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First Steps

“Small things build up. They make a difference.” 
Gwenn Craig, Community Activist

A man who was once homeless gives a dollar to every homeless person he encounters.

A woman concerned about climate change drives 55; she wants to maximize fuel efficiency and keep her carbon footprint low. 

A facilitator hands out reminder bracelets at the end of her workshop to help people be “Mindful of Race.”

An artist worried about the massive die-off of bees doodles images on a page wondering how she can help.

Homelessness, climate change, racial injustice and species extinction are all very big issues that seem impossible to confront.  And yet quite remarkably we can engage them through simple, often person-to-person (or person-to-planet) encounters and choices. 

I’ve long been struck by the power of taking small steps in my meditation practice.  Although I’m a long time practitioner, often I sit for periods of only 5 or 10 minutes.  When I feel more spacious I sit for 40 minutes, no problem. But it’s the shorter sits that have the most force behind them; the ones I do despite a morning full of distractions and long to-do lists pulling me in many directions.  The 5 minute sits are the ones I gift myself. And I nearly always feel their impact.  

“Small steps” doesn’t mean easy and effortless, but it does mean we don’t place heavy expectations on ourselves. We take small steps because that’s how we can face and engage the issues we care so much about - in bite-sized chunks. 

One day when my friend Cindy  was going through cancer treatment she found herself doodling whimsical bee figures and writing inspirational invocations like:  “Bee Happy,” “Bee Love”, and “Bee Kind.” While she knew a little about bee colony collapse, her sketches led her down a path of wanting to learn more, inform others, and somehow engage the issue directly.  Over time her doodles grew into a project and she now sells greeting cards, along with jewelry, and flower seeds to plant in your garden that bees like to visit. She donates a portion of her sales to non-profits engaging the issue.

Cindy didn’t set out to start a business that day, but one step led to another and something new took shape. And even had her doodles not grown into a new project, it still mattered that she spent some time reflecting on an issue that so concerned her; that reflection itself was a small, important act.

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