE FRONTAL CORTEXES -- which, after getting the low down from Jesse on what actually happened, is what I chose to do -- a kind of super mental tantra I am not usually good at, especially when an unexpected large bill bummer heads its ugly rear and begs for my attention -- a cognitive bummer, disguised as a thought, that like a relative who talks too much and doesn't know when it's time to leave takes up entirely too much space.
This thought, this "YOU OWE THE PHONE COMPANY $1,790" thought quickly took up residence in what was left of my mind. Or tried to... I should say. It pulled up a chair. It kicked off its shoes. It opened a beer and starting watching a 57" flat screen TV I don't even have.
It was then that I knew what I had to do -- CHOOSE!
I could either let this obsessive thought in and take over my house, or I could ignore it. Realizing, it was too late, on Friday afternoon, to ask for mercy from AT&T's customer service department, I was going to have to ride this one out, ducking the gale winds of my own fevered mind and CHOOSING again and again not to engage the unwanted VERY EXPENSIVE DATA ROAMING THOUGHT in my head for the rest of the weekend.
Easy for me to say. Easy for me to declare, but THOUGHTS, especially BIG HAIRY THOUGHTS have heard it all before from people like me and know exactly what to do to persist and grow larger.
Ah... but the plot thickens.
That night, you see, my amazing wife, Evelyne, and I had been invited to a sumptuous party with all kinds of great people in costumes and good moods, Day of the Dead statues all around us and music that begged you to dance.
Perfect! The environment was perfect. Like someone from Central Casting was going for an Academy Award just as the fun began, the invisible, subatomic, off the grid, holographic fun known in some parts as "God's Play."
As the fabulous Mexican evening wore on I couldn't help but notice that no matter who I was talking to, there was a kind of ghost behind them, rising slowly from the ground, a fat ghost, a slightly drunk and off putting ghost, a bulbous entity not unlike an overweight high school geometry teacher who took great pride in making kids uncomfortable with his news of cosines and tangents and POP QUIZZES ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON.
This ghost had a name -- the "DATA ROAMING GHOST", the "YOU BETTER START GETTING YOUR RAP TOGETHER, MITCH, BECAUSE YOUR SO-CALLED CASH FLOW IS ABOUT TO END UP IN THE TOILET."
Nice try, thought! But I'm not buying it! It's Friday night and I'm at a party. Sorry, dude. There just ain't no room for worry tonight. You can huff and puff as much as you want, but I'm not paying attention to you. None. Like zippo, nada, zilch. I got other things to do. Comprende, senor? Lo siento mucho, bro, but I'm not playing your game. I will not engage with you.
OK. Yes, I will admit, there was a time, in my early 20's, after reading way too many Zen Buddhism books, when I thought that one day I would live in a realm of ABSOLUTELY NO THOUGHT -- hanging out, as I imagined myself to be in some large, perfect, empty calligraphic Zen circle, the circumference of which would be lined with motionless monks who had long ago reached SATORI and were now simply sitting or writing haiku in the sand.
Sorry, Zen friends, but it's not about that and never was. THAT whole scenario was only a thought, one among many high class thoughts that weighed me down.
Uh uh. No way. No way, Jose. The choice before me was simpler than that. The choice before me was simply NOT TO ENTERTAIN THE EXPENSIVE DATA ROAMING THOUGHT. I didn't have to make it wrong. I didn't have to demonize AT&T, iPhones, teenagers, cell towers or my own lack of long distance know how. All I had to do was not focus on my unwanted guest.
This, shall we say, went on for the entire weekend, the DATA ROAMING THOUGHT popping up again and again like a teenage zit right before the senior prom... but I did not engage, choosing LIFE over DEATH, the PRESENT over the FUTURE, BEING over DOING.
Monday came round fast enough. Oh yes, it did -- the long awaited time to deal with the customer service people of the big telecommunications company and see just how SERVICE-ORIENTED they were.
As I slowly dialed, I prayed to get someone compassionate on the other end of the line, someone not cranky, angry at their spouse, underpaid, under appreciated, hypoglycemic, menstruating, or reading from a script while pretending NOT to be reading from a script, trained as they were by the AT&T gods to listen to the customer so they could skillfully diffuse my angst while simultaneously reminding me of THE POLICY they were, by the power of their almighty Over Lords, paid to uphold.
Fortunately, I did not get that guy. I got a human being -- a very lovely man named "Daniel" who was "happy to help me" and "would do what he could" to resolve the situation.
He listened. I spoke. He listened some more. I spoke some more. I told him there was no way my 19-year old son, working all summer to pay his college tuition, could afford to pay $1,790. On and on I rambled, while the very unrobotic and Bodhisattva-like Daniel continued listening and finding new ways to let me know it was all going to be alright.
"We can just re-rate you" he explained.
"Re-rate?" I asked. "What is re-rate?"
Daniel went on to explain that "re-rate" is what AT&T does for its customers lost in DATA ROAMING LAND. Basically, they just sell you, retroactively, the data plan you should have bought before leaving the country.
So now I'm doing the math and figuring I still owe $600 or some other very large amount of dinero so AT&T's honchos can afford to send their own kids to college.
"$30," Daniel blurts after a few quick calculations. "That's what you owe. Not $1,790. Just $30."
Was there no end to my good fortune? Daniel, dear Daniel, who I was now talking to as if he was my best friend, had just reduced my data roaming charges by 98%. That was it! That was all it took! One simple calculation based on one simple concept and one wise decision made by AT&T not to rake their customers over the data roaming coals.
Relief! I was relieved.
But far beyond relief was the recognition that, somehow, throughout it all, I had made the right CHOICE -- the choice not to worry, the choice not to doubt, the choice not to entertain dark thoughts in my head... the choice to stay in the moment... stay in the light and enjoy life to the fullest no matter what invisible distractions begged for my attention.August 21, 2014
Five Seconds of Heaven August 20, 2014
August 19, 2014
Introducing PeaceDay TV
If you are planning on celebrating the International Day of Peace on September 21st, here is another good resource for you -- PeaceDay TV. A parter of PeaceCast TV, this inspired organization will be livestreaming 36 hours of content in celebration of the International Day of Peace -- two hours of which will be the "best of PeaceCast."
Peace Day TV was Founded in 2009 by the Light of Life Society for the purpose of providing broadcasting for peace-building organizations, inter-faith projects, and educational charities.
In 2011, Peace Day TV became recognized as a special project of the Culture of Peace Initiative, a UN-designated "Peace Messenger Initiative" with participants in all the world's regions. Their common goal is to unite the strengths of organizations and individuals who are working to make peace a practical reality.August 10, 2014
Every Breath is a Prayer
August 07, 2014
There Is a Poem I Will Write One Day
There is a poem I will write one day (but this isn't it) that will describe, without a wasted word, what my heart perfectly understood the moment I first met you. Like a still pond on a clear day, you will be able to see your face in it and, if you are thirsty, drink. What you will see there will delight you, astound, amaze. So much so, you may end up removing all the mirrors from your house or singing all night long. Yes, I know I am writing a poem about a poem that is not yet written, but so what? Don't people speak of a God they've never seen? Trust me. The poem I speak of is coming soon, or, if not soon, then later, or if not later, then I guess this poem will have to do.August 06, 2014
International Day of Peace Video
Beautiful video by Fernando GarciaAugust 05, 2014
Be Empty Like the Sky
August 04, 2014
I have never been fired from a job. Except once -- a week after the man I wrote 350 speeches for in two years, Donald J. Manes, the Borough President of Queens, committed suicide in his kitchen because he knew he was just about to get busted for stealing more than one million dollars from the City of New York in what is now affectionately known as the Parking Violations Bureau scandal.
I wasn't fired because I had done anything wrong. I hadn't. I was fired because the successor to the Not-So-Honorable Donald J. Manes wanted to clean house in a "B" movie politically correct way to appease the irate public's need for reform. A new leaf. She was turning over a new leaf and a whole bunch of other metaphors being supplied to her by a newly hired PR advisor.
The bottom line? At 37, I was out of a job -- unemployed -- with an insanely exorbitant Upper West Side rent due in less than a month.
Having saved almost nothing from my speech writing gig and with absolutely no desire to write for yet another person with delusions of grandeur, I decided to go the artistic route and earn my living the honest way -- playing my clarinet in the subway.
The first day I made $8.00. There was no second day.
So I did what any, self-respecting, former English Lit major with a little known ability to recite Canterbury Tales in Middle English would do. I wrote. Not a screenplay. Not a suicide note. But a query letter to New York Magazine pitching an investigative journalism article on the beggars of Manhattan -- the real story, I declared, behind the people who panhandled for a living.
And so, for the next 30 days, that's exactly what I did -- walked the streets of the Big Apple, doing my underground reporter best to befriend the people most of us think aren't really beggars at all but con artists trying to fool us for a living, bad actors impersonating beggars so they can buy cheap wine and avoid the rush hour commute.
Thirty days I spent with them. Thirty days walking, talking, buying them lunch, and trying to discover the organizing principal around which my story would authentically take shape.
And I did. Find it, that is. The moment I met Fred.
His spot? 79th and Columbus, just one block from my apartment. His schtick? Pepe, his dog. Or more accurately, his sign for Pepe, his dog -- a portable cardboard sign painstakingly printed with a pen he found three weeks ago that let the world know he wasn't begging for himself, but for his faithful companion, a 10-year old mutt he found on the street and loved too much not to feed every day.
Standing there before this man, tape recorder tucked under my right arm, I couldn't help but smile. This was either the cleverest of panhandler scams or Fred was an uptown saint.
I looked at him and he looked at me. Then, with a crook of his head and a word I didn't understand, he signaled me to sit with him and Pepe on a blanket that had seen, shall we say, better days.
He told me his name, but not much else. We sat there, in silence, side by side, Pepe before us, as hundreds of people walked by, most casting glances, not coins.
Thirty minutes passed, then Fred, with a pained look in his eye, looked at me and asked if I would "mind his dog" while he went looking for a hotel or restaurant to relieve himself.
And so, for the next hour, I sat there on the blanket with Pepe, the sign, and a tin cup.
This being 79th and Columbus, many purposeful, well-dressed people walked by. All of them, of course, assumed I was the beggar.
"NO!" I wanted to scream. "You got it all wrong! I'm not a beggar. I'm a writer doing a story on beggars". But I couldn't find the words. Somehow, the dog and cat both had my tongue. I was speechless.
And then, not a single angel descending from heaven, I got it. I finally got it. I was a beggar. Yes, me. I was a beggar. I was absolutely no different than Fred. I wrote stories. He wrote signs. He was trying to get money. I was trying to get money. And both of us were asking for help.
When Fred finally returned, he had a large wet spot on his pants.
"Dude, what happened?" I asked.
Fred shook his head, attempting to cover the stain with his hand. "No one would let me in," he explained, a single slow tear rolling down his cheek. "I went to 15 restaurants and hotels and no one would let me in."August 03, 2014
Finding the Miracle
A few years ago I was invited to MC an event at the Shrine Auditorium, in LA, where Prem Rawat was going to be speaking. While I was totally thrilled to be asked, I was also totally terrified -- convinced I was the wrong choice and would be a huge disappointment.
Doing my best to ignore the sorry state of my mind, I flew to LA, hailed a cab, and made my way to the hall.
Though I was clearly not at my best, I went through the dress rehearsal, reviewed the announcements, and figured I'll find my groove after I had time to meditate.
I didn't. It got worse.
People were wishing me well, but I was in a well -- a well on the moon -- and the air was extremely thin.
A few hours passed. I took my seat. I took a breath. I studied the announcements one more time and waited for my cue to go back stage.
The cue finally came and I took my new seat, now in the wings, listening to the sound of the hall filling up with thousands of people waiting to see Prem Rawat.
The backstage manager, both focused and relaxed and clearly noticing I was neither, explained the event would start in five minutes. I was still, shall we say, not on top of my game -- hoping the building would catch on fire -- anything to get me out of there.
"Two minutes!" the backstage manager announced.
Now I was in BIG trouble. In two minutes I'd be walking the plank and I WAS NOT READY. My eyes were open, but my heart was not.
And then, with 90 seconds to go, two extraordinary things happened that I will never forget.
First, I remembered something Prem Rawat said years ago -- that human beings had two choices: to go through life gnashing their teeth and waiting for it to be over -- OR saying YES to life and enjoying the moment.
I chose the moment. I said YES. I embraced it all.
The second thing? I heard a few lines of Daya's Find the Miracle being piped into the hall. Such a beautiful song. Such a feeling of peace infused in every word, every note.
Somehow, I found the miracle. The veil lifted and I found the place of peace inside me. Total goodness. Total presence. Total joy. Everything that had been weighing me down, only seconds before, just evaporated in a heartbeat. Poof! Gone! Nowhere to be seen. Now, in this sacred moment, all that remained was a spacious feeling of love and gratitude. I was home.
"Three, two, one" said the backstage manager, holding his fingers high in the air just in case I didn't hear.
I breathed. I stood. I walked out on stage... and began.August 02, 2014
How You Can Be a Part of Peace Day
If you are a supporter of Prem Rawat's message of peace, here's how you can get involved with PEACE DAY on September 21st, a worldwide movement to focus attention on the need for peace on planet Earth. Many organizations, around the world, are helping out. One of those organizations is Words of Peace Global.
More info about Peace Day, here, in the Huffington Post.