You’re So Good to Me

Recently, my friend from grad school, Lisa, visited me. I’d not seen her in quite a few years, and we had just finished eating dinner one evening when she first arrived. I took up Lisa’s dinner plate and offered her the mug of tea when she said, “You’re so good to me.” The words took me aback because the gesture was a simple one, and yet there she was naming how she not only noticed it, but took it in personally and felt grateful for it. The words made me feel light. I asked her about where she came up with such a phrase, as I’d never heard it before. She explained that she had picked up the phrase from a former teacher she used to work with, and she began using the phrase herself. The idea of the phrase stuck with me as I had hearing her say them to me felt so refreshing. They made me feel somehow lighter.

Later, Lisa and I went downtown to the bookstore. I pulled in to the parking garage, but wasn’t quite close enough to grab the ticket from the machine. Since it was the first day the garage was charging for parking, a parking lot attendant was present at the entrance to the garage.  She saw my dilemma, pulled the ticket from the booth and handed it to me. It was a thoughtful gesture, and I decided I would use Lisa’s phrase, “You’re so good to me,” and when I did, her whole expression lit up and she came alive. She was no longer simply a parking attendant doing a job, she was a person with a meaningful presence. Her reaction brought home to me the powerful effect gratitude can have on a person’s day, and how I had the power to bring happiness to someone in a very simple yet meaningful way. Now I’m consciously looking for ways I can use this phrase on a regular basis to bring an awareness of other people’s goodness more into their lives–how through noticing people’s work or thoughtfulness in simple ways, I can acknowledge the benefit of other people’s presence in my life.

The short film, Validation, by writer/director/composer – Kurt Kuenne, illustrates in such a delightful way the powerful effect we can have on others lives simply by noticing who they are and naming the positive qualities we  observe. It’s worth watching. A parking attendant decides to not simply validate people’s parking stub, but to validate the person him or herself. People come from everywhere just to get validated. The world is hungry for it, the filmmaker shows us. The film helps viewers to understand that by noticing the good in others and calling it to their attention, we can change lives.

This summer I attended the mindfulness training course for educators at UC Berkeley through the Greater Good, and learned some excellent tips for thanking people with power: tell what the person specifically did, tell them how much what they did impacted your day or how it impacted your day, acknowledge the effort the person took. The quality of the thank you is important.

Research done by the people at the Greater Good, shows that those who keep a gratitude journal once a week feel happier than those who don’t. It seems like it might be rather obvious that tuning in to things that we can honestly feel gratitude can help make us feel more whole and happy, but just as Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast points out in Jill Suttie’s article, “Is Gratitude the Path to a Better World?” just because we know that we need to eat to survive, doesn’t mean that the study of nutrition can’t give us further insights into what is good for us. Steindl-Rast points out that “Grateful living brings in place of greed: sharing; in place of oppression: respect; in place of violence: peace. Who does not long for a world of sharing, mutual respect, and peace?”

I encourage you to go out and notice what people are doing in the world that you might have previously overlooked, but that you can be grateful for. Purposely look for situations where you can use the phrase, “You’re so good to me,” and thank the person for what he or she is doing. Try it out! I’d love to hear what kind of reactions you get. If you’re like me,  you’ll feel a bit happier yourself as well.


Experiencing Awe and Wonder

A couple of evenings ago, my husband and are were sitting in the hot tub in a clearing under the redwoods outside our back door talking, when out of the edge of the trees came a deer. She stood there, ears perked, staring straight at us. Immediately, we went silent, our eyes fixed on the deer, her form subtly outlined somewhere between visible and invisible. We have seen this deer maybe four times in the past week or so. She comes up into the clearing, pauses, looks at us, waits for her fawn to follow, or sends it on ahead, then bounds along the edge of the trees a bit, perhaps pausing to nibble at a branch or two, before disappearing down the embankment and deeper into the trees. When the deer appeared again last night however, she didn’t move on. She continued to look at us for what was probably 15 minutes while we sat very still observing her observing us. Occasionally she moved, looking to the sides of the clearing, and later lowering her head slightly, as if in a bow. Not knowing what this meant, we lowered our heads slight too, bowing in return. Later that night,  I read that deer lower their heads down as if to eat if it senses danger, and then jerk it back up again abruptly when in danger, hoping the predator will give away its position. We weren’t predators, though, so had nothing to give away.

As we continued staring in silence at each other, I couldn’t help but think of Annie Dillard’s essay, “Living Like Weasels” where Dillard describes looking into the weasel’s eyes and she is “stunned into stillness,” and this is how we, too, felt. Dillard describes how her eyes were locked with the weasel’s. In our case, it was too dark to see the deer’s eyes, but this kind of precise vision of each other wasn’t necessary. Our presence mesmerized each other. I don’t know what the deer was thinking, if she was simply curious about us, afraid, or some other thing. What is the mind of a deer like, I can’t understand. She was free to move on, but didn’t. Dillard explains how her encounter with the weasel helped her realize how she would like to learn how to live totally present in the act of living as a weasel does.  “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you,” she explains. Such encounters in nature as these throw us out of our humdrum expectations about life or about what will happen next, and enable us to become suddenly aware of our connection to the universe of being. We are in awe, aware of our senses, fully present in the moment, conscious we are alive. This, for me, is one of the important reasons I am alive–to experience the wonder of being!

Moments of awe are rare, which makes me curious if awe requires certain conditions for it to appear. Is awe rare because we are so concerned with our schedules and chores that we don’t notice world around us as alive with the potential to fill us with wonder? Is it because we aren’t often out in wild places where we might be more likely to experience the presence of nature’s raw or intense moments? Art, music, and experiences in nature can all be possible ways awe emerges. Though most of us don’t often do we have the opportunity to witness the kind of art that stops us short because of its power to make us see ourselves or life so precisely, maybe we want to do more to cultivate an open awareness of life where awe can surface naturally. Could we, for example, practice noticing things on a particular walk we take every day from and to a particular location and begin to ask questions about what is there?

A couple of examples of things in nature that have the potential to evoke awe are found as video links in Vicki Zakraewski article, “How Awe Can Help Students Develop Purpose”. Interestingly, Dacher Keltner from the Greater Good, has found in his recent research that experiences of awe have the potential to feel less self-centered and act more empathetically. Empathy could go a long way in helping people gain the insight into each other’s worlds in ways that could help us live together more cooperatively and meaningfully.

Unrelated to power and control, wonder and awe require a stance toward the world that is open and receptive. The deer I observed in hushed scintillated silence in my backyard turned away with a snort when she heard a rustle in the bushes, but those moments in her presence made me aware of the wonder it is to simply be alive. The Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Mankind will not perish for want of information; but for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.”