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 don’t cold-call – either by phone or by knocking on doors. No disrespect to anyone who does (although personally I don’t like being canvassed by call-centres) that’s just not our way. 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.
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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.