I have been feeling some pressure to make #100 of my 100 New Things in 2017 amazing. It may surprise you that I did not have #100 planned way in advance. I was waiting to see what would unfold and present itself to me.
I was debating some options last week, when an email rolled in that reminded me of a new thing I kept forgetting to do all year. Or maybe I had been avoiding it?
Some of you may be aware that I am kind of obsessed with Dan Harris. Dan wrote a book called 10% Happier about how he found his way to meditation. He also has a meditation app that I love and a podcast that I listen to religiously. I actually follow him around NYC and show up wherever he is speaking. Seriously, this man has changed my life.
On his podcast earlier this year, Dan mentioned that as part of his loving kindness practice, he started carrying 10 $1 bills with him every week to give to people on the streets of New York who ask for money. When I first moved to NYC, I decide not to give money out to people on the street. I told myself (or maybe I read it somewhere) that giving that money to organizations that help people would be a better use of my funds than handing it out to random people on the street (because who knows what they might use it for). This may or may not be true, but a result of this decision is that I just ignore these people. I sometimes think “that sucks” and keep walking, but most of the time I look right through them. If you live in NYC, you might do the same thing.
When I talk to people about meditation, they say “I can’t do it because I can’t quiet my mind.” I used to say the same thing, but what I have learned (mostly from Dan Harris and the many teachers he has exposed me to), is that meditation is not about quieting the mind, its about paying attention. Paying attention to what is happening in your mind and what is happening around you. It is a powerful practice and I am convinced it can change the world.
What if everyone took the time to smile at someone who looked sad, or took an extra minute to ask someone if they needed help, or gave everyone who needed it a dollar. If everyone did just one of those things, every day, maybe one of those angry people with guns or trucks or bombs would have received just enough love to make a different choice. Or maybe some parent would have just a little bit more energy to give their kid a hug instead of losing their patience. Or maybe some really cold, fucked up person could just get a cup of coffee.
You can’t smile at someone unless you see them. You can’t offer help to someone unless you notice they are hurting. You can’t give someone a $1 unless you notice they are asking for it.
This practice of handing out dollar bills is about paying attention. It’s about seeing people and not looking through them. Its also about seeing and acknowledging their vulnerability and honoring it. Walking past people on the street is easy. Paying attention to them, seeing them, making eye contact, and really connecting to them is hard (comfort zone alert!!)
When I realized this could be a meditation practice that would take me out of my comfort zone and help people I was all in. I decided I would give out $100 as my 100th new thing in 2017.
Then I had an idea to take it to the next level. I decided to write the word Namaste on my 100 dollar bills. Namaste is a Hindu word that directly translated means “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” I see you and I honor who you are. We are all in this together.
Full disclosure, this Namaste idea was also inspired by a recent viewing of the movie Serendipity where Kate Beckinsale asks John Cusack to write his phone number on five dollar bill and then promptly uses it to buy something and says that if the money comes back to her, she will know they are meant to be together (it does and they end up together – FYI.) Watching TV is not a complete waste of time!
What I also love about the idea of writing on the money, is that I am sending this message out in to the world and if you get one of these dollar bills with a purple Namaste on it, you know where it came from and the spirit behind it. (It did not occur to me to use a more permanent marker than a Crayola so who knows how long the Namastes will last but keep an eye out! I did also confirm that writing on money is not illegal – because I am a rule follower.)
I went to the bank, spoke to an actual teller, got 100 one dollar bills and wrote NAMASTE in purple Crayola marker on all 100 of them. Before I could start handing them out though, the weather turned ridiculously cold. This has made my plan very hard to execute. No one is outside asking for money!!! I walked all over. No one!!
Yesterday, I finally remembered that the subway is place to be when the streets are too cold!! So I jumped on the subway with no destination in mind, lots of dollar bills in my pocket, headphones off, just trying to paying attention.
In Times Square I saw SheShe singing her heart out. SheShe is not homeless, but an artist doing her thing and making people smile. Namaste SheShe!! She got my first namaste dollars.
In Union Square, I faintly heard drumming coming from somewhere and walked toward the sound until I found a young man pounding away on plastic tubs. Namaste drummer boy!
I was totally spaced out waiting for the R train to nowhere and realized there was a man right beside me playing the violin beautifully. Namaste violin man! (It’s the magic moment of meditation when you notice you are not paying attention and get back on track.)
On my way home yesterday, I saw a couple out on the street bundled in blankets with a sign that said “Just trying to have a happy new year. Any little bit helps.” Namaste couple on Irving Place!
I looked every one of them in the eye and gave a small nod and they all nodded back to thank me. I am sure they have no idea that I saw the divine in them, but I did, and I am sure that they are happy I gave them a few dollars.
I won’t finish handing out the $100 until 2018 but I like that this practice will transition me from 2017 to 2018. Next year, I want to focus on more activities that bring meaning to my life and this is a great symbolic start to that journey. (More on that in my next post.)
Until then, Namaste and Happy New Year to you!!