“Ask yourself, ‘Is there joy, ease and lightness in what I am doing. If there isn’t, then time is covering up the present moment, and life is perceived as a burden or a struggle.’” Eckhart Tolle (Practising the Power of Now)
The end of week two and things are moving on, here on the Green Tara Appeal. I’m pleased to say that Amritasuri and Jamie are both well again and have rejoined us. Now we truly are The Magnificent Seven.
This week Amalavajra has been encouraging us to cosolidate our experience so far and begin to develop more subtle skills in our interaction with others (more of which later); we’ve been guests at the Karuna Trust’s office, learning about their amazing work in India (and treated to a truly scrumptious chilli non-carne for lunch); and we’ve spent a lovely morning with Subadramati, looking at timely speech.
Out on the streets, things are moving on as well, Sanghamani brought in the first direct debits and now all of us that were active last week have brought back a selection of these precious monthly donation forms - plus a fair sprinkling of cash. The experience is changing too. I can only speak for myself, but it’s very clear that this amazing and challenging experience is having an effect. I had a pretty good first week but, even so, I was very conscious that deep down in my psyche there was a definite wish to be somewhere else, doing something different. It was tough at times and it took a good deal of resolve to keep moving on to the next door - and the next step into the complete unknown. This week I’ve felt more relaxed, as if this is what I do now, and that’s okay. Though I must admit that when I pass a nice restaurant or bar, full of people relaxing, there is a small part of me that would like to stop what I am doing and join them.
Except, of course, there is a much bigger part of me that doesn’t want to do any such thing. What I am doing seems right, almost, dare I say it, comfortable - even exciting. A week ago, I felt slightly guilty about disturbing people, I was apprehensive about their possible reactions and after each rejection I felt a need to take a deep breath, re-group as it were. I was also investing a lot of hope and expectation in each house, particularly when I called back for a second visit to someone who looked promising. Inevitably, this led to disappointment and sometimes took me the edges of disheartenment.
There was a kind of watershed last Tuesday when I visited 23 houses for the second time. Everyone of them was out, hadn’t read our booklet yet, or said they wouldn’t donate. I could easily have been devastated but there is something about the way we are held on this retreat that stopped me doing that and, instead, I took a long, hard look at the way I was communicating with people. It seemed very clear that ‘quantity’ wasn’t working and that I needed to change my approach to less people with a greater connection.
So I stopped spending time on the kind of houses that I already knew, even from my limited experience and training, were never likely to produce donations. And I concentrated on those that were more likely to. Then in training, I looked for ways to interact more. Up until that point my approach had been limited to a few words about Karuna’s work and then a silent prayer that the householder would read, and be impressed with, the booklet. This didn’t work well at all, so instead I resolved to develop an approach that was more inclusive, where, as often as possible, I stood next to the person I was talking to and used the booklet as a prompt, turning pages and talking about our different approaches to the degradation and poverty sufferred by so many Indians at the bottom of the social scale.
This approach was consolidated when Bodhiketu (a very kind man) accompanied me on my rounds on Thursday evening. He stood silently behind me on each call, listening and watching - and, kind or not, it was a nerve-racking experience. But it was a great help. It’s encouraging that my communication skills are improving but it’s clear that I still have a good way to go. In my anxiety to ‘get the message across’ I am still forgetting to leave space for the other person to respond. And when they do manage to respond I’m not very good at asking them questions - and including them fully in the conversation.
Plenty of chances to practice that in the next week!
Two weeks into the appeal it feels like the Buddhist practice behind door-knocking is beginning to reveal itself. However, there’s a paradox. On the one hand I am here to find donors - and more specifically money - for a charity that I am passionate about, knocking on doors and sometimes evoking a less than happy response. On the other hand I am a practising Buddhist trying to be kind, trying not to chase after material things or have expectations about outcomes. The two might seem poles apart, yet in a way, if held lightly, they are not different.
In practising my own generosity by doing this appeal, I am also offerring a real opportunity for others to be generous as well. I’m trying to be as authentic as possible on the doorstep, trying to connect with other human beings in the kindest possible way. It feels like a very real connection too, something like a doorstep metta bhavana practice.
I am also doing my best to practise equanimity. During the last week I’ve been trying to expect nothing. To simply keep knocking on doors, talking about the valuable work that Karuna does, being natural, and enjoying the simple human contact. I’m beginning to take the view that if I let go of this thing I call ‘self’, with all its hang-ups and fears and fixed views, reach out to others with authenticity and kindness, and rest in what Pema Chodron calls hope-less-ness, then Magic will happen
And it works. Last Thursday evening, at around 9.00 o’clock, I called back at a house that I had visited a few days earlier. I felt positive but open to any outcome. A delightful Irishman who I hadn’t yet met, opened the door, told me how much he admired Karuna’s work and invited me in. While he filled in the direct debit form his wife and young daughter (who I had met) greeted me like a friend, and when I sat down, their small, furry, teddy-bear-like-dog came and laid out on my lap and asked for a cuddle.
There was something very special in the air just then. A huge sense of gratitude: from me on behalf of Karuna and the people in India whose lives will be changed by the money; but also from the family who were giving. It was almost as if I had opened a door which enabled their own loving-kindness and generosity to shine through. They were so delighted, so grateful for the chance to help -and it really showed.
A few minutes later, in another house - and quite unexpectedly - it happened again.
So Eckhart Tolle’s quotation at the beginning of thi piece, really moved me when I read it and, this coming week, after a welcome rest this weekend, I’m going to try to develop an even greater sense of joy, ease and lightness. I’m going to be as authentic and open and as responsive as I can be - at every door, on every street.
And, eventually - I am quite certain - Magic will happen, again and again.