Shortly after my December writing project ended, I decided to continue it! I also decided that I would so so with a new set of rules. Here is how I reached that decision and what has come since…
Thank You to a Stranger – What’s Next?
Many thanks to those of you who followed along with my December writing project called Thank You to a Stranger. As I said in the finale, what started out as an idea to break out of some personal stagnancy turned into way more than I could have ever expected. The hundreds of comments, shares and personal messages I received during the month touched my heart in the most intimate ways.
During that last two days since the project ended I have been reflecting about the energetic space that it occupied in my heart and in my mind. Even as the project wound down to its finale, part of me was having thoughts that I wanted to continue on and part of me was excited to put it to rest. I am still uncertain. I am still afraid.
What am I afraid of?
1) I’m afraid that if I continue that it will consume so much of the creative space in my brain that my other writing and speaking projects will go totally dormant or at the very least suffer.
2) I’m afraid if I don’t continue I may be ignoring something that can explode into a platform building viral blog or a great book.
3) I’m afraid that if I continue that the posts will become routine and I’ll be writing about someone picking up chewing gum from the sidewalk because it’s the best thing I can find.
4) I’m afraid if I don’t continue that my eyes will stop to see the world with the intense clarity I have discovered in the last month.
5) I’m afraid that if I do continue without an end date that people will grow tired of me clogging up mine and other’s Facebook groups and stop paying attention.
6) I’m afraid that if I don’t continue there will be an empty sense of unfinished business in my heart like I’ve been feeling for the last two days.
Are you getting a good enough peek into my brain? This is just a sample list that is the tip of the iceberg. I know that you all have brains similar to mine that are filled with amazing ideas that then get put through the gauntlet of self-doubts and limiting beliefs.
Yesterday I had a revelation. We were sitting on the couch after our very successful first ever webinar about goal setting. We were preparing for our presentation about storytelling in Texas next month. I was also in the middle of assembling a piece of Ikea furniture, I had a curtain rod project that was barely started, but scattered all over the dining room and dinner was only half done. I spent a good part of the evening robbing myself of the joy of crossing the finish line we crossed by doing the webinar because I was feeling overwhelmed by all the other unfinished business in my day. Sound familiar?
Christiana noticed my growing despair and said, “It’ll be fine Jim. We’ve taken a huge number of baby steps today and a few giant steps. Like you always say, it’s not always all or nothing…”
And then I thought, “I do always say that don’t I?” I say it to clients. I say it in workshops. I say it to friends. I just don’t say it to myself and even if I do say it to myself, I don’t listen very well!
I had been looking at Thank You to a Stranger with only two options. The all or nothing options. In the “All option” I was going to continue to post everyday, start a new Facebook group, pressure myself to find content for 365 days until I hated doing it and drove myself nuts. In the “Nothing option” I was going to stop all together and feel sad and grieve the loss of something powerful in my life. I suppose there is a bit of distance between those two extremes, isn’t there?
So here is what I have decided. I am going to continue with my Thank You to a Stranger writing project. I am not going to attach to how long it is going to last for, but after listening to our webinar yesterday I am going to set a “time bound” goal of getting to #100 by the end of 2016. If I get more than that so be it, but I am not going pressure myself. I am going to aim to post three posts per week, but some weeks I might post everyday and some weeks I might not post at all. I am not putting a word limit on my posts because that failed miserably within the first week. I will just tell the stories as they need to be told. I am not going to start a new Facebook page or blog site because I/we already have enough social media outlets to manage. I will post on my personal Facebook page and on our Jim and Christiana Herbert public figure Facebook page. The posts will be public so anyone who would like to see them as they are written can follow either of those two options. After each ten posts I will write a summary blog and post it at our blog sites and on our webpage. I would be delighted if you would like to share any or all posts on your own pages and in your own groups. Please feel free to do so, but I don’t want to appear like I am trying to push them on anyone so I prefer if you do the share on your own.
I’m excited! I’m ready to continue the work. As a martial artist I have been reminded time and time again that my reflexes are sharper when I do the work everyday instead once in a while. As a writer the last month has sharpened my reflexes in so many ways. My vision is clearer. My words come easier. The time from idea to end result is much shorter much like a good rising block comes without thought when the blow comes from above: If the student is doing the work.
I look forward to meeting my next stranger who inspires post #32. I wonder where they will come from? My heart and mind tingle with the possibilities! Until then I remain grateful for the awakening. My keyboard is ready. Now I think I’ll go out into my day with my eyes wide open…
Peace and Love,
Thank you to a Stranger #32
In what I thought was the final week of Thank you to a Stranger last week, I was blessed with lots of amazing material to write about. Each time I sat down to compose a post I thought, “I can’t believe this happened!” The busy intersection on Christmas Day? Hearing from our missing friend who had a stroke? The Finale? It’s easy to write passionately when the subject matter is so rich. In fact there are probably a few stories left untold that would have been fantastic material for posts as well. I am grateful.
Somehow it seems appropriate though as we start this new chapter, this new week, this new year….that the attention comes back to the routine. I think the thing I love the most about this project is that the canvas is open to the simplest act of kindness or the most extreme act of generosity or anything in between.
Every morning I take two trains to get to work. I change trains about half way through my commute. This means that twice I am faced with the “Will I get a seat or will I stand question.” Usually I like to stand. It offers a great viewing platform. Today I was tired and my back was sore so I hoped to sit.
When my first train arrived I stepped into the car and noticed one seat open. As I moved towards the seat a man barged through the doors at the other end of the train, pushed his way past a few others and then ran to the empty seat. “Oh well I guess I’ll stand…” I thought.
I stood through until the next train change. As I changed trains and stepped into a new car I once again noticed one empty seat. As I moved towards the seat a woman entered the train from the opposite doors. She was older than me but certainly not “old”. She had a mid length coat and a black knit cap pulled down over her ears. We made eye contact. I motioned to her to take the seat. She smiled and she took it. The women sitting next to her was a much younger woman perhaps 21. She had her sunglasses propped up on her wavy brown hair and wore a small diamond chip nose piercing in her left nostril. She was wearing earbuds. So was I.
She glanced up at me and smiled as if to recognize my offering of the seat to the other woman and then she held her palms face up and lifted her eyebrows and non verbally asked me if I would like her seat. I waved my hand and shook my head and declined the offer. She smiled back one more time and then went back to her music. So did I.
At the next stop a much older Asian man entered the train. He was hunched over, stood no more than five feet tall and wore a tattered khaki coat that hung just below his waist. He walked up and stood in the space in front the girl with the wavy brown hair. This time she did not ask, but rather she just stood and gave him her seat.
The train started to move again. Across the aisle a couple who looked to be in their thirties sat with their backpacks on the seats next to them. When they noticed the young woman with the wavy brown hair give up her seat to the older Asian gentleman they moved their backpacks.
Sure enough as the train stopped at the next stop a pregnant woman with a young boy at her side entered the train. The couple who had just moved their backpacks now slid over even further to create space for the pregnant woman and her young son.
Have you ever seen that “pay it forward” video where one act of kindness starts a ripple that goes through a whole town? I was living in one of those stories as it unfolded in slow motion before my very eyes this morning.
I recently re-read a book I originally read 20 years ago as a young martial artist. It’s stunning what a different perspective I have on the author’s words with these extra years under my belt. I’ll speak more about the book specifically in future writing. For now I reference a passage in a section called “Courtesy” where the author notes the importance of picking up one’s own bath towel in a bath house (locker room) and smiling at the attendant. He suggests that examining one’s own behavior in public places speaks volume about one’s character and creates a ripple effect of positive energy going forward. I suspect I paid no attention to that passage 20 years ago. How loudly it resonates with me now.
So thank you to the young lady with the wavy brown hair and the nose piercing in her left nostril. Thank you for noticing when I offered the seat to another and thank you for keeping the ripple moving forward. I can only wonder with joy where that ripple went to after I got off the train…
Thank you to a Stranger #33
Have you ever noticed that some people hold down their car horn way longer than they should when honking at other vehicles? There’s the polite, “”Hey just to let you know I’m over here tap.” And then there is the “What the hell is wrong with you, you moron!” eight second hold.
Since Christiana and I live and work in a bustling city like Chicago we hear more than our share of all kinds of car horns. How long someone holds there car horn can speak volumes about their energy in general and/or their mood in the moment, can’t it?
Yesterday I was walking through the loop for about a mile from the train stop to my therapist’s office. Just to clarify, if you are reading this series regularly and have noticed a few times lately where I have referenced my therapy, I don’t in fact go everyday! Lol. Typically I go every other week, but lately I’ve been sifting through some powerful transformation and have found it beneficial to go every week. I should write more about that in another forum, but I digress…
I was walking east towards Michigan Avenue along Lake Street and approaching Wabash Avenue which runs from north to south. It’s a strange configuration where there are two lanes of traffic that travel southbound on Wabash, but only one lane that travels northbound. A Toyota Prius Cab was travelling south in the righthand (outermost) lane at about 20 miles per hour. In the innermost southbound lane a black limousine was traveling at about the same speed but about 5 car lengths behind.
The Cab driver in the Prius made a sudden decision to make a fast U-turn to pick up a fare on the other side of the street heading north. In the process the Prius Cab cut right in front of the limo in a situation that the limo driver would have no expectation of such a possibility occurring. The limo driver had to make a very quick and severe reaction to avoid making impact with the Prius cab. I was less than 15 feet from the whole episode as it unfolded. I was close enough to make out the faces of the drivers of both cars and probably close enough to be in some level of danger if there had been a full impact.
Do you know what the most interesting part of the whole situation was? The limo driver didn’t even honk. He didn’t make an angry gesture. He didn’t roll down his window and yell or get out of his car. He did nothing except continue moving southbound and went on with his day. The Prius driver was clearly at fault. I suspect since there was no accident the limo driver decided there was no need to assign blame, or shame someone, or cast any negative energy.
To me the incident spoke volumes about the limo driver’s humility and kindness. I’m not sure if he got angry on the inside and controlled it or if he just didn’t get angry at all. I suspect it was the latter. I aspire to continue to get closer to that point in my life. I found it an interesting paradox that in trying not to call attention to the matter, the limo driver caught my attention. It reminded me that you do get noticed by not trying so hard to get noticed, and usually for all the right reasons!
So thank you to the calm limo driver for not holding your horn down for eight seconds and putting a whole bunch of negative energy into the streets of Chicago on a fresh morning. Thank you also for being fully present in the moment because if you had been distracted by your phone like so many others are, the incident might have ended quite differently for both of you drivers, and even a few of us. You are a stranger creating a positive ripple effect for which I am truly grateful.
Thank You to a Stranger #34
It’s National Thank You Day and I say better late to the game than not be in the game at all.
This morning once again I was riding the train. Last night was our company Christmas party so I was working on a short night’s rest and I was hoping for a mellow ride to work. The first leg of my ride was perfect. I sat on a single seat in a corner and got caught up on emails. When I changed trains as I walked into the train car I looked for an open seat and what I saw first was a set of feet on the bench in front of me.
My initial thought was, “Who is this selfish fool with his feet up on the seat in a crowed train?” But then I noticed that there were a number of other people standing in the aisle of the train, none of who had challenged the person with their feet up. This is a highly unusual outcome. Under normal circumstances the person with their feet up would have been berated by any number of people.
Upon my further inspection of the situation, I realized it was more than just a set of feet on the seat. It was an entire body curled up in a ball sleeping on the seat. It was clearly the body of a man. He was not in tattered dirty clothes. He did not appear to be intoxicated in any way. He had on what appeared to be a button up shirt and a lightweight Fall jacket. The cuffs of his pants were wet as is they had been coated in ice or snow that had melted but not dried yet. He looked completely and totally at peace.
Then I remembered that it was freezing cold outside. It was in the low single digits. I had forgotten how cold it was because I had been given a ride to the train station in a warm car. I was wearing my very effective Northface jacket with the proper thermal layers that keep me warm up to unbelievably low temperatures. I had a nice hat on my head. It dawned on me that the man that was sleeping on the seat of the train was just looking for a warm place to get some rest on a bitter day.
I then felt a great sense of gratitude that not only did I recognize the situation for what it was, but so did an entire train car full of people. So thank you to all the strangers who didn’t wake up the man who had his feet on the bench just so they could shame him or stir him from his rest. Some say the world is as cold and bitter as the temperatures in Chicago were this morning. I say the world is shifting: today on the train I was reminded just how much.
Thank You to a Stranger #35
Have you ever been to one of those empowerment seminars where you feel like you are on a different planet? If not I strongly recommend that you go sometime. Christiana and I just returned from our journey to the Infinite Possibilities Train the Trainer conference in San Antonio.
There were so many reasons that I was excited to go to the seminar. I had tons of great like-minded friends I was going to see again. I was also going to meet new like-minded friends. We were going to present on the art of storytelling. And I was also really excited to find some time and space to get rolling again with this Thank You to a Stranger series.
Boy did I get that last part wrong! I was enveloped in a planet of Ippie love where had neither the time, nor the desire to stay connected too much to the grid or to write anything. There was certainly no lack of material. In fact if I had done nothing but write all weekend I probably could have written 50 posts with all the love and joy and gratitude I was a part of. The phrase, “Trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose” comes to mind. I’ve heard Mike Dooley utter those words in another circumstance, but they sure seem to apply here also.
On the flip side of the conference is the re-integration part; the part where you have to come back and navigate in your everyday life. It can be a challenge to remember how to “Dance with the negative Nellies” as my brilliant friend Mary Jo Rakowski calls it. I had a pretty soft re-integration this time around. The piece that was missing though, was my ability to get back into that place where I could see little things that were the foundation of my Thank you to a Stranger project. And then yesterday morning it happened all so organically.
I was making my way to work on the train. So often it’s the train that makes it happen for me. I was running through my new speech in my brain and listening to my favorite playlist. At the Fullerton stop a lady exited the train and dropped her gloves. Another passenger noticed and ran off the train to give them to her. In the process she missed getting back onto the train but she didn’t seem to mind.
Then as I arrived at the Grand Avenue train stop I looked at the sign post just outside the window of the train where it stopped and I noticed that someone had written “God Loves You” in magic marker at the top of the Grand Avenue sign. Believe what you like about Divine power and call it anything you want, but there is no misinterpretation of the word love. Whoever or whatever it is that loves me, I’ll take it!
And then as I walked through the streets and crossed the Chicago River on the Michigan Avenue bridge, I noticed that someone had drawn a smiley face in the snow where I had stopped to take a photo of the ice on the river.
And just like that I was back in the game. The wonderful thing is that all of those messages were out there whether I chose to see them or not. I’m just grateful that they were left out there in my path at the perfect time and in the perfect places.
So thank you to the strangers who picked up the gloves; who wrote about love with a magic marker; and who made smiley faces in the snow. You have drawn me back into a project so near and dear to my heart. I am truly grateful…
Thank You to a Stranger #36
I’m doing a better job of not rushing through my life in the last couple of years. In particular the last six months have found me in perhaps the calmest period of my life. I keep getting powerful awakenings from mentors and higher powers to stop and savor. This TYTS writing project alone has changed my vision more than I could have ever dreamed.
You know where that calmer/slower vibration never seems to work? When you are heading to the train stop! Now I don’t know if all the readers out there live in a city where public transit is a part of your life, but I can assure you that if you have to use the bus or the train on a regular basis, you shift into a faster mode as you get nearer your boarding point. I tend to find my pace quickening as I walk nearer to the bus or the train stop. God forbid if I should hear a train in the subway or on the platform as I’m passing through the turn style. I might just run somebody over on the stairs to make sure I don’t miss that train.
Yesterday afternoon when I got out of work I went grocery shopping with my friend Kelly. That is a whole different story that I hope you will follow too, but for now let’s just say I was as high as a kite of joy after spending time with her. After I said goodbye to her I started walking to the train. I had a full 90 minutes until I had to be at the storytelling show I was headed to so I had no reason to be in a hurry.
As I went down the steps from the ground level to the subway, I heard a train arriving below. I looked at the arrival board and it confirmed that a northbound train was due right now. I swiped my fare card and made a quick dash the to stairway to the lower level where my train was arriving. I was trying to figure out how to get around two ladies wearing heels who had large bags and were walking slowly and carefully down the stairs. I formed that thought in my brain. The one that I form when I think someone is moving to slowly and I think they are in my way: that “Get the heck out of my way” thought. I’m getting better at not thinking that thought but I’m far from perfect.
Then I overheard one of the two ladies in front of me say something so simply profound that it instantly changed my energy. She said to her friend walking next to her, “What’s the difference. There will be another train in five minutes anyways and it will be way less crowded…”
Wow! Another subway prophet in my life! Sure enough the second train came. It was half full and I actually got a seat. I looked over my notes for the storytelling show I was on my way to and then I realized I had another story as a result. This one right here!
So thank you to the ladies in front of me on the stairs at the Grand Avenue Red line stop last night. Thank you for walking “too slow” and helping me change my own pace. I’m sure the ripple effect calmed me, and others as it spread through the night. I am grateful…
Thank You to a Stranger #37
This morning I began another perfectly imperfect day. I woke a little too late. I spent a little too long getting ready. My tea was a little too cold when I finally got around to drinking it. I wished I had more time to write or read or look at Facebook messages, but it was time to head to work.
In keeping with the theme of my morning, my uber driver took a little too long for my liking. In fact this was the second day in a row that what looked like a quick pick up turned into a longer than expected wait time.
As I watched the little driver icon on my GPS meander around the screen I began to wonder if the driver was joy riding in the park just to test my patience. I was just about ready to push the “Contact Driver” link to call and ask what was going on. Then I heard a noise overhead.
When I turned back towards the front door of our two-flat and looked up, I saw a flock of about 50 geese flying in formation over the old antenna that is attached to the roof. I noticed how beautiful, graceful and powerful the geese were as they coasted in flight. I noticed that the “V” formation was a little heavy on the right side and a little shorter on the left. I guess you could say it was perfectly imperfect.
So thank you to the uber driver who took a little too long this morning. You allowed me to see something beautiful I might have never seen if everything had happened right “on time.”
Thank You to a Stranger #38
This past weekend Christiana and I visited Dahlonega, Georgia. I’ve always heard that people were really nice in Georgia. I discovered first hand how true that was. Everybody we met was friendly, kind, inquisitive and polite from the airport staff, to servers in the restaurants, to customers sitting next to us at Waffle House counters to our hosts at the yoga studio we visited. What a joy!
On Sunday when we got ready to leave town we stopped at the Starbucks to get a cup of tea and a breakfast sandwich. As we walked up to the door we saw a handwritten sign taped to the window that said, “Cash Only – Credit Cards are Broken”. Usually that’s not a problem for us but we managed to be down to a few coins in our pockets and our cards only.
We decided to go into the store and see if the phone app Christiana has on her phone would work for purchasing, but we found out that all the computer systems were down. We stood for a few seconds thinking about whether or not we had time to run and find a cash station and then we heard this voice say, “I’ll buy your coffee…”
At the end of the counter there was a tall woman with wavy blonde hair pulled back by the sunglasses perched on top of her head. I said, “Thank you very much, but we were going to get some food and snacks and water for the road also so we will just go find some cash.”
Right away she said, “It’s no problem, I’ve got some more cash in the car I’ll buy you breakfast and coffee this morning,” and she walked right out to her car and got her wallet. At this point we figured we should most certainly accept her offer so we placed our order and waited for her to come back.
While we waited for our tea we chatted with our friendly Georgian benefactor and learned that her name is Shelby and that she knows the people we visited with who own the yoga studio in town. As we spoke our final thank you before she left on her way she said, “All I ask is that you pay it forward…”
I assured her that we would indeed do just that. I’ve heard these stories about one person after the next paying for somebody else’s coffee at a Starbucks. I’m so grateful to have drifted into a wave of kindness that brought the story home for us in a kind little town in a friendly state.
So thank you Dahlonega, Georgia for a remarkable visit and thank you Shelby for buying our tea and moving from stranger to friend. See you next time in Georgia, which I expect will be soon.
Thank You to a Stranger #39
This morning my Uber driver dropped me off at the usual spot. Right in front of the bus stop near the Western Brown line. Usually I try to connect and converse with the drivers, but this gentleman was listening to Fox News station so I put in my headphones and queued up Disc 2 of Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live as my antidote.
Since I was in my own “Secret World” I had no idea a bus was bearing down on us as I got out the the Uber. The bus driver was not about to let me forget though. She laid on her horn and held it long and loud for all to hear, calling attention to my Uber driver, me and everyone gathered at the stop.
As I stepped on the curb I turned back to the bus. I put my hands In front of my heart in prayer position and I lowered my head. I then separated my hands, blew a kiss to the driver through the glass doors and smiled at her. Let’s just say this would likely not have been my action/reaction even as recently as a few years ago.
She stopped the bus, looked directly in my eyes through the door, laughed out loud and then gave me a thumbs up. The whole moment was and energy shift extraordinaire! And then “In Your Eyes” started to play in my ears.
So thank you to the lovely bus driver for accepting a different view. I know your job is not always the easiest, especially in the Chicago winter, but today we made a difference. We each made a choice. We chose love over confrontation. It’s the little things that change the world, and have no doubt it is changing! Oh the Joy!
Thank You to a Stranger #40
This morning I awoke with an extra zip in my step. Last night I had the most enriching experience which I’m sure I will write more about later. With that extra zip in my step I decided to bundle up and go into the park to do some martial arts forms. It was only 6 degrees this morning, but I have the right gear and I was loving the crystal clear sunshine coming from the heavens.
I arrived in the park as the sun crested up through the heart of one of my favorite trees. It’s the one that makes me feel closest to my father and to Richard who are departed from this lifetime but still guide me. I also feel a special Source connection to all of my mentors who happen to be on the other side of the veil when I am near this tree. I am grateful to have it right outside my backyard.
I moved through my normal routine with the music I love playing in my earbuds. About 15 minutes into my workout/meditation I looked into the sky and I saw a single seagull coasting beautifully over my head. It was perfect. Even a photo if I had captured one could not have described the beauty of the infinite shades of gray and white and black contrasted against the deepest of blue skies. I stood and watched until the seagull left my plane of sight.
I get so many “messages” when I’m in nature. Only recently have I gotten better at not micro-managing the messages and instead just allowing them flow. On this morning I found myself wondering which of my mentors from the other side of the veil was reaching out to me. Who was this Jonathan Livingston Seagull of my morning?
I found myself pondering that exact question as I finished my forms. When I was done with the physical aspect of my practice I did what I often do. I turned to face the sun, closed my eyes and extended my arms to the heavens. The radiant glow of the sun penetrated my eyelids and the light was as brilliant as a super nova in my heart. As the light streamed through my closed eyes and into my brain I saw many images and small dots of varying degrees of white and black and gray. All of a sudden the images became seagulls. Not just a seagull, but rather and Infinite flock of seagulls.
In that instant I became aware that the information I was seeking about which mentor from the other side of the veil was trying to reach out to me no longer had any significance whatsoever. It was basking in the Light that I realized this…
It was all of them!!!
So thank you lonely seagull for being a stranger that visited my day. Sometimes the messages we seek are behind a veil, and sometime they are not….and sometimes they are both.