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The Art of Leafleting

I consider myself something of an expert on leafleting. Indeed I went pro at the age of eleven, door-to-door with my brother, earning tuppence a house. Two whole pence mind you. It was the first job I ever had, and I took it very seriously. Having just moved to a village outside York, we two were employed by our parents to promote our new corner-shop. The business had a rather dismal reputation until we took it over. It was thus with particular pride that I informed our neighbours of the sort of family who had joined their vicinity. The premises would be clean and bright, the produce fresh and in abundant variety. Our customer attention would be friendly and efficient; our trading hours accommodating. We would work hard, each of us in our own way, and were glad to be of service. Leafleting, like shopkeeping, was a dignified and lucrative profession as far as I was concerned.

Nowadays I don’t get paid at all per leaflet, never mind two pence, but I have just the same feelings of dignity and satisfaction. I have spent the last few days leafleting door-to-door for a free meditation course in York, offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Sri Chinmoy himself preferred that whenever his students make contact with people, we do so in person wherever possible. A phone conversation is more meaningful than an email; a hand-delivered leaflet is more tangible and personal than a website listing. It is said that each person in the Western world encounters hundreds if not thousands of advertisements in the course of a day. Don’t get me wrong, my day job is web design, so I know the world moves on, but I feel it is exactly those methods now considered outmoded due to their labour-intensity, that can be the most meaningful. For me it’s like comparing the service of a family-run corner shop to that of a clinical out-of-town hypermarket.

In a spiritual sense I also consider leafleting as part of my own sadhana, a service I aim to carry out with care but detachment, without seeking outer reward or any specific result. It’s not particularly easy or comfortable, but it’s definitely simple. With the generous helping of sunshine England has enjoyed this week, it has not exactly been a hardship for someone who usually works indoors. Like running a certain distance, or repeating a mantra a certain number of times, the satisfaction of leafleting is in the challenge and self-discipline itself. Life is complicated, or at least it is when we are at the mercy of our thoughts. Immersing myself in any straightforward repetitive task is almost like immersing myself in meditation – complications seem to dissolve as though they never existed. So, strange as it may seem, I do it for selfish reasons too – inner tuppences, as it were, for my inner piggy-bank.

We know not everyone will be interested, and why should they be – we only want to share what good fortune we have with those who want it. Whenever I feel reluctant to go out leafleting, I only need think how thankful I was for the free classes I went to myself fifteen years ago. Thankful to those who went before me, for not hiding away their own inner treasure in the Himalayan caves, but for sharing it with me when I needed it most, right here in the everyday Western world – a Bristol public library in my case. Within moments, I am putting on my shoes and heading out with a heavy bundle of printed paper in my bag.

* * *

Maybe it is my Cancerian nature that lends me a love of domestic property – the protective shell, the private domain into which we retreat from the world and its chaos, to rest and renew ourselves. I’m not big on window-shopping – not for clothes or shoes or furniture or the sorts of things for which people generally window-shop. I window-shop for houses or flats, or empty plots of land with dreamy potential. I even window-shop for shops. “An Englishman’s home is his castle,” they say. Genders aside, my own home is tiny and simple, but it is certainly my castle. For me the home is extremely important – some would say irrationally or disproportionately so, but that’s just how I am. Only with special care and reverence would I approach another person’s castle.

Castle gates are sometimes rusted and leaning, wedged into their casing, grating on the ground, groaning reluctantly, or squeaking alarm. Some are peeling or splintering, held together with bits of old rope, the catch replaced by a bungee or a bicycle lock. Others are varnished oak, or glossy black iron in ornate curls, moving with the noiseless grace of a ballroom dancer.

Some gardens are forests of nettles and dandelions, or jungles of ivy. Others are prim rosebush borders and clean-shaven lawns, fresh with the perfume of grass-mowing. Some are all of herbs and meadow flowers, giant poppies like crepe paper, the air mellow with lavender and heavy with the hum of bees. Others are all of crunchy gravel and manicured box hedges. Some are yards of flat paving, full of toys and wellingtons and bicycles, or empty except for a cat dozing in the afternoon sun. Others are so alive with flowers and vines they wind up the sides of houses, adorning windows and street signs.

Some doors are up steps, or down; others are at the side under awnings. Some are flat and newly painted, or tired from neglect; mullioned or inlaid with a stained-glass ornament. Some doors have dogs inside them, flattened back-legged against the glass to my own height, or yapping at knee-level, or silently snatching their paper prize unseen from within.

Some letterboxes have scratchy brushes or bits of carpet inside to keep out the draughts; others have other letterboxes inside for the same reason, or even all three at once. Some open top to bottom, others from side to side; some are nailed shut and don’t open at all. Others have vicious springs, or only make a gap big enough to post a thimble through. Some are just holes cut into the door with nothing to negotiate, or are wide and willing enough for the Sunday papers – magazines and all. A rare few are coupled with huge brass knockers that I long to rap – for the great echoing horse-clopping sounds I know they would make.

Homes speak volumes on the rich variety of human character. Leafleting reminds me of that beautiful tapestry which is humankind. All these people live in my neighbourhood, yet even houses sharing the same street can hint at such a wide spectrum of life. I love that we are each so individual. I love that meditation does not just appeal to people of a particular age or location or income bracket. I know that in approaching almost any house there is a chance that what I am about to offer is exactly what is wanted or needed within.


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9 Responses to The Art of Leafleting

  1. Dave June 19, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    My first job was delivering the local free newspaper round where I lived in Lewisham in South London. Although I had my sense of direction and knew which way was home, I also felt as though I were exploring a new world. Some houses were a little creepy and were all the more exciting for it. Others would exude some force of calm, a peaceful and contented domesticated bliss, those were perhaphs ones I would meander up the garden path just to see if I could see my own reflection in their existence.
    The job didn’t last too long but the experience did. :o)

    • Sumangali June 20, 2012 at 9:16 am #

      Dave, thanks for your reply. Yes, it’s funny how the atmosphere of a place can be felt very keenly the moment you walk through the gate. Even two houses next door to each other can have a completely different feeling. Some seem sad and lonely and others are like welcoming smiles. I suppose our abodes are really an extension of ourselves, so it shouldn’t be surprising, yet it is somehow incredible that a gathering of bricks and wood can seem to have its own personality, even when the occupants are not at home.

  2. Bhashini May 30, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    The leaflet I saw which started me on the path of meditation was a simple affair. Tacked up on the notice board of Edinburgh University’s Department of German, a photocopied piece of A5 paper with a drawing of a maze at the centre of which sat a person in meditation, hands folded in front of their heart. Underneath it said “Looking for Something? Free Meditation Classes” and then a date and a venue.
    I must have looked at it every day for a week but still managed to show up at the wrong place. Instead of George IV Bridge Library, I’d read George Square library. I was so crushingly disappointed to have missed it.
    Fortunately, a few days later in a friend’s living room I saw the same leaflet advertising free meditation classes but on a later date and at a different location. I made sure I got the venue right this time and thus began my meditation career.
    I’ll always be grateful to those Edinburgh leafleters for their thoroughness.
    My brother and I used to get 2p per item of kitchenware dried up and put away. We soon realized that just by doing the cutlery we could get 20p per meal! So we left the big things like pots, pans and plates and ran off with the cash.
    My parents soon saw the flaw in their pay structure and found other ways to bribe us into good behaviour 🙂

    • Hita Hirons May 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      Unbelievable; 2p per item dried! What were they thinking of??? You were absolutely right to exploit their compassion : ) It’s the duty of a child to iron out the gullible streak that often accompanies parenthood, however stubborn it is… Unfortunately, my parents don’t seem to have had it, or they passed it on to us at birth. We laboured long and hard for our 2p; heavy buckets carried back from a large garden to satisfy their cider craving. We were just cogs in the wheel of their decadent lifestyle!

      • Sumangali May 30, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

        Bhashini, I think you win for the best pocket-money deal, although I am very close at your heels. Hita, I’m almost feeling bad about my 2p a leaflet now! What hearty strapping youngsters you must have been 🙂

        Bhashini I love the story of the poster, especially with the maze imagery and the highly appropriate heading. I’m also grateful to the Edinburgh leafleters for their thoroughness, without whom we might not be having this conversation now, by George! 😉

        • Hita Hirons May 30, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

          I don’t know about hearty and strapping, although it’s nice of you to put it that way! Try instead to imagine two sickly looking hobbits dragging a huge bucket of apples across an endless vista of half eaten rose bushes (the goats, not us) and wilderness style grasses. I had asthma, eczema, and all possible allergies, and although it’s true that my brother was fairly sporty once upon a time, he soon discovered computers and role playing games, which put paid to any heartiness he may have formerly acquired. That we capitulated with the apple collection scheme reveals something about both of us: we were determined, and we loved money. My brother was the kind of child who saved his sweets to sell to me when I had finished mine (not sure what he was saving for, his own Death Star perhaps) and I just wanted money for more sweets. Our Guru, when he was tiny, adorably used to take money from his father’s suit pockets to buy sweets to share with all the family, but I ate all mine myself. I can also clearly remember both of us drawing the sweets and crisps that we wanted so much, in an attempt to make them real. I can see in my mind’s eye my little hand drawing the outlines for several packets of Monster Munch crisps in a neat row, and my brother hunched next to me colouring them in. We both had comic books that we were creating, starring our respective favourite toys, and I also had a village of mermaids I was drawing in felt-pen at that time. I would draw a mermaid doing some useful job in a village (baker, hunter, musician, dog walker etc) then cut it out, introduce it to the rest of the village and play with it. My parents, as well as being tight with pocket money were also geniuses at saving money on toys; they gave us our first sets of felt-pens, paper, scissors and glue, then left us to it. I think every now and then they probably dropped something into the conversation like, ‘I bet you can’t make a….’ and then retreated, safe in the knowledge that we would do whatever it was or die in the attempt; best of all, that it would take a really long time during which they could go back to their own, superior, adult lives. Despicable! : )

  3. Hita Hirons May 27, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    Great post! I really loved reading that. The textures and sounds and feelings you experience while walking in and out of countless peoples lives; it brought back so many fond memories (I know, Leafletting Geeks Anonymous) of leafletting Cambridge for meditation classes for fifteen years. I love your descriptions of all the letterboxes and doors and the things in the gardens. I took notice of all the differences too, as you just can’t help it, really. The things people keep in their conservatories! Even if I wasn’t a supremely nosy person I would have to notice that on such and such a street, no.5 have their sprinkler on during a hose pipe ban, app.8 always has weird music coming from inside, and whereas the dog at no.36 likes to eat leaftlets and hands too if he can, the cat at no.29 always comes up for a cuddle and a bit of a complain. I love the rhythm of the footfalls as you move into a certain pattern on a certain street; up three steps, three footfalls, turn and through a gate, up three steps, three footfalls, turn and through a gate… And, like you say, the crunchy gravel or nice slabs of stone that make life interesting for your footwear. Then, after a while, as your feet are doing all the work, your mind becomes quiet and your focus becomes more inward. You are forced into a meditative state and hours can fly by. Of all the activities to do with advertising meditation classes, it is definitely the most soothing : )

    One man in our meditation group said he received about five different leaflets for different sets of classes and always meant to come but only finally made it to the fifth set. One of my friends said that wherever he went he would see posters and leaflets, but he only came to the classes when the wind blew a poster down the street and it hit him in the chest! I wouldn’t like to think that our leaflets are wearing people down until they finally give in and go to the classes, I just mean that people are often glad that we came to them with our free classes rather than them having to go out and find something on their own!

    Oh, by the way, when I was little, me and my brother also did a job for 2p, but for us it was 2p per bucket of apples we picked up from the garden to feed the apple press that gave us apple juice and our parents cider. We were so excited to get it! Little did we realise we were being shamelessly exploited… : )

    • Sumangali May 27, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      Wow, Hita, only 2p for a whole bucket of apples? I feel even more proud of my princely wages than I did all those years ago 🙂 Sounds like fun to make your own apple juice though, I bet it tasted all the better for the hard work you put in, even if your parents did get a rather cheap round of cider out of you.

      I have to say leafleting really does give an insight into the efforts of postal workers. And that in all weathers too. I suppose they get to know their routes, so they can take precautions when they get to no. 36! It’s the silent dogs that are the most disconcerting – they hear you coming and just crouch under the letterbox, snatching at whatever comes through, be that paper or human fingers. If they’re noisy and ferocious, especially if they’re out loose in the garden, at least with leaflets you can opt for skipping that house, but post-people have to soldier on regardless! Yes I know what you mean about the rhythm of the footsteps in a row of terraced houses, it does have a kind of mantric quality. Overall, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who thinks fondly of such a task, or at least certain aspects of it – it does seem a slightly strange confession 🙂

      I love the story of the friend who was hit in the chest by a flying poster! And interesting someone counted five leaflets before deciding to come along. Like you say, not that people are giving in just because they keep seeing our invitations of course! It’s either the right thing at the right time, or it’s not, but still, it’s an interesting insight into human nature. I remember one couple came to some classes years ago and said the reason they came was because whoever delivered the leaflet to their house shut the gate behind them. I usually leave gates exactly as I find them – fastened shut, wide open or ajar – but this keen leafleter (leafleteer?) had shut the gate when it was always left open, even by the owners. The couple were so touched by that care, they thought we must be very nice people, so they came to the course 🙂

      • Hita Hirons May 31, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

        That just reinforces my observation that although people listen to what we say during classes, their judgement of whether what we do works or not is based more on our tone of voice, how we behave, how we talk to each other during the class, in fact, everything unconscious we do. I myself didn’t come to meditation classes, I saw Sri Chinmoy at the Albert Hall and was so impressed with the meditative force pouring out of him that I wrote him a letter asking to be his student. So I didn’t get the meditation class experience. But at the concert I did check out his students fairly closely, because I was curious about them. I remember just before the concert started I saw a very tall lady with long dark hair, in a concert sari, walking up the aisle to the front row and I was very struck with her, I thought, ‘Wow, he has students like that.’ There was just something about her, something emanating from her, something familiar, but bigger than me. I know it sounds silly, but something about her reassured me; it was like a caterpillar looking at a butterfly and thinking, ‘Hm, can’t put my finger on it but something there is important.’ And when I looked at all the men running around they seemed disciplined, purposeful, and powerful; so opposite to the friends I had spent my early teenage years with.

        I wish you would tell more people about the couple who appreciated having their gate shut! The ends do not justify the means, and if we are careless in our own lives thinking that it’s okay because we can give an inspiring class, we miss half the point of the process, don’t we? I’m only saying that because I used to focus a lot on what I should say during a class, that it was important to phrase something a certain way, or whatever, but now we know that it’s necessary to pick and choose our words if we are writing, but in our classes we can just be ourselves and say what we like! Like the old riddle of how to paint the perfect picture; you can’t paint a perfect picture if you are not perfect, so you have to become perfect and then you can paint whatever you like and it will be perfect too.

        Large subject, so I’ll just be quiet now : )

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