The World Can Only Change From Within

“Now is the time for the tribes of Sydney to gather, collaborate, be entertained and accelerate this revolution toward a more kind, conscious and sustainable world.” – Jono Fisher, Wake Up Sydney

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a conference called Time for Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. It was held by Wake Up Sydney!, whose mission is to inspire a kindness revolution for ourselves, each other and the natural world. It was two days of music, inspirational speakers, meditation, and workshops focusing on how to be kinder to ourselves. It was a truly amazing experience for me to discover a whole “kindness community” I never even knew existed and to realise I really seriously need to start doing more kindnesses for myself. Here are the biggest lessons I took away from it all …

Don’t wait for a Big D.
Big Ds are the life challenges that everyone is faced with at some point – death, diagnosis, disaster, divorce, depression, disease, downturn, destruction… They are things that rock us to the very core, make us question who we are and why we are here. If we survive these Big Ds, we are forever changed. The suffering they cause breaks us open to answer the greater questions of our existence. If we had not experienced them, we would not have been forced to get to face truths about ourselves and our lives. They require us to develop new ways of being in the world. Hopefully they make us live a more grateful, more purposeful, more kindful life. But why wait for a Big D to live this way? Why not be consciously aware each day of the preciousness of life? Why not start thinking right now about what we want to achieve in our lifetime and how we want to be remembered?

Live all the seasons.
Everyone wants to be happy. But even the happiest of people experience anger, sadness, frustration, regret … Just like summertime comes and goes, so too does happiness. No one can live a summer life all the time. We must accept negative emotions for what they are and think about what we can learn from them. This lesson really hit home for me. When someone very close to me died a couple of years ago, I felt very much like I should try to remember the happy memories and not wallow in sadness because that was not what they would want. However, denying the negative feelings was not making me happy. In fact, the suppressed sadness was like a weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe, hard to sleep, hard to do anything much at all. Then a friend of mine gave me the most wonderful gift – he gave me permission to be sad. He told me sometimes really sad things happen, and you just have to let yourself be sad about it. So I did. And at first there was so much sadness I thought maybe I would never pull myself out of that well again, but after a long time of allowing myself to sit with that sadness without pushing it away I felt it gradually ebb away on its own. Trust that you are strong enough and resilient enough to get through any negative emotions and that embracing them will allow you to emerge more appreciative and more positive.

Make time for stillness.
Inner peace does not mean happiness all day every day. In practical terms it means embracing the moment regardless of the challenges it presents with an open heart and a quiet mind. In order to develop a quiet mind, we must make time for stillness in whatever form fills us up. It doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged with eyes closed saying “ommm” (although this works great for many people) – it could be listening to beautiful music, writing in a journal, walking in nature, people-watching at a cafe… Whatever makes your mind calmer and clearer and allows you to gain perspective. Make it a priority by deciding that your own wellbeing will come before all else, because it is the foundation for success in every other aspect of life.

Realise everything you have ever done was the right thing.
Wow. Really? But what about …? And even that time …? Yes. Every decision we make takes us in a new direction and helps us to change, learn and grow. The moments we don’t want to face are the ones that offer the chance to heal like no other moment can. The past has brought you to right here and now, armed with all the lessons you need to go forward. It is not possible to change anything that has already happened, but it is very possible to change your perspective of it. Did someone stomp all over your heart, and you are left angry and resentful that you didn’t see it coming? Why not re-frame the scenario to be incredibly grateful to that person for showing their true colours and setting you free to find someone who will give you 110% like you deserve? The greatest gift you can give to the world is your very best self, and that means accepting yourself and your past completely. That way you can move forward with a peaceful mind and channel all your energy into what you are meant to contribute to the world.

Stay on your own mat.
Sometimes when attending an exercise class its hard not to look around at other people and compare your own flexibility, or speed, or strength to theirs. But really, these comparisons don’t help us to perform better and usually end up making us feel bad about ourselves because there will always be someone who has more flexibility, speed or strength than us. The same is true in life – everyone is on their own path, with their own strengths and weaknesses. So we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and keep our focus on our own mat. Forget about what everyone else is doing, and concentrate on being the best version of yourself.

Be grateful for bees.
As I said in the introduction to the previous post by gorgeous Lesh, one of the most striking moments of the whole conference for me was being told that one bee works their whole lifetime in order to produce just a quarter of a teaspoon of honey. If we want to be truly kind to ourselves, that means rediscovering the rhythms of mother nature and recognising that we are connected to all creatures. We have a responsibility to not only feed our bodies with the cleanest, most nourishing foods but also to consider whether we are taking only what we need and doing so in a truly kind and ethical way. And that leads me to …

This week’s kindness challenge: Make food choices that are kind to animals and planet earth. Check out Lesh’s guest post for lots of simple, practical ideas (and check out her blog for awesome vego recipes if you are so inclined!)

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Kindness Through Mindful Eating (Guest Blog 2)

This weekend I was lucky enough to listen to some incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking discussions surrounding the idea of kindness (a post about the Kindness Conference is on its way). One of the many amazing moments for me was when one of the speakers talked about how out-of-touch we are with the seasons and rhythms of mother nature. She also produced this little gem: The life’s work of one bee is equivalent to quarter of a teaspoon of honey. It was an astounding thought. The next time I eat honey on toast I will certainly think about the four or five little bees that worked their whole lives in order for me to have just one yummy breakfast.

It’s so easy to forget that every day we rely on animals for so much sustenance. And it’s easy to be in denial about whether our food is produced in a way that is as ethical and as kind as possible to animals. But recently we have been confronted with some harsh realities in the news. Like so many other injustices in the world, it makes me feel overwhelmed thinking of all the cruelty that is occurring against animals every day. But the guest blogger of this post, Lesh, gives me so much hope that we can be part of the positive solution by making the simplest of changes to our eating habits. She is an amazingly creative cook and inspiringly passionate and ridiculously well-informed animal rights advocate who writes a beautiful blog called The Mindful Foodie. Bon Apetit!

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Kindness can be shown in every act we make – not just to others, but also in so many other ways that are not immediately obvious. Like choosing the food we eat. I don’t think many people realise what a great opportunity that is for showing kindness. I call it mindful eating – where you’re conscious of the impact your food choices have on you and everything around you, including the planet and its creatures.

What I’m most passionate about is the impact food has on animals. I became aware of the inhumane treatment of animals in the food industry through Animals Australia’s campaigns on bobby calves and the live export trade of cattle to Indonesia. Everyone I know is against animal cruelty, but many aren’t aware of the animal cruelty that goes on behind the scenes in food production ¬– it crosses the line by leaps and bounds.

So how did we get here? It has to do with industrialisation. Commercial food is produced on a large scale, and cheaply. So, not only are we are far removed from food than we once were, we don’t know what goes into it. I bet you can remember your granny or a great-aunt making jam, or even churning butter. Do you know anyone who does that now? Now we rely on the shops for these things and have no idea about how many foods are processed – or what impact they’ve had on the environment or any living being for that matter. But there are easy steps you can take that will help you make kind food choices. Here are 5 tips to get you going:

Eat less meat
This is not a sly ploy make people become vegetarian. 😉 It’s just a simple and easy way to show kindness to the planet and its animals (you can read more here). Besides, the Western world eats copious amounts of meat – way much more that what’s necessary for our health. There’s so much variety and colour (read: nutrients) to be had with adding a few vegetarian meals to our diet, and they’re yummy too! To start off, you could try Meatless Mondays. Or, if you’re up to it, why not try being a weekday vegetarian? If you’re stuck for ideas on what to cook, take a look a some blogs – 101Cookbooks and thePPK springs to mind – or some great veggie cookbooks – like Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson, Plenty by Ottolenghi, World Vegetarian by Madhuri Jeffery or The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. These sites and books well and truly bust the myth that vegetarian food is boring!

Shop at farmers’ markets
Shopping at farmer’s markets hits so many kindness acts with one stone:
* you’ll support local farmers, making sure they get a fair price
* pesticide-free and organic produce is easier and cheaper to purchase – they are kinder on the environment and your body
* the produce hasn’t travelled far, is generally freshly picked and is in season, which not only benefits the environment but also your health because it’s full of nutrients
* you can support suppliers who offer humanely treated animal products

To find a farmers’ market near you check out the Australian Farmers’ Market Association.

Choose to eat only ethical animal-based products
If you’re not vegetarian, you can make kind choices by avoiding factory farmed meat, eggs and dairy products. This is what Peter Singer, the author of The ethics of what we eat, calls being a conscientious omnivore. Make sure you ask questions and not taking labels like ‘free-range’ for granted! Find out the living conditions of animals, before you choose a product. These products may seem more expensive, but the higher cost is for good reason – the cost is not shifted towards poor living conditions for animals. The cheapest way to get cruelty-free animal products is at most farmers’ markets (another reason to shop there) or directly from the farm gate – some farmers have an online ordering system and will home deliver.

Reduce your food waste Did you know that Australians throw out 5.2 billions dollars worth of food per year? That’s $239 per person, per year (1). That money could be spent towards pesticide-free produce and cruelty-free animal products. Food waste also has a considerable impact on the environment (by producing gases in landfills). So another all-encompassing way to display kindness is to reduce your food waste. Here are some quick tips:
* Store your leftovers properly so you can take it for lunch or eat it for dinner another night instead of buying takeaway
* Make a menu plan for the coming week and only buy what you need
* Get creative and make up some recipes using what you’ve got left in the fridge
* Use your limp, older veggies to make homemade vegetable stock – you can use vegetable peelings too, especially if they’re free of pesticides
* Buy less packaged foods, and cook more things from scratch. This will reduce food-packaging rubbish.

Check out this excellent book for more great ideas.

Choose fair-trade foodFor some things we can’t go local, like chocolate, tea and coffee. Such products are usually grown in third world countries. To make sure you buy products from companies that don’t exploit their workers, go fair-trade for fairer income and kinder working conditions to those who bring us these yummy treats. Look for the fair-trade symbol and check out their website.

I hope these tips give you some insight on how your food choices can make a powerful statement of kindness. I find that thinking about food – where it comes from and how it affects all beings and our planet – makes me want to make kinder food choices, naturally.

Rainy Day Smiles

Lots of very simple things become far more complicated when it’s raining. Like getting to work via public transport without being completely saturated (epic fail). Or getting a decent nights sleep without having a leaky ceiling drip on your face (epic, epic fail). But there’s one thing that is surprisingly, much easier in bad weather: being kind. The last few days in Sydney have been ridiculously rainy, windy and cold. Everyone is reluctantly trudging along through it and there is a certain atmosphere of grumpiness and ready-for-summerness, which in a weird way actually brings everyone together.

Yesterday I offered to share my umbrella with someone who was caught in the rain without one. I discovered this is one of those very rare kindnesses that people generally accept with minimum wariness and maximum gratitude. And today, I decided to try my luck with a kindness that usually has very little success in Sydney – smiling at people as they walked past. But the funny thing is, today as we struggled with umbrellas turning inside out and buses sending waves of water splashing onto us, I found that strangers in the rain also laugh and smile together far more than those in the sunshine. Read into that what you will!

This week I also babysat for my lovely friends K and J and bought a coffee for a guy who looked like his eyes might actually pop out of his head at the very idea of it. Once he had recovered, he remarked that he would make sure he was at the coffee shop at the exact same time tomorrow. Nice try! I also did the following things I usually don’t make time for: went to a dance class, said yes to every dessert I was offered (and worked very hard not to feel any guilt about it!), did a yoga/meditation class and spent several hours reading a good book with no interruptions. I didn’t realise how long it had been since I had done many of these things – they seem so little but the happiness they create is pretty big!

And in one of those wonderful twists the universe likes to organise sometimes, this weekend I am invited to a Kindness Conference (who knew there was such a thing?) and the topic is A Time For Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. Yes, that’s right, a whole two-days of talks and techniques from professional (and international) kindness crusaders on how and why to be kinder to yourself. So I will definitely report back to you on that one.

I hope you’re all doing well with the kindness to self challenge. And if you’re caught in the rain this week too, remember you can always create your own sunshine just by smiling!

Ripples of Kindness (Guest Post 1)

The following is a guest post from Steve, author of the beautiful and thought-provoking Growth Journal blog. All his posts are incredibly insightful and this one about the complex nature of kindness is no different. Sometimes it is difficult to know what the kind thing to do really is in any given situation. But as Steve discusses, all we can really do is follow our instincts and hope for the best.

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Yesterday I arrived early for work, and so stopped into a shopping centre for coffee. Upon leaving the carpark, I had to stop abruptly due to a dog (a Bull Terrier, I later found out) casually strolling in front of my vehicle.

I watched as the dog sniffed her way across the car park, another car having to stop to avoid hitting her. Realising she was in danger of getting run over before too long, I jumped out and caught her by the collar. She seemed friendly enough, but she had no identification tag. I stood patting her for a while, then promptly gave it up as lost cause and got back into my car, aware that the clock was ticking for the start of my working day.

Then I remembered that the previous Wednesday had been the Day of Kindness: why should that not continue today? So I resolved to try and do the right thing here, and show kindness to… to whom? The dog? Her owner? Other shoppers, some of whom may be afraid of a somewhat scary-looking dog?

I wasn’t sure, but went off the sense that it was the right thing to do. I had no leash, so I went and bought some string, then tried to find the dog, who had since disappeared, eventually locating her over the other end of the shopping centre. I tied her up and called the council, who said they would come to collect her and read her microchip to identify her owner.

It was at this point it occurred to me I might not be doing the dog a kindness after all. I may even have sentenced her to death, if she is found to be unregistered. If she had no identity tag, then wouldn’t she be unlikely to be microchipped, too?

I guess we can’t always know the impacts of the things we do out of kindness. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still act when we feel a call to kindness.

Because kindness is a feeling; a message from our heart to act in the interests of another person. It is not necessarily logical to the mind but, rather than seeking clear outcomes, follows the deeper logic of the heart.

An act of kindness is one heart reaching out for another, irrespective of consequences or fears.

In a way it is a leap of faith; jumping over a wall without knowing what lies on the other side. But that is what makes these acts of kindness so wonderful, too. Because each courageous act of kindness can create a ripple effect that reaches further than we can imagine.

I don’t know what happened to that dog; I hope she was reunited with her owner. But at the very least I know I followed my heart and chose to act in kindness. That choice came from a ripple sent out by this very blog, Year of Kindness. Who knows where that ripple will end?

Weekly Mission: Be Kind to Yourself

One of the many unexpected lessons I have learned while doing this project is that no matter who you are and what you have experienced, being kind to yourself is often the most challenging of all kindnesses. We all know it’s not good to take on too much, to feed ourselves an endless loop of negative self-talk, to constantly doubt our own worth and to give without being equally open to recieving. Most importantly, failing to look after ourselves and value ourselves means we are not able to give fully to others. If we feel drained of energy, love, positivity and kindness, it is virtually impossible to give those things to anyone else. Thinking about it this way makes me realise I must start making it more of a priority. Every day I make time for work, gym, socialising and doing one kind deed for someone else, but being kind to myself tends to slip off the to-do pile.

Apart from the hospital visit on Wednesday, my kindnesses this week have been on a smaller scale and this is in some ways a kindness to myself. Although the most most rewarding kindnesses are usually those that require really going out on a limb, they take up a lot of time and energy and its simply not sustainable to keep that up every day. Besides that, sometimes even the smallest kindnesses can be more powerful than you could ever predict, as was the case this week.

On Tuesday I bought coffee for a lady who looked very stressed and frazzled. She was in a big rush to get to work until she heard about the year of kindness, and then seemed to have all day to talk about the importance of being kind to one another! Thursday I baked brownies for a friend who has just had a baby. And on Friday I spoke to the gym instructor to tell her I had really enjoyed her class. I also told her she should not get so down on herself for the tiny mistakes she made, because I wouldn’t have even noticed if she hadn’t kept pointing them out! Just another example of how we can create self-fulfilling prophecies. This morning when I saw her again she revealled that she had actually been thinking of quitting because she felt she wasn’t very good at being an instructor, but after that class she had changed her mind because she realised her her “flaws” were probably mostly in her head. Incredible the power of some positive feedback. I’m so glad she had that realisation, considering she loves the job so much and is actually one of the best instructors.

After all the incredible kindness experiences that took place on July 13th a few of you have requested more missions that we can undertake together. So, each week I will set a different mission – something I will also do myself, of course – and you can choose to join in if you wish. I hope you will continue to share the results of your missions because it is amazing to hear about the little kindness ripples spreading out all over the world!

This week’s mission: Be kind to yourself. Do at least one thing this week that is purely about making you feel happy, calm and worthy of your own kindness. And if you know someone that needs to be kinder to themselves, encourage them to join in this mission too. Go for a walk in the rain, cook your favourite meal, meditate, dance around your living room, buy yourself some flowers, make a list of all the things that are awesome about you. Forgive yourself. Talk to yourself as you would your very best friend. Be happy. You deserve it.

100 Days, 100 Kindnesses

For my 100th kindness I wanted to do something really meaningful, something I had never done before and something that would take me totally outside my comfort zone. Wanting to take part in the 100th Day of Kindness challenge, my Mum volunteered to help me with my act of kindness for the day. After much discussion and some dead-end ideas, I stopped for a moment and really thought about it. I know that the best kindnesses come naturally, and you just have to trust your instincts. The idea that has kept coming back to me this week whenever I think of people in need of kindness was the hospital. And since I had promised myself (and all of you) that I would give away flowers on my 100th day, I decided we should find a patient who didn’t get many visitors and would really appreciate a bunch of flowers. This was a big ask. I had no idea how we would go about this, but I told myself if it was the right kindness it would all happen fairly easily. And it did.

Mum called a friend of hers who works in a nearby hospital and explained the whole crazy 100 Days of a Year of Kindness situation (that would have been an interesting conversation). And almost immediately she gave us the name and room number of a lady who got hardly any visitors. Strangely enough, she was in the same ward as my beautiful Grandmother had been in before she died, just down the hall in fact. I decided this was a good sign. We arrived at the hospital, flowers in hand, and explained to the nurses what we wanted to do. As we walked to her room I asked Mum if she felt nervous, she insisted she did not but then promptly told me, “You do the talking, I don’t know what to say.”

We stepped inside and I introduced us and explained our mission, and so it was that I came to spend an hour with one of the most lovely, positive, warm-hearted people I’ve ever met. Someone that instantly reminded me of my own grandmother, whose generosity and love instilled in me the value of being compassionate and kind. I knew instantly that my instincts had been right on this one. And she certainly was incredibly grateful and deserving of kindness. She told us she did not get many visitors because her family lived far away and “at my age, you don’t have many friends left anymore”. Although she was a regular at the hospital and often stayed for periods of up to two months, she had never (never!) recieved a bunch of flowers. She told us that every day the hospital flower lady came around and every day she had to tell her there were no flowers for her to put in a vase – “Until today! Today she will come in and I can say, surprise, yes I do have some!”

She was extremely interested in my kindness project (or what she called “Make a wish come true project”), and wholeheartedly agreed that everyone needed a little more kindness in their life. She told us about her children and grandchildren and about living through a war and a depression. We learned that she was in extreme pain most of the time and found it hard to walk. She had experienced a lot of sadness in her life, but whenever the conversation veered too much to the negative she would bring it back to the flowers, about how she just couldn’t believe it, she was just so delighted, it was the best surprise she’d ever had and she would remember it forever.

I tried to explain to her that I was incredibly grateful to have met her, that I too would remember her always, that her story and her positivity despite all odds resonated far deeper than could be explained. I think she thought I was just being nice, but it is all true. And I didn’t say it at the time but I would like to visit her again, to talk to her more about her life over a cup of tea and her favourite pecan pie. I hope I can make that happen.

As we left the hospital I thought of the homeless man I had spoken to last week, and the lonely lady I met the other day. Despite their differences, they all wanted the same thing: to feel listened to and validated. It’s not about the flowers, or the sandwich, or the compliment, it’s just about listening and caring, and thats something we can all do.

Thankyou (Yes, You!)

In the words of George Costanza, “I am speechless. I am without speech.” This morning I woke to the most amazing gift on my 100th day of kindness – over 100 (the magic number) beautiful people who have reached out and shared their own amazing kindness stories, their insightful thoughts and their positive encouragement.

I will do my best to respond to you all individually tomorrow, and I will also share today’s kindness story with you, which was one of my most moving kindness experiences to date. But right now I just want to say THANKYOU. There have been many moments on this kindness journey when I felt discouraged and I wondered if anyone saw the value of what I was trying to achieve. Thanks to all of your kind words there will be far less of those moments from now on. It’s amazing to know that there are so many kindness crusaders all over the world. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be doing a whole year of kind things to be a crusader. There are so many ways to be kind – just wishing for more kindness in the world is a kind deed in itself.

And for those courageous souls that participated in the kindness challenge today, THANKYOU, and please feel free to share what you did and how it went! I would genuinely love to hear all about it.

I hope your week has been kindful so far. And if it hasn’t, you know what to do!

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