“Nothing is Everything.” I gleaned this phrase from a talk that my friend Kusala Bhikshu gave at our Spiritual Center last Sunday. Kusala serves the world by “doing nothing.” He feeds feral cats, birds, and squirrels at the Zendo. He continues his nothingness-practice by posting pictures and quotes on Facebook. “The pictures make people happy,” he said. “The happiness ripples around the world.”
Later, I asked him, “Do people ever say you’re not doing enough? That happens to me when I preach the gospel of small acts of kindness.” He smiled and said, “Everything I think, say, or do, makes a difference. One way or another. Not everyone understands that.”
I see now that I have chosen to make wearing a mask a deep practice of “nothing is everything…”
The spectrum of reactivity around mask wearing is broad – everything from anti-maskers who believe wearing a mask violates their civil rights, to those who insist on masks. There’s a lot of condemnation on both sides. For me, wearing a mask is uncomfortable, but the “former registered nurse gene” within me is too strong to do otherwise. I do it as an act of self-protection and even more so out of consideration for the well-being of others.
But one thing about wearing a mask in public: people can’t tell if you’re friend or foe; if you like them; if you’re satisfied with the services they provide.
All through the pandemic, I have held in my heart, the unsung heroes who work in grocery stores and other essential businesses. I want them to know I care, and a mask can get in the way. I smile but no one sees it. I try crinkling my eyes, but fear I look maniacal.
All constraints are creativity in disguise. The constraint of a mask is no exception. I choose to let kindness be bigger than my mask. Not in spite of the mask, but because of it, this cranky old introvert (me) works harder at appreciating the strangers who serve me daily.
I initiate conversations.
Rosa, who works at Vons has amazing false eyelashes. I tell her about my struggles with live-streaming our church service during the pandemic. How I had to learn to wear false eyelashes, so my eyes don’t escape into the sea of my poorly lit face. How I’ve glued my eye shut with eyelash goo on several occasions. I ask her advice.
“Put a thin layer of glue on the lashes, then let them sit for a minute or so before putting them on,” she says.
It works. Now Rosa and I talk about more than eyelashes – what it’s like to work in a grocery store during a pandemic, when people are scared and angry.
I’ve cultivated at least 50 of these stories – there’s the young man bagging groceries who longs to be a high school teacher. “But I don’t want to work in a good school,” he says. “I want to work in a bad school and make it better.”
There’s Damien in Starbucks. Damien who asks me “how can I help you?” Once, about a year ago, I gave my order and then asked, “How can I help YOU?” He laughed and then got serious. He said, “I’m studying to be a paramedic and exams are coming up. I just want someone to believe in me.”
I launched into an epic mini-sermon about his value. I threw in every metaphysical cliché I know and I meant all of it. A couple of weeks ago, I saw him again and asked him about his studies. “I passed,” he said. “I’m getting additional training and will get an EMT job soon.” I cheered like a proud mother behind my mask. I mentally hugged him and said, “You’re gonna be a great paramedic.”
The mask practice has been a profound teaching for me during this era of reinvention. I suppose I could be working to find a cure and doing something that people think is REALLY important. But here’s the thing: If I say to someone, “You’re not doing enough to change the world,” it may be because I secretly believe that I’m not doing enough to change the world. The way to convert the consciousness of inadequacy is to do what we’re called to do in the present moment and trust love’s all-sufficiency in the process. The ego will always spin stories of ineffectual nothingness. The Spirit knows that nothing is really everything in disguise–perhaps everything wearing a mask.