Five seconds for a fleeting burst of joy

I recently began a two-year course with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach to become a meditation teacher. During a retreat last month, Jack encouraged participants to practice “the stealth technique” while we were together.

The stealth technique is simple: you look at someone – either a stranger or person you know – and silently wish something kind for them. Traditional examples include, “May you be well,” “May you be happy” or “May you be free from suffering.”

I tried it during the retreat and was surprised by how much joy it brought me. It was nice to send positive vibes to complete strangers. It got me out of my head and reminded me of the subtle connections that bind us to one another.

When I got home, I started modifying the exercise. Instead just making broad stroke wishes for people, I started getting playful and specific:

  • To a puppy, “May your life be filled with treats, infinite cuddles, and long walks”
  • To an old couple, “May the two of you have wild sex tonight”
  • To a guy at the gym, “May you be proud of your physique “
  • To a beggar, “May you have somewhere warm to sleep, a fresh pair of socks, and a delicious meal”
  • To a business partner, “May you close a big fucking deal and crush your competition”
  • To a woman on the phone, “May you indulge in some guilt-free fro-yo after work”
  • To a long-haired teen, “May you host a legendary party this weekend and kiss your crush”
  • To a random woman, “May you find $5 in your jeans tomorrow”
  • To a middle school student, “May you be blessed with countless snow days this winter”
  • To a guy about my age, “May you have the best dump of your life this week (and tell a few of your friends about it)”

Stuff like that.

This silly little practice continues to bring me more joy and happiness than any other five second exercise I’ve done.

So wait, what’s the technique here?

Simple: as you move through your day, train your attention on a random person. Silently wish something nice for them. It can be generic like happiness, or specific like winning the next carnival game you play. You can set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you to use the stealth technique once or twice a day.

Of course, you don’t have to reserve this for strangers. You can aim your well wishes at people you know, public figures, animals, or whatever. If you’re feeling really ambitious you can even use it for all life.  

But also, remember to make some wishes for yourself too. You deserve it. Wish that you have mind blowing sex, that you find five dollars, and that your life is filled with treats, long walks, and infinite cuddles.

But what does this actually do?

Good question.

The mystic in me is convinced that the stealth technique makes a meaningful –  if also subtle – difference in other people’s lives. The reductionist in me is confident that my unspoken thoughts have no effect on the world, no matter how eccentric they are.

I’m not really sure if sending energy (or prayers, if you will) to other people makes a meaningful difference in their lives. What I do know is that it makes a difference in mine. It snaps me out of the trance of self-obsession, reminds me that we are all in this together, offers a bit of usable hope, and candidly, amuses the hell out of me. It makes me a bit kinder to myself and the people I collide with. It slows me down and reminds me that though it feels like we are separate and autonomous, we are all deeply, deeply connected.

Of course, there’s no reason to take my word for any of this. Instead, give it a try. If you’re in public now, glance at a stranger and make a wish for him or her. If you’re on your own, go for a walk and make a wish for the first three people you see. Or just remind yourself of someone who could use a win, and make a wish for her. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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