A Japanese proverb says that even dust amassed will grow into a mountain. Yoga teaches us that we are all interconnected, but in difficult times it's easy to forget the truth of our collective strength—that the smallest acts can catalyze other small acts and add up to change powerful enough to affect us all.
Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, I was moved not only by the scenes of destruction and human suffering I saw each time I turned on a computer or walked past a newsstand, but also by the wave of disempowerment I witnessed washing over everyone around me as the hours after the earthquake turned into days. Just as the quake had shifted Earth off its axis, so it had shaken us to our core, leaving us feeling disconnected and powerless in the face of the unfolding crisis. While our basic desire to help others is amplified in hard times, such widespread destruction can be intimidating and discouraging. Our actions, no matter how heartfelt, can seem insignificant. We forget that even the tiniest of steps move us forward.
Inspired by the words of the social activist Howard Zinn, "Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world," I set out to bring people together for a bake sale to raise money for the people of Japan. I called some friends whose restaurants had hosted bake sales I had organized for Haiti in 2010, and they eagerly agreed to host again. We set a date and began to spread the word online, by mouth, and in every other way we could imagine.
The point of the bake sale might have been to raise money—and it did. Bake Sale for Japan quickly grew from three locations in the San Francisco Bay Area to more than 40 across the country, with thousands of bakers, origami crane folders, and customers participating. On April 2, 2011, the simultaneous national bake sales for Japan raised more than $141,000 in just four hours.
But an unexpected thing happened as a result of that day: Everyone involved had an opportunity to see that we are connected to one another in a fundamental, undeniable way. From the volunteers who drove great distances to deliver sweets, to the supporters who came to shop but stayed to help corral the overflow of customers, on that day the desire to serve was fed by our hunger for connection. Many people contributed their expertise to the sale—baking treats, printing letterpress posters, playing classical guitar for waiting patrons. They were offering the gift of themselves to those around them, for the benefit of others half a world away.
Suddenly it was clear that what might have seemed like trivial errands, frivolous confections, and donations of pocket change were all part of an incredible whole, measured not just by the amount of money we raised, but by how it felt to share a single goal. The act of giving was simply the chamois that wiped the lens clean and allowed us to clearly see our connection—and our shared strength—if only for an afternoon.
Heartfelt Acts: 4 Ways to Strengthen Your Connection With Others
Give. Donating money is just one way to give. A gift can be any offering that comes from your heart, whether it's volunteering to pick up a friend's kids from school, donating your services or expertise to a cause, or simply holding the door for a stranger.
Include. It can be hard to connect if you're feeling like an outsider. Think of ways you can make someone else feel included or welcome: Say hello to the unfamiliar faces in yoga class, invite a new co-worker out for coffee, share your favorite local spots with someone new in town.
Listen. Take the time to listen—really listen!—to another person, whether it's a friend or loved one, a co-worker, or the person asking for spare change on the street. Our relationships with one another are strengthened when we listen and when we feel heard.
Feed. Whether it's inviting a friend over for dinner, helping out at a local food bank or shelter, or making a pot of soup for a sick neighbor, preparing and sharing food is a fundamental way to care for others.
Samin Nosrat is a San Francisco Bay Area chef, writer, cooking teacher, and Anusara Yoga practitioner.