A random smile forms a connection
My husband and I were zipping through the aisles at Bed, Bath & Beyond. This is one of those annoying retailers whose layout forces you to walk through the entire store. Your only hope is to know on which side of the labyrinth the thing you need is – then you can save yourself half of the journey.
When I caught her eye, I had just realized that we’d messed up and entered the labyrinth from the left rather than the right, and that we were truly going to have to navigate the entire store. In that instant, two thoughts collided in my head. “That’s a lot of steps just to get a shower curtain liner.” and “She is so pretty.” I’m relieved that the expression on my face reflected the latter thought – she hesitated and returned my smile.
We kept on zipping, now with shower curtain in hand, around the last turn of the labyrinth to the checkout line. Who was in line in front of us? The lady I’d shared a smile with and her daughter. Because it’s still kind of a COVID world, we left a lot of space between us and none of us made eye contact.
When the lady and her daughter were called up to pay, she turned, smiled, and said, “You should go first, you only have one thing.” “That is so kind,” I replied and stepped up to the cashier. I thanked her again for her kindness as I left the store decidedly lighter and happier than when I’d entered.
Kindness is an everyday form of non-violence
The first of yoga’s ten moral principles is ahimsa, which is most often translated as non-violence. It’s often not until you start working with the second principle, satya or truthfulness, that you realize that loving kindness is a better label for the kind of ahimsa that we practice all day every day.
Let me explain what I mean. When we are poised to express any truth, it is critically important that we run truthfulness through the filter of non-violence. In essence, not all truths need to be uttered aloud. The example I like to use is your mother’s new haircut. You may not like that haircut one bit but expressing that truth will do nothing but harm your mom.
What to do? Stick to other topics if possible. You and your mother will both be better off if your honest opinion remains unspoken. If she asks you straight-out what you think of the new style, proceed gently. Lead with a positive, offer styling suggestions instead of critiques, remember how much you love her. In essence, yoga teaches us that it is possible – and necessary – to express even the most painful truths with loving kindness.
Kindness can change the world
Once you’ve ingested that fully, it’s not much of a leap to embrace the belief of many yoga philosophers – that ahimsa is foundational to a life well lived. That everything we do, every interaction we have (even encounters with lovely strangers in less-than-lovely stores), can and should be infused with loving kindness.
When life is lived this way, ahimsa’s big promise seems less farfetched: When we are “firmly established” in non-violence, those around us cease to be hostile. In my case, when we are kind, those around us smile back and then offer simple kindnesses that change the tone of your whole day.
When I’m teaching the “contagious” power of non-violence, I often offer Mahatma Gandhi’s most famous line, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I ran across the following poem by Danusha Lameris the morning of our trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond and immediately added it to my curriculum. Perhaps it lodged in my heart and that is while my smile won out over my frustration in Bed, Bath & Beyond. Either way, I hope you enjoy it and that it inspires many acts of small kindnesses of your own.
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”
– Danusha Lameris
The simple connection described in this essay is my favorite way to embody my faith and yoga philosophy. Check out the Yoga With Spirit spiritual direction and yoga philosophy pages to learn a little more about what I do.