I’ve developed a practice when I walk across Central Park each morning of taking the time to thank all the various volunteers and employees I may pass along the way—people who give their time and energy to helping keep the park clean and well- tended. One recent morning, after a particularly heavy rain, I passed a few park employees who were busy shoveling mud from the pedestrian pathways that so many people use, even early in the morning. I thanked two of them in a row and noticed, shortly after that, that a small, eager dog ran up to me, jumped up on my leg, and gave me an enthusiastic “good morning”! That’s not something that happens every day, by any means, and actually only happens rarely.
My immediate association when the little dog so enthusiastically greeted me was that the act of expressing gratitude along the way generated a particularly friendly quality in me that the dog felt comfortable engaging. It got me to thinking about how important our frame of reference is in any given moment. At the moment the dog engaged me, my heart was open and I was feeling a great deal of gratitude.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to play with offering gratitude to the people whose service makes your life better, especially to people you don’t know well and may never see again. (Of course, this doesn’t mean to ignore the folks you do know. Expressing gratitude to loved ones, friends, and co-workers is a powerful gift to all concerned, including you.) When I thank garbage collectors along the way, the chances of my seeing them again are quite small and that makes my expression of gratitude even more important to me, as it may be the only chance I’ll have to let them know that their work matters. It contributes a great deal to my quality of life in this busy and crowded urban environment. All we need are a few days of a garbage strike to realize how indebted we are to the people who spend their time hauling it all away for us.
The invitation in this week’s experiment is also to notice the tone of your experience when you enter a flow of expressing gratitude. What does it seem to generate in the other areas of your life? Does it generalize to interactions other people have with you? I have the idea that our actions and the attitudes we carry tune us into certain frequencies, as if we were a radio and were resonating with a particular kind of music. How does your way of being reflect itself back to you, as you move through the world?
As with all these experiments, be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion. And, as an ongoing practice, remember to simply notice judgments as they arise and, when necessary, pat them on the head as they move on by. The key thing is to know that judgments are pretty much inevitable. The choice point is what we do with them, how we relate to them. The pat on the head can remind you that you don’t have to take them seriously.