Every morning, our hosts leave an offering at our doorstep, as well as every other one in the homestay. The offering includes some flowers, incense, and food — including a really cute animal cracker and a piece of chocolate wrapped in foil.
A short ceremony accompanies the offering, with the lighting of the incense, a blessing over the smoke, and the sprinkling of some water. They do this early in the morning, often before we ever wake up or are there to witness it. Similar offerings are made at the spirit house that watches over the entire place, and at small shrines to Ganesh. These offerings are a deep part of their Hindu culture, and not something they do to impress us.
I am in love with this custom. At first glance, it seems unclear exactly who the offering benefits. Surely our inanimate abode and the statue of Ganesh can neither smell the incense nor eat the food? The food is not meant for us to consume either, although ants and the occasional bird have reached their own conclusions.
The offerings are a sign of respect — for the protection they kindly wish upon their guests, for the gratitude they feel towards this place that they keep, and for the mindfulness they cultivate within themselves. It takes a few moments of their morning each day to do this, perhaps even up to an hour all told. It is easy, especially for the Western mind, to think that if we grok all these concepts intellectually, we can hold them equally in our hearts, and rush through (or skip) any time consuming acts that instill mindfulness. I am seeing firsthand through meditation and my own daily practices how such deliberate acts move compassion out of the mind and into the heart.
For example, while I am not likely to start putting out offerings to the spirits (begging your forgiveness, Shiva!), I am feeling more deeply the difference between tossing out an affectionate “good night” to my children as a matter of habit, versus taking a moment to really acknowledge them, give thanks for whatever they might’ve chosen to share with me that day, and quietly wish upon them all the love in my heart.
When I wake up and see the blessings our hosts have left our doorstep, I might not have been there to thank them personally, but I try to return the favor by taking a mindful moment to appreciate the floral arrangement they’ve put together and to offer a blessing in my heart for their well being and good fortune.
Which goes to answer the question, if we extend love and compassion in this world even if no one is there to receive it, does it reverberate? To which I believe the answer is a resounding yes.