April 26, 2022 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I went for a walk on Sunday along a path in the woods. It was a beautiful sunny day, with birds singing in their nests and flowering trees coming into bloom. Going around a bend in the path, I saw a bench and decided to sit down for a few minutes and drink some water.

Then I noticed that there were words painted on the bench, but I was too far away to read them. My first thought was that some annoying person must have spray-painted a rude message. Definitely not what I wanted to see when I had been enjoying a nice relaxing walk!

When I got closer, I discovered that the words said “BE KIND” in neat white lettering.

Photo of a park bench with BE KIND painted on it.

That was a very nice surprise indeed. It left me feeling more hopeful about the world, and it gave me two useful reminders, not just one: Be kind, and expect more kindness from others.

Although I had a self-improvement resolution in mind before the holidays, it wasn’t until yesterday that I found one word of intention to sum it up. My plan for 2019 is to keep a Kindness Journal in which I write at least five kind things that people have done for me each day. This is a variation on the familiar gratitude journal, but with a specific focus on seeing the world as a kinder place.

Our culture gives us so many negative messages about random cruelty and never-ending strife, it’s not always easy to notice the small, everyday acts of kindness all around us. Just one rude or grumpy person can put us in a bad mood, even if we’ve heard nothing else but pleasant conversation the entire day. When we’ve been told many times that the world is a cruel and unsafe place, we subconsciously give more weight to events that fit the expected narrative.

This works both ways, of course—when we expect kindness, we’re likely to find more of it and to feel safer in the world. So, by keeping a Kindness Journal in 2019, I plan to shift my mindset toward seeing other people as generally kind and helpful, which should in turn reduce subconscious fears of being randomly targeted for something nasty. Those fears don’t have much basis in present-day reality, but just saying so isn’t enough to banish them. Instead, a different and healthier story needs to take root in their place.

While I could explain all that in three paragraphs, trying to condense it down to one word of intention for the New Year was more of a challenge. “Kindness” didn’t seem accurate because the focus is on being more aware of others’ kindness, rather than on being kinder myself. “Awareness” was much too general. I couldn’t find anything that felt right, and Christmas came and went without further inspiration.

Then, on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I woke up with one word in my thoughts: “Sublime.”

In the original Latin, this is a compound word that literally means under the limit, or under a boundary or threshold. Figuratively, the word means “as good as it gets.” Modern-day English has two distinct forms of the word. One is an adjective that means excellent or awe-inspiring. The other, a verb, is a chemistry term that describes a phase-transition process in which a solid substance transforms into a vapor without first becoming a liquid.

Sublimation occurs, for example, when the polar ice caps on Mars get above the freezing point. There isn’t enough atmospheric pressure on Mars to keep water in its liquid state, so it changes (sublimes) from ice to vapor. Even right here on Earth, unusual weather conditions can sometimes cause snow to evaporate directly into fog without first melting.

Fog rising over snow and trees.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Also, there are some related terms in psychology, like “subliminal,” referring to subconscious mental processes and effects. The primary meaning that I have in mind for my 2019 word of intention is closer to the chemistry term, though. I want to create a low-pressure environment in which my old fears evaporate and blow away on the wind—directly, without first melting into muddy, icky puddles of stagnant emotion.

And then, maybe—after the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, bright and clear in a deep blue winter sky—I’ll look around and discover an internal landscape that is excellent and awe-inspiring.

July 25, 2017 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I’ve noticed more herons on the river this year and am guessing that the mild winter probably helped the younger ones to survive. Even a small difference can be enough to affect whether they flourish or struggle. Last week when my husband went to the rowing club’s boathouse, he took a photo of one:

Heron standing on a small log in the river.

Unfortunately, a few days before that, some jerk dumped a dog in the parking lot and zoomed off in a pickup truck (with kids in there screaming and crying, ugh) before anyone could get the license plate number. Abandoned pets often don’t survive for long because of not knowing how to find food. We called Animal Control, who came pretty quickly, but the dog already had run off and they couldn’t locate the poor beast.

Most people would never be so cruel to either their dog or their children, of course; but I believe that we all could be kinder. Although animals and young children often don’t understand the details of what’s going on around them, usually they can tell whether or not they are being treated kindly; and those small acts of kindness can work much greater changes than we know. Just as a few more warm days made a big difference in how many young herons lived through the winter, a few kind acts can much improve the life of a pet or a child.

Two years ago, I posted a three-part series of blog entries (starting here) that explored the concept of tithing as it relates to time. I wrote that giving—whether we give money, time, or anything else—leads to feeling prosperous because we have more than we need, which in turn attracts more of whatever we gave. The subconscious mind constantly looks for patterns in daily life that match our expectations; so, when we expect to have plenty of good things, we’re more likely to find them.

Although giving time two years ago didn’t literally cause me to get more time, it did leave me feeling more relaxed about having enough time generally. After a while, I wrote a follow-up post about creative energy and what giving means in that context. Giving away creative works (such as posting uplifting entries on a blog without expecting to earn any money from it) and encouraging other writers and artists can help with feeling more confident and creatively inspired.

This year, I was still wondering just how the concept might apply to health. We all want good health, of course, but how is it possible to give health away, or to feel that we have enough of it to share? Although many people donate to medical charities to improve the public health, I would classify that in the category of giving money.

Giving blood is a direct way of giving health; but not everyone is able to do it, and blood donors can’t give too often because it takes a while to replenish blood. Medical professionals can volunteer at free clinics, and people without medical skills can help by doing small tasks such as scheduling appointments. Again, though, not everyone can do that, and for most people it wouldn’t be something they did often.

Also, medical charities, blood banks, and free clinics are all modern organizations. Surely, I thought, there must always have been something simpler in everyday life. What would our peasant ancestors have done in their little villages if they wanted to share good health?

Homes with thatched roofs in a peasant village.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Once I framed the question in those terms, the answer became obvious. Almost everything we do when interacting with others affects their health in some way, even if it’s as basic as giving a cheerful smile to a person who is feeling down. As social animals, humans depend in large part on good relationships with family and friends to stay healthy. Researchers have done plenty of studies showing that married people and residents of close-knit communities live longer than average and score higher on many tests that measure good health.

So, giving health is easy—all that’s needed is a little time and effort, as we go about our daily activities, to show kindness and appreciation when we have the opportunity. Cultivating that habit not only helps those around us to feel happier and healthier—it also makes us feel more connected, which improves our own health. And I believe our ancestors knew that a long time ago, before modern research confirmed it.

Last December I set myself an ambitious task for 2014—to find and comment on a positive blog every day. I had been wanting to read more uplifting and inspirational material online, but hadn’t known where to find it. My site was less than two years old, and I hadn’t yet written many entries or commented much on other blogs. I wanted to do more, building connections and broadening my perspective. My goal was to improve myself while having a positive impact on the culture with my writing.

I had a conversation with a friend (as described in this post) about setting small changes in motion that radiate out to the world, simply by brightening one’s own life. That gave me the idea of going on a virtual quest to find positive blogs, while keeping a chronicle of my discoveries for the benefit of both myself and my readers. I named this project the Random Kindness Blog Tour because I didn’t know what I might find, which made it random, and also because bloggers enjoy unexpected kind comments. I chose Kindness and Positivity as my words of intention for 2014.

To give myself impetus to follow through, I publicly committed to it on my blog as a New Year’s resolution. That felt scary at first because of the unknown time requirements—I had no way of knowing how long it might take to find a positive blog on any given day! What if I got overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up the pace, or if it took so much time that I couldn’t do anything else all year? But I decided to look at it in a playful way (as discussed here) just like going on an adventure.

After the project got underway, I found that it wasn’t nearly as difficult or time-consuming as my worries had made it out to be. Positive bloggers naturally attract commenters who have an optimistic mindset, plus they often include positive sites in their blogroll. So I always had plenty of links to follow and new sites to investigate. Even if I got busy and missed a day’s entry, I always managed to find two positive blogs the next day to catch up. As the page of links got longer, it became a powerful visual reminder that the world is full of good people—all one has to do is look! That in itself helped to banish gloomy thoughts.

I found many inspiring sites and made new friends, including the Nurturing Thursday bloggers—I’ve started thinking of them like an online support group. Their encouraging words have helped me to deal better with disruptions, work on getting clutter under control, arrange my house more comfortably, and remember to appreciate the moment. As a result, I’ve had more mental energy to put toward my writing this year, along with reading and commenting on more blogs.

I’ve also been reminding myself that not everything needs to be done right away, on a schedule, or perhaps even at all. Today’s world is so full of possibilities, it can be hard to decide what to do. Having so many options leads to anxiety about making wrong choices, wasting time, and not getting things done. Usually it’s needless anxiety because nothing calamitous would happen anyway. Mistakes are more likely to be useful learning experiences than disasters, and neglected tasks may not matter much as circumstances change.

Although the fast pace of modern society can make it seem like a constant rush to keep up, there’s really no need to let life get so hectic. Incremental changes can have powerful, far-reaching effects without consuming huge amounts of time. Persistence is what’s needed, along with setting clear intentions and allowing enough quiet, unhurried moments to notice the beauty and abundance all around.

We’re often told that we must be willing to go beyond our comfort zones if we want to accomplish anything significant and that otherwise, we’re doomed to stagnate. But not everyone agrees with that view. I recently came across a blog post entitled Comfort Zone Malarkey, in which the author pointed out that when we are more comfortable, we are also more productive. Why shouldn’t we want to arrange our lives in comfortable patterns that reduce our stress and make us more productive in our everyday tasks?

I’d say that as with many things, it is chiefly a matter of self-awareness and finding the right balance. Some of us naturally have wide comfort zones and are always eager to try new activities. Others get anxious about small changes in routine. Because the modern world is so full of change and disruption, those who get anxious more easily are often advised to work on expanding their comfort zones.

When a disruptive situation can’t reasonably be avoided, getting used to it is probably good advice. For instance, advances in technology may seem intimidating, but we’re much better off to get comfortable with new products as they come into use, rather than keeping obsolete stuff. Considering how quickly things are changing in our society, though, I don’t see a need to randomly jump into all sorts of activities with the aim of expanding our comfort zones. Just keeping up with today’s new technologies and cultural changes ought to give us plenty of practice in that!

As I see it, the main reason why people get stuck in unproductive routines is not that they haven’t tried to expand their comfort zones, but that routines can get outdated quickly without it being noticeable. We’ve all had to adjust our comfort zones hugely in recent years, just to deal with the massive changes taking place all around us. Even when a change is good, we still need some amount of time and mental energy to get used to it. And when we get stressed trying to keep up with everything that’s going on, we fall back on familiar routines to calm ourselves.

Having comfortable routines is not a problem in itself. We all need them! But if we don’t take enough time to reflect on whether our routines suit our current circumstances, we can end up mindlessly stuck in habits that don’t work well at all. Especially as we get older, it’s all too easy to keep on doing something a certain way because that’s how we have done it for the past 30 years, whether or not it makes sense anymore. That lack of reflection is what causes people to stagnate, much more than being afraid to leave a comfort zone. After all, if it hasn’t even crossed our minds that doing something different might be possible, then we never reach the point of considering whether we might want to do it—and our comfort zone slowly shrinks.

When that happens, it’s not because we lack the intelligence or imagination to notice that our circumstances have changed. Rather, it’s because the complexity of the modern world forces us to adjust our routines much more than our ancestors ever had to do. Keeping up with everything that has changed around us is a lot of work—it’s no wonder some things get overlooked! So, when dealing with people whose routines seem overly rigid, kindness and understanding are needed. After all, we may have our own stagnant habits that we haven’t noticed yet!

Since embarking on my personal kindness challenge to visit and comment on a positive blog every day of 2014, I’ve noticed more people being kind to me. For example, when I went to do my grocery shopping Monday afternoon, another driver smiled and waved me into a good space in the parking lot, even though I didn’t get there first. I often park farther away and do more walking because it’s healthier; but Monday was dark and dreary, in a month that has been full of dreary days, and I hadn’t slept well the night before—so a parking space near the door was especially welcome.

Some would say that by being more focused on kindness over the past few weeks, I have been attracting kindness by way of good vibes. Or perhaps those around me were just as kind before, but I didn’t pay enough attention. It’s also possible that I have made small changes to my behavior, without noticing them, which leave other people feeling more cheerful and more inclined toward kindness in my presence. Maybe all three are true! Anyway, I’ve written this post as an expression of my gratitude for having so many kind people in my life, and as a reflection on how kindness multiplies.

Back in December, when I first thought about commenting on a different blog every day for an entire year, the idea seemed pretty intimidating. I worried that I might not find enough up-to-date positive blogs, or that it would feel like an enormous chore after a few weeks, or that it would take so much time I’d never be able to write my own blog posts or get anything else done. I finally went ahead and wrote a post publicly committing myself to do it as a New Year’s resolution, so as to give myself enough accountability that I wouldn’t back out.

Thankfully, none of my overly dramatic worries came to pass. Instead, having regular positive reading material has improved my mood and has left me feeling more confident, both generally and with regard to blogging. With more mental energy, I found myself writing posts more quickly, and I didn’t feel as if either writing or reading took up much of my time. As for finding new blogs to visit, when I mentioned that I was looking for positive sites, other bloggers were glad to help out by recommending some of their favorites. Although I know that most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January, I’m feeling good about mine so far, and I’d like to thank the kind bloggers I have met so far. You all rock!

‘Tis the season when many of us start thinking about changes we want to make in the coming year. We talk over potential New Year’s resolutions with our friends and family. Perhaps we focus on improving our personal lives, such as by resolving to eat healthier, get more exercise, and clean up a cluttered house. Or we plan to get involved in volunteer work—serving meals at the homeless shelter, for example, or teaching adult literacy classes at the library. By talking about our plans with others, we give the details more clarity in our own minds and become more determined to follow through.

But the idea of making long-term changes can be discouraging to us, especially in today’s busy and complicated society. It’s hard enough to keep up with everything that’s changing around us—advances in technology, reorganizations at work, and so forth. When we consider how many things need improvement, both in our personal lives and the world in general, we’re likely to feel overwhelmed. It seems like there’s just too much going on that we can’t control. Why even try? It’s easier just to fall back on our familiar comforting habits, even though they may not be good for us in the long run.

I recently had an email conversation along these lines with a friend who described her perspective on changing one’s own life and the world:

Sometimes I feel like all I can do—in a world that can sometimes seem so filled with strife—is continue to be positive in my own life and with my own situation, and then hope that my positivity can radiate out to others and uplift them as well (even if it’s just a smile I might share with a stranger). Lately when I meditate, I’ve been sending bright energies out to envelop Mother Earth. I wish there was something I could do to make everything okay for everybody. And that thought always leads me back to the saying “If you want to save the world, all you need do is save yourself.”

After I’d had a few days to reflect on her words, I thought more about positivity in the context of the Internet—and blogging in particular. There are plenty of blogs whose authors write cheerful, kind, uplifting material, but they don’t get much traffic. Although we may browse their blogs on occasion, we may feel that we haven’t got the time to visit more regularly or to write meaningful comments. Meanwhile, political bloggers stir up anger and often have long comment threads full of arguments. This skews the Internet toward negativity, even though most blog owners just write about everyday life.

So—my New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to radiate positivity by making time, for an entire year, to visit a different blog each day that focuses on random acts of kindness or other positive themes. I’ll write a detailed comment on each of these blogs, describing why I enjoyed it and thanking the author for creating it. At the least, this will make 365 blog authors happier, as well as improving my own mood by giving me positive reading material daily. And I’m hoping other bloggers will join in, which would magnify the effects exponentially! If you’re interested in participating, please visit my new Random Kindness Blog Tour page.