Sunday, December 16, 2007

Simple Service

I have a couple of rituals that I do each and every time I come to Jerusalem. They are simple acts, and yet I feel they are important. They are symbolic of some important concepts to me. Each time I do these rituals, I feel I'm working towards a new paradigm for a new world.

One act is to wash the picture window in Steve's apartment. I've written about this one before. The window is not easy to wash, for anyone. It has a 'security cage' on the outside of it, that prevents you from washing it from the outside. The cage is meant to provide security from break ins. It is effective, but it also causes a huge inconvenience when it comes to keeping the window clean. the cage does not open or unlock. To wash the window, you must literally squeeze into the cage, which is only a little more than a foot away from the window. It's not exactly comfortable!

I try to wash this window each time I visit. Between the rain in the winter, and the dust on all the days where there is no rain, the outside of the window gets filthy! Steve smokes (tsk... tsk... tsk...) so the inside of the window gets very dirty as well. You literally can't see outside very well and the dirt and schmutz greatly reduces the amount of light that comes in to the room.

I've written before about the metaphor this represents to me. The quest for 'safety' makes it a giant chore (one that is impossible for Steve) to keep the window clean. The 'quality of life' is negatively impacted because of the limited light that the dirty window allows in and the fact that the view of the 'outside world' is greatly reduced. Safe inside... but unable to see out or have ones life illuminated by the available light. An interesting thought to contemplate!

I try my best to clean the windows each time I'm here, but twice a year is no where near enough. I must admit, that last time I was here I didn't get to the window. It rained almost every day I was here, so I let it pass. That means that this window hasn't been washed for an entire YEAR! I can't even begin to tell you how dirty it was. It took almost an entire roll of paper towells to get it relatively clean. It is by no means perfect, but the difference is nothing short of astounding! I honestly wish I would have taken a before and after photograph!! The amount of light coming into the room during the day is at least double what it was pre-washing! The tree, the birds outside and all that lies beyond the glass are stunningly crisp and clear. It is a world transformed!

It took me about an hour to wash the window inside and out. It was not a pleasant job (spiders webs, snails, bugs, and amazing amounts of dirt were encountered), but no one can argue with the results. It's like the room and the quality of life have been reborn.

A great reminder that what we 'look through' at our world greatly colors our experience. Cleaning our lenses is vitally important to seeing accurately what is present around us.

My second ritual has to do with litter and cigarette butts outside the entry to Steve's apartment building. I took it upon myself several years ago to start picking up all the litter (especially the cigarette butts) along the entry walk way leading to Steve's building. There are a lot of smokers here, and the idea of using ash trays seems to be a 'foreign' concept. Even Steve used to toss his butts on the ground, until we had a little 'discussion' about that. :) Now he is very very good about always properly disposing of his cigarette butts. I feel a sense of satisfaction in that change.

On every trip here for the past several years I have picked up all the trash and cigarettes butts that are outside the building entrance. Each time I come, I find fewer and fewer cigarette butts lying on the ground. In fact, Steve tells me that we are down to only one tenant who tosses cigarette butts out their window. Everyone else has seemed to adopt an appropriate method for disposing of their trash. It really makes me feel good to see the change. I wish we could 'affect' this one last hold out! Who knows... there is always hope.

For me, picking up the litter is a statement about the importance of one's surroundings. When we 'don't care' about our surroundings, it is usually a reflection of the fact that we don't care about ourselves. It is a statement that says "I am not worthy of a clean and well kept space." I think it is really important to recognize that the state of our surroundings says something about the state of our consciousness... of our inner state of being.

While I don't believe that we make permanent changes by merely 'rearranging externals' I do think that it is a powerful way to show ourselves that we are committed to 'cleaning up our act' both inside and out, when we clean up our external surroundings. I think it is a 'prelude' that can motivate and inspire us to do the corresponding 'inner' clean up work.

So... I pick up litter. Every time I'm here. People always look at me like I'm a little strange. I just joyfully pick up other people's trash and feel an immense sense of satisfaction when I compare the 'before' and 'after' landscape.

I've written about picking up litter before on this blog. It also is my way of saying 'thank you' to a place for hosting me. That is true here as well.

I am also saying to the people of this apartment complex that they are worthy of living in a clean, well kept space. I am saying that it is worth my time to clean up their space for them... just because I want to. It's a gift of simple service to try to create a new way of relating to ourselves, each other and our surroundings. It is being respectful of the people around us, and of the landscape. I envision this attitude affecting everyone who sees the newly clean space, or who witnesses me 'doing the deed.' I envision people picking up litter themselves, or at least not throwing down what they might have before seeing this transformation. I envision them treating themselves, their neighbors (near and far) with a bit more respect. All as a result of me picking up trash. As Roger, the foster child in the movie "Angels in the Outfield" (one of my personal favorites) says, "It could happen!"

No action is too small to contribute to making the world a better place. Washing a window for someone who can't do it themselves, to improve their view of life... or picking up litter in a place where no one seems to care, are two very simple actions, that I believe have profound significance and possibly powerful impact. Find your simple service and give it a try!

Twice a year doesn't seem like enough for washing the window, but that's how often I visit! :)

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