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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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.

What’s Your Superpower?

“When you meet someone, you need to have a super power. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake.” – Seth Godin’s Blog, March 15, 2009

What could be better than x-ray vision?

A couple of years ago I overheard a conversation between a group of five-year-old boys that I will always keep in my pocket for days that need a little sunshine. The boys were talking about superheroes and weighing up the benefits of each of their powers (nothing knew here – I have heard grown men having the exact same debate twenty and thirty years on.) They all wished vehemently to have x-ray vision or superhuman strength or the ability to create fire out of thin air. All but one. He stated that he did not want any of those things because he had a superpower already. The other boys scoffed and scowled and sarcastically asked him what it was. He shrugged, unphased, saying he hadn’t figured it out yet, but he was “pretty sure it was going to be awesome”.

Without any help at all, children instinctively dream big and happily believe in the impossible no matter what the evidence to the contrary. I remember when I was in kindergarten a girl told the whole class that Santa wasn’t real – not a single person believed her. Our belief was so strong that her suggestion seemed completely ridiculous. Even at the tender age of five people begin to question us, to criticise our beliefs, to cast doubt on our dreams. And pretty soon we do the same. So even when there is no one telling us we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, we start telling it to ourselves.

Believe in yourself like some of us believed in Santa – without question.

But in adulthood being aware of what you can uniquely contribute to the world and having complete faith in that contribution is a superpower in itself. Not so long ago I thought Year of Kindness was just silly and idealistic. Pretty much everyone I spoke to about it thought the same thing. Nice idea, sure, but not practical and definitely not something that could have any real impact in our crazy, mixed-up world. Even after I started Year of Kindness, a small part of me still thought it was naive to think I could possibly influence anyone elses actions.

So you can imagine how I felt this week when I recieved a link to a Facebook Page called 12 Days of Kindness. It is a page created by two of the Year Nine students I spoke to a few weeks ago about The Year of Kindness. They have just completed their own kindness project for 12 days, with kindnesses including bringing lollies for the teachers to share, vacuuming the house without being asked, cleaning up the playground and going vegetarian for a day. I doubt that anything could have brought a bigger smile to my face than reading their posts. Katie and Ben, you are amazing and I’m certain your generosity and thoughtfulness will bring so many positive things your way. I also think perhaps wasn’t a coincidence that this morning when I told my barista I would pay for the next person’s coffee, it turned out to be a hot chocolate for a Year Nine student whose resulting smile was the biggest I’ve seen in a long time.

Hi, my name is Cat, and I’m going to make the world a kinder place.

Chris Guillebeau says in order to have faith in yourself and value your unique contribution, you have to consider what the world would look like with you in charge. He suggests we imagine meeting someone important and introducing ourselves by saying “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m going to ____.”

You have something that you can give to the world in a way that no one else can. You have a perspective, an idea, a talent, a wish for the world that is uniquely yours. The tricky part is listening to your instincts to figure out what that is and ignoring anyone who says it’s not important, or valuable, or necessary. Even if – or especially if – that critic is yourself.

What do you love? What do you value above all else? What can you give to others? How can you change the world? If you haven’t figured out your superpower yet, you can and you will, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome.

More Wisdom from (Online) Strangers

I must admit, that for a long time the idea of blogging held very negative connotations for me. Although I love to write and I love to read, bloggers have that reputation of being somewhat self-absorbed people who believe everyone wants to read their opinion on whether cereal or toast is the superior breakfast food. However, since becoming part of the blogging community I have found many inspiring, witty, thought-provoking, smile-inducing bloggers on amazing journeys towards happiness and self-discovery. My kindness today is to share a few of my favourite lessons from some of my favourite blogs:

1. Say what you want, without expecting to get it The Power of ‘I Want’ from Growth Journal. This is a beautiful, insightful blog about personal growth. This post impacted me a lot because one of my biggest flaws is an inability (or unwillingness) to say what I want or need, for fear of seeming selfish or entitled. This post made me realise I need to give myself permission to communicate what I want. It doesn’t necessarily mean I always expect to recieve what I want, but it can be validating and empowering simply to give it a voice.

2. Self-perception is everything Change how you see, not how you look from Drawing My Own Conclusions. I adore the hand drawn pictures that accompany the thoughtful words and affirmations in this blog. This is a gorgeous post about accepting yourself and your situation completely.

3. Asking for help is not selfish Asking for Help When You Need It from 1000 Mitzvahs. This blog is Linda’s journey to perform 1,000 mitzvahs or acts of kindness in memory of her father. Asking for help always seems like placing a burden on someone else, but this post made me realise that sometimes its actually a kind thing to do not only for yourself but for someone else who is made to feel needed and giving.

4. Find the balance between kindness to self and kindness to others – Lessons in Generosity from Smile, Kiddo. This blog is all about finding happiness in, and gratitude for, the little things in life. I could relate to this post very easily because I know all too well that giving too little can make you feel guilty and giving too much can make you feel resentful. But those emotional reactions are just your instincts trying to guide you towards finding the balance.

5. Experience all the seasons before passing judgement – The Seasons of Life from Happiness is a Lifestyle. This blog is Lexy’s personal journey to create more gratitude, inspiration and happiness in her own life. I really loved this post which encourages us to make sure we don’t judge a person or situation after seeing only one, negative side. Seeing a tree in winter does not give any indication of its beauty in spring.

6. Don’t talk change, make changeWhat If … from Resolve to Give. This blog is about Eric’s pledge to keep the giving spirit of Christmas alive all year long. It’s inspiring to read about how he is actively living out the change he wants to see in the world.

7. Give yourself more credit and remember the big picture – Doing Something Right from Bye Bye Bitters. This blog is an honest, funny, thoughtful account of Helena’s quest for happiness and self-acceptance. This post is a reminder of how we can all be our own worst critic and come up with a million ways in which we aren’t “good enough”, but really when we look at the big picture we are probably doing a lot of things right.

8. It takes time and effort to create consistent happinessLost My Way from Cure My Toxic Mind. A blog about one woman’s journey to free herself from negative thoughts. Even when we know in theory that happiness is created and not found, it takes time and dedication to learn how to put this into practice.

9. Little acts of compassion can change the world – Random Acts of Kindness: Keep it Simple from The Naked Conscience. In this blog Rachel discusses her own experiences in trying to bridge the gap between good intentions and actually doing good deeds. I love the quote by Chris Abani this post focuses on: “The world is never saved in grand messianic gestures but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion.”

10. Accept nothing less than a fabulous lifeI can deal with aging but I can’t dig an ‘average’ existence from The Fab Life Project. This is an amazingly motivational blog that challenges us to question everything and develop an unwavering self-belief that we deserve to live our best life.

Something’s Cooking

Days 34-41: Imagine that life is like a big restaurant, and the
meals it serves to each person are symbollic of elements such as their career, relationships, family, living situation… Two people sit down at a table in the restaurant of life. The first is extremely hungry and doesn’t bother to look at a menu, instead asking the waiter to bring whatever they recommend. The second person spends a long time looking over the menu, asking questions about each dish and then requesting certain ingredients be added or removed so it is exactly to their liking.

The waiter returns with a meal for the first person that is quite tasty, but not completely satisfying. (This is like being delivered a partner, a job, an apartment that is perfectly acceptable, but somehow not quite right for you.) The second friend recieves a meal that is almost perfect but slightly undercooked, and sends it back. When the dish is returned the second person is very happy, having recieved just what they wanted and they rave about how delicious it is. The first friend wonders if they should have sent their food back and ordered something they really want, but not wanting to be difficult decides to simply smile and pretend to enjoy it.

Are you the first or second person?

Over the last year I have sent back a lot of dishes, from quitting a job that was making me miserable to cutting ties with people who are all give and no take. But while I know what I don’t want, I still often find it very difficult to ask for what it is I do want. However, I’m getting better and I’ve even realised that sometimes you can do one better than asking. Sometimes you can simply walk into the kitchen and cook up your own meal.

This week the kindness project has had me donating money to Wires, baking brownies for my extended family, buying a takeaway pizza for a guy working at 7/11 who was starving and unable to leave the shop, sending a bunch of flowers to my Mum at work for her birthday, baking a cheesecake for a friend who is going through a hard time, buying a big box of organic fruit and vegetables and attending Red Cross volunteering. Undertaking this project has allowed me to cook up something I really want – that is, for each day of my life to be surprising, challenging, inspiring, and full of kindness. Yum.

Today You Are You

 

Days 9 – 12: There are moments in life where you are able to take a step back and see yourself as others might see you. Sometimes this is a wonderfully self-affirming experience as you realise you haven’t been giving yourself enough credit. Sometimes it is a painfully confronting experience as you begin to wonder whether you have been giving yourself too much. And on rare occassions, its both.

This week has been a strange chapter in my kindness journey. After giving blood on Tuesday I was still feeling very light-headed and hazy the next few days. I decided to be kind to myself and make my tasks relatively easy: on Wednesday I decided to say only positive things for the whole day. On Thursday at lunch my friend K and I sat next to a lady who chimed in to our conversation to offer us some motherly advice. I decided to annonymously pay for her coffee – which the waiter was incredibly confused by. He promptly told me she had already paid for it herself and jokingly said, “You can’t be nice around here, sorry.” I bought her a cookie instead. I’ve no idea what the lady would have thought upon recieving it, but at least I proved  you can be nice anywhere if you really put your mind to it!  

Friday I attended my uncle’s birthday party and my small kindness was to keep an eye out for people sitting on their own and go over and talk to them. It felt a little strange at first but it’s never nice to feel out of place and I certainly would appreciate someone making the effort if I were in that situation.

Saturday I decided it was time I challenged myself to do a slightly bigger kindness. I was nervous as I went a bought a bunch of flowers and stood outside the supermarket to wait for the right recipient to walk by. I deliberated for a long time – It would have to be a lady. That one? No, some one older. That one? No, someone who wasn’t carrying too much shopping. I needed to stop procrastinating. A middle-aged lady approached, looking like she wasn’t having the best morning and I stepped forward. “I know this is a little bit strange, but I’d like to give you these flowers …” She was taken aback, confused, then apologetic: she was going on a long drive today and so couldn’t take them for practical reasons. I was disappointed. Did I really have to start again? Of course I did, and I had to hurry up or I’d miss my bus. I would just give them to the next lady I saw and that would be that. I only managed to get out a polite “Excuse me?” before she began to speed up, avoiding eye-contact. Of all the reactions, I honestly never expected that. Did I look scary? Or like someone begging for money? Did she think I was trying to sell her something? How did she know I wasn’t just going to ask for directions? Trying to shake it off, walked straight up to the next lady without analysing and offered her the flowers. She was very sorry but she couldn’t take them because she had two cats who would try to eat them. I felt an overwhelming sense of defeat. The first lady walked back past and said, “Still trying?” My bus came and went. As people hurried past me I had a kind of out-of-body experience, looking down on myself in dismay, a lone girl standing in the street trying to give away a stupid bunch of flowers that nobody wanted. And for what? What on earth was I thinking? Had I actually gone mad? What the hell was I trying to achieve anyway?   

Then the lady with the cats walked back over. She asked why I was giving away the flowers, what motivated me to do a whole year of kindness? She said it was such a lovely idea; if only more people thought the same way; that really, when you thought about it, we could solve all the world’s problems with kindness. I felt the little positive Pollyanna within me slowly awakening again. She said that she would sit with me and help me find someone to give the flowers to. We spoke about her cats, her children and grandchildren, the beauty of flowers, and many other things. I was ready to try again. This lady was perfectly receptive as I approached and instantly overjoyed: “Oh, really? That’s so sweet. Let me give you a kiss and a hug!”  She was in town visiting her daughter who wasn’t well, and had been having a very stressful time. I was so relieved. I had (eventually) managed to brighten up someone’s day! After feeling like a complete lunatic, I now felt like I was doing something that was perhaps even more worthwhile than I realised. It reminded me that one of the hardest things in life is putting yourself out there to be judged and possibly rejected – whether it be actively living the change you want to see in the world, going for a job interview or giving your heart to someone. Sometimes it’s hard to follow your instincts when it would seemingly be so much easier (and more logical) to give up completely. But whether you’re holding a bunch of flowers, your resume, or your heart, you have to have faith that whatever you are offering to the world, eventually someone will walk by who accepts and appreciates it completely and joyfully, and there really is no better feeling.