Dec 23

Kindness and the Unexpected

Acts of Kindness at Bloggers Unite
Acts of Kindness at Bloggers Unite

When I first wrote a post taking part in the Bloggers Unite Acts of Kindness Day on December 17th, 2oo7, I did not know yet what unexpected stopping points this girl on a road would encounter. I am taking a moment to write again now that my goal fast approaches of completing 9 different actions leading up until Christmas Day.

I feel a little embarrassed in writing because my actions were eminently ordinary as far as charitable giving goes during the holiday season. However, unexpected moments and serendipity accompanied me along this journey offering me far more blessings than any I might have shared.

My journey began with the great and noble inspiration found in ten year old Laura Stockman who decided to share some form of kindness from December 1st through December 25th in memory of her much loved deceased grandfather. With nine days between December 17th and December 25th, I chose to strive for 9 acts of kindness, however simple.

9 Activities
(when things like answering Dear Santa letters at the post office didn’t work out)

1. Create a Candle Group at Gratefulness.org for a hospital bed bound friend.

2. Donate to a family in the town where I live at Gem Plumbing’s “Random Acts of Kindness” holiday initiative. I first learned of this local effort while listening to Lite 105 FM’s continuous Christmas music on the radio during December. I was in tears listening to one story of help given to a family whose father had been badly injured on the job.

3. Buy toys for the U.S. Marines “Toys for Tots” drive.

4. Buy 2 kid’s new winter coats with matching hat and mittens and one of the same for an adult. Almost gave to Burlington Coat Factory’s Warm Coats & Warm Hearts Campaign but am offering directly to a community center seeking winter coats.

5. Put a 20.00 bill into the Salvation Army Kettle instead of a 1.00 bill.

6. Baked cookies and brought as gifts to various places such as my doctor’s offices.

7. Wrote a check to the campaign to keep a public library operating despite budget difficulties in the town where it is located.

8. Gave a grocery store gift card to a friend who lost his job and has not started collecting unemployment yet.

9. Brought back the library books of the woman whose husband had died that day and gave away a 20 percent off total purchase coupon for the Christmas Tree Shops to a woman who had a carriage overflowing with holiday items. Ironically, I would have saved 12.00 myself by the time I left the store if I had kept the coupon instead of giving it away. I knew that these coupons almost never exist and that the newspaper it ran in might not be something the people at that store would have seen since the newspaper was in the adjoining state.

Two moments that struck me deeply during these nine efforts involved death – something I have myself been processing recently with the passing of my dear spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy on October 11th, 2007.

First Unexpected Moment
When I tried to make arrangements to visit a local friendly 91-year old man that I first met while walking in the neighborhood during my job’s lunch hour, the phone number I hunted down said it had been disconnected. With further detective work, I managed to find the phone number (at least I hoped it was it) of his grown daughter who lived next door. I left a voice message and when she returned my call later that afternoon she said that her father had passed away a couple of weeks ago. Then she said that her husband had just died today and that the funeral home had just recently come to the house to help her make arrangements for her husband’s funeral and burial.

Since I work in a library, she mentioned how one of the things she would have to do included returning his currently borrowed library books. I instantly offered to pick up the books and return them. I ended up coming over to her place after leaving work and tried to offer comfort and company as she awaited the arrival of one of her grown sons who worked up near Boston. She showed me the obituary for her father and gave me a Catholic memorial card for him as well. I never expected that this intended effort would turn out as a gesture of sympathy with such uncanny timing.

Second Unexpected Moment
One of my other intended activities from my post on Acts of Kindness day was to bake gingerbread men/women and bring them as a holiday offering to places such as the doctor’s office where I had an appointment later that week. True confessions! While I have been the lucky recipient of goodies during the holidays at the public library where I work, I had never reciprocated before by baking cookies for others besides co-workers.

Please now picture very red shades of embarrassment when I admit that those cookies were not an easy task. The dough kept sticking to the cookie cutter no matter how much more flour I added and the decorator icing didn’t harden – something I neglected to notice when I purchased it. With waxed paper to the rescue, I was up until the wee hours of the morning trying to get these cookies together to bring to the doctor’s office, the physical therapist’s office and the library in the town where I live.

When I arrived the next morning for my appointment, the ever sweet secretary asked me if I knew that the doctor’s 52-year old sister had just suddenly and unexpectedly passed away the prior week. She showed me the obituary and I recalled how she used to work in the office taking blood pressure when her father was still alive and part of the medical office. I felt so humbled that every drop of sweat on my brow while making these cookies was a drop of insignificance and I was so grateful to suddenly have a gift that could also serve as a consolation offering.

Lasting Impact?

I am really grateful that Bloggers Unite decided to suggest an Acts of Kindness day in which bloggers all over the world could focus on sharing gifts of kindness large and small. Spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy writes:

One brave step is not too much to take.
Take one brave step toward your
destined goal.
One kind word is not too much to say.
Say one kind word to the lost,
orphaned world.
One soulful smile is not too much to offer.
Offer one soulful smile and transform
the face of the world,
Within and without.
-Sri Chinmoy

I do hope that this focus during the holiday season can blossom into an outlook in which Sri Chinmoy’s following words can also resonate:

May my morning begin
With the breath of kindness
And sweetness.
-Sri Chinmoy

Nov 05

The World Beyond by Sri Chinmoy – Book Review

The World Beyond book cover by Sri Chinmoy
The World Beyond book cover by Sri Chinmoy
The World Beyond by Sri Chinmoy offers insight into death and bereavement informed by Eastern spiritual philosophy and the author’s firsthand wisdom as a spiritual teacher to thousands of seekers around the world.

I had been meaning to write about this recently published compilation of my teacher’s writings on death and consolation in loss ever since I first read it last August. I never imagined that I would turn to such a task in the context of his own death a mere few months later.

The synchronicity of this book’s publication shortly before the author’s own death proves a compelling tool to parse out teachings to help his students cope with mourning the loss of his outer presence in their lives.

This book, however, is compelling under any circumstances and for any audience. It offers a glimpse into death, the afterlife, reincarnation and advice for lessening the sorrow associated with the loss of a loved one.

The book addresses topics such as:

  • Is death the end?
  • Fear of death
  • Suffering
  • What happens in the afterlife
  • How to maintain a connection with departed loved ones
  • Rituals and practices at the time of the funeral and burial
  • How to find consolation and peace when mourning

One particularly moving chapter comprises a letter that Sri Chinmoy sent to a minister friend who had recently lost his son in a car accident. In the letter, he emphasizes that God is the real owner of his son and that God also loves all of his children infinitely more than we do in our limited human capacity. He states, “So we should feel that our dearest one has outwardly left us to perform a special mission at another place.” In this letter, Sri Chinmoy also offers advice for coping with this undeniable sorrow:

Now I wish to tell you, Reverend, how you and your wife can console yourselves and even get inner joy from your outer loss. Please keep around yourselves as many pictures as possible of your beloved son at different times of his life. Please write down your sweetest memories of your beloved son. Then, from time to time, read those memories and become the sweetness, beauty, reality and divinity of your son’s life. While you are trying to grow into the memories, feel that your son is not only with you and in you, but for you.

Sri Chinmoy then continues with advice on two methods for staying in touch with their son inwardly,

with your heart’s cries and your soul’s smiles. Through prayers, we develop our heart’s cries. Through meditations, we develop our soul’s smiles. Either of these two can be applicable to commune with your beloved son or to derive joy from merely thinking about him.

Later in the book, Sri Chinmoy offers more practical advice in the form of a special meditation technique to try if one is visiting someone in the hospital and that person is dying.

You do not have to look at the person, but put your whole concentration on his heart. First try to imagine a circle at his heart, and try to feel that this circle is rotating there like a disc. That means that life-energy is now revolving consciously in the aspiration or in the vessel of the person who is sick. Through your concentration and meditation, you are entering into the heartbeat of that person. When you enter into the heartbeat, then your consciousness and the aspiring or dying consciousness of the other person rotate together. While they are rotating, pray with your whole being to the Supreme who is your Guru and everybody’s Guru, “Let Thy Victory be achieved. Let They Will be done through this particular individual. I want only Your Victory.”

Another important message in the book is his explanation of ancient Eastern wisdom on death itself. The book begins with his mention of the soul and death from the viewpoint of the Bhagavad Gita. From this perspective, the soul is birthless and deathless and the human life is a journey experienced through countless lifetimes coming back down to Earth.

In simple and down-to-earth language, Sri Chinmoy speaks of life and death as different rooms in a house and that we should “recognize death as nothing but a rest. A rest is necessary at the present stage of evolution.” In his chapter called ‘Fear of Death’ Sri Chinmoy patiently explains, “Death is like a stopping place on the road of Eternity and life is the traveller, the eternal traveller. The soul is the guide. When the traveller becomes tired and exhausted, the guide says, ‘Take a rest, for a long or a short time, and then afterwards start your journey again.’ ”

The World Beyond is itself a powerful stopping place for anyone searching for insight into death, the afterlife and coping tools for processing grief from a spiritual perspective. I highly recommend it for a glimpse into the secrets of the “world beyond.” After finishing this moving and comforting compilation on a difficult issue for many, you will find yourself affirming the sentiment expressed by the author:

The song of the birds says that there is no death. The birds fly in the sky. The sky signifies Infinity. If one remains in Infinity, then how can there be any death? So the song of the birds always declares the Immortality of the soul.

Read The World Beyond by Sri Chinmoy and hear the birds sing.

To purchase the book published by Aum Publications, see ordering information at SriChinmoybooks.com.