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!)

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!

Shock and Awe Kindness (Inspired by Kermit the Frog)

Dear Kindness Recruits,

In preparation for Wednesday’s 100 Days of Kindness mission, I must tell you something. Sometimes being kind is a bit like being green – it’s not always easy and people often give you very strange looks. But this only proves even more just how much the Kindness Revolution is a cause worth fighting for. We live in a crazy, mixed-up world and it’s up to kindness crusaders like us to remind people that it’s not all gloom and doom – that the world is also beautiful and meaningful and kindful. (Yes, sometimes I make up words, just go with it.)

As for me, my shock and awe campaign has already begun. I have upheld my end of the bargain and continued to really challenge myself with this week’s kindnesses. However, I am also discovering that the best, most rewarding kindnesses are not created but found. My advice to you would be to let your instincts guide you to find opportunities for kindness, because they truly are everywhere when you start looking.

On my 94th day of Kindness my mission presented itself at a shopping centre. I noticed a lady sitting on a bench. Not just any lady: possibly the loneliest lady I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t just her strange assortment of clothes or half-dyed hair or the fact that she was sitting by herself staring at nothing in particular or the way everyone gave her a wide berth as if she were about to spontaneously combust. It was something in her eyes, something totally defeated and lost and broken. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, or even if she would respond to me when I did speak, but something told me I had to try.

I sat down next to her on the bench and noticed her outlandish shoes. Before I could chicken out I quickly heard myself saying, “Those are very interesting shoes.” There was a long pause, she slowly turned to look at me, obviously taken by surprise, and said, “Yes.” I thought perhaps that was the end of that. I couldn’t think how to go on from there. But then she began to talk. First about how she could only afford that one pair of shoes, then about every other aspect of her life, all of which were equally heartbreaking. I could feel people staring at us, knowing we must have seemed a very odd pairing (me still in my smart clothes from work, and her in the only clothes she owned). That made me annoyed to start with – she’s a human being like everyone else – but then I felt glad they were looking, as it meant I was making a strong point. I gave her advice when she asked for it, but mostly I just listened and tried to make her feel heard and understood. After about an hour the lady seemed to have grown tired of talking and we just sat for a little while. Eventually she turned to me and said, “Thankyou for listening to me. No one has paid any interest in me for such a long time. And just talking to you has made me think that there’s a chance things might turn out all right in the end.” Listening and acknowledging sure is a powerful thing.

On day 95 I faced one of my biggest kindness challenges: giving out flowers. I was viewing it as a major challenge purely from my previous experience – just thinking about that made my stomach turn itself in knots. And so I decided that rather than wait until Wednesday, I would dive right in and do it straight away. But this time I really thought things through to make sure it had every chance of being enjoyable. I recruited my awesome friend A to come along for moral support (and also because if people can see you have a friend who doesn’t think you’re crazy, then they’re less likely to think you’re crazy also.) Instead of handing out one bunch of flowers to one person, I handed out a whole lot of individual flowers to different people, thus taking some of the pressure off. I also generally approached people who were standing still or sitting down (at bus stops or in the park), not those who were walking by in a rush. And finally I tweaked the exact wording of my explanation to ensure that I got the words “free flower” and “kindness project” out in the first twenty seconds before the other person even spoke, because if I didn’t every single person’s instinctive reaction was to say no.

A happy flower recipient!

In the end, out of about twenty people, only three refused the flowers. Strange to think anyone would refuse to accept a little kindness in their life, but I did not take this personally, only thought it was their loss and moved on. It certainly helped to have A by my side reminding me what a positive thing I was doing, regardless of how people reacted. Of those that said yes, some of their responses were quite incredible – as A said, it “warms the cockles” and “brings a tear to the eye”. One lady informed us it was her birthday that day, another said she had been given the exact same flowers from her family during a really happy time and couldn’t describe how meaningful it was to her to recieve one again, and another lady said she was a big believer in random acts of kindness, that it took real bravery to do it for a whole year and that she was sure it would get much easier as I went along.

And it already is. On days 96 and 97 I bought a coffee for people at two new cafes in the middle of peak coffee hour in the centre of the city (so even the barista looked at me like I was Kermit the Frog). And it was only a single little baby butterfly that fluttered around in my stomach – rather than a whole butterfly family – as I explained to the baristas and the businessmen what I was doing and why. What did I care if they thought I was nuts, I don’t even work in the city so I am never going to see them again. And who knows, maybe later it will sink in somehow and they will see for themselves that random kindness is meaningful and important. And on day 98 I bought a sandwich for a homeless man who was not particularly grateful (making it clear he would prefer money instead), and I did not take that personally either. Just like when I was talking to the lonely lady, people stared at us in confusion as we spoke, and once again I was glad for it. If the man didn’t appreciate the kindness, at least people walking by might realise that “normal” people like “us” don’t have to walk by homeless people as if they don’t exist. Finally, somehow, I am starting to detach myself from the outcome of the kindnesses, and simply enjoy the journey, wherever it may lead me. Mission accomplished.

Lessons on Courage from a Mother and a Homeless Man

“Fear cannot take what you do not give it.” ~ Christopher Coan

Fear is something that we all experience, in some form, every single day. Fear of failure, rejection, pain, loss … Just the thought of these worst case scenarios can be completely paralysing. This week on my kindness journey I met two people whose everyday realities would be many people’s worst fear. But rather than giving up or dwelling on the negative they chose to respond with courage and even gratitude.

For my 92nd day of kindness I donated blood. At the blood bank a middle-aged lady sat next to me sitting back with eyes closed, headphones in and a smile on her face. I admired how calm and content she seemed. I don’t have a problem with needles and I feel very positive about donating, but I still don’t enjoy the experience enough to be smiling about it! When the nurse came over to check on the lady, she took out her headphones, breathed deeply and said, “I’m okay as I keep listening to the music.” The nurse enquired what she was listening to and she said it was her son’s favourite band. It helped her to overcome her fear of needles and think instead about her teenage son, who was seriously ill and relied on blood transfusions to stay alive – surely one of the worst fears for any mother. She said she regretted letting her fear stop her from donating before he became ill but a positve side to his illness was that it had given her the determination to help others now.

The nurse nodded knowingly – I suppose she hears those kinds of stories every day. But I certainly don’t. I wanted to tell the lady that she was amazingly courageous. That her story was incredibly touching. That she had just made me really, truly realise how important this all was. But before I could say anything at all she had put her headphones back in, closed her eyes and begun to smile again. And just imagine, for eight minutes of our time and a little bit of discomfort we could all be giving three more people the happiness of knowing their loved one has a second chance at life.

On my 93rd day of kindness I experienced another story of facing fears that will stick with me for a long time to come. I decided it was the day to give away $10 to a stranger. While walking through the city I decided I would smile and say hello to people, and maybe the right person would present themselves. This resulted in having a lovely chat with an elderly gentleman about what he felt were the keys to a happy life: a good attitude and a good night’s sleep. I also said hello to a couple from Florida and offered to take a photo of them in front of the Opera House. They said they thought Sydney was the most beautiful city in the world and the people were “just super dooper friendly”. No arguments here.

Continuing my walk I noticed a homeless man sitting on the footpath, holding a sign simply saying “Please help me”. His head was bent so slow it was almost touching the ground as a constant stream of people rushed by, not a single one acknowledging he was there. I hesitated. Would he accept food rather than money? What could I do to make him feel validated and respected? What could I say to him to find common ground, and not sound condescending? As I approached it was clear it had been a long time since anyone had taken the time to look him in the eye and say hello, and he was beyond grateful when I did.

It turned out I needn’t have worried about what to say, simply demonstrating I was open to conversation was enough. He told me his story from before he lived on the streets – he had lost his job and then been kicked out by his wife. He did not blame his boss or his wife, because he took the job and the marriage for granted and this was the consequence. After I had bought him a sandwich, coffee and newspaper (for around $10) he then told me his terrifying reality – he had to sleep during the day and stay awake during the night for fear of being set on fire, as had already happened to him three times. So it was not possible for him to get a good night’s sleep, but he certainly had an astoundingly positive attitude. He was determined to get his life back, he was saving little by little and told me with a smile, “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ I get off the streets, it’s ‘when’.”

Gratitude is the first lesson: to never take for granted when our loved ones are healthy and well, when we live in a place that is safe and beautiful, when we have a job, a home and people that love and support us even when we make mistakes. But beyond this, the second lesson is choice: we cannot stop things falling apart, and most of the time we cannot even stop ourselves fearing that things might fall apart in the future. But we can choose to feel the fear, and keep smiling anyway.

Kindness Army: Now Recruiting

“What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind.” – Cleveland Amory

Ten days from now, Wednesday July 13th, will mark 100 days since I began my kindness journey. Its crazy to think that as of today I have completed 90 kind acts already. It has also got me reflecting on what I was hoping to achieve all the way back in March when I first asked, Can Kindness Be Powerful? I wanted to challenge myself to walk the talk and ‘be the change I want to see in the world’. To stop complaining that there wasn’t enough kindness and start actively contributing to it instead. I also wanted to discover what impact this would have on myself and those I was kind to. Would I feel happier, more positive? Would others be grateful? Would they see the point? I wrote about all these things before starting the kindness journey but strangely enough I did not clearly articulate my biggest wish for this project: that it would inspire others to be kinder too.

The journey so far hasn’t all been smooth sailing – in fact there have been times when I have wanted to give up completely, but sticking to it has given me some amazing connections with beautiful people and allowed me to learn some life-changing lessons. I have performed big kindnesses that have resulted in big happiness. Lately however, real life has somehow crept in to take complete priority while kindnesses have taken a back seat. I have still completed a kindness each day – today, for example, I had a lovely experience microvolunteering on sparked (a way for “busy” people to volunteer a few minutes of their time and knowledge helping someone out with a worthy cause). And small kindnesses are still important and meaningful in their own way. But for my purposes I think its time to “take it to the next level”, to really challenge myself and make this project the best, most inspiring, most meaningful it can be. And I’d like your help. Yes, you! My plan is threefold:

1. The biggest week of kindnesses yet – I have almost completed all the kindness on my list, but this week I’m going to tackle the ones I have been putting off. These including giving food to the homeless, giving ten dollars to a stranger (inspired by Reed’s amazing Year of Giving), and (after a lot of mental preparation and positive affirmations) take two for giving away a bunch of flowers, one of the most challenging and meaningful kindnesses I have ever attempted.

2. Audience participation – Here’s my dream to celebrate 100 days of Year of Kindness: every person reading this blog performs a random act of kindness for a stranger on July 13th. Think about what would make your day a little brighter and do it for someone you don’t know. It does not have to be as big as giving away flowers or $10 (although that would be awesome), it could simply be writing a kind post-it note and leaving it in a public place. On the 13th I will be giving away flowers again, and considering how unexpectedly challenging this was the first time around, it would certainly give me an extra boost of kindness courage if I knew your lovely selves were out there in the world performing your own kindnesses too. And do let me know if you do, either by commenting or email: yearofkindness@gmail.com.

3. Guest bloggers – over the next few months there will be some amazing, inspiring guest bloggers contributing to Year of Kindness. They will be blogging about what kindness means to them and the change they would like to see in the world. Let me know if you’d like to be one of them!

Since you are reading this, I would say you are already part of the kindness army. Whether you know it or not you are probably already contributing to the kind, the positive and the good in the world. On July 13th, I invite you to take all your innate kindness, positivity and goodness and put it into one act to brighten the day of a friend you haven’t met yet. Go on, you know you want to…

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