Ever notice we remember when someone has been kind to us? I fondly recall an incident on a plane 32 years ago. My infant son and I were flying down to Florida to visit family. It's tricky traveling by yourself with a child. Believe it or not, kids were even less tolerated in public places way back then and the “skies” were far from parent-friendly. As I boarded the plane with the dumpy diaper bag, over-sized pocketbook, umbrella stroller (Yes, I was allowed to put it in the overhead) and baby in a front-carrying Snugli, anxiety set in. I was calculating my plan of attack to swiftly put everything away while keeping my squirming boy happy and quiet so as not to disturb the other passengers.
Finding my seat, I embark on strategically stowing my personal items. I notice the older woman behind me has stopped a few rows back and is waiting for me to finish. There is a long line behind her. She was dressed beautifully. I'm sure I was wearing my mom uniform from the 80's – jeans, white T-shirt, sneakers and ponytail. This lady looked regal, standing straight and confidently with her flawless make-up and coiffed hair. She was dripping in gold jewelry. Her expression was stern and I thought for sure she was going to be perturbed or impatient with me. At the very least, I would catch an exasperated sigh. She opens her mouth and I'm thinking, “Brace yourself Carla.”
To my blessed surprise, she authoritatively commands with emphasis on each word, “YOU – TAKE – YOUR – TIME! YOU are the one with the baby, and WE all wait for you.” I was speechless, although do hope I murmured a thank you. I sat down full of gratitude with lessons learned on several levels. Since that experience I have tried to pay it forward. I'm not perfect. For instance, don't ask me to give up my aisle seat for any reason. I draw the line there. But I have helped by holding little ones, retrieving paper towels for a vomiting toddler, ignoring sticky hands wiped on my pants and sending Reiki to screaming children.
Recently I was once again on a flight to Florida. Sitting in front of me was a mother and her tiny newborn. Gosh, memories came flooding back. For several hours she juggles the demands impressively. As the plane makes its way to the gate, everyone is gathering their belongings preparing for a prompt exit. I observe the bottle, pacifier, blanket, bagged lunch and other essentials are still in the front pocket or on the floor as she tenderly tucks her precious munchkin into the front-carrying Snugli. Her carry-on bags are in two different overhead bins. I have an EXTREMELY tight connection, but I hold up the line as she steps into the aisle. She sweetly asks if I'm in a hurry. I smile. Well dear reader, you can finish the story, right?
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I was emptying the dishwasher after a long day and I found myself grumbling about the domestic duty.
I moaned, how many years have I been putting dishes away? It's such a boring job! Why do I get stuck with it? I stopped abruptly. I was actually embarrassed. With all that is occurring in the world, this is what i'm complaining about? Come on Carla, own it. I turned it around and did what Zen Buddhist monks tell us to do, and that is be mindful of our thoughts and actions.
I began to observe with complete concentration what I was experiencing as I engaged in the activity at hand. Picking up each glass, I noticed how sparkly they looked. Gazing into the machine I saw multi-colored bowls, matching plates and shiny stainless spoons. The cups reminded me of the tea I enjoy drinking. Being conscious of this task led to feeling gratitude for washed dishes, that I have pretty dishes, that I have clean running water, that I have a dishwasher, that I have food that goes on the plates and a fork to eat it with, that I am able to stand on my two feet and empty the dishwasher, and that I actually have 5 minutes free to unload the darn thing. It is endless all that we can be grateful for in our own lives.
Within a few minutes, I felt tremendously relaxed. So this is what being mindful does for the soul – I'm always learning too! Negativity is toxic. If my husband walked in, I may have snapped at him because I was tired and annoyed. Instead I felt peaceful and thankful in my heart and core. Why not me empty the dishwasher? It's just a job and all our household errands and drudgeries tend to lead to a more comfortable, rewarding and pleasant lifestyle. We can have pockets of mindfulness as we do mundane chores – scrubbing the tub, folding laundry, cleaning windows or flipping pancakes. Unlike Thich Nhat Hanh we don't live in an accommodating monastery coducive to being mindful, yet we can incorporate little practices in our daily existence.
Dusting, setting the table, cooking, vaccuming, making a smoothie – Try for a few moments to focus on what you are physically accomplishing. Even if you hate your job, grocery shopping, pulling weeds, detailing the car or walking the dog – challenge yourself to come up with what is beautiful about what you are doing/seeing/hearing/touching and what can you be grateful for (the job pays the bills, your family is well-fed, the garden looks decent, the car is hanging in there, and the dog loves you!) We can't erase the humdrum routines, but we can embrace them as opportunities to connect with our senses and express appreciation to the Universe. As I walk from the packed parking lot into the market with a long list, IMAGINING with each step that my feet are kissing the earth, it's impossible to groan – honestly, I'm smiling!
"The point is not to pay back kindness but to pass it on.” ~ Julia Alvarez