Back in my first grade teaching days I had a fabulous electric pencil sharpener on my desk. Alas, the kids weren't allowed to use it after one of them stuck a crayon in it, gunking it up nearly beyond repair. However, they did have the option of using the old crank one, but not many wanted to as they preferred the pointy pencil tips my sharpener produced. So every morning, I'd greet the children as they brought their #2 Tigoderogas over to me and we'd have a little chat while the motor whirled.
One day, Shannon came in late. After hanging up her coat and backpack, she brought her pencils to me, asking, "Miss Ingersoll, will you sharpen these?"
I gently smiled. "What's the magic word?"
"It starts with at p."
Thoughtfully rolling her eyes toward the ceiling, she wrinkled her brow. Then looking back at me, she replied, "Pig?"
I burst out in a fit of giggles. "Well, that word does start with p," I said. "But the magic word I'm looking for is a courtesy word."
Shannon blushed. "Oh! You mean PLEASE!"
"That's right," I nodded, taking her pencils. "But I think it's hilarious that might say to me, Will you sharpen these, pig?"
By then the whole class was laughing, including Shannon, for they all knew that while using good manners was a given in our classroom, I was also up for a good-natured wisecrack now and again...as long as it didn't hurt anyone's feelings.
In a day and age when the Internet is king and texting is the preferred mode of communication, I've found that good manners often go the way of the dodo. Still, it's heartening to hear please and thank you when I'm out and about, not only from the mouths of babes, but from grown-ups, too. Still I've found that courtesy phrases aren't the only magic words that can bring kindness and clarity.
The Sufi poet, Hafiz, wrote: The words you speak become the house you live in. I've lived this truth more in the past six months than I have in a long, long time as working with the throat chakra in all of my yoga classes has brought a greater awareness to what I say, how I say it, and how often I'm able to follow through and honor my words. With practice and patience, I've magically discovered that using the following phrases are wondrously changing my life for the better.
I don't know how to do this...can you please help me?
After living more than half of my life alone, I've learned that I truly cannot do it all by myself. Yes, I've tried and failed to do things solo. Let me tell you, moving a double-sized mattress and box spring up and down the stairs multiple times has given me more than a strained shoulder. Still, it didn't deter me from shoving a loveseat up the same stairs only to find it stuck three-quarters of the way up. I was able to pry it loose, but promised myself to ask for help the next time I needed to move heavy furniture. Ever since then I recognize my limits and realize that asking for help can often be an act of generosity in allowing another to share their time and much-needed abilities with me.
How can I help you?
When I'm going through personal turmoil, one of the best ways to pull myself back to reality is to ask someone else "how can I help you?" I find that we're all going through something -- large or small -- and to connect with someone else often puts my own life into perspective. Helping others is a lovely distraction from enduring things I cannot change on my way to a greater acceptance of what is.
Plus it's a great way to pay it forward when I've been helped myself.
My apologies to Jenny Cavalleri, but love does not mean never having to say you're sorry. A sincere request for forgiveness can work miracles in a relationship; even the mere acknowledgement of hurting another can bring healing. Yet many times we hear these words with no change in behavior. Saying I'm sorry cannot change what has happened in the past, but it can be a pathway to a better future.
No one's perfect and in my opinion, when someone admits they've made a mistake or hurt my feelings, I find them to be more trustworthy. And when I do the same, I hope the other person realizes that my apology is a way to cross the bridge to a deeper level of understanding and compassion.
It may sound simplistic, but over the course of my years as a teacher, I've found that any human behavior is motivated by either love or fear. Admitting when I'm scared can help me stretch my boundaries and recognize when what I'm afraid of is either logical or unfounded. Just as muscle tissue cannot strengthen without something to push against, courage cannot grow in a vacuum. Once I name a fear, it doesn't have as much power over me, and when I can admit it to a close friend, it diffuses that much more.
What can I learn today and what can I teach?
I keep this in mind at the beginning of every day, every yoga class, and when I write a blog, for I'm always moving within the venn diagram of learning and teaching. Having this awareness sharpens my intuition and makes me a better listener. It gives me the opportunity to know that every person or situation I encounter has the potential to bring me a wider perspective of life on planet earth...and that I have something to offer in return.
These days my lessons often come in silence as I work in the garden or take a bike ride or hike at the park. I've become an avid people watcher once more and learn a great deal about the diversity of personalities that converge like a big box of Crayola crayons. Perhaps the best lesson I've learned this week is that we don't have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.
In the past I was hesitant to say these words out loud and only wrote them in my journal or in a blog. But I find that talking with friends and listening to their stories has given me plenty of opportunities to say what I want to create -- now. Change in any form can be unsettling, but I'm the point in my life when "been there, done that" is a common mantra and I'm ready to let of all that has been in order to open new doors that lead to unknown, infinite possibilities.
Of course, this can be scary sometimes, but I find that since I've already admitted what I'm been afraid of, it's not really difficult at all to admit that I'd rather have something completely undefined rather than recreate the past.
Let it be
The Beatles had it right...letting things happen in their own time is the best way for me to know that all things are unfolding as they are meant to and that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. It's not always comfortable, but it is comforting for me to know that two ways I can deprive myself of an experience is to name it or expect it.
Butterflies come out of their cocoons at just the right time. Flowers open when they're ready. Babies are born when they're mean to arrive. As I've been willing to pass up "good" for "great", my patience as been renewed and I've learned to trust the often slow and steady development of what I've been ready for since early spring.
So as you anticipate this holiday weekend, I hope you listen for and use your own magic words to create whatever experience you'd like to have, for it's never too late to redecorate the house you live in.