It’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
You wake up in the morning to a cold house. You hold your breath as your toes hit the frigid floor. You shuffle to your meditation cushion and wrap yourself in the warmest blanket in the house. Light a stick of incense. Shiver.
It’s meditation time.
A half-hour passes and you ring a singing bowl to close your morning sit. You crank up the heat or light a fire in the woodstove. You hear the rumble of the train passing by and the rhythmic scrape of the neighbor shoveling his sidewalk. The phone rings, the cat meows for food; it’s time to get on with the day.
Once we step away from the cushion in the morning, the world comes rushing in. It’s a good thing, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
We all strive to integrate mindfulness and meditation practice into our daily lives. Our families, friends, and neighbors are the most influenced by our ability to bridge the gap between our highest selves and our nitty-gritty, day to day selves. These two aspects are of course a part of the same being, but it often takes a bit of extra mindfulness to bring them into harmony.
This winter, I challenge you to bring that extra mindfulness to your neighbors. Whether you live in a suburban mansion, city apartment, or rural hut, we all have neighbors and we all have to learn to navigate the sometimes difficult relationships and boundaries inherent in sharing space.
Cold weather and holiday festivities only amplify the need.
Here are just a few things you can do this winter to be a more mindful neighbor and put the peace you achieve during your meditation practice to work in the real world.
Lend a hand
Winter is a time when the natural world gives us plenty of trials and tribulations to overcome. From Seattle’s 2008 Snowpocalypse to DC’s Snowmageddon, global warming has made winter weather events more of a handful than ever.
In big snow cities like Boston, neighbors are more than familiar with how to help one another out when weather gets tough. They help each other shovel, they lend a hand with repairs, and they check up on one another after a big storm. In my mind this makes up for the seemingly harsh, but oh so necessary, practice of saving one’s freshly shoveled-out streetside parking spot with a lawn chair.
Winter isn’t just snow either. Hail storms can be extremely damaging to property, and often neighbors walking by are the first ones to notice damage. Hail can range anywhere from pea-sized to as large as 4.5 inches, resulting in damaged roofs, vehicles, and land. If you see a neighbor who has taken on major hail damage, offer to help them get it appraised and restored.
If there’s a big winter storm, push your shovel the extra few feet down the sidewalk and save your neighbor the effort. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it. And who knows, maybe someday they’ll return the favor.
Check-up on the elderly
If you have elderly neighbors, get to know them and stop by every once in awhile for a visit. It’s always good for them to know that someone has their back.
At a societal level, the top concerns of an elder care social worker is to be a senior’s advocate, community resource, and to be conscious of their health and safety needs. A caring neighbor can do all of that and more.
Just knowing that someone is keeping an eye out for a senior can save them all sorts of worry.
Let them know to call you if the heater stops working, if their driveway needs de-icing, or if they need help bringing their recycling bins to the curb. Make yourself available.
Relationships with senior neighbors can be of benefit even if they move out of your neighborhood. Many seniors who go to nursing homes in later life find themselves in a position with no one to advocate for them. Nursing home neglect is on the rise. Continue visiting your senior neighbors even after they move away. If you’re there specifically to see them, you’re likely paying closer attention than they’re getting from facility staff. A caring neighbor could mean the difference between neglect and a home in which they thrive.
Invite them over
This is the cardinal rule for neighbors the world over. And it’s amplified during the cold winter months.
If you’re having a celebration, invite the neighbors. Not only does it make them less likely to complain about the extra bit of noise that tends to happen during a party, but it’s also a nice show of cooperation and camaraderie.
Take a cue from the Swedes – famous for their wintertime hospitality – and offer a hot drink to everyone who walks through the door.
There’s nothing like sharing hot food, warm drinks, and good conversation to bring people together. Peaceful relationships start at home.
Having a regular, daily meditation practice is important. All too often though, remembering to manifest the mindfulness that one learns in meditation is pushed to the back burner. There’s no need to put it off. Winter gives us every excuse to reach out to the people around us. Extending an olive branch to one’s neighbors is a simple and rewarding way to bring mindfulness practice into the world.
How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life?