#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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Structured Meditation

I love my new Jon-Kabat Zinn Guided Mindfulness Meditation CDs.  They are the companion CDs to his book “Wherever You Go, There you Are” which I reviewed a while back.

These practice CDs are fabulous because they provide structure which makes me actually do it!  (not every day, but  3-4 days/week for 10-20 minutes)

Here is my mini review of the 4 CD package:

1. Sitting Meditations (10, 20 and 30 minutes) –  You can select a track based on how long you want to sit and he does some talking and some silence during the practice.  He does have a weird accent which I can’t quite place.  Unfortunately, I wonder about this during almost every sitting when I am not supposed to be thinking about anything.

2. Lying Down Meditations (10, 20, and 30 minutes) – these are nice.  It feels more like a “calgon take me away” activity if you get to lie down while you are doing it.  There is a whole CD dedicated to this which means it is totally OK!

3. Mountain Meditation and Lake Meditations – I tried the Mountain Meditation once. 30 whole minutes of trying to envision your self as a mountain.  Strong and solid and ever changing with the seasons, is what I recall.  A little bit out there, but kind of nice for a city girl to imagine she is nature for a bit.  Good to mix it up. I like the idea of being a mountain or a lake.  Sounds peaceful, right?

4. Silence with Bells – I have not tried this one yet.  It has one 30 minute practice where bells ring at set intervals and a second where bells ring at random times,  “sometimes quite chaotic”.  The CD cover says something about “cultivating equanimity in the face of the unexpected.”  This seems like something I might need to work up to.  I will start with the set internals of course (structure!), maybe this weekend, and eventually graduate to the chaos.  The good thing is, no distracting accent!

The CD cover also says “CAUTION: Do not use these programs while you are driving”.  That cracks me up.

And yes, CDs do still actually exist.  Kabat Zinn has upgraded from cassette tapes, but has not made the leap to digital tracks yet.  Luckily, I was bequeathed an old stereo w/CD player a while back which the universe must have intended for just for this purpose.

I did actually consider Deepak Chopra’s 21 day meditation challenge which started yesterday (that my cyber blog friend Christa gave me a heads up about in her blog.)  They e-mail one guided meditation each day, but I could not find information about how long each session was.  How could I plan time to do these meditations with no specific time?  See, I need structure!  I got frustrated and realized I could just use my CDs that I love and just try to stick with it for 21 days (the amount of time it takes to develop a new habit.)  Not sure I am ready for every day, but now it is out there on the internet so I guess I have to try.

Click here to purchase the Jon-Kabat Zinn CDs or learn more.

How’s the Meditation Going, You Ask?

The day after my last post on this topic, I sat for 10 minutes as planned.  The next day I had an early morning work meeting and lost traction.  Then it was the weekend and I forgot.  Then I remembered and decided I should wait until I read this book that was recommended to me “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn .

I downloaded the book to my Kindle and read it on the plane to and from my Thanksgiving holiday in Kentucky.  It’s a good book.  It is hard to stay awake when you are reading a book about mindfulness, but I did get through it and learned some neat stuff.  One thing I learned is that I am a pretty mindful person already.  I have some work to do, sure, but I am not your average Jane bopping around totally unaware.  Jon Kabat-Zinn does think meditation can help me “be all I can be” which is what I am striving for, so I will stick with it.  Here is a quote that makes me think this is so:

“…by investigating inwardly our own nature as beings and particularly, the nature of our own minds, through careful and systematic self-observation, we may be able to live lives of greater satisfaction, harmony, and wisdom” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Sounds good right?  I am not completely sure how the benefits of meditation and therapy are different, besides the fact that meditation is FREE!  I will have to investigate the other differences.  Jon Kabat-Zinn also recommends “meditating without advertising it.” He says instead of talking about it, just go do it.  Excellent point.

But before I stop talking about it, I will tell you that I did sit the past two days for 10 minutes each and my mind did not stop for one second.  (Boy, I wish I had coffee.  Should I have left the light off?  My apartment is so much quieter now that they built that building in front of my window.  I am so uncomfortable.  What should I get my mom for Christmas? It’s OK, just watch the thoughts float away in little bubbles.  I wonder if it is OK to picture little bubbles?)

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (I do love that name!), it could be years before I am able to really quiet my mind.  That is a really long time!  Clearly, I won’t be able to achieve this goal until I have a comfy meditation pillow.

Mindfulness Take 1

The plan was to start meditating today.  I did it, but it was wimpy. I lounged in bed and extra 15 minutes listening to NPR.  (They were talking about Prince William so I had to listen!) Then, I decided I had to shower first to wake me up a bit.  I was not sure if I should sit before I decided what to wear or after I had my work clothes on. (I decided to put on some comfy meditation gear.) I found myself really wanting to get to work because the sooner I get in, the sooner I can leave (I am the opposite of a procrastinator. I am all about delayed gratification,) but I had committed to this so I decided I would just try to sit for 5 minutes.

I turned on my cute little Iphone meditation timer that gongs at start of your session and at the end (nothing like a gadget to motivate you to clear your mind.)  The five minutes flew by pretty quickly, but my mind did not stop for a minute.  What is that noise upstairs?  Should I be doing this now, or when I get home later?  What will I write about this in my blog? What should I wear to work today?  Oh, right, focus on your breathing.  Are my breaths deep enough?  I am not very comfortable, maybe I should get one of those meditation pillows to make it official.

And so on, and so forth.

That was day 1.  Tomorrow, I will try 10 minutes.