Awesome Humans: Everyone Involved in Chase The Chill

awesome-humans-scarves[Image credit: Chase the Chill Winnipeg]

It’s happening again this year.

As the weather gets colder, particularly in snowy Canada, groups organize clothing and coat drives for the homeless. Not everyone in need is able to take advantage of these efforts, of course. So small, local knitting groups go rogue—and start leaving scarves around the city with “I AM NOT LOST!” tags on them. The idea is that anyone in need can grab a warm scarf and maybe find some comfort in both the item and the thoughtful intention to help out a stranger, no strings attached.

You can read a great round-up of the various Chase The Chill efforts over on Yahoo! News Canada, but it looks like the movement began in Pennsylvania in 2010, and new groups continue to spring up all over the U.S. and Canada. Wherever there is winter, and kind-hearted knitters, you just might find this “yarn-bombing with a cause.”

And that’s awesome.

Happier Jump-Starts: Tips For Holiday Season Sanity

happier-jumpstarts-110914Here in the United States, we’re about to barrel full-tilt into either the happiest or most stressful time of year, depending on your point of view. (Me, I’m all about equal opportunity—I find it both happy and stressful.) As we head toward Thanksgiving, slide into Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus, and wrap it all up with New Year’s, this time period has the potential be relaxing, reaffirming, celebratory… or depressing and difficult. Some of that is based on circumstances, sure, but plenty of it can be up to you.

Here’s a few simple ideas for keeping calm, cool, and maybe even peaceful when the holiday going gets rough:

Don’t over-schedule. Sure, the temptation—particularly if you’re taking a trip to see far-flung loved ones—is to book every single second of that precious time so as not to waste any of it. Taking down time isn’t wasteful, it’s necessary for your mental health! People have different levels of tolerance for hustle and bustle; know yours, and honor it. For example: our family usually hosts a large Thanksgiving meal, and I always work the Friday after. Know what we do on that Saturday? Nothing. That’s what I need to make it work.

Be reasonable about gifts. While this time of year shouldn’t be about the stuff involved, sometimes it feels like it is. Stop stress before it happens by being realistic about what this time will look like, and making decisions together as a family. If money is tight (or your family is huge, and gift-giving has become overwhelming), come up with guidelines/plans before stress hits. Even the smallest children can understand that you don’t always get everything you ever wanted (and if you did, you’d be robbed of the joy of wishing!), and adults can see the wisdom of a large group playing Secret Santa for single gifts rather than everyone drowning in presents.

Prioritize. Something about the holiday season seems to send even the most level-headed folks’ priorities a little out of whack. You intend to keep things small and calm but suddenly you’re hosting dinner for 70, or you meant to take time just for you and your sweetie, but there were too many other pressing engagements. This is less about “too much” and more about “what matters.” You can have a relatively clear schedule because you heeded the first point and still end up spending time and money on things you later wish you hadn’t. So figure it out ahead of time, and you’ll be less likely to find yourself wondering how you arrived somewhere you didn’t really want to be.

Be nice to yourself. Don’t get so caught up in what everyone else wants that you forget to take care of you. Is this a time of year to forgive an extra dessert or a glass of wine? Sure, if that works for you. But if that’s a slippery slope towards feeling sluggish and unhappy with yourself, be realistic: How can you enjoy this time and still feel good? Maybe it’s a loosening of the dietary reins but an extra-long walk each morning. Maybe it’s doing something you don’t necessarily love because it makes your partner happy (within reason, obviously), but then making sure you have time for your favorite hobby, later. This is highly personal, but your enjoyment of the season will depend on your ability to be realistic about your needs and meet them in small ways even during this hectic time.

Despite it all, focus on the joys of kindness! Sure, ’tis the season of being cut off in traffic, having your parking spot usurped at the last moment by some jerk in a fancy car, rude people cutting in line at the supermarket because they’re in a hurry, etc… yes, that stuff isn’t fun. You could focus on that, or your family could donate goods, time, and/or money to causes that are dear to your heart. You could let that harried, grumpy person go ahead of you in line. You could bake cookies for people who’ve been good to your kids this year. (That one’s a favorite of mine, both because I like it when people are good to my kids and because there’s no bad time for cookies.) You could focus on being the kindness and change you wish to see in the world, and that will often shift your focus in wonderful ways. And after all… isn’t that what this time should be all about?

Mindful Break: THIS Makes a Person Great

7edf8a61-6656-4fb8-9f89-bdeadba2d100-1She travels alone to Honduras, Egypt, and Europe.

She kicks back at night with a glass of wine.

She lives on a tropical island and is always planning her next adventure.

Get ready for this…

She is 93-years-old and a self-proclaimed “recycled teenager.”

She is my stepfather’s mom. On Friday when I saw her in Los Angeles, I asked about a big bruise on her arm.

She got the bruise pulling and tugging and yanking her giant piece of luggage from baggage claim.

“What? Nobody offered to help you?” I asked

“No. So I did it myself.”

She wasn’t complaining. It’s not her style. How could nobody offer to help a 93-year-old lady get her heavy bag from baggage claim?!

On a similar note, my wife was riding the subway to work this week. She’s 33 weeks pregnant. Yet most of the time, nobody stands up to giver her their seat. They bury their heads into their mobile devices, hoping not to make eye contact with her and continue playing Candy Crush.

This made me think back several months ago. I was walking down the jetway to board a plane.

I accidentally kicked a woman trying to help her toddler out of the stroller. She said to me, “Aren’t you gonna say sorry?”

Before I could apologize, the torrent of passengers pushed me past her and onto the plane.

I was THAT guy, just like the people in the subway, stuffing their face into their mobile devices and in the process, disconnecting from the human experience.

I ask you as I ask myself: Do the little things matter anymore? Would I have stood up on the subway for a pregnant woman or helped a 93-year-old lady pulling her bag from baggage claim?

Here’s my answer: I would have helped if I saw them, but I probably would NOT have seen them because I would be reading something on my iPhone.

When you stand up for someone on the subway, you stand up for yourself, for your own dignity.

When you help an old lady get her luggage, you relieve another’s burden, and release your own.

The Course in Miracles says, “What you give to others you give to yourself.”

****

Poet Mark Nepo tells a story of a little girl he once saw in Honduras. She was slowly but surely pulling the wings off a butterfly and saying, “Pobrecita, pobrecita.” (“Poor little thing.”)

It turns out the little girl had endured great hardship, having lost both her parents and brother.

Nepo explained the sad symbolism of her action, “What we don’t face as our own, we perpetrate on others.” Whether that is active (pulling the wings off a butterfly) or passive (ignoring a 93-year-old), it is real for everyone.

I ask you as I ask myself, what are you pretending not to see because you are are so damn busy?

The question is never… does someone nearby need your help? The question is… are you seeing them?

What you see (or don’t see) around you is merely a refection of what you see (or don’t see) within you.

Nepo speaks of the worst people in history, the Hitlers and Milosevics, who didn’t just wake up one morning and become terrible. They made choices, one at a time, because they did not have the courage to give up illusions and look within.

Let’s flip it. The great ones among us don’t suddenly wake up and become great. They make choices, one a time, because they do have the courage to look within and work through (rather than run from) their issues.

Putting it in everyday terms: courage is the daily decision to move through your own stuff.

Today, look around. Actively seek out someone you can help, whether an old woman… or yourself. It is all one in the same.

Mindful Break: Shocker In My Mailbox

aa178206-8235-4167-ba8f-29359d3bec8eThis past week I was phutzing around the house and saw something.

“What’s this?” I asked my wife.

I held it up in the light to see if it was real.

I felt the sharp edges, the texture. Wow.

In this day of high tech, I figured, maybe just maybe it could do something like talk or sing.

So I shook it back and forth.  But no. It couldn’t do anything. Weird.

It made me feel as if I was back in 1984, standing at a pay phone, smelling like Drakkar Noir, sporting a pair of white Guess jeans pegged at the ankles.

Her friend Katie had taken the time to write us a letter, address an envelope, get a stamp, and walk to the mailbox to mail it.

Any of those actions might dissuade a human being in the year 2014, but not Katie.  In some small yet truly profound way, she touched us, literally.

And then, not two hours later, while walking in NYC, I got sledgehammered by The Flu.

You know that feeling when you get knocked to your knees with nausea and exhaustion?

So I was bee-lining home and this lady tried to stop and ask, “Do you know where Allan Street is?!”

All I could say was, “I don’t feel good” and walked right past her, hoping to make it home before I ended up horizontal in somebody’s planter.

And the lady yelled at me, “SCREW YOU!”

It’s never a surprise to hear that in NYC. And maybe I deserved it.

But did she really have to say it?

In one morning, I felt the high note of kindness, and the low note of anger. As Sinatra famously sang, “You can’t know one without the ooooother!”

******

Contrast is life’s great equalizer.

Let’s be honest. When only good things happen, 9 out of 10 humans get greedy or lazy or lustful or gluttonous or all of the above.

Of course, when only bad things happen, 9 out of 10 humans get sick, angry, and defeated.

So we need contrast.

Mark Twain said, “Happiness ain’t a thing in itself; it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.”

In other words, if you sat around all day and opened handwritten letters from Katie, ate cous cous, had private yoga massages, and got your toes painted purple, you might be relaxed, but you would NOT be happy.

Happy is the one who gets blitzed with a gnarley workday (it happens!), eats bad sushi for lunch (yuck!), finds out the bite on her leg was actually from a scorpion (hello Mister Exterminator)… and THEN returns home to read a handwritten letter, eat cous cous, get a private yoga massage, and her toes painted purple.

The richness of highs and lows, experienced with grace and courage.

That’s what Mark Twain meant by contrast.

Contrast is like cabbage, or vitamins, or whatever your mom made you eat as a kid. You took your dose, you didn’t like the taste, but in some deep and wonderful way, you trusted mom.

If you are having a typical Tuesday, or a tough time in life right now, or are in need of a little reminder as we all do sometimes…

… know that the handwritten letters, the pistachio ice cream, the one-minute hugs are storming toward you… ready for the rescue.

There’s no question about life’s inherent goodness… the question is always, always, always… WILL YOU KEEP YOUR HEART OPEN?

5 Simple Tips For Instant Pick-Me-Ups

happier-jump-starts-092814Sometimes, it’s all about the little things. (There’s an argument to be made that they’re all little things, but that’s a different conversation, entirely.) My own personal journey in learning to be happier has a lot to do with figuring out how to stay small. I need to stay in the moment, focus on what’s right in front of me rather than on my Chicken Little-esque inclination to run around screaming about the sky falling, and have an arsenal of tools for lifting my spirits in a hurry. Some steps towards a happier me need to be planned out, but it’s the anytime/anywhere ones that I find easiest and most useful. Here’s a few of my favorites:

A good snuggle. Never underestimate the power of positive touch. A hug is good for you both physically and emotionally, and yes, it counts if you’re getting some love from your pets. I feel like I should’ve named my dogs after antidepressants.

After you. For me the best antidote to feeling rushed or stressed is to purposely let someone go ahead of me—at the 4-way stop, in the grocery line, or even just walking through a doorway. It’s a reminder to me that there’s always time for kindness, and I usually get a smile in return.

Dark humor. I realize this isn’t everyone’s thing, but sometimes what I really need is to say something ridiculous and inappropriate to someone who loves me, just to make them laugh and/or ask me if I know that I’m demented. (Yep, I know.)

A tiny treat. This one can sometimes veer into eating-your-feelings territory, which is why I say “tiny” rather than just “treat.” A single square of dark chocolate or a fancy peppermint can impart an instant mood lift, though.

Take a moment. Close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths, and think about something that makes you smile, even just for a few seconds. It can be something meaningful or something silly, either way. The point is that you can use pleasant memories to bolster yourself whenever needed, and when you open your eyes again, you’re in a better place.

Have a tip or trick to share about an instant get-happier boost? I’m all ears!