Monday, June 29, 2009

Reflections of 32 Favors Project

Wow! This has been an amazing journey. When I started this project back in early February I never could have predicted the way in which it would ultimately unfold. Perhaps that is one of the greatest lessons taken away from the experience: I do not need to know how the story ends, I just need to make room for the experience of enjoying the creative process. Only when I get myself out of the way can I be certain to have no investment in the outcome of any given situation. This does not mean I cannot have a preference or need to display a sense of apathy. On the contrary it means I need to care about myself and others so much not to assume I know what is best without taking into account what is presently actually happening. I am so grateful to all of you who followed this blog's development and who showed me grace and patience regarding the delay in the final postings. Life surprised me in too many ways to count, just know this project played a crucial role in my ability to adapt and even embrace whatever changes occurred. The people I met along the way have shown me an expanded and expansive world that I thought only existed in tales of Utopia. And, while this is not Utopia, it is possible to see the good and to know and do the good as Plato wisely noted many years ago. 32 Favors brought me to a place of understanding that on every level and I hope it may offer all of you guidance for your own journeys towards understanding whatever it is you are seeking, as well.



Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 32

Occurred March 10, 2009

Today's favor was about starting over. I received a request asking me to help a friend of a friend to start her life again now that she had left her husband and found herself alone in the vast city known as Los Angeles. How ironic to have the final favor request be about starting again...a reset of sorts. Perhaps it is a sign that the spirit of 32 Favors will continue even after today. Only time will tell how the story will unfold.

Immediately I recognized the parity between this favor request and my own life. I came to LA almost a year ago with similar aspirations: to start over fresh. The woman and I agreed to meet at a cafe near the beach and to spend the day brainstorming ideas for her regarding possible next steps. She began our meeting with a summary of her life's events over the past year. Her husband betrayed her trust on several levels, she tried to look past the indiscretions since she loved him deeply, she ultimately decided she could not trust him and needed to leave the marriage. I asked her how I could be most helpful to her. She responded, "I'm not 100% certain, maybe we could just lay-out all my options and then you can help me evaluate them. I just want to forget the past and focus on my future."

I noticed she omitted one crucial aspect of time: the present. "Perhaps we could also look at the present and where you are at currently on both psychological and physical levels. I'm no psychologist, but based on my personal experience, it was helpful to take an inventory of my current experiences, " I remarked. "Furthermore, I found it useful to not deny my past but also to not grant it power to define my present," I concluded.

The woman admitted that up until this moment she had not thought of anything other than the desire to hit the "reset" button on life and to erase everything from her past. I empathized and yet also countered with, "OK that makes sense on one level, but without your past you would not be who you are at this instant."

The remainder of our meeting was spent defining her present experience and then use that awareness to help her craft possible next steps. It turned out that in order to start again or to reset her life she needed to first look at her past without judgment and to be open to a future void of an investment in the eventual outcome. The key to accomplishing all of this was staying grounded in the present and being willing to take the first step away from being limited by the seeming constraints of her own perceptions. She left our meeting full of hope which is essential in order to look at someone or something differently. The journey towards understanding her present is now complete and at the same time, it has just begun.

Day 31

Occurred March 9, 2009

Today's favor was about surprise. I received a request asking me to put money into a stranger's parking meter. I instantly related to this request since recently I had a friend receive a parking ticket due to staying too long at a restaurant. Note: by "too long" I mean five extra minutes beyond the meter.

I awoke eager to fulfill this request until receiving an email from a follower of this blog who had seen the favor listed on the home page. He informed me such an act was illegal and suggested I try something else. "How about paying for someone's valet parking instead?"

Not to be deterred, I agreed and set out to put some of the dollars received by private donation, to help fund the 32 Favors Project, to good use. I selected two valet lots and gave myself a budget of $25 for the day. I went up to the valet attendants and asked which car's owner would most benefit from receiving free parking. At each spot, answers freely came to me and I ended up being able to pay for three different strangers parking. I asked the attendants not to mention me, just to say, someone had done them a favor and hoped it made them smile. "Please tell me what happened after you told them about the free parking so I can include it on my blog. Here is my cell, please text me when they leave." Each valet lot agreed to help me out and I in-turn tipped them nicely for their assistance. Here are the accounts of the three different favor recipients:

1. Woman looked shocked at first then very happy, even hugged attendant before leaving
2. Man and woman kept looking for "hidden" camera and finally accepted idea and asked if they could help pay someone else's valet fee
3. Man called friend on phone and shared his story of good fortune, saying he felt like he could get through his tough day now

The theme echoing through each recipient's experience was a feeling of not being worthy to receive such a simple kindness and thinking there must be some sort of "catch" at first and then later accepting and adjusting to the notion that kindness is possible without expectation of reciprocation. Tomorrow, concludes the project...I wonder what the day will hold. I can't wait to see how it all unfolds!

Day 30

Occurred March 8, 2009

Today's favor was about inclusion. I received a request asking me to do the seemingly simple task of smiling at every person to cross my path for one day. The person making this request explained in her email, "smiles are contagious and when expressed genuinely, they help to reduce stress and to increase a sense of well-being. In these tough times any hint of promoting a feeling of ease and peace is of utmost importance."

Wanting to maximize my smile efforts, I awoke early at 6:00 am and brushed my teeth with extra care to showcase the best smile possible. I decided to begin the favor at a local coffee shop and with head held-high, displaying both dimples on my cheeks, I smiled warmly at the first person I saw. It happened to be an older man and he looked both surprised and pleased to be the smile's recipient and he smiled back at me. "Good morning," I said as I walked up to the counter to order, smiling the whole time at the clerk in front of me. At first his eyes did not meet mine and he just sort of muttered, "morning...," but then he looked up from the register, greeted by my smile and his whole demeanor shifted. He stood more erect, and his mood seemed to elevate slightly as he smiled back at me, "How may I help you?" You already have I thought, but instead remarked, "I would love a mocha please." After paying for my drink, I observed the scene before me as it unfolded.

The next two customers ordering drinks received smiles from the clerk and each one in-turn responded back with smiles. Within less than ten minutes, the entire mood of the coffee shop felt lighter and I sat in awe at the power of one conscious act of kindness. I continued to smile at each person I met for the remainder of the day, going to a bank, a beauty salon, a grocery store and lastly a movie theater. Each location yielded the same result: wonderfully contagious smiles. What an incredible day!

Day 29

Occurred March 7, 2009

Today's favor was about introspection. I received a request to look inside myself one more time in relation to my pending decision regarding closing my Pilates studio either to pursue a doctorate or to work as a Pilates instructor at another studio. The request unfolded in a most curious way, one in which I felt as though I was inside of some pseudo alternate reality, a "Wonderland" of sorts.

The day began with me meeting a tutor at a local coffee shop to practice for the upcoming Graduate Record Exam (GRE) test two weeks away. As I worked on several sets of practice problems, I could not help but notice a man next to me was noticing me. Upon the conclusion of the tutoring session and my tutor's prompt exit, the man leaned over towards me and asked what I was doing. Taken aback by the directness of his question, I quickly responded, "I'm studying for the GRE." He then asked why I was studying for the GRE. I told him I was considering applying for graduate school. Then he asked what I was doing now. "Not much other than studying these days," I blurted, adding, "I used to have my own business teaching Pilates, well technically I still do, but I think now that economy tanked, it's done. I'm giving myself options."

He continued pressing me for more information about my business. I stopped answering long eough to pose a question to him, "Does your shoulder hurt? It seems as though you don't want to use your right arm, like it causes you pain to use it. Am I wrong?" He paused for a moment and then looked me in the eyes saying, "Wow! Yes, it does hurt. You are very good at what you do I'd imagine. Are you sure the business is done? Have you tried everything to make it work?" His words echoed in my mind..."Had I tried everything to make it work?" Well, I had tried everything I thought that could work, but admitted I might be missing something. "Maybe you just need to look inside yourself one more time, maybe that is all you need to do," he concluded with a calm and steady voice. What happened next still puzzles me, all of a sudden it was though I awoke from a deep slumber. I felt a rush of energy and packed-up my belongings and told my new acquaintance, "I need to go; there is much to do. Thank you so much." He handed me a slip of paper with his mobile number and I gave him mine too. He said he would call me if he thought of any ideas on how to make the business work. Before leaving I scribbled down this blog's web address and told him if he really wanted to know me, he should read that.

About an hour passed after I left the coffee shop and my phone indicated I had a new text message. As I read it, tears came to my eyes, it said, "Ha, Ha! Looks like you got a favor done to you. :)" Just as Alice was reminded to look inside the Looking Glass to see what actually was (her asleep and not in the throes of chaotic Wonderland) I too saw what really was: my business was not done; I just needed to be willing to walk-away from it in order to realize how much it meant to me and to be fully "awake" regarding its potential for greatness and wonder.

Day 28

Occurred March 6, 2009

Today's favor was about perspective. I received a request asking me to assist a man facing a career change. I believe the request was intentionally vague so as to allow me the freedom to not pre-judge the desired outcome of the favor. Once again I was reminded that true kindness is the ability to meet another individual wherever he or she is at presently. This man was at a place of transition and seeming chaos; my goal was to allow him to have his chaos and yet see him as peaceful and settled when I spoke to him.

We agreed to meet at a coffee shop in Hollywood and to spend the afternoon looking at his options. The only thing I asked of him was to bring something to write in and an open mind. We chose a comfortable sofa alongside a small coffee table. Pausing in between sips of his steaming drink, he asked me where we should start. I replied, "at the beginning...tell me about your past jobs and experiences at each one." He recounted a long list of various positions he held in his industry since graduating college. I noticed that at the end of each job he closed with the following words, "I could not stand my boss and so I left after ___ years." Without exception this was true, he had never had a job where his reason for leaving was anything other than the state of the relationship with his superior. I asked him why he thought every boss had turned out to be the "same" as all the rest. Confused, he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. I asked him how the relationships with his bosses started at each job. Again, without exception he said, "They all started great, but then something happened and they ended up not appreciating me."

Next, I asked him if he had wanted each of the jobs. Not skipping a beat, he shook his head answering, "No, hardly any of them, but I needed a job and they offered me one." It was then it occurred to me that the real issue was not the bosses but rather this man's underlying resentment at having to accept a job he really did not want. The bosses had no way of being privy to this information and therefore probably deemed his eventual lack of enthusiasm as a personal attack. I remembered an exercise a friend told me about from her experience at a psychology seminar: tell your "story" and then tell it with accountability. I proposed this idea to the man sitting beside me and he agreed to try to relate the whole series of events without being the victim. At the end of his revised story, he looked over at me and laughed saying, "Wow! That was amazing; I never knew the real problem was how I saw each situation, not the situation themselves." I encouraged him to take whatever time he could to choose his next job carefully and to remember it all comes down to the power of perspective upon our perceptions.

Day 27

Occurred March 5, 2009

Today's favor was about grace. I received a request asking me to help a friend plan a weekend get-away. On the surface this request may seem sort of out of the usual scope of this project and yet, as seems to be the overall message garnered from this experience, appearances may be deceiving and true meaning is found only upon forgetting to judge the outcome.

For the past four years, my friend worked tirelessly and never once took a break for herself. I asked her why and she responded, "If I stopped, I would never start again." She had left an abusive personal relationship and thought the only way to ensure staying away from her ex- was to keep busy and not allow her mind to wander back to the past. Her work had been her salvation since it allowed her to help others and now it had become her prison. It's funny in this world how such duality seems to always exist: that which is supposed to save us usually ends up hurting us in some unforeseen way. Medicines used to cure one ailment predispose us to another malady, means used to create independence sometimes end up having us feel more trapped than even before. As she recounted her reasons for not stopping and the justifications for not taking a break, I somehow found myself saying, "It sounds like you need to give yourself grace and allow yourself to pause and reflect." She agreed and we began to plan a trip for her to recharge and renew her commitment to her most important relationship: the one with her self. She chose a spa retreat in Arizona and together we booked the lodging, spa treatments, and drafted a letter to send her clients telling of her planned absence. She promised to not post-pone or cancel the trip no matter what arose in her work and or personal life and it was then I said, "that sure sounds like grace to me, congrats!"