Smile Boomerang: From UK To France To India And Back!
Posted by Audrey Lin on May 10, 2015
Couple Thursdays back, Ani organized a unique gathering at London’s South Bank. :)
A local group called Wake Up London periodically organizes “Flash Mobs” to brighten the streets of different neighborhoods in London. Ani had put an email out to see if they’d be up for a Kindness Flash Mob, and found out that their group of 60 were all on retreat. She organized a gathering anyway, and thought we weren't quite sure what to expect or who, if anyone, would show up, we figured at least the two of us could try it out, and set to work making posters and gathering small gifts and quotes to share with passerby.
As we hopped on the subway, we were met with a huge crowd backed up by the escalator. It was rush hour on a Thursday evening, and there was no clear message as to what was causing the delay. The air hung heavy.
I turned to Ani and joked, “We should just do the Flash Mob here.”
“I dare you,” she joked back.
We pulled out one of the posters from our bag. It read, “Smile, You’re Perfect.”
Suddenly, the crowd started moving again. We sailed down the escalator, and held up the sign to face the folks coming up on the other side. Instantly, we were met with disarmed smiles, laughter, and sparks in strangers’ eyes.
Off to a great start, we thought!
As we arrived at South Bank, to our meeting point in front of the Nelson Mandela statue, Deena was standing there already waiting for us. Then Dharmesh came along and soon after Steven joined as well. Armed with posters, flowers and chocolates, we spread out across the pedestrian walkway and invited folks to smile.
The responses blew us away, and buoyed our faith in humanity.
Two children who’d been dining with their mother in a nearby restaurant’s outdoor seating shyly walked up and embraced us with wide grins and warm hugs. A man walked by and instantly bombarded Dharmesh with an enormous hug. Turns out he was doing a gratitude project and was so encouraged to see that “there are pockets of people in this spirit all over the city.” Two police officers walked past and simply said, “Thank you.”
Eli was walking home from a canceled meeting and ended up joining and engaging with so many passerby for the next hour and a half. In our closing circle, he remarked, “I’m ready to do this next week!”
Many folks stopped and asked to take photos, with encouraged comments and gratitude. Jitendra took photos on his iPad, and when I asked him to email them to me, he replied, “Yes, I’ll do it right now. After all, tomorrow, I may go,” and pointed to the sky.
“What?” I asked, unsure of the degree of gravity behind his comment.
“We come with nothing and we leave with nothing. It’s all up to destiny, so why not do what we can in the moment?” He explained.
It all sounds so familiar. :)
People kept asking, “Who are you with? Why are you doing this?”
To which we said, “We’re just a group of friends with a few free hours and thought it’d be nice to spread some smiles. Why not?”
We had a bouquet of roses leftover from our Awakin Circle the previous evening, and as some began to droop, Ani takes the petals off and turns it into a heart in front of the Nelson Mandela statue. As she’s kneeling doing to do this, a security guard leans over her, curious at what she’s doing. Then he looks up at the smile signs Steven and I are holding and gives a short nod.
“Okay,” he states.
“Great to get a blessing from the security guard,” Steven remarks.
The energy is contagious. And so universal. So many moments of split-second connections with strangers passing by. There were tourists and businessmen, college students, children, grandparents and artists. So many walks of life syncing up their steps for a few short moments to share a smile together. To remember our fundamental interconnectedness, as a human thread in the tapestry of nature.
On the subway ride back home, we are leave some of our leftover wisdom scrolls and quotes on the subway seat, as a gift for the next person who sits there. As we hop off and watch the train roll away, we glimpse through the window three friends unrolling a scroll.
Later on, Ani reflects:
"I haven't participated in many of these types of flash mobs, yet each time I have, little by little, I understand how a simple kind message or gesture -- expressed physically with a cheerful smile or a warm hug or verbally through brightly painted words-- can connect, uplift and fill the hearts of strangers. Moreover, I understand how my inner feelings and energy are what is reflected and mirrored back. How letting go of subtle inner resistances, such as self consciousness, inevitably uplifts and transforms my own experience and those of others."
What a beautiful way to spend an evening re-igniting the spirit within and without, through London’s underground and South Bank. :)
Ripples on the Streets of France
A week later, Madhu, Sheetal, and I were visiting Catherine, Genevieve, Lea and their community in Grasse, France. After a Friday evening Seva Café, and a weekend filled with community visits, our cups were brimming to spill forward in some way.
Incidentally, it happened to be Sheetal’s birthday that Sunday, and he shared his intention to spend the day in service. Madhu had also been curious about Cannes (home of the annual Cannes Film Festival), which happened to be a short drive from Grasse—so when Catherine gathered a group of us in a circle to explore further ways to locally engage this spirit, we thought, “Why not spread some smiles in Cannes!”
So on Sunday afternoon, we arrived outside of the Cannes Film Festival building, armed with a paper, markers, tape, smile and heart pins, and an air of anticipation into what would unfold.
Catherine emailed out a surprise invite for folks in her community, to join, and received a loving note from Marie-Joelle and a “Vive la vie!” (Life is good!) response from Bernard, the loving couple who had hosted our circle just the day before.
"As soon as our posters were ready, we set out with big smiles yet tentative steps as we had no idea how we will be received. However our doubts quickly melted as within a few seconds of starting out, a young group of girls seeing our posters, came up to us to hug us and cheer us on.
As we stood on the side of the super busy promenade right by the famous red carpet of Cannes, we experienced the wide range of human emotions play out in front of us, from folks who would look through us and ignore us, to folks whose faces would light up with delight as they participated in our little jig of kindness.
After a couple of "rejections" by folks who chose to ignore our invite to smile or hug, I experienced a deep compassion arise for all beings who for reasons unknown to us could not partake of our celebrations. Found myself silently chanting, "Lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu" (Sanskrit prayer: may all be happy).
And then there were the walking angels among the crowds who stepped forward enthusiastically to receive our love, and then encourage us on our kindness adventures by gifting us their silent blessings."
Catherine’s infectious enthusiasm lit up the hearts of even the most skeptic of passerby, and not one person who passed her could say no to loving spirit and embrace. In our closing circle, she reflected how she had felt a bit tentative beforehand, as soon as she started drawing her poster, something shifted inside her, and she knew she had to step out of the egoic thoughts of self-consciousness and fear to go straight to each person’s heart. She saw how layers of fear and judgment stand between us and others—and intentionally practiced to dissolve those invisible barrios. It was a beautiful practice.
As our group took up a high-traffic walkway, Genevieve and Sheetal decided to explore the nearby surroundings, and ended up conversing with a man.
“Though I couldn’t understand a word, I watched his eyes change as Genevieve was talking with him. And they were glowing by the end of the conversation,”
Anne-Marie was alive with Madhu playfully juggled a mix of “Vive la vie!” and “Free Hugs” signs, while gifting smile and heart pins to encouraged passerby. Jayan steadily held a “Vous êtes Parfait! You’re Perfect!” sign throughout—and noticed how so many folks mirrored it back to him, saying, “You too!”
One woman in a wheelchair came by and instantly melted at Jayan’s sign. It was all too sweet, as Catherine nurturing pinned a heart pin on her, and explained to the folks around her that we were just a group of friends trying to spread more kindness around.
Simultaneous Serendipity in India!
Incidentally, on the morning of Sheetal’s birthday, he received a WhatsApp message and photos of his Urban Ashram community in India spreading smiles on the streets of Pune!
"World laughter day and Sheetal's b'day coincidentally fell on the same day today... since he was not here, a few of us decided to gift him a day dedicated to making lots of people smile or in our case 'laugh'.
We cooked sabudana khichdi, some nimbu paani (lemonade) and watermelon slices, and hit the streets interacting with all passing by, sharing food cooked with love, gifting kids toys made from recycled items, singing songs and of course doing loads of laughter yoga with everyone! Needless to say, we came back home with empty vessels and overfull tanks of love and kindness as so many people on the streets very spontaneously sang, laughed, ate, and shared their time so patiently with us. A young girl we met on the street, Shamali was so moved, she spent over an hour with us and, while leaving, gifted us a book of poetry written by her. We are grateful for it all."
And the Smiles Go On…
Just a few days ago, as I settle back in California, I open my inbox to an email from Eli in London. In a loving note, he shared how he was inspired to spread the inspiration from our London Flash Mob again, even as one person!
This time I was by myself. Shortly after I started, security at the Royal Festival Hall stopped me and investigated me. Then they became friendly when they understood what it is about, and recommend that I to do it on the embankment bridge (until I manage to have management approval to do it here.
Most people that passed by smiled. Some big smiles, some small smiles. Some people stopped and asked questions. I invited people to join me and some did for a short while.
Hundreds of people smiled. Thank to your inspiration and thanks to my daughter Shayli and her art.
It never fails to amaze me how something a simple as a smile can open up a world of possibility.
More photos from London, Cannes, and Pune smiles: