06/27/2012 06:17 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2012

The Act of Blessing: A GPS Guide for the Soul

May I live this day compassionate of heart, clear in word, gracious in awareness, courageous in thought, generous in love. -- John O'Donohue, author of To Bless the Space Between Us

It was 1 a.m. as I left the training center and walked the two blocks back to my apartment. The streets of Taipei were quiet and I felt comfortable walking unaccompanied that late at night.

The first time I saw her, I was startled. I didn't expect to see anyone in the wee hours of the morning on my small street, really more like an alley. But there she was, an elderly woman digging through the trash as if her life depended on it, which I suspect it literally did.

I wondered who she was and why she was there in the middle of the night. But given that I used professional interpreters in the training room, my command of Mandarin was pretty much limited to ni hao (hello) and wuo ai ni (I love you), which didn't leave many options for carrying on a conversation. After saying hello, I didn't have much of anywhere else to go. Besides, she didn't seem interested in socializing. She was a woman on a mission.

Six nights a week she was there, working furiously. Sunday was her night off. She never looked up as I passed her by or seemed to notice my presence. She never stopped breaking down boxes and making large stacks of flattened cardboard. She never stopped bundling together reams upon reams of discarded office paper.

In the morning when I would go out, she was gone. The trash bins were empty and the area where she'd been working was spotless. It finally dawned on me what she was up to. This old woman wasn't just an ordinary dumpster diver. At a time when most people her age were fast asleep in their warm, comfy beds, this woman was taking care of business. She wasn't looking for food. She was working the night shift.

She was hauling away the recyclable materials discarded by the large office buildings nearby. After piling her treasures onto a large cart, she manually pulled it to wherever such materials were taken to be recycled.

My heart broke to witness her working so hard and under such conditions. I guessed her to be about 70, but after a lifetime of manual labor, she could've looked much older than her years. I felt powerless to do anything to help her or make even a small difference in her life.

Then it occurred to me to send her a blessing as she labored in the night. So that became my ritual. Each night, as I passed by her, I would silently say to her, "Wuo ai ni (I love you), God bless you, may you be safe from harm, may you be healthy and strong, may you know peace, may you know that you are loved."

Since then, I've become aware of the joy of sending silent blessings. Spoken blessings are wonderful too, and by all means, give them when you have the chance. But there are so many more opportunities to silently bless whatever is in your path, a blessing becomes like a mantra.

I send blessings to just about everything: people, plants, trees, flowers, the sky, clouds, animals, children, cars, you name it, I am blessing it. When I take Bart into San Francisco, I'm blessing everyone on it and the train itself. When I board an airplane, I'm blessing the pilot, the crew and all the passengers before we've even taxied onto the runway.

And I can't help but wonder what the world would be like if everyone in it was blessing everyone else, everywhere, all the time? Instead of cursing and giving the one finger salute, what if we were blessing each other instead? What if we were sending blessings instead of bombs and missiles? Instead of lining our politicians' pockets with money, what if blessings were the currency that made the world go around?

I know that sounds really farfetched and completely beyond reason, and I readily acknowledge that it is. But that's actually my point. While blessings won't feed the hungry or end wars or assuage greed, they can serve as a balm to help make connections beyond what separates us. As the late John O'Donohue writes in his wonderful book, To Bless The Spaces Between Us, offering a blessing opens the heart and extends our generosity. It reconnects us to what is common among all humans, regardless of our differences.

Beyond the caloric intake necessary to sustain life, what people are really hungry for has more to do with feeding the heart and the soul than it does with feeding the stomach. I'm not suggesting that offering blessings is the answer to all the world's problems. But maybe at the heart of our fear and depression, at the heart of what drives humanity to inhumane actions against each other and the very planet on which we live, is the loss of something far more essential to life than having the biggest bank accounts, the most toys or the fastest cars.

If we are to make a leap in consciousness as a species, we need to learn how to bridge the gap between us. Even small gestures can start the process. What does it cost you to send a blessing? A few moments of your time? A bit of mental energy on your part?

But consider the rewards. Sending a blessing to the old woman in the alley took me out of feeling sad and powerless to do anything to help ease her life, and allowed me to see her as a beautiful being, a being of light and strength. I felt empowered and hoped in some small way she would receive the energy of my blessing and be empowered by it.

O'Donohue, a former priest, writes about being asked to give a blessing to one of the elderly nuns. After doing so, he asked her to bless him in return. She responded with surprise and a bit of discomfort as she acknowledged she'd never been asked to bless anyone before. This experience is what prompted him to write the book as a way of encouraging others to rediscover the power of blessings.

Have a Blessing Day

Try the following experiment and notice your experience. If you don't do this already, start with blessing your food, but don't stop there. Bless the farmers who grew it, those who harvested it, those who helped transport it to market and those who worked in the store where you bought it. Bless those at the table with you and yourself as you partake of this food and ask that you may be the best expression of your highest self this day.

But don't stop there. Continue on to bless every part of your life. Bless the cars on the freeway. May all arrive safely at their destination. Bless your co-workers, your clients, your patients, your students, teachers, therapists. Bless the clerks and those who wait on you in stores and restaurants. Bless those who clean the streets and collect the garbage. Bless those who work to keep the streets and our homes safe: the policemen and firemen. Bless every animal you see, even the ants.

Why bless everything? Because after all is said and done, there's nobody else out there. Remember Carl Sagan's "we're made of star stuff"? We're literally made of the same stuff as stars and that means that even though we look and act differently, we're all just different expressions of the same star stuff. So why not bless it all? Just for good measure.

So how about stepping up and offering a blessing, right here and right now? Right in this space. Don't be shy. It's just us. We're family here, even if you think you're a stranger, we welcome you as a member of this community we call the wisdom well.

Who or what would you like to offer a blessing to today? Go ahead, and offer it. Let's start a blizzard of blessings. Or an avalanche or a tsunami. It can be simple, short and sweet. Doesn't have to be poetic or fancy. OK, I'll go first:

A blessing to all who come to the well:

May you live well this day, with an open, generous heart.
May you know that you and your life matters.
May you remember the truth of who you are.
May you be a bridge to awakening.
May you be empowered to bless others.
May you always know that you are loved.

Now it's your turn. Go ahead, bless away!

For more about matters of the soul, visit my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul. For personal contact reach me at

I'll be away next week as we celebrate the Fourth of July. Happy Interdependance Day everyone!

Blessings upon blessings this day,


For more by Dr. Judith Rich, click here.

For more on mindful living, click here.