Pay It Backwards: An Act Of Coffee Kindness
before Christmas of 2007, almost exactly a year ago, I steered into a
Starbucks drive-thru line for a cup of tea on my way to teach a morning
tai chi lesson. There were a few cars in line, and I got in behind
them. When my turn came I gave my order at the billboard menu and moved
up as far as I could while waiting patiently for the cars in front of
me to get through the cashier line. While the South Florida weather
would probably would have felt tropical to much of the rest of the
country, I was a bit chilled and was looking forward to my hot drink.
fellow in the SUV behind me reached the menu. Dissatisfied with the
alignment between his mouth and the microphone, he laid on his horn,
leaned out his window, yelled an insult and exhorted me to move up.
There was nowhere to go. I was in a line, and mere inches separated my
car from the one in front of me. Indignant at rudeness, I felt my
temper come up, and because I am a pure and enlightened being who
entertains nothing but positive thoughts, I reached for the door handle
with the intention popping out of the car, taking a few steps, reaching
into his open window, and sending him to the dentist for a holiday
I'll show you what happens to rude and impatient people,
I thought. I'll teach you that a martial artist is waiting in every car
around you with the express mission of settling the world down into
just the fair, quiet, and patient place they think it should be.
Running that tape in my head, my ire grew even further. Testosterone
and adrenaline flooded my body and in a few seconds I had transformed
from the peaceful, content, slightly thirsty writer/teacher to a raving
lunatic. My heartbeat was up, my hands were clammy, my muscles were
tense, and the whole world had constricted down to the tiny business of
completing my hostile mission.
Then I glanced in the mirror. The
face of the impatient driver behind me was florid and twisted with
anger and hate. I refocused my eyes and noticed that my own face didn't
look much different. Whatever plague had taken him had penetrated the
steel and glass of my car to infect me too, robbing me of my
much-vaunted equilibrium, my peace, my balance, my
equanimity--precisely that thing that my beloved tai chi training, and
the Chinese philosophy behind it prizes most highly.
I teach my
students that it is best not to lose that balance--wuji in
Chinese--through meditation, breathing, and tai chi training, but when
you do, you can use any of three "doors" to get it back. Door number
one is meeting force with force: I could go ahead and start a fight.
Door number two is yielding: I could kowtow on the concrete, admit to
being an idiot, and beg the other driver's forgiveness. The best
option, however, is door number three. That door is different every
time. The trick is to figure out what that is.
The car in front of me moved off and I pulled up to pay. "I'd like to buy the coffee for the guy behind me," I said.
The barista looked at me in surprise. "But he's a jerk!"
"Just having a bad day, " I said. "Happens to the best of us."
"A random act of kindness, eh?"
shook my head, thinking how I could explain door number three to her
before the guy rammed my bumper with his. "Not really. I'm not doing it
for him; I'm doing it for me. I was mad right back at him, but now that
I'm doing this I feel much better."
I had only a $10 bill in my
wallet, and I handed it over. She checked her order screen. "He has
ordered breakfast for five people. It's a lot more than ten dollars."
gave me pause. I'd already regain my wuji. Did I really need to go
through with more? I took out my credit card and handed it over.
She searched my face. "You're sure?"
"Do it," I said.
I'd signed the charge slip, I drove away without a backward glance. I
had found my door number three, was finished with the act, and indeed
was already forgetting about it. I didn't want to meet the guy on the
road, either to hear thanks or more yelling, so I took a circuitous
root to my lesson, avoiding the main highway.
Six hours later, I
returned home to find my answering machine full of messages from the
Starbucks manager, and from a reporter for NBC news. They had me using
my credit card information. Apparently the guy behind me had continued
my act of giving and the person behind him had done the same, and on
and on. No doubt encouraged by the store manager, the chain was intact
well into the afternoon. NBC covered the story. You can view it here:Consciousness
news spread around the world. Within 24 hours I had received calls and
e-mails from as far away as Australia. The key point, of course, is
that I had performed a random act of consciousness rather than a random
act of kindness. I'd nearly lost my cool, had retrieved it, and done
something good for myself and someone else in the process.
sense, you can think of this as self-centered, but in a good way.
Keeping your cool, maintaining your wuji is just like putting your own
oxygen mask on in a damaged airplane before helping those around you.
If you pass out, you can't help anyone. If you lose your temper, you
are of no good to the world. Cool, calm and collected you are ready and
willing to participate in the world.
Violent crimes and
burglaries are up this holiday season. The financial crisis is creating
anxiety, depression, desperation and anger. Spread the word about wuji.
Do your best to control your own feelings before acting rashly. Think
twice before doing or saying something you'll regret. Random acts of
consciousness are perhaps even more contagious than random acts of
kindness. Raise your level of view, dig deep for perspective, and help
make this a more peaceful holiday season for everyone.LINK