I live in a small cottage in a rural-ish neighborhood where I can’t see other houses from my house. Everyone keeps to themselves and lives quiet, private lives—it’s not a neighborhood with any sense of community.
But I’m a walker, and by walking the winding roads nearby I have met a garden designer, a social worker who really loves handwriting analysis, a dean at the culinary school, a kitchen manager at the same school, a hairdresser from town, and a German guy who helps take care of his mother-in-law’s enormous property.
Over time the neighborhood opened up, at least to some friendly “Good mornings” on my walk. But everyone in cars still seemed grumpy. No one ever waved. No one beeped a hello. Most barely dipped to the side to give me some room on the road.
I began to obsess about how unfriendly and rude everyone was. Couldn’t they lift a finger off the steering wheel? Couldn’t they acknowledge that I’m here at least by moving a tiny bit into the other lane? What’s wrong with these people?
Instead of my walks being energizing time outside, my walks became major downers. It was me against everyone in cars, and they were bringing me down.
One day I found myself glaring at someone who drove by at top speed and I caught myself gearing up for a silent mental volley of annoyance and judgment toward that person. With the clarity that comes with moments of grace, I saw that I was the only one experiencing all this negativity and that I actually had no idea what was going on for the person in the car at that moment.
Maybe they’re late for work. Maybe they have to fire someone today. Maybe they just had an argument with a spouse. Maybe their kid is home sick with the babysitter. Maybe they just like to drive fast. Maybe they’re fiddling with their phone. I couldn’t possibly know what was up with them, but I could be almost entirely sure it wasn’t about me.
The next day I started an experiment. I dropped the story about all those grumpy drivers and I waved and smiled to everyone who drove by. Almost universally, people waved back.
Suddenly I lived in the friendliest neighborhood around! These were such kind, open people. This must be the nicest town in the world, and how lucky am I to live here.
My walks began to raise not just my heartbeat but my sense of connection and belonging.
While I’d been doing awareness practice for a while, experimenting with things like this (“awareness practice” is basically another way to say “mindfulness”), I was surprised by how easy it was to change my experience of the world. I didn’t need to get everyone together for a block party. I didn’t need to go knock on every door and introduce myself. I just needed to send friendliness into the world and voila, the world was suddenly a friendly place.
Sometimes it’s just that easy.