Hello from the USA! I have returned from my month-long sojourn to the UK and although I had many great experiences there, I am eager to get back to my routine here in the States. Although I feel like I did a lot of growing and transforming during my time abroad, I also lost some of my practices that had been really helpful for me the past few months, including being really intentional about mindfulness exercises. So I didn’t want to waste anytime getting back to my Mindfulness Monday posts!
This week’s intention—-“leave things better than you found them”—- was the last practice in the How to Train a Wild Elephant book I’ve been working from. It, to me, is one of the most profound mindfulness exercises in which we can engage.Life can be kind of shit. From national tragedies in Charleston to personal tragedies in our own lives, there is a lot of heavy, sad, awful shit in our world. I don’t know, for certain, what the meaning of life is or what our purpose is, but I do have a hunch that the universe would appreciate it if we tried to do things with and in our life that made the world a little bit less shit. And leaving things better than you found them is one way to do that.
This practice can take many forms, and I find that it’s good to start small. Since setting this intention, I’ve been particularly mindful about picking up random trash (wildly common on vacant coffee shop tables), doing dishes in other people’s homes when I visit, and turning off lights after leaving a room. This can also be applied to humans (and other animals). It can mean finding a way to (non-creepily and non-lookism-promotingly) compliment someone, sincerely thanking someone, or sincerely apologizing to someone.
The leaving people thing better than you found them is certainly a more arduous task. The trash you pick up off a coffee table can’t hurt your feelings, but humans can. And so leaving people better than we found/met them means finding ways to practice intentional, relational mindfulness in a serious and deep way. It means forgiveness, empathy, and compassion. I don’t always succeed at this. It’s impossible to go through life without being hurt or hurting someone you know and love. But if we keep this intention in mind, we can spend our everyday working to repair hurts and heal wounds, and using past experiences to become more adept at practicing loving-kindness in the future.
I think one reason I love both my jobs (teaching yoga and teaching college) is that I get to see actual evidence of leaving people better—(or at least happier or somehow transformed in a positive way)—than I found them. This sometimes comes in the form of a student telling me they felt deeply connected to a reading I assigned, or telling me how much it helps to have a professor they feel comfortable talking to. In yoga, I get to see sweaty, smiling faces leave the studio. I get to give head and neck massages to people in savasana (students (myself included when i’m the student) love it!). I sometimes feel literally high after teaching a yoga or sculpt class, partly because it feels so awesome to have just led people through something that I know is so good for their mind/body/spirit! I love that feeling so much!
When it comes to leaving the world better than we found it, in a social justice sense, I think it’s important that we apply our individual mindfulness practice to structural-based organizing. This is not an easy task either, but I have come to believe that in order to do our best in the struggle for a collective better world, we must also have a practice of being better as individuals. Ghandi’s whole “be the change you wish to see in the world” thing is kind of legit, you know?
But maybe start small this week. Pick up trash. Eat something that leaves your tummy better than it felt the day before. Smile at someone, hug someone, be kinder than usual to someone you find who needs it. Plant flowers in some naked dirt. Maybe go to a meeting to organize a rally or a fundraiser, or read a book about something you feel passionate about fixing in some way.
Leaving things better than we found them is a way to practice active non-harming. It’s a way to not only not-harm but also heal, generate, transform. It’s a lovely practice and one I hope to become better and better at.
What other ways can we leave things better than we found them? xoxo