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Posts Tagged ‘helpfulness’

Dr. Jan Chozen Bays in her wonderful book How to Train A Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011, page 219) has an exercise entitled “Leave Things Better than You Found Them.”  I have used this exercise now for over six months and I love it!   Although she is referring to things like dirty dishes in the sink, laundry on the floor, or the garbage not emptied it came to me that we should do this everywhere we go and with everything in life. Dr. Bays’ writes, “In Zen paintings turtles symbolize this practice of leaving no traces, because they sweep the sand with their tails as they creep along, wiping out their footprints (page 22).”

I began my relationship with this mindfulness challenge by going to my clipart and getting two cute cartoon pictures of turtles and above the top picture I wrote “Leave No Trace!” and above the other picture below it I wrote “Leave it Better Then You Found it!”  I put it on my refrigerator and so that worked for a while, but after a while we don’t even notice what is on our fridge!  So, I recently moved it and tapped it to the cabinet above my kitchen sink so I can see it every time I use it.  Next, I am going to move it to the bathroom, and so on until I have created a better place in each and every room.

Can you imagine what our schools, classrooms, homes, neighborhoods, and cities would look like if everyone had this attitude? If when you saw some garbage on the sidewalk you picked it up and put it in the trash.  Or if you noticed that a neighbor’s yard needed a little pick-me-up and took a few hours on the weekend to help him or her out with your children and with some friends or neighbors at hand.  Many hands make light work my mom used to say.

Dr. Bays goes on to write, “One person extended the scope of this task from material things to people.  She did this by asking ‘How can I leave this relationship better than it has been (page 220-21)?’”  I wonder what kind of relationship the young woman was talking about.  Was it just family and friends? What if she had seen a complete stranger—would that person be included in her idea as well?

If you saw a person who looked confused or lost what would you do?  Just today a friend of mine helped out a complete stranger.  He saw this elderly gentleman who was having trouble putting self-service gas in his car and he left him better then he found him.  Once the gentlemen was helped into the store and paid for the gas my friend showed him how to pump the gas and when he was finished off the gentleman went to run his errand.  As I watched I wondered where he was off to: maybe to the grocery store to get his lovely elderly wife her favorite butter pecan ice cream.  One never knows, does one?

Could these relationships that we need to leave better than we found them be our teacher/student relationships, or our boss/employee relationships or employee/boss relationships?  How about our parent/child relationships or sibling relationships?  Maybe even your BFF, or the person you are dating, or the person you are in love with?  Could those relationships be with things other than people such as our planet, our environment, and all the animals that inhabit this planet with us?  Shouldn’t we leave everything better than when we found it?  I think so.

If you are willing to try this experiment with me please let me know.  How long will you commit to the project:  A month, six months, a year…how about a life time?  You never know how long that can be and what you can accomplish!  So let’s get going.  Let’s all take the time to “leave things better than we found them.”

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