Every Day I Wake Up, Same Thing for Breakfast

This post is from my new blog about living and volunteering in Jamaica: http://yearofjamaica.wordpress.com

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“Why Jamaica?”

It’s usually asked with astonishment, accompanied by either eyes widening in alarm or head nodding in appreciation. And my standard answer is a flippant: “Why not?” From now on when I’m asked why I would choose to live in Jamaica for a year maybe I will direct people to this video instead. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want to be intoxicated with hibiscus?

But the real reason is probably something much closer to the misheard lyrics of one of the best known Jamaican songs ever, Israelite by Desmond Dekker & The Aces (who knew the actual words were “Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir”? Then again, I doubt that will be the last time I totally mishear something due to a thick Jamaican accent.) To oversimplify things completely, I don’t want to wake up every morning and have the same thing for breakfast.

It’s scarily easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing day in and day out, week in week out, year in year out. We start to forget not only all the incredible places and people and things that exist beyond our own little bubble, but also the incredible things that we ourselves are capable of, if only we can gather the courage to step out of our comfort zone.

No one wants to look back and realise they have simply lived a blur of groundhog days, each so monotonous they cannot be separated from the day before. Because that is not really living at all. I think Diane Ackerman said it best: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”

So, in an effort to live the width of my own life, I’m going to volunteer in a remote village in Jamaica for a year, with no running water and sporadic electricity. I leave Sydney in three days and right now it feels like I’m not just stepping out of my comfort zone, but taking a running leap off the edge of it and crossing my fingers as I free fall. And along with all the other hundreds of unanswered questions, I have absolutely no idea what I will be eating for breakfast.

The Motivation to Give

Hello lovely Kindness Crusaders! I hope life is kindful. 🙂

I have had some inspiring experiences in Tanzania lately, and wanted to share a little of them with you. It’s funny how even though my time in Kigamboni seemed on the surface like a totally different adventure to the Year of Kindness, kindness was still a predominant theme. Perhaps it always will be. Even when travelling to one of the most far-away and culturally different places I can imagine, I learned first had how closely connected we are by the nature of giving.

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Singing songs with some children at KCC.

Some say it is our soul, some say it is our ego. Some believe in selfless good deeds but most are willing to admit that when they give (time, materials, money) it is because they get far more out of it than anyone they might be giving to. International volunteers here are Kigamboni say they can be more creative, more useful, more appreciated, more innovative than they ever were in paid jobs back home. The experience and knowledge they are gaining is far more valuable than money. Everyone I have spoken to so far – both locals and foreigners – agrees that Tanzanians generally do not have much motivation to volunteer. Understandably, their main priority is to ensure they get money to eat and provide for the families. And yet, at the Kigamboni Community Centre there are nearly thirty people volunteering their time, energy and skills. Many of them are at KCC seven days a week, often turning down paid work to fulfil their responsibilities at the centre. This means relying on friends, family or sponsorship for their basic needs.

Since I have been in Kigamboni, the most common words I have heard apart from “Mambo” (hello) are “Karibu sana”, meaning you are very welcome. The local people have welcomed me into their classrooms and their homes. I have met their families and been offered food and drink. They have readily shared their struggles and their hopes for a different future. In short, they do not hesitate to give of themselves in every way, to anyone that may need it -whether they are a homeless local child or a Western tourist. Everyone is welcome and everyone has something to contribute. So if volunteering is unusual here, what is it exactly that motivates this unwavering dedication to giving?

Sakina, one of the local volunteer teachers at KCC tells me “you must have volunteering in your heart, otherwise you will not live your life in the right way.” Although she is a full time volunteer with no paid income for herself, she dreams of opening a house for street children to live. For Nassoro, the Entertainment & Activities Director and one of the founding members of KCC, giving is about leaving a legacy worth being remembered by.  He says he could have used his acrobatic skills to make money for himself, but he prefers to dedicate his talents to the centre because it is the only way he will feel satisfied at the end of his life. “I could have ten cars and ten houses, but when I die no one will cry for me,” he explained. However, “If I do good things for my community, even when I am no longer alive it will be like I left a part of my body behind, because many people will remember me and the great things I did.”

The Business Director and handicrafts teacher, Fanuel, has a very different take on why it is worth giving his time and energy to volunteer at KCC. He believes that if they all continue to work hard for a good cause, they will eventually be recognised with wealth and fame because that is the way it should be. He spoke with such passion that it seemed perhaps he could make his vision come to be purely by his unwavering certainty that it would. For now, however, he says “We are okay without money. We are struggling but we are happy. We help each other, we share, and we live through friendship.”

Although their specific motivations and expected outcomes may be somewhat different, all of these volunteers possess the same unwavering dedication to continue giving no matter what. So it presents the age-old question: Does it matter what our motivations are, as long as the end result is a positive one? I’m not sure what my personal answer would be, but for most people at KCC it seems the only thing that matters is working hard, collaborating with one another and believing. With these three ingredients, they are sure KCC can only get bigger and better, and with so many passionate individuals giving so wholeheartedly, it would be difficult to doubt it.

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To read more adventures, go here: www.nextstoptanzania.wordpress.com.

Be, Have and Do Something Out of the Ordinary

“Between you and every goal that you wish to achieve, there is a series of obstacles, and the bigger the goal, the bigger the obstacles. Your decision to be, have and do something out of the ordinary entails facing difficulties and challenges that are out of the ordinary as well. Sometimes your greatest asset is simply your ability to stay with it…” ~ Brian Tracy

Around this time of year most of us find ourselves reflecting on the previous twelve months, the ups and downs, the successes and “failures”, the things we have gained and those we have let go. And it was in this reflective spirit that about a week ago a very wise person asked me this key question: What was your proudest achievement in 2011? I didn’t have to think about it very long. Of course, it was completing nine months of kindness. And it didn’t only provide my proudest achievement, it also gave me my most joyous moments (like high fives at central station), my biggest life lessons (like loving the rain), and the most incredible friendships (like the lovely Faye, and a lonely neighbour, and some brand new kindness army recruits including many of you reading right now).

All of a sudden I could not remember why on earth I had ever thought I should let any of the Year of Kindness go, not even a little bit. I was overwhelmed with excitement for what the next four months of kindness could bring. And I wanted to get started right away. I called one of my most beautiful and talented kindness recruits Agent K and we set out with a special Christmas Kindness mission. Part one was as many positive post-it notes as possible amongst the rainy blur of Sydney CBD at night.

And Part two was a little more difficult. Agent K had spent about a week creating a whole bunch of absolutely adorable hand-made soft penguins. The plan was to leave them around the city with little labels saying ‘Take me I’m yours!’ for little people to find – its part of an incredible project called the Toy Society (http://thetoysociety.blogspot.com/). The lucky one to find the toy can log on and describe where the toy was found and by whom. Very cute! The only problem was that the penguins were so adorable and the weather so gloomy that Agent K was feeling decidedly unenthusiastic about abandoning them in the dark rainy night! What if no one found them? What if they were thrown in the rubbish? Or soaked in the downpour? I really felt that given the situation we should try to find some children to give them to in person, but where would we find children at ten o’clock on a weeknight?

As we wandered around brightening up the city streets with colourful, love-filled post-its, my instincts told me we should head for the huge Christmas tree in Martin Place. And sure enough as we turned the corner and spotted the tree, I also spotted two young children posing infront of it while their mother took their photo. I couldn’t help but exclaim, “There! Those are the kids! Let’s give them the penguins.” I really felt without an ounce of doubt these kids were meant to get the toys, but since they were Agent K’s it was her decision. After a few minutes of deliberating the family began to walk away and she hurriedly called after them and explained what she wanted to do. The children broke into wide smiles and emphatic thankyous and carefully took one penguin each. The mother thanked Agent K and said, “Wow, they’re really beautiful! That is so nice of you. That’s the true spirit of Christmas.”

A few days later I decided that Christmas spirit must start at home, and I had not yet done any kind deeds for the neighbours. Infact, my two housemates and I hadn’t ever spoken to anyone in our street. We all decided that needed to change. So I baked some home made ginger bread and we went around to each of the houses in our street, offering the cookies and having a chat. Most were very confused at first, thinking we were selling something or preaching, and then pleasantly surprised to discover we didn’t want anything from them – quite the opposite. The most memorable neighbour was an elderly French man who was in great pain from a ciatic nerve and had few friends or family in Australia. He seemed genuinely touched by our offer of humble gingerbread – even though he himself was a pastry chef! – but as always it was clearly more about a human connection, sharing smiles and conversation. I know my housemate and I will make the effort to drop in and say hello from now on.

I hope that your Christmas has been truly kindful. And that your new years resolution is to continue to be, have and do something out of the ordinary next year. I know mine is! Thankyou for all your love and support during my inspiration downturn. I feel so very lucky to have found so many kindred kindness crusaders. I’m back on the bandwagon with bells on, and I already have some brilliant plans for 2012, so stay tuned for many more kindness adventures!

Spreading the Blogging Love …

Well, the blogging world is just full of surprises! I did not realise there was such a thing as blogging awards, but apparently there is and another lovely blogger has been kind enough to award one to Year of Kindness. It is called the Irresistably Sweet Blog Award and there’s a bunch of steps to follow after you’ve been awarded. So, here we go …

Step One: Thank and Link the Person who Nominated You
Thank you Maggie, lovely author of Polite and Paranoid. Thanks for nominating me and for writing your awesome blog which is so much fun to read.

Step Two: Share Seven Random Facts About Yourself
1) I’m an only child. Yes, really!

2) Sometimes I sleep walk. Most people grow out of it but apparently I’m in the 2% of adults that didn’t…

3) My favourite colour is purple, partly because my cousin once told me that lots of good things happening at once is called a “purple patch”.

4) I’m vegetarian.

5) I have travelled to over twenty countries.

6) I’m an Aries.

7) I don’t really like talking about myself this much!

Step Three: Pass the Award Along to Five Deserving Blogging Buddies
It’s impossible to pick only five! I did a post a couple of months back listing my fave blogs at the time, so with that in mind I will pick five irresistably sweet blogs I have found (or that have found me) since then.

1) Kindnessgirl – this blog absolutely makes my heart a little bigger just by reading it. Whenever I’m feeling a little lost on my own kindness journey, I read about hers and I am instantly reinspired.

2) The Mindful Foodie – this is a beautiful blog dedicated to being mindful of your body, animals and the planet. Including lots and lots of incredibly delicious, creative and mindful recipes to try!

3) Enermazing – a blog about living a more creative, energised and self-aware life.

4) In Other Words and Pictures – a very creative blog exploring life through a very unique and beautiful lens!

5) Pocket Perspectives – a gorgeous little blog that combines two of my favourite things: inspirational quotes and beautiful images.

There are many, many more amazing blogs out there and I apologise if I missed you this time around!

Step Four: Contact Those Bloggers to Congratulate Them
Congrats to all those very sweet bloggers! You’re doing an amazing job – keep it up.

Kindness + Time = Lasting Happiness (Guest Post 3)

Considering my last post was all about surrounding yourself with positive, inspiring, like-minded people, it seems very fitting that this guest post is from someone who has been a great inspiration to me on my kindness journey. He has embarked on a very similar year-long challenge which he writes about in his honest and thoughtful blog Resolve to Give.

Eric has challenged himself every day for a year to “do something helpful for someone or our community; something which might be a little uncomfortable; something which connects me to someone; something which requires me to listen to people I disagree with; or something which forces me to seek out people who need a hand up. In the hopes that it becomes a habit.”

It makes me very happy just knowing that there are people like Eric moving through the world each day with such a beautiful, generous intent. Not only has he been able to increase the happiness of others, but has also learned the key to creating more happiness for himself – giving. Who knew it would be so simple?

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We all strive for happiness. In our jobs, in our hobbies, in our lives.

But if happiness is so important, why is it so fleeting? We hear a good joke and laugh. But it doesn’t last. We’re happy to get a raise. But it doesn’t last. We read an inspiring blog, feel motivated, happy to make a difference. But it doesn’t last.

So how do you turn fleeting happiness into lasting happiness? I propose that it comes from giving two things simultaneously, time and kindness.

Time – For the past year, I have been undertaking a personal challenge to give my time everyday, going above and beyond my normal routines to give back to the people in my home, neighborhood, community and the world. Over two hundred days of giving my time has taught me that the more time I invest in the people around me, the more their lives are improved and the more sense of purpose and direction I have. It has changed me deeply.

Kindness – Kindness is the art of giving to others as well. As the author of this blog, Catherine, has written so eloquently, it is giving your attention, giving a smile, or giving an ear. It means plugging a parking meter for a stranger. It means generosity. It means selflessness. It means listening when no one else will listen. Like listening to a lady sitting in a mall by herself.

When you give your time and when you are kind, you are investing in people. You are investing in the happiness of others. And that investment is magnified when you give more of your time to being kind.

The time you invest is the difference between feeding one mouth, or twenty. It is the difference between donating a few vegetables from your garden, or donating many vegetables by serving in a community garden. It is the difference between giving a kind word, or listening to someone’s story for an hour.

Kindness is magnified by the time you invest. The more time you give, the kinder you are, the bigger impact you will have on the world, and on yourself.

The impact on you is happiness. Knowing that you are making a difference, that your efforts have value, will reward you. People will give back to you smiles and gratitude which give us a feeling of worth.

But unlike the happiness from a good joke or more money, the happiness that comes from giving your time and kindness does not come back in ways you expect. It comes back in better, unexpected ways.

Happiness comes as an unexpected smile from a stranger because you are unknowingly smiling at them.
Happiness comes from an acquaintance expressing interest in your work, because you helped them with theirs.
Happiness comes when you need help, and suddenly, an army of people comes to your aid because you had helped them before.
Happiness comes from discovering a new skill, cultivated over time, by volunteering for something that initially challenged you.
Happiness comes, not because sadness and anger go away completely, but because you learn to look past it to next day.
Happiness comes from realizing that your time is yours, and that you are using it to make lasting change in the world.
Happiness comes because you can be kind to yourself without guilt because everyday you are kind to others.
Happiness comes in an untroubled night’s sleep which come more and more frequently.

And on and on and on …

By continually giving your time and being kind daily, you build lasting happiness. And you’ll probably make a lot of other people happy along the way.

Going with the Ebb and Flow

“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.” ~ Bruce Barton

Since starting this Year of Kindness, and even long before that, I faced many self-imposed obstacles to completing the journey. Fear of judgement, lack of time, questioning my own intentions and wondering if one person really can make a difference. But even when I was fearful or unsure, I could always see the importance of the cause, could always push through doubts and find motivation in the bigger picture. I have wavered but I have never just plain run out of steam.

Until about two weeks ago, when my motivation just floated away like a wisp of cloud into clear blue sky. I didn’t push myself to chase after it. I kind of just assumed that this indifference was another “season” and would soon pass. Since there was no obvious cause for this ebb of inspiration, surely after a couple of days it would start to flow again. Maybe there was a reason I couldn’t see right now.

And then last night I participated in the Winter Sleepout – raising money and awareness for homeless youths by sleeping “rough” in the cold and rain in a friend’s backyard. I did this with a lovely group of Lucca Leadership people, an amazing program I took part in at the beginning of this year which played a huge part in me deciding to do this Year of Kindness. The Sleepout was an element of the kindness project that I had helped organise a while ago after a thought-provoking conversation with a homeless man. And this kindness came at just the right time (as these things usually do). It was nowhere near as challenging as a real night on the streets. We were in the security of a backyard, with warm food, a tarp shielding us (mostly) from the rain and a fire. So there were many things to feel grateful for. But what I felt most thankful about in that uncomfortable situation was a great group of people to be in it with. From speaking to a few homeless people during YOK I know that what they want most of all is not money or food but someone to acknowledge them and talk to them like a fellow human being. I cannot imagine the loneliness of having not a single friend that would take you in and give you shelter and food.

The cosy sleeping arrangements during the Sleepout...

I felt lucky to be surrounded by people to talk to and connect with, and even more than that, people who want to live big-hearted and purposeful lives. Everyone there was a Lucca Leadership person, and therefore all very inspiring and insightful people in different ways. We had all taken part in the amazing Lucca experience which, among other things, involved asking ourselves big questions about the world and our place in it. How can we contribute to making the world a better place? Last night we spoke about how difficult it is to stay on track, to hold on to inspired energy in the practicality of everyday life. We all agreed it’s easy enough to find the creativity and energy. The hard part is keeping it. But I realised we are lucky to even have the chance to give to others. We have enough for ourselves, we are not struggling to get by like so many people are, we have food and shelter and friends who provide support and love and encouragement. Each and every one of us has the opportunity to make a positive contribution. Ready, set, go!

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.

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