Being a Barrio Bodhisattva

I love the idea of the nice elderly lady, or man, who lives just down the road, who everyone in the neighbourhood, or village, knows to be a really nice, generous, warm, caring, loving person. Not a historical saint from the pages of a book, not famous beyond her or his immediate surroundings, just helpful, loving and kind to whoever comes across their path.

I love the idea that doing small things in your daily life, in your small corner of the world, is already enough to change the world, by improving the lives of those right next to you. Just tiny things, right where you are. No need to be Mother Teresa, or Ghandi, or Einstein for that matter.

When I take my toddler daughter for a walk around our Barrio, or neighbourhood, in Madrid, she beams at every single passer-by, young, old, men, women, and salutes them all with a loud, delighted-sounding ‘HOLA!’ This happy, smiling, and totally genuine ‘Hello!’ stops everyone in their tracks. No matter if they are rushing along, looking grumpy or sad, or just plain distracted as they think their way down the street, my daughter brings 95% of them to their senses immediately and when they look down and see who has said hi to them so happily, their faces light up in a huge smile of their own.

So she’s wandering round our neighbourhood spreading happiness with nothing more than a happy ‘Hello!’ It made me think of all the times I walk into shops and say hello, or pass people in the street and bid them good morning, with all the intention of having a happy smile on my face, but most of the time all I can muster is a sort of polite overly-British tight-lipped and slightly guarded version! Well, my daughter has taught me how to smile genuinely to everyone I meet, and that there’s a chance it will improve their day – now all I have to do is practice.

Of course to have this sort of smile on my face, I’ve got to be as happy as she is. Like all toddlers she’s happy with whatever crosses her path in the present moment. No need for special plans or treats, no ambitions or lofty desires, life is already gloriously enough for her already! In my case I find a similar level of happiness with a bike ride, or a walk around the big boulders in the Sierra hills. I imagine these things put me back in the same child-like state that she lives in every day, and once I’m there, it’s likely to overflow to other people on it’s own.

The other night my wife and I went out to supper and she told me that I had sparkling happy eyes, that she hadn’t seen me so happy for a long time. I tried to work out what it was that had put me into that state, and came to the conclusion that it was most likely the 90 minute bike ride I’d been on earlier around Madrid’s wild Casa de Campo park on that beautiful, warm, sunny autumn evening.

As I’ve learned from my daughter then, being in a good mood, taking that out into the world, can already be enough to lighten up our small corner of the universe. To change people’s days, even if just for a moment. She spreads happiness with nothing more than a genuine, smiling greeting to strangers. Think how we can do the same with tiny acts of generosity, selflessness, quietness, compassionate listening, expressions of gratitude, offered help, all right where we are. There is no need to set out to change the whole world.

For some reason the phrase ‘Barrio Bodhisattva’ popped into my head recently to sum this up. A Bodhisattva is like a Buddhist saint, someone who is enlightened but stays around on earth to bring happiness and enlightenment to all the people who are still here suffering away. So the Barrio (neighbourhood in Spanish) Bodhisattva is the quiet saint down the road that will never make it onto the Pope’s list of future canonisations, but who is every bit as saintly as Mother Teresa, or Saint Francis of Assisi. How many there are in the world! We pass them every day and never know, and so easily we can join them by letting go of all our self-exhausting desires and projects and plans and just living happily in the present moment, and spreading that happiness in endless possible tiny ways to those that we meet with every day.

I don’t think that being a saint or a Bodhisattva has to be any more complicated than that. What’s more, as well as the changes we might affect in others with these small, local acts of smiley-ness, or generosity, or help, or listening, or being there, all these will light up our own lives far more than any of the great self-centred plans we had to get ourselves noticed out in the great wide world.

But don’t forget that bike ride, or walk, or time with a book, or ten minutes of silence on the sofa before everyone else wakes up. You need to look after your own peace and happiness too before taking it out into the world.