A Brief and Almost Encounter

Act I: The Almost Encounter

 

I almost met Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once.

Picture O’Hare airport’s gift shop, filled with trinkets that resemble every other tourist trap except with “Chicago” branded in nondescript, plastic letters.

The store was underpopulated and a 23-year-old version of myself was wasting time until my flight. My disinterest in the gimmicks left me wandering aimlessly around the shop, until I landed at the counter, head propped on one hand and spinning a rack of moniker key chains with the other.

I was daydreaming when I became subtly aware of a looming shadow next to me. I kept flipping the rack until I grasped the fact that the shadow wasn’t moving.

As I turned slightly, I found myself facing a man’s abdomen, startled by the proximity.  It was a long journey up to his face, which ended in a quizzical look on my part, and an amused look on his.

Now, I come from a family of tall men. And my brother-in-law measures in at 6’8″. But at 7’2″, this man was a full 6 inches taller than that.

As I tilted my head, he said “hi” and smiled, giving me a look that was hard to read at the time. I didn’t know if I responded.  I may have just stared at him, blankly, until he finally walked away.

As my brain slowly connected with my visual perspicuity, the most incurious internal dialogue ensued–a dialogue that would be both comical and offensive to NBA fans and Airplane! movie lovers alike: “I wonder if that guy ever played basketball.” I thought. “I should’ve asked him that…” At which point I experienced a milli-second of regret, shrugged, and went back to spinning keys in a methodical, clockwise motion.

Seconds later a wide-eyed cashier hurried towards me shrieking and gesturing with an absurdity that contrasted my understated thoughts. “That was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar standing next to you!” She shouted.”  He just bought something and I saw the name on his credit card! But I knew it was him right away!!!” She had an air of self-referential pride.

She then asked me a question, the answer to which left her crestfallen. “What did you say to him?!” I looked at her, knowing I was bound to disappoint, and shrugged, “Dunno…I don’t think I said anything…” My voice wistfully dropped off at the end. Her condemnation was evident. And the truth is, I don’t really know, but I think I was completely silent.

 

Act II: The Encounter

If it’s possible in an interaction between two people for one to have an encounter while the other doesn’t, that’s exactly what happened, here. Kareem had more of an attuned interaction with me than I did with him (not that it mattered to him, I’m sure, other than to pique his amusement).

For me, however, it was a bit haunting. Not just because I do know who he is, but also because I was unnerved by my ability to be so detached from the present moment. For someone who was studying attunement and practicing it in real time in the office, I had hit a major blind spot.

What to do? Engage mindful awareness.

 

Act III: The Questions

To be mindful is to be open to what’s going on around us with a receptivity that allows for curiosity, exploration, and assimilation, ultimately leading to growth. In my disconnection from the moment, I lost out on the possibility to do what I do so well (ask copious amounts of annoying questions). And I lost out on that with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In this narrative, I celebrate Kareem as an example of  the raconteur. He was a storyteller who translated valuable truths from my office couch to my kitchen table (or, in this case, the gift shop counter) with one knowing look.

Version 2.0 of my website is now titled The Raconteer. Raconteer is a made up word meant to describe one who celebrates pioneers of storytelling (raconteurs) who bridge the gap between the office couch and the kitchen table. —click here for explanation

I’ll always remember that story as a lesson in mindfulness. Kareem, if I ever get a redo, I have two questions that I’ve often contemplated and are long overdue.  How do you deal with the forced mindfulness that accompanies your towering height? And what’s it like to have a birds eye view to a world of oblivious people?

Couch to Table

 

How do we bridge the gap between the therapist’s couch and the client’s kitchen table?

 

The farm to table movement is quickly becoming a cultural staple. It’s the current gold standard of dining where food is locally sourced, fresh, healthy, and simple.

As I understand the farm to table movement, the goal is to promote a relationship with food that encourages sustainability, accessibility, simplicity, and authenticity. All of these traits include a respectful partnership between the farm (local food source) and the table (eating establishment).

After listening to the many voices that echo from the office couch, it struck me that farm to table offers rich lessons for counseling. Clients want these same characteristics from the process.

The therapist’s couch represents the place where soul searching work happens. While the client’s kitchen table is the epicenter of the home. Not just the hub of eating, but the spot where the daily rhythms of life converge.

One of counseling’s great obstacles is translating what clients learn in the office to everyday life. It can feel like you’re taking a giant leap to get from the office couch to the kitchen table.

But these same traits of the farm to table movement give valuable cues for how to accommodate that transition in our lives.

Sustainability: Just as we want our food to be sourced in a way that has a positive impact on the surrounding environment, we want sustainability from counseling. We desire an enduring imprint, one that’s impressionable, persistent, replicable. Ultimately, we want our acquired insights to nourish rather than deplete the people and places in our locus of influence.

Accessibility: Farm to table food is accessible. It’s readily available due to the proximity of the local farm to our dining rooms. We want counseling to be the same. We value the couch “aha” moments and want them to translate to the kitchen table conversations with a natural flow, comprehensibility, and appealing narrative.

Simplicity: Just as many value food with no fillers, we want counseling that’s natural and focuses on crafting the essentials in a way that’s respectful. Fillers may mean years of unnecessary talk time where we spin our wheels. In contrast, we want to get to the real issues right away–whittled down to the essential, explained with clarity, and applicable to the here and now.

Authenticity: With farm to table, what you see is what you get, no hidden ingredients–just genuine, locally grown food. With couch to table counseling, it’s about a similar transparency that encourages organic relationships and genuine change.

I desire to see my field of work move in this direction. I want counselors, myself included, to care well for those who cross the threshold of each office door and ease weary bodies on to that emblematic couch.

I hope we can reflect on these traits, together, through the shared stories and experiences on this site. As part of version 2.0, you can now find me on twitter as TheRaconteer or visit my website through theraconteer.com. More on that soon…

In the meantime, may you find the rhythms of life uniquely enriched around your kitchen table. Here’s to a new year and new adventures in couch to table storytelling.