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Bouncer: At Bourbon and Branch, meditate in moderation 

Wednesday, Nov 3 2010
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Memories are just pictures. They may or may not be the truth. The only thing that is "true" is what is happening in the moment, this very minute, or what Eckhart Tolle calls The Now. I had been hearing about the elfin German dude for years, but only recently did I go and buy his book, The Power of Now. His goofy picture is on the back of it, all big-nostriled and weak-chinned. He outlines a way of life that divorces itself from the self-seeking ego and moves into a semipermanent state of meditation. (Not while driving, we hope.) He taught himself this new way of being after a bout with severe depression. Once he figured it out, he described himself as being able to sit on a park bench for weeks, doing nothing, in a state of pure bliss.

This sounded insane. Ah, he says, yes, it probably does sound insane to your mind-centered reality. Once you move beyond the mind into the greater consciousness, you will see that it is everyone else who is mad.

Okay, deal. I was halfway there, since I already think everyone else is totally jacked.

So I have been trying it, and I have to say that I really do love this nutball's book. If I follow Tolle's suggestions, I can indeed sit in a state of contentment and watch my thoughts and emotions knock on the door but receive only a friendly wave from me. If I sit on the bus and try his methods, I can hear teenage girls screaming about Mookie fucking C-Bo's bitch, and it is but an autumn leaf falling from a tree, gently wisping past. I can step gingerly off said bus and straight into a pile of dogshit, and it is okay, because it is simply my corporeal body that has landed in the mess, not my eternal soul. Even if I do this practical meditation for a few minutes a day, I am surprised at how mellow I become during the rest of the time.

It was in just this state of higher consciousness that I decided to test Tolle's theories of distancing yourself from the past. I decided to return to Bourbon and Branch, a bar I first visited right after it opened. It was pretty revolutionary. Its designers approached drink-making like a chef would approach her menu. They went to farmers' markets for ingredients, tested and tasted combinations, and, of course, jacked up the prices to make foodies feel more confident in what they were imbibing. It worked. The drink I had there that first time was probably the most delicious one I had ever downed. Other places in the city began to spring up with similar artisan-style bartending. I also figured that in a few years' time, the place would become something else, as all bars do.

If you are a fan of unpretentiousness, you will not like Bourbon and Branch. First of all, you need a password to get in (in theory; all the times I have gone there, I have simply walked in. And the password was the same forever, it seemed: "Books.") On this last visit, when I was on a higher plane, I merely shuffled in with a group of people who did my dirty work for me. It now takes reservations, which, of course, ups the snob appeal. I ditched the patsies and was lucky enough to get a seat at the bar.

The joint is still beautiful. It is incredibly dark and has a spectacular chandelier. It is still a great place to fall madly in love with the rich man you are on a date with.

Bourbon and Branch was crowded and hot, even muggy. I ordered a virgin fruity thing. I needed to keep my edge if I was going to meditate. As usual, it took about 15 minutes for the bartender to make the drink, because he had to squeeze, muddle, press, and separate. I took the time to get into my zone. Tolle says we should close our eyes and say to ourselves, "I wonder what my next thought will be?" We should sit there and watch for the thought, like a cat waiting for a mouse to emerge from a hole. Go ahead, gentle reader; try it. See how long it takes for a thought to show up. I will wait.

If you are like me, it took a long time for any thought to appear. Congratulations: You have just existed outside of your mind and in the state of collective consciousness. This meant, for me, that I was at one with the woman behind me with the visible thong line, the businessmen who had loosened their ties, and the guy who had pulled his cellphone out, only to have a waitress admonish him. Cellphones are not allowed at Bourbon and Branch. It was of no matter, though, because it is all an illusion anyway.

"Wake up!" the dandy gent to my left said. He also playfully elbowed me. He wanted to talk. The poor lost soul. I didn't need conversation. Still, our interaction was happening In the Now, so I went with it. "Sorry," I giggled. "I had a long day." Wow, I lied. Is lying allowed in the present? What is a lie? Does it matter really why I had my eyes closed? He looked at me quizzically. That is probably because I looked really high.

"Well, it's over now," he said. Yes! The past is done. All we have is this moment. I struggled for what to say next, like a cat waiting for a mouse. He pursed his lips, raised his glass in a tender toast, and then decided to leave me alone. Okay, now I was feeling that familiar combination of thoughts and emotion that stands for rejection. It was okay, though, because I could back away from that feeling and just be.

Jesus Christ, this was tiring. It's a lot of work to not have to work at anything. Fuck it.

"So," I rejoined. "How about those Giants?" From there we had a nice conversation about baseball, single-malt scotch, and whether vermouth was a wine. I realized that in that moment, I felt more connected than I had been when I was trying to be nothing but connection. Meditation has its time and place, I figure. The real joy in life comes from interacting with other people.

I think Tolle would be okay with that, as long as the interaction was as genuine as possible and was firmly placed In the Now. I hope I am right, because going to bars and talking to people is my job.

If you do go to Bourbon and Branch and meditate, I recommend getting back onto planet Earth before you leave. You have to walk through the Tenderloin, after all. For example, I was glad that I didn't step in that pile of dogshit on Jones.

"Can I have 79 cents?" a homeless guy asked. I gave him a dollar. I have evolved.

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Katy St. Clair

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