Sitting in Central Park on a recent weekend morning, someone passed by where I sat without smiling or any acknowledgment. That wasn’t odd. People have all kinds of responses as they walk along. Some smile and say hello. Others smile briefly as they go by without saying anything. Some look over without smiling. Some pass on by without doing anything but continuing their walk. This young woman was one of those folks.
I happened to look up when she was a good bit beyond me and I noticed that she was looking for or at something on the ground. I thought she might have dropped something. She finally found a small branch on the ground, stripped off the leaves, and then reached down between her feet and worked to move what was either a worm or some other crawly other-than-human off the walkway. When she finally had the crawly on the branch, she took it to the grass and left it there.
What touched me about this interaction is that this person cared enough to take the time to take the crawly other-than-human person out of harm’s way. That she noticed it and actively responded brought to mind the power of small acts of kindness, of the little things we do that add up over time. They are expressions of a fundamental kindness and a recognition that we share this world with countless others, some of whom are human and some of whom are other-than-human people. All are our earth-kin.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to notice, even more than you may ordinarily do, the opportunities that arise for these kinds of small acts of kindness. Nothing dramatic, nothing noteworthy or newsworthy. Just moments where expressions of kindness make a difference, even the small ones.
Notice what happens when you bring into the foreground of your awareness that everything and everyone you encounter along the way is your earth-kin—that we are all related, we are all members of a vast and complex earth family. What I saw this young woman do was to honor the life of that much smaller earth-kin, to honor it enough to take time to offer assistance.
As with all these practices, there’s really no right way to do this one. Instead, let your heart be your guide. Remember that the heart-brain perceives things a bit differently from your head-brain, and I suspect that the heart’s perception and intelligence plays an active role in orienting us to small acts of kindness. One of the questions I often ask myself is, “What would my heart do in this situation?”
And, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion because curiosity opens us to the world around us, reaching toward rather than away from what we encounter. Also, please remember to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, acknowledging that there’s no way to prevent judgments but you can let them simply arise and move on through without your having to do anything about them. They are moved along by the ever-flowing stream of consciousness and will move on “downstream” if you are able to let them flow by.