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!)

Are You Happy Yet?

This week something awesome happened, something that I had been wanting for a really long time, something I was sure would bring me a lot of happiness. With the typical dramatic irony of the universe, it happened during one of my rare anti-Pollyanna weeks when I was ruminating on the fact that maybe nothing good was ever going to happen. (Melodrama seems to go hand in hand with negativity.) I know that happiness comes from within yadda yadda yadda, and for the past six months I have been all about listening to my own instincts and learning not to expect happiness to arise from anywhere but my own mind.

However, it seemed logical that working to create my own bank of natural happiness would in turn produce more positive outcomes in my life which would create more happiness. It’s practically a foolproof scientific equation. The only problem is that life is not always logical or scientific. And if karma exists, sometimes it takes such a long time to come around, its almost impossible to say whether it is karmic reward/punishment or simply random chance. Either way, its always nice to recieve a positive in life and I certainly had one this week. The strange thing was, immediately following my spontaneous happy dance around the room, my next thought was: “Now if only this would happen, and that would change and the other thing would turn around, then I would be so happy that I would never ask for anything else ever again.” Hmmm.

It’s the old cliche: I would be truly happy if I got a promotion/lost weight/got married/owned my own home/bought that dress … Buddhists call it ‘Attachment’, the natural human tendency to “grasp at a particular thing, person or situation, believing that this ‘thing’ will make us happy- a belief system that is fundamentally flawed.”* Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert claims that in almost all cases, within three months of experiencing a dramatic event – good or bad – it will have no significant impact on our level of happiness. In fact, he cites a study which has found that one year on from their life-changing event, paraplegics and lottery winners are equally happy with their lives.** Impossible to believe, right?

All of this got me thinking about happiness in terms of the kindness project, since when I really think about it the idea of spreading kindness is ultimately to increase happiness. It’s easy to do things in an attempt to make other people’s day a little brighter – this week I bought a coffee for someone, donated warm winter clothes to the homeless, took a bunch of flowers to a friend who was feeling down, bought lunch for someone and donated to Beyond Blue , the national depression initiative. But ultimately I have no control over how any of these people react to or percieve these kindnesses (as was so evident with The Flower Incident). Maybe the kindness would not make it onto their happiness radar because they have convinced themselves that the only way they will ever be happy is if they have a new handbag or a wealthy partner or are five kilos lighter… It seems that it’s only human nature.

So what object, person or thing is your happiness dependent upon? And, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for ya?” Are you happy yet?

* ‘Buddhism for Busy People: Finding Happiness in an Uncertain World’ by David Michie, 2004
** For more on this see Dan Gilbert’s TED talk ‘Why Are We Happy?’.