Anonymous Kindnesses

roses-stationeryTeary-eyed yet delighted with her discovery, the teacher exclaimed, “Oh my gosh. Look what someone put in my mailbox! My grandmother wrote me letters on floral stationary all the time. This brings back so many memories.  I wonder who did this.”

Bringing forth my best Oscar-winning acting talent, I exuded as much a sense of surprise as the teacher. The vibrations of feel-good energy created from the smiles in my heart and on her lips kept my mood buoyant. I would not, ever, reveal myself as the anonymous giver.

I didn’t encounter much happiness at my clerical job with the public-school district. I was an outsider, still new to the area. It’s a familiar role for me. I lived in nine states and moved to a new address several times within each. Fitting-in to a new surrounding requires exhaustive strength, unrelenting courage, pleading patience, and all too often births a wounded heart. Most places, I was welcomed and celebrated with open arms. Generations of old family bonds from many cultures embraced me throughout my travels. Priceless gifts in this divisive world we now live in. This small town though, it was different.  People remained tight in their circles of safety and familiarity. There wasn’t much room, or welcome for that matter, for me to share my experiences. Oh, I noticed the roll of the eyes, smirk of disbelief, or quickly made eye contact with an original clique member when I added some of my life stories outcastto the conversation. They acted as if they didn’t want me to notice, but I knew deep down they did. They wanted to hurt. And they were successful. There certainly were people that showed kindness, and I remain good friends with a few of them still. However, there were those who just wouldn’t open to me.

It started to wear me down, so I tried to brighten my mood in different ways. I decorated the otherwise plain and drab cork bulletin board throughout the school year, decorated the office for the holidays and sometimes made home baked treats to share. Eventually I ran out of imaginative ways to open-up hearts. Desperately searching the internet for some Ouija board wisdom, one day I Googled “kindness.” I discovered there’s a lot more of it in our world, in our people, than what most believe. Along with several moving stories of people giving or receiving kindnesses, I found a way to be a giver of random, anonymous kindnesses myself.

img_2118Www.kindspring.org offers a template for business-like kindness cards. I print them at home on happy yellow card stock and carry them in my wallet. Large green letters say “smile” on the front with a small yellow smiley face in the corner. The back suggests the recipient pay-it-forward and keep the spirit of anonymous kindnesses in motion.  I was thrilled with my discovery and decided if the people I worked with wouldn’t bring kindness to me, I would bring it to them.

My desk was situated adjacent to the mailroom. Wooden mail bins, approximately nine inches wide and three inches high, one for each employee or group of workers, covered the wall. Teachers, cafeteria staff, nurse, specialists, principals, administrators, custodians, everyone or every group who served some function at the school had a mail bin. This provided the perfect opportunity to whisk away my doldrums from disappointment and the feeling of deep isolation. After careful observation, I learned their routines. Some picked up their mail early in the morning before I arrived. Some gathered it after the lunch break, revealing their presence with the wafting aromas of cafeteria food that snuggled into their clothing. Others came by during a free period. While monitoring the flow of mail picker-upper traffic, I would discreetly slip into the mailroom and inconspicuously place my “kindness” in a mail bin of my choosing.

gifts-2 The “kindness” was always small – a mere gesture to offer hope, cheer, smiles and all good things to the recipient. Scented votive candles or soaps, tangy green tea mints shaped like tiny leaves, colorful scratch lottery tickets, gift certificates to local fast-food eateries, decorative post-it notes (complete with sport logos for the diehard football fans), beaded bracelets, small boxes of creamy gourmet dark chocolates, stationary, nail polish, – you get the idea. Simple gestures that whispered, “you weren’t expecting this, but someone is thinking of you.”

With acute peripheral vision, pretending to not notice, I witnessed the soft shoulder tap of kindness make its way through the hearts of the gift recipients. Some were silent as they walked away, reading the attached yellow smiley card and wondering who could have possibly done this for them.  Many giggled and private-eyed their afternoon away in search of the mystery giver. I secretly reveled in the knowledge that they would never find out. Some were more vocal about their kindness gift, like the teacher’s jubilant cry of joy upon discovering her stationary. When witnessing joy you’ve created in someone else, it reflects back to you like an image in a freshly polished mirror, bringing you smack-dab into the center of the present moment and makes you want to spread that joy to the ends of the earth.

I shared several smiley cards while I worked at the public school. Watching the reactions of people lit up my heart, but so did the thought that they would have to think about passing the kindness on. That this consideration would be an inner contemplation about the value of small things in life, the good things, the good people, the beauty and healing available through random acts of kindness.

latteOutside of work, the random acts of kindness continue. One of my favorite ways to brighten a stranger’s day is at the drive through window of the donut and coffee shop. After paying for my own order I tell the cashier I want to pay for the order of the car behind me. I hand her a yellow smiley card and ask that she give it to the unsuspecting person. This always makes her smile so now the random kindness is reaching the cashier, too, as well as the unknown driver behind me. The coffee and donut days are a little tricky though. You never know if the person in the car behind you is purchasing a sole latte for themselves or two dozen donuts and a large box of coffee to bring in to the entire office. You have to be financially prepared for this one and able to maintain your sense of humor when the bill totals $18.76 instead of $3.49. I guess it’s safe to say that kindness is priceless.

More fun ensues. The escape! Once my money and yellow smiley card are relinquished, I leave the person in the car behind me to inhale the aroma of their freshly brewed coffee, smelling all the more delicious now that the sweetness of kindness was added, and drive off the lot as fast and safely as I can legally go without incurring a traffic fine. I am a mischievous child with a happy secret. I do my best to maneuver my escape – right on Long Alley, left on Fifth Street, right on Penn, cut through the fire department parking lot – occasionally checking the rearview mirror to see if I’m being followed, desperately not wanting to be discovered. Driving away with a huge grin on my face, a giggle in my belly, and adrenalin pumping through my veins, it feels good to know I somehow, with however small a gesture, made a difference for good in someone’s day.

I no longer work at the school, and it’s been five years that I continue to engage in the practice of random kindnesses. I remained anonymous up to now. Making a difference through random acts of kindness helps heal both giver and receiver. Personally, none of those yellow smiley cards ever made its way back to me. Not at the school or out in public. But you never know when one may come your way. My heart continues to open and my soul receives the joy of touching others with kindness. I know without doubt that it is truly in giving a kindness that we receive one as well. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.

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“The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose.

(Mahatma Gandhi)

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Skipping Stones

fullsizerenderMy weekly sangha gathering met last night. This is a refuge for me. When I come to sangha; I come home. A gathering of sentient beings, we meditate, listen to readings from the dharma (teachings), and share something from our life if we are inclined to do so. Each sangha gathering is a different experience for me.

We bow to one another with introductions and then listen to words of wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh:

  • “Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.”
  • “Let go of everything that no longer serves you and you will be happy.”
  • “If we take steps without anxiety, but peace and joy instead, then we will cause a flower to bloom on the Earth with every step.”

blue-water-under-moonSome sangha meetings bring me to a place that resembles the stillness of water under the blue reflected light of a midnight moon. Not last night. Last night, my stillness was continuously interrupted. That cute little Mayberry boy, Opie, was skipping stones, one after the other – after the other – after the other, on the surface of my beautifully still mind. Cute, but annoying, little guy.

The sound of the Tibetan singing bowl rings out three times, calling us to the present moment. We begin sitting meditation. Some people sit in a chair, others the floor. I prefer the floor. I sit on the zafu cushion I carry with me, and a collective energy of calm and peace soon spreads it’s aura through the room and into the hearts and minds of those open to receive. I feel it. It amazes me each and every time. Minutes tick by unnoticed while I keep my mind on the breath. I am interrupted with sensation.

What’s with this ache in my left bum cheek? Ouch. That hurts. Let me lean my weight over to my right bum cheek and see if that eases things up. Yep, that’s better. 

Slowly I find myself back in the bliss of meditation. Surrounded by the nothingness and everythingness that it is. I hear a train go by behind the studio. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack.

I want to travel. I’d like to go back to Italy one day. Maybe even Greece. That would be great. Another day, Terri,” I tell myself.

I return to meditation. The soft, continuous hum of the furnace kicks in. There’s a soothing quality to it, like white noise machines designed to help you fall asleep. This sound is similar. I like it. I allow the sound to surround me. It keeps me present and focused. Eventually a soft ‘boom’ erases the hum of the furnace as it shuts off. The ‘boom’ is perfect in sound and volume. It is a prelude to the pure silence that has now entered our space. I like this even better. The hum of the furnace that was comforting and tangible is now replaced with stillness. I sit here in this place of beauty, this miracle, this present moment, connected to myself, my fellow sangha members, and the cosmos.  Time passes.

I can’t sit with this weight on just my right bum cheek all night. I must look like the leaning tower of Pisa. Better straighten up my spine. Oh no, now my entire right leg is asleep. Man! Walking meditation is next. If I stand up on this leg, I’m going to fall over. I hope he rings the bell soon. I need to move.
tibetan-singing-bowl-and-malaThe Tibetan singing bowl chimes thrice again. Our facilitator says, “Let’s take a few minutes to stretch, (I think he’s looking at me when he says this) and then we’ll do some walking meditation.” I uncross my lotus pose legs (stifling a painful groan) with such grace and hipness, and I look back at him:

There’s nothing wrong with me. I got this. I’m perfectly fine. Aren’t I cool.”

I’m finally standing. The blood returns to flow through the veins and arteries in my right leg. Thank goodness it’s not dead. Our walking meditation begins. Walking slowly in a circle around the room, we place each foot, heel to toe, on the Earth with tremendous awareness as the heel of the foot behind us slowly raises in anticipation of its coming step forward. “Breathing in, I walk for peace. Breathing out, I walk for freedom.” I find a sticky spot on the floor in the far left corner of the room. My feet make a suction sound as they pull away from the stickiness.

I better walk a little softer in this corner the next time around. Maybe a lighter step, kind of like Jesus walking on water. How’d He do that?

zafuWalking lasts for fifteen minutes and we return to the floor for more meditation. I choose to lie down on my blanket this time. I set my zafu cushion off to the side. Another blanket covers my body to provide warmth. The Tibetan singing bowl chimes out again. I give my hips a little wiggle to the right, wiggle to the left, tuck in my shoulder blades and place my arms at my sides, palms up. My head rests on the softness of a folded blanket beneath. Breathing in the silence, I am aware of my body and mind, what they feel, what they sense, and what they think. I feel an itch in my inner right ear.

Ignore it. It will go away. Just breathe through the sensation, Terri. Let it go.

I am connected to my breath – the inhale, the exhale. Silence still permeates the room. I am one with the cosmos. Someone starts to cough, then sneeze.

Gesundheit.

It happens again, the cough deeper and more moist this time.

Oh no. I don’t want to get sick. I hope they stop soon. 

I hold my breath and try not to let the imaginary floating particles of sickness I envision enter my nostrils. I take a sip of air through my mouth and wonder if the particles can infect me from this entrance. If I want to live, I must breathe. And so I let go of my fear and breathe to my body’s natural rhythm. If I get sick, I get sick.

There’s a bug in my ear! Get it out! My mind starts to wander again. The itching that still persists brings me here. I’m so sorry to interrupt, but there’s a bug in my ear! Please get it out for me! Get it out! I can’t see it! I jump to my feet from my reclining position, my hands flail at my earI imagine this scene coming to life before my very eyes right here in the middle of sangha as the other members stop their meditation to assist the girl who’s freaking out. The embarassment of the possibility brings me back again to the moment. I lift my hand and insert my pinky finger into my ear to stop the itch.  Ahhhhh.

Once again, I find myself relaxing into the ‘now’. Fully alert. Completely present. The Tibetan singing bowl rings out. Meditation has ended. But it never really ends.

skipping-stonesI share a few words and laughs with the other sangha members before leaving. I get in the car and turn off the broadcast from NPR that greets me upon the start of the engine. I drive home in silence. At some sanghas I experience complete stillness. At others, a small boy skips stones across the surface of my mind. Okay, Opie. I’ll play with you now.

 

What brings stillness to your busy mind?

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Shit! Happy New year!

The first time I learned the meaning of the word “purge” I was a student and employee working in the Bursar’s Office at Pace University, New York City campus. It’s right near City Hall Park, at the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge. We were told first thing in the morning that we would be purging records. I soon came to understand that we were deleting, shredding, throwing away, getting rid of. It often amazes me the things we remember and the things we don’t. This purging, I remember it. After searching each student record diligently for the given date parameters that decided the records fate, with one click of a computer key, I was able to make it disappear. Just like magic. In no time at all, I was really getting in to this idea of purging. Each click of the computer key, freeing me up even more.

Joe Smith, undergraduate, 14 credits, March 1, 1980 – purge.  – Janetta Walsh, undergraduate, drop/add, summer session, June 15, 1979 – purge.  Alan Vinto, White Plains Campus, late registration fee, February 17, 1981 – purge.

flu2I’ve been suffering with a nasty run of the flu since Monday. Today is day 7, the first day I was able to muster the strength to sit up on my own, keep my spine straight and meditate. I did a lot of resting and sleeping these past 7 days. My body and mind both in the need of healing. At first I was angry. I never get sick. How could this be happening to me? What caused this? It’s foolish I wondered at all for I know my body so well that there is no doubt this illness was stress-induced. Yes, stress. It’ll get you every time. Stress from the disappointments and hurts of family, friends, work, life, sorrows, holidays, personal growth, you name it. I should have known this is where I was heading. Heck, this past election campaign alone has been so full of toxins, internally and externally, how in the world did I think I could ever side-step the inevitable fall to illness?

No matter what I tried to tell my body to do this week, it refused. I cancelled my yoga classes and was held hostage in the reclining chair for 7 days. As my body purged any consideration of movement – I should vacuum the carpet, but I can’t stand up – purge that idea – I should write my blog, but I can’t sit up – purge that idea – my mind followed suit – Maybe I’ll watch the news, but I can’t stomach it – purge that plan – I’ll read a book then, but I can’t focus – purge that plan – I’ll just feel sorry for myself, but I don’t have the energy for pity – purge that plan too.

The year 2016 has been brutally punishing. If it hasn’t left you feeling remorse or concern for others, especially those not like you, good for you. Well, not really. But in any case, just leave me alone to lick my wounds in peace.

pedestalThe year 2016 has also been filled with loss, a lot if it. Yes, several great artists and entertainers known throughout this large, global planet, but also several loved ones known only to those in their small individual communities, their loss just as massive, if not as famous. Lost too, are false ideas and misrepresented memories that led me to believe some people were something other than what I created them to be. I lost some friends throughout this election year. It’s okay. Purging is good. Purging is necessary. Detox. Cleanse. That’s the ticket. But it’s not losing the friends so much, as it is losing the “ideal” I once had of these friends, that brings the grief. And it’s happened to a lot of people. I’m not alone. The year 2016 pushed a lot of boundaries. I’ve seen friends take some pretty nasty zingers in social media. People place themselves on a pedestal to judge others while wafting in the aroma of their own sweet, shit-scented perfection. We’re all guilty of this to some degree.

But wait, hold on! You’re a yogi, Terri –  a person who practices yoga and chooses to follow a yogic lifestyle. Same thing as a Christian following a Christian lifestyle, Jew a Jew lifestyle, atheist an atheist lifestyle, asshole an asshole lifestyle. You get the idea. A no brainer. I teach yoga class, study spiritual texts, meditate, eat healthy, drink green tea, use aromatherapy diffusers, care for the environment. I’m not supposed to say things like “shit-scented perfection” or “asshole.” WTF? I don’t know who made that boxed-in rigid rule, but let’s just purge that baby right here and now. I know a few such smug yogis (or Christians, or Jews, or atheists or assholes) like this. Guess what? They’re full of shit.

geese1As I was writing this blog post, I stepped away from my laptop to make another cup of green tea (you know, the magic yogi tea that cleanses my mouth of filth) and when I returned, my virus protection software warned me that I was “at risk.” Now that brought a good chuckle to this 7 day feverish, coughing, aching, ill being. I’m at risk. No shit! Even the computer knew it was time for some purging. I snuggled my warm cup of tea close to my chest, sat back and let the computer do its viral scan process. Looking up to the beautiful blue sky today, I notice a skein of geese, and I envy the community effort of support in their formation. One bird flies behind and slighter higher than the one in front of it to reduce wind resistance. For a brief moment, I fly with them, free of earthly possessions, the burden of mental turbulence, and the weight of feeling like I carry it all alone.

A flicker of the computer screen lowers my wings to a landing. The scan will take a while so I decide to watch a movie. Billy Elliot. One of my all-time faves. It’s about the life of a coal miner’s son in England. Well, it’s about a lot more than that. If you haven’t seen it. Do. Just do. I marvel at Billy’s passionate heart and his talent. I hold him close to my chest, like my mug of warm tea, when the ignorance of gender and sexual biases try to suppress him. I cheer him on when he is accepted into the Royal Ballet Academy. I cry when he recites a letter, word for word, from memory, that his long deceased mother wrote to him as a small child. And I weep even more when his Mum ends the letter with “Always be yourself.” I watch Billy’s father and brother purge old fear-based notions to reveal their immaculate and profound original love.

glass-shardsIf this hasn’t been quite the “let’s start the new year off with a dose of happy, Hallmark sweetness that many expect, sorry to disappoint. Chicken Soup for the Soul awaits you at Wal-Mart. No offense to Chicken Soup. No offense to Wal-Mart. I don’t live in a Hallmark card (you can find that at Wal-Mart too), all star-dust spangly and glittery. I live in a buried treasure chest – filled with jewels, gold trinkets, broken pieces of everything imaginable, rusting to corrosion and sometimes golden gleaming. I have good days, exceptional moments and dark shadows. My heart can instantly break like shards of glass for those who are hurting  and yet those same shards have the potential to harm those who are hurtful. I can lose my breath at the simplistic beauty of a silhouetted tree in the midst of a field at dusk or notice the weeping beauty in the sullen way power lines sag from the eaves of dirty shingled row houses along small-town Main Streets. I can fall to miserable weakness in questioning my own character and integrity, knowing there are hungry wolves out there, just waiting, salivating at the mouth, to ferociously pounce upon any personal flaw I may reveal. But I have guts when it comes to fiercely defending the character and integrity of others. I am mouthy, loud, gutsy, glorious, soft, brutally honest, colorful, mindful, grateful, compassionate, opinionated, flawed, awesome. I am a wonder and will be nothing less. My power lies in being the complete authentic me, every single day that I figure it out, every single step of the way. Like Billy’s Mum said, “always be yourself.”

manipulatorSo, what do I expect of myself in 2017? More of the same, I guess. But I’m adding extra color to the palette this year. I’ll also try to give up striving for perfection. I will no longer make excuses for other people’s bad and abusive behavior. I will no longer cover up for other people’s lack of responsibility, or worse, take the blame for it. I will not allow others to manipulate me into thinking my behavior and feelings are irrational or “too sensitive.” I will guard my vulnerabilities a little more from the cruel and dangerous people who tuck them away to use against me at a later time. I will no longer doubt myself. I will always reclaim my reality when someone tries to muddle it with a need for control. I will stand up for my beliefs. I will not cower behind them. I will not roll over into submission so you can rub my belly and say “good doggie.” I will speak. I will share. I will bare. And I will continue to purge here and there as I delicately define the lines , curves, and grooves of my most authentic sculpted self.

awesome

Oh, shit! I almost forgot. Happy new year!

Is there anything you will be purging for yours?

 

 

 

 

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Guest Blogger – 5 Weird Ways to Get Yourself Writing

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Hello, everyone.

I’m still NaNoWriMo-ing and nearing the goal of 50,000 words. I haven’t had much time for my regular blog, but I invite you to check out a “guest blog” post I wrote for diyMFA. Here’s the link.

Five Weird Ways to Get Yourself Writing

See you next month.

Peace, Whimsy

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Guest Blogger

guestblogger

Please enjoy my guest blog post appearance today for the Women’s Writing Circle. Click the link to read my post and many others from a diverse and talented group of writers. Thanks for tuning in.

http://www.susanweidener.com

 

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