Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | July 14, 2009

Journaling on the Spiritual Life

So, some rambling thoughts. I got to work Monday, wrote the date down on a particular chart I am responsible for every day, and realized it was my father’s birthday, and became very sad. I miss my dad very much, and my mom. I’ve tried to figure out why I get more blue over my dad, and I think part of the reason is that when my mom died, my life didn’t change much. But when my dad died, I had to move from the home I lived in all my life, strike out on my own, and I lost the safety net I always knew was there.

My life is my own doing. Choices I made have gotten me where I am, and I’m ok with it. I don’t really have regrets. I wish things could be different at the moment, but they’re not, so I continue to make choices that I’ll be happier with. Kathleen Botsford mentioned “practicing presence” in a recent blog of hers, and it brings me back to my spiritual days at Columbia University, when a small group of us catholics delved into the radical spirituality of our catholicism, did ministry, and prayed as a community, learning new things like centering prayer, contemplation, being present, letting go letting God, concepts that shared a lot with eastern spirituality, buddhism, taoism, hinduism…

I find myself in the midst of a new sphere, new job, new people. My boss is smart, and I’ll learn a lot from her, and she’s been great to me so far. It’s like having a retail guru, and I’ll try to extrapolate the lessons to the larger meaning. There’s lots of corporate nonsense and management stuff to go around. I don’t blame corporations for trying to create enough safeguards and double checks to make sure their people aren’t robbing them blind. Accountability is important. But, intuitively, I have to say, if I fleshed it out, I’d be able to say definitively it’s a broken system, not just my store, but the whole corporate way of doing things. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe to get a product out to people on a large scale takes all this. But maybe that’s why life was better when it was all mom and pop stuff. But maybe then the choice wasn’t as good…

There’s petty nonsense, rumors, cliques, and gossip among many of the workers from store to store. I’m working to root it out in my presence. It’s so silly. I sometimes wonder why people care so much about such silly things, but I guess to them, it’s a big deal. But it’s got to be nipped in the bud. I learned that lesson long ago.

There are new people in my life, and I’m very reticent to let them in. I don’t like making new friends. I’m very introverted in that way and very discerning. I don’t want to start going out for drinks with the new crowd. One, I don’t drink much, and two, I don’t have the desire to do it, to sit there bullshitting for two hours about work.

I like to smile and laugh. I’m spreading that around. I like to keep things in perspective. I’m spreading that around. I like to be responsible and do my job well, and I’m spreading that around. I’m hiring a new person this week that I know. In a few weeks, I’ll have my team in place, and we’ll rock the house.

I will say this, if starting this new job were a tai chi exposition, I’d be getting my ass kicked right now. As an “opponent,” they’ve thrown me off balance, distracted me, broken my center, and got me up against the ropes. I will say, I’ve remained outwardly calm, haven’t fallen for the feints, have deflected quite a few jabs, and am regaining my center. Remaining centered in the midst of chaos is very difficult. Having presence, being present, is very difficult when you’re constantly thinking two or three steps ahead of the ballgame. Yes, there are moments. When a customer comes in who needs a pair of shoes for the vacation cruise, or comes in in a wheel chair with a loved one, or an elderly couple comes in, then I become very present in the moment. The human connection and interaction is a great moment for me, happening over the external moment of buying a pair of shoes, but at that moment, the number of units I’ve sold that day percentage over last year becomes totally unimportant, and when that happens, not only do you experience a spiritually human moment, but you become a really good shoe salesman and you end up comping your numbers over last year naturally.



  1. I’m not sure how I missed this post the first time around. But many years ago I sold shoes as well and it sounds like you are right on track. Being in the moment is the key. My customer service training began in cosmetology (yes cutting hair). When you are cutting someone’s hair you are truly, In the moment. And once the next customer sits down.. You are in a new moment. Any negative vibes they may have been carrying around is gone with them. This is a skill that has gotten me through many, many stressful moments. It reminds me of this Zen story.

    Tanzan and the Girl on the Road

    Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

    Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

    “Come on, girl” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

    Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

    “I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”


    • Being in the moment takes discipline and practice. When I’m with a customer who is authentic, I’m in the moment. When I was playing guitar, soloing, I experienced it. I often experience it when I practice tai chi, although there are many times when I am being pulled by the daily things that need doing. And it’s hard at work when you’re thinking about going home or getting home to work on the computer etc etc etc.

      I’m prepping to go to Pittsburgh in May for my nephew’s graduation so so much time is spent thinking about the future and when I get there, the moment may almost seem anticlimactic! I’ll be on guard to enjoy those moments as I’m in them.

      As for the zen story, man, I’ve carried quite a few people home with me, and I certainly do need to learn to leave them st the river!


  2. It is so important that we spread the positive, as often as we gain it.

  3. yeah, the shoe part is ok. I like helping people get a decent pair of shoes. And it’s good practice for me to be zen like in any environment. Deflecting 1,000 lbs of negativity with just 6 oz. is very tai chi! and the shoes ain’t bad–decent quality for the buck

  4. Yeah, for as crummy as retail is, you’ve actually landed one of the better spots out there. I had to work at the Sharper Image for a while. Note that the name of the store is not The Better Product. It was terrible. They had maybe one product in the store I could honestly endorse, all the rest was cheap plastic junk– and I was paid on commission. That job didn’t last too long.

    You get to sell shoes. People need shoes. No one actually needs a 15-function massaging shower head. People need different shoes for different tasks, too, so there’s a real need for you advice and input. (I still get a kick out of the idea of a Tai-Chi guy selling shoes, of all things. Perfect.) There’s a reality to your job that other retail jobs lack.

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