#100

I have been feeling some pressure to make #100 of my 100 New Things in 2017 amazing. It may surprise you that I did not have #100 planned way in advance. I was waiting to see what would unfold and present itself to me.

I was debating some options last week, when an email rolled in that reminded me of a new thing I kept forgetting to do all year. Or maybe I had been avoiding it?

Some of you may be aware that I am kind of obsessed with Dan Harris. Dan wrote a book called 10% Happier about how he found his way to meditation. He also has a meditation app that I love and a podcast that I listen to religiously. I actually follow him around NYC and show up wherever he is speaking. Seriously, this man has changed my life.

On his podcast earlier this year, Dan mentioned that as part of his loving kindness practice, he started carrying 10 $1 bills with him every week to give to people on the streets of New York who ask for money. When I first moved to NYC, I decide not to give money out to people on the street. I told myself (or maybe I read it somewhere) that giving that money to organizations that help people would be a better use of my funds than handing it out to random people on the street (because who knows what they might use it for). This may or may not be true, but a result of this decision is that I just ignore these people. I sometimes think “that sucks” and keep walking, but most of the time I look right through them. If you live in NYC, you might do the same thing.

When I talk to people about meditation, they say “I can’t do it because I can’t quiet my mind.” I used to say the same thing, but what I have learned (mostly from Dan Harris and the many teachers he has exposed me to), is that meditation is not about quieting the mind, its about paying attention. Paying attention to what is happening in your mind and what is happening around you. It is a powerful practice and I am convinced it can change the world.

What if everyone took the time to smile at someone who looked sad, or took an extra minute to ask someone if they needed help, or gave everyone who needed it a dollar. If everyone did just one of those things, every day, maybe one of those angry people with guns or trucks or bombs would have received just enough love to make a different choice. Or maybe some parent would have just a little bit more energy to give their kid a hug instead of losing their patience. Or maybe some really cold, fucked up person could just get a cup of coffee.

You can’t smile at someone unless you see them. You can’t offer help to someone unless you notice they are hurting. You can’t give someone a $1 unless you notice they are asking for it.

This practice of handing out dollar bills is about paying attention. It’s about seeing people and not looking through them. Its also about seeing and acknowledging their vulnerability and honoring it. Walking past people on the street is easy. Paying attention to them, seeing them, making eye contact, and really connecting to them is hard (comfort zone alert!!)

When I realized this could be a meditation practice that would take me out of my comfort zone and help people I was all in. I decided I would give out $100 as my 100th new thing in 2017.

Then I had an idea to take it to the next level. I decided to write the word Namaste on my 100 dollar bills. Namaste is a Hindu word that directly translated means “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” I see you and I honor who you are. We are all in this together.

Full disclosure, this Namaste idea was also inspired by a recent viewing of the movie Serendipity where Kate Beckinsale asks John Cusack to write his phone number on five dollar bill and then promptly uses it to buy something and says that if the money comes back to her, she will know they are meant to be together (it does and they end up together – FYI.) Watching TV is not a complete waste of time!

What I also love about the idea of writing on the money, is that I am sending this message out in to the world and if you get one of these dollar bills with a purple Namaste on it, you know where it came from and the spirit behind it. (It did not occur to me to use a more permanent marker than a Crayola so who knows how long the Namastes will last but keep an eye out! I did also confirm that writing on money is not illegal – because I am a rule follower.)

I went to the bank, spoke to an actual teller, got 100 one dollar bills and wrote NAMASTE in purple Crayola marker on all 100 of them. Before I could start handing them out though, the weather turned ridiculously cold. This has made my plan very hard to execute. No one is outside asking for money!!! I walked all over. No one!!

Yesterday, I finally remembered that the subway is place to be when the streets are too cold!!  So I jumped on the subway with no destination in mind, lots of dollar bills in my pocket, headphones off, just trying to paying attention.

In Times Square I saw SheShe singing her heart out. SheShe is not homeless, but an artist doing her thing and making people smile. Namaste SheShe!! She got my first namaste dollars.

In Union Square, I faintly heard drumming coming from somewhere and walked toward the sound until I found a young man pounding away on plastic tubs. Namaste drummer boy!

I was totally spaced out waiting for the R train to nowhere and realized there was a man right beside me playing the violin beautifully. Namaste violin man! (It’s the magic moment of meditation when you notice you are not paying attention and get back on track.)

On my way home yesterday, I saw a couple out on the street bundled in blankets with a sign that said “Just trying to have a happy new year. Any little bit helps.” Namaste couple on Irving Place!

I looked every one of them in the eye and gave a small nod and they all nodded back to thank me. I am sure they have no idea that I saw the divine in them, but I did, and I am sure that they are happy I gave them a few dollars.

I won’t finish handing out the $100 until 2018 but I like that this practice will transition me from 2017 to 2018. Next year, I want to focus on more activities that bring meaning to my life and this is a great symbolic start to that journey.  (More on that in my next post.)

Until then, Namaste and Happy New Year to you!!

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100 New Things in 2017

Two years ago, my sister sent me copy of a book called I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day. She had seen the author, Lu Ann Cahn, speak at a work event and thought of me and my ongoing struggle to get unstuck. I read the book immediately and was super excited to take on the challenge. I convinced my sister to do it with me in 2016, set up a blog for us to post our new things, and started brainstorming new things to do every day. But as January 1st, 2016 approached, work stuff happened and I got stressed out and bailed on the idea.

Fast forward to the end of 2016 which turned out to be one of the worst years of my life. My job got more and more stressful (which I honestly did not think was possible) and my body finally screamed “ENOUGH” so loud that I had to listen. I lined up a new job that would start in early 2017 and got re-inspired to take on the “new things” challenge.

Instead of a new thing EVERY DAY, I settled on 100 new things, which seemed like a nice round number. Two new things a week seemed challenging, but doable. I also decided that blogging AND doing was too much, so instead of blogging I decided to record each new thing with a post on Instagram and Facebook. Social media seemed like an easy way to record my new things for posterity AND keep me accountable. Once you tell the internet you are going to do something, you have to do it (especially if you are an Upholder)!  I didn’t have a set list of new things. I had some ideas on a bucket list, but mostly, I just winged it.

So, why did I really want to take on this challenge?  To me, “recharging my life” meant forcing myself out of my daily grind (and comfort zone) on a more regular basis. I wanted to stop using work as an excuse for not really living. I wanted to stop busying myself with to-do lists of chores and really DO things.  Fun things!  Important things! I thought it might be like changing your set point weight. It’s doable, but hard. It requires consistent, sustainable change and you have to stick with it until it becomes the new normal. My goal was to change the set point of my existence! 

Fast forward to the end of 2017 and I have successfully done 100 new things this year!  (#100 is till a secret, but will be formally announced in my next post, tomorrow.)  You can find the full list here with hyperlinks for more info and you can see how they all played out in pictures (with #hashtag commentary) on Instagram.

Since I didn’t post about them as I went along (which I kind of regret), we will all have to live with this very long summary post and some reflections on the year. (One of my Facebook friends thought I should write a book.  This blog post is almost as long as a book. Not a great blogging technique but keep reading anyway…)

As I look back on the list, there were some key themes. Many of my new things (17 to be exact) were new yoga and meditation experiences. These new things did not take me out of my comfort zone (except for hot, hip hip, candle lit yoga which almost killed me), but my choice to spend so much time on these activities reinforced that these are important practices in my life that I want to continue to grow.

Another key theme was my re-acquaintance with the theater. I forgot how much I love the theater!! This year I saw an interactive theater piece at The Public, Hamilton (an unbelievable work of art), Dear Even Hansen (broke my heart wide open), Indecent (beautifully done), Waitress (not a great show but Sara Bareilles rocked!) and three shows at my local theater (which I am now a member of because they were all amazing).

I also got out and about in nature.  I explored Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, finally made it to the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park, rode a Citi Bike for the first time during Summer Streets, visited Prospect Park, hiked in the Poconos, and did some indoor climbing at Brooklyn Boulders (which was kind of like being in nature).  These activities were among my favorites for the year. I love to move and be outside and MUST do this more.

Looking at the rest of the list, these are my top five highlights:

  • Phish on New Years Eve (#1) was really fun. I had never heard a Phish song until the week before the show (and I generally prefer Justin Bieber and Kelly Clarkson), but a Phish show is definitely an event. That was an amazing way to kick off 2017.
  • Safari in Botswana (#20 – #29) was life highlight. This trip covered 10 new things because so much amazing stuff happened there! (and it was REALLY out of my comfort zone). Being surrounded by a herd of elephants (#26) and having a hippo walk under our walkway less than 10 feet away (didn’t even make the list because it was dark and flash photography would have been life threatening!) are two encounters I will never forget.
  • The night I went to see Michael Moore’s The Terms of My Surrender (#68) happened to be the night he decided to rent two buses to take the audience up to Trump Tower after the show for an impromptu protest (with some famous friends).  That was very cool (even though I didn’t make it on the bus because I had to stop to pee…but I did walk 10 blocks and met them there).
  • I decided to volunteer for a political campaign for my local city council person this fall (#76). While handing out flyers, some one from the opponent’s campaign tried to get me to switch sides and it almost turned in to a brawl between the campaign managers in Tompkins Square Park.  Then the mayor randomly showed up for some promotional shots with my candidate (who is more liked than he is) and I got sucked in to walking around with him, carrying signs while continuing to fight off the opponent’s supporter who would not give up. That was a crazy morning. I was also intermittent fasting (#73) so I was starving during all of this drama!
  • My acupuncturist convinced me to attend the Womanly Arts Experience .  The intent of Womanly Arts is to help women unleash their full power, have fun, turn on, find their happiness, let go of what is holding them back, and live big.  (Sounds amazing, right?) The weekend involved lots of dancing, female bonding, and intimate sharing with complete strangers.  It is impossible to describe and was not something I thought I would enjoy at all, but it was a lot of fun and I made some great new connections!

So what were my key takeaways?  I definitely had a different mind set this year. I always had to make sure I had something new on my schedule. Some things just happened (like Mac-N-Cheetos and Hardywood Bourbon Barrel Gingerbread Stout), but most required planning and a deliberate effort to get off my couch and do something different than I would have otherwise chosen to do. I was ALWAYS glad I made the choice to try something new and most of them would not have happened if I had not promised the internet I would get to 100.

I have often struggled with the question “Am I afraid to do this, or do I really just not want to do it?” What I learned this year, is that if you are not sure whether you want to do something (and it does not require a huge investment)…just fucking do it! I had so much fun doing things that I had no idea I would enjoy.  I definitely did some things I didn’t love (Tatooed New York, Inscape, Intermittent Fasting) but I was still glad I did them.

Did I change the set point of my existence? I think so!  I hope so! My life does feel bigger.  I always have something to talk about when people ask me what I do outside of work which means I have to keep doing stuff because saying “last year I did a lot of cool stuff” will not fly for long!!

I wasn’t thinking about anyone else but myself when I did this, but I ended up with a tribe of people following and cheering me on, which was awesome.

One of my dreams is to be wise and inspirational enough to sit across from Oprah on Super Soul Sunday and say really important stuff that helps people live better lives.  (I realize that is a BIG stretch goal.)  What did happen this year, was that people seemed to be very inspired by my 100 things and some even said they would incorporate in to their lives too!!  Maybe I changed lives without Oprah! (I am sure she would dig that.)

Looking back on how this year unfolded –  what I chose to do, what I didn’t do, what I enjoyed, and what I didn’t – has helped me get more clarity on where to steer my ship next. For 2018, I want to focus on quality over quantity and really hone in on activities that will enrich my life.  More on that to come….

Net net, 100 New Things in 2017 was definitely a huge success…and there is still one more to go!