Sunday, November 8, 2009

Growing Friendly

Other things got in the way this week, other ideas, and I never wrote about my yoga class on Thursday. As usual, it was gold-star worthy, fuel for the body and soul.

The theme of the month at Jaya is compassion. Always a good theme, one we should all be reminded to think about often as we move through our days so stuck in our own heads, thinking of our own selves. It is easy to do these days, think only of ourselves, with jobs scarce or paying less than before for more work, and worries about even the smallest things seemingly warranted by what we hear on the news, by other scared people, all around.

It is actually a relief to think about others if we can get ourselves there, get out of ourselves. But instead of focusing on characters in a movie, in a book, on TV or other fictional places as we so often do, what if we focused on those real, living people all around us? What if we were to put our interest and attention on neighbors, friends, colleagues, waiters, barristas, fellow subway riders?

My yoga instructor suggested the idea of "cultivating friendliness," that is working to grow our level of amiability toward others, focusing on it as we would a garden so that it might blossom and bear fruit.

As I stretched and balanced, I thought about this. I am always amazed at how many people fail to even say hello in apartment buildings and offices, even people that know each other. I am shocked almost daily at how many people don't want to expend the time or energy to wave or smile. I laughed once, looking out the window of the YMCA, watching people pass move along the sidewalk, thinking what the world would be like if my dream came true and everyone went around smiling and waving all the time. It would be weird, I guess, totally surreal. Maybe not everyone is meant to be friendly, I thought, maybe it would be overkill...Or maybe it would be fabulous. Maybe, just maybe, it would lift everyone's spirits.

My husband talks often about proven research (if there is such a thing...) that shows smiling actually does lift one's mood. But you look kind of crazy if you go around smiling all the time. I know. I often do it, and people look at me like I should be committed. Granted, I am often laughing to myself, too, another "normal" person's no no.

But sometimes, a fair amount of the time, I see people coming toward me, smiling at my smile, laughing at my laughter, just as the marathoners smiled and ran faster at the cheers and smiles of bystanders. It is contagious, friendliness, if we have the courage to be friendly even in the face of frowns. It is often hard. We read things into those frowns that probably aren't there, that probably have nothing at all to do with us and are all about the frowner. When I remember this and act upon that knowledge, I can often elicit a smile or a hello from the non-smiler, non-hello-sayer. I have to admit, even I, looking to give out gold stars to all and sundry, sometimes am shy of them, though, these unfriendly people. I don't always give them the benefit of the doubt as others don't always give me the benefit of the doubt when I cave in to a surly mood.

We went to Vinegar Hill House, in Dumbo, last night for a late dinner after a play I slept soundly through except for the monologues of the male character, which followed, every time, the slamming, hard, of a door. Waiting for the bathroom after the scrumptious meal (kudos to the chef for the amazing Cauliflower Ravioli), I overheard a waiter speaking to the manager and the other waiters at the bussing station.

"They were talking about me, in the third person, and staring straight at me while they did it..." he said, amazed. "She said, 'We're going to get that, right? Have you told The Boy?'"

I laughed, interrupting. "They actually called you 'The Boy?'" I said.

He smiled, The Boy. "Oh, sorry, you heard that?" he said. I was, after all, a patron. But not one of Those patrons, the unfriendly ones who barely acknowledge the presence of the server except to get their own needs met.

I smiled. "Amazing, isn't it? The ability of some people to be total jackasses?" I said. "Sorry you had to deal with that... I waited tables for a long time, it's not fun when people are like that."

He smiled, grateful for the acknowledgement of how bad it feels to feel invisible. "It's okay," he said, "it will go along with everything else in the tell-all memoir!"

I didn't have any gold stars on me, but he definitely deserved one. I owe him. So do the people that were so unfriendly. They need to cultivate their friendliness a bit more, I'm afraid. So, likely, do we all.

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