Day 109

I will finish this 108 days blog project (although the 3 habits, now engrained, will continue indefinitely) with three comments.

First,

I have pages and pages of reflections about this project, recorded along the way. There is so much I could share; let’s have a conversation if you’d like to know more. However, a friend of mine asked if I could summarize this experience in 108 words. I replied, “Challenge accepted,” so here it is:

The learning component has fostered my curiosity and strengthened my love of learning. The meditation component has consistently heightened my awareness and appreciation of experiencing life. The “compassion action” component has colored the lens through which I see the world by priming me to actively be alert for opportunities to help and by normalizing intentional creation of joy for others. Overall, this experience has been transformational—subtly, but profoundly. I love that this project has challenged me, forced me out of my comfort zone in some cases, initiated interesting conversations, invigorated friendships, and cultivated meaningful connections with countless people. I feel engaged with living, maybe more than ever. (Word count = 108, exactly!)

Second,

What is the take-home message? What is the most important thing that I have learned in these 108 days? Perhaps that we each have the remarkable (and remarkably easy) ability to positively influence the lives of others, and thereby our own lives, every single day. It is easy and habitual to go about our days absorbed in our own tasks, goals, issues, and thoughts, without acting in the service of others or even connecting meaningfully with others. The realization that I could live a whole day without doing anything substantial for anyone else—not because I was unkind or selfish, not because I didn’t care—was shocking and unsettling. This project has strengthened my conviction that making kindness a priority is intrinsically valuable and that subsequent enhancement of my own joy is an added bonus.

“Those who make compassion an essential part of their lives find the joy of life. Kindness deepens the spirit and produces rewards that cannot be completely explained in words. It is an experience more powerful than words. To become acquainted with kindness, one must be prepared to learn new things and feel new feelings. Kindness is more than a philosophy of the mind. It is a philosophy of the spirit.”

-Robert J. Furey

Third,

This journey consisted of one day for every bead in a Buddhist mala. However, it is often forgotten that there is always a 109th bead, called the sumeru or guru bead, which joins the strand together and is meant for silence, acknowledgement, and gratitude. Today represents that bead:

Today I learned about the connection between Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the Dalai Lama’s methods of meditation (here).

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”

-Anthony J. D’Angelo

Today I meditated for 108 minutes. Just kidding, but that would be poetic. I meditated for 25 minutes. Silence, acknowledgement, gratitude…

Today I acted kindly by giving a sincere, in-person compliment to someone who amazed me.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

-Leo Buscaglia

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Day 108

Today I learned that listening to music can yield empirically-supported health benefits, such as reducing anxiety among hospital patients and calming newborn babies.

Today I meditated for 20 minutes, a medley of music and mindfulness.

Today I acted kindly by writing friendly messages with chalk on the sidewalks in my neighborhood (at 5am, to be sneaky, and to be outside as the sun rose)… or as my dear friend H calls it, “vandalizing the sidewalks of our local park with compliments and positive encouragements”.

TODAY IS DAY 108 OF 108 DAYS! Stay tuned for my reflections about the project, which will be posted tomorrow, and THANK YOU for enriching this journey by joining along and caring at all… You are wonderful. Yes, you.

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”
Roger Ebert

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Day 107

Today I learned about the art movement of Fauvism, derived from the French word “fauve” (wild beast) and typified by the works of Henri Matisse. Paintings in this style minimize details and employ exaggerated colors to trigger emotions. (Speaking of art, here is an interesting update on the life, or rather death, of Vincent van Gogh.)

Today I meditated for 15 minutes of mindfulness. This article describes what mindfulness is (“intentionally paying attention to the present non-judgmentally”) and is not (“only about reducing stress. Or about emptying our minds of all thoughts. Or about religion”), how to practice it, and what it’s like.

Today I acted kindly by leaving envelopes containing scratch-and-win lottery tickets and friendly messages in several strangers’ mailboxes (wouldn’t it be exciting if one of them won?) and by buying a “suspended” muffin at a cafe in my neighborhood that has jumped on the suspended coffee bandwagon. (Bonus! Check out another random act of joy here.)

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Day 106

Today I learned how to say swan in French (“cygne”).

Today I meditated for 20 minutes. Food for thought on metta meditation: Jon Kabat-Zinn has said, “Given the pain and turmoil that we often experience, the endemic misperceptions of the human mind regarding who and what we are, and how we relate to the stress and pain of our lives, practicing loving-kindness is an arduous discipline—no less so than attending to one’s breathing or observing the stream of one’s thought. But it is an extremely effective path, a fundamental path in the opening of mind and heart. In it are to be found the seeds of profound happiness, inner well-being, and healing…” It may sound hokey, but I have found it to be true.

Today I acted kindly by preparing a box of clothing and toiletries to donate to the local women’s shelter.

“Compassion is not true compassion unless it is active.”

-Sogyal Rinpoche

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Day 105

Today I learned about the potential for the medical model to be applied to mental illnesses. In this TED talk, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health proposes detecting brain changes before behavioral symptoms manifest for early detection and prevention of disorders.

Today I meditated for 17 minutes. (Bonus! Read about how meditation may decrease mind-wandering, improve working-memory capacity, and augment academic scores here.)

Today I acted kindly by baking bran bread for my brother. Alliteration and deliciousness.

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Day 104

Today I learned about theoretical physics, Newton’s explanation of comets, and the possibility of time travel (here).

Today I meditated for 25 minutes.

Today I acted kindly by hand-writing a thank-you card for the nearby ambulance paramedics, who I have seen calmly take charge of emergencies and help save lives multiple times.

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Day 103

Today I learned that the reason people are either right-handed or left-handed, and that more people are right-handed, is not known for certain but is likely due to genetics.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes. (Bonus! Check out why doctors are prescribing meditation to complement, but not replace, traditional treatment here.)

Today I acted kindly by having tea with Joan, Marilyn, Audrey, and Velma at the local seniors’ residence. We recited poetry together (no joke) and exchanged stories. But mostly I listened to their stories of traveling far away and coming back home, stories of university, of friends and husbands passed away, of iPads, hitchhiking, and knitting… so that I am not sure if this was my act of kindness or theirs.

“You give but a little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

-Kahlil Gibran

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Day 102

Today I learned about the Social Progress Index, a new way to measure the well-being of countries. This differs from Gross National Happiness because it not only measures quality of life, but also other indicators such as safety, health, sustainability, equity, freedom, shelter, and so on.

Today I meditated for 17 minutes, a traditional “loving-kindness” meditation.

Today I acted kindly by applying to start volunteering in the pediatrics program at the local hospital.

“Compassion is a verb.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

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Day 101

Today I learned about countless people uniting, collaborating, being selfless and resilient, caring for others, etc. to overcome the Boston tragedy. It amazes me how the worst of situations can bring out the best in humanity.

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

-Albert Einstein

Today I meditated for 10 minutes, cultivating mindfulness of breathing.

Today I acted kindly by seeing from my window that a homeless person on the street was buckled over wheezing and therefore going out to offer assistance. Another lady had already taken charge of the situation and was rubbing the person’s back and calling an ambulance, and someone from the closest store brought out a chair and a cup of water. Whereas many people just walked by, seemingly oblivious, that lady was an inspiring example of compassion and leadership.

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Day 100

Today I learned about present-day movements to increase collaboration among medical practitioners and researchers, as described here and here.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes of mindfulness.

Today I acted kindly by standing at the entrance of my university’s library with one of my friends, holding signs that said, “Feeling stressed about exams? Have a free hug!” This was unbelievably fun—the best study break I’ve ever taken and, frankly, one of the best ways to spend an hour and a half of my life. People’s reactions were fascinating, ranging from immediately smiling and excitedly jumping into my arms, to noticing but quickly averting their eyes. Many people said, “Wow, thank you! I needed this!” and some were shocked that we were giving out hugs to spread joy rather than to promote a club or organization. I already knew that hugging triggers the release of dopamine and oxytocin, which makes you feel good and lowers your stress, but I did not know quite how amazing it would feel to hug a hundred or so strangers. Brief but extremely positive interactions, one after another after another… Just awesome.

“The key to compassion is that it is more fun.”

Robert Thurman

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Day 99

Today I learned about the origins of scientists, who were called “natural philosophers” prior to 1833, and about how blood clots.

Today I meditated for 20 minutes. I had so much on my mind that it took about ten minutes for my thoughts to settle from their frenzy. Even my eyes were darting erratically under my eyelids. Sometimes I think, “Twenty minutes of meditation? Are you kidding? I have so much to do!” But after the initial ten minutes, I could finally let go, listen to the silence and sounds around me, and feel my breathing. Then, as always, I remembered why it’s worthwhile to make time for meditation: my thoughts dispersed as clouds into a clear sky, my body calmed, and when the chime sounded to signal twenty minutes, I was completely relaxed, centered, and better prepared to devote my attention to work.

Today I acted kindly by hand-writing and mailing cards to my nephews and niece.

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”

-Phyllis Theroux

Bonus! Along this 108 journey, I have left many friendly notes for strangers (on Day 5 on a laundry machine, Day 8 in donated books, Days 12 and 90 on car windshields, Day 22 with a gift, Day 60 on doorsteps, Day 66 in bathroom stalls, Day 69 for a lonely girl, Day 74 with flowers, Day 95 with toys for kids… and that’s not including cards and letters!). Yesterday, instead, I was the recipient of one such note. While studying at a café in the evening, I turned to get something from my bag and noticed a folded note on the table. The front said “Hi!” with a smiley face. Amazed and confused, I opened the note and read: “You have a beautiful smile… don’t ever stop smiling! Sorry for staring.” No name. No number. My jaw dropped and I looked around the café, searching for the mysterious person who had left the note. A girl nearby smiled and said that she had seen a guy put it on the table as he was leaving. The point of me telling this story is to show that receiving a kind note from a stranger MADE MY DAY. I was so happy and shocked. It was such a simple, anonymous compliment, yet just thinking about it today made my day again. Positively influencing someone’s life can be that easy. So, as I have written many notes for this project without knowing how they were received, I now realize that if any of my notes (or indeed any of my “compassion actions”) have caused even ONE person to smile or feel giddy like I did… then mission accomplished.

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Day 98

Today I learned that one in three people feel worse and have lower life satisfaction after checking Facebook, seemingly due to comparing one’s own life with the pictures and status updates of others, which breeds insecurity or envy.

“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

-Max Ehrmann

Today I meditated for 15 minutes. I did a concentration meditation in which I focused solely on the sensation of air coming in and out of my nostrils, which makes me laugh at the idea of it when I read that over… but it was very calming, an effective way to let go of thinking, and great attention training.

Today I acted kindly by offering to be an official witness for a physical attack threat that I saw and overheard (but that thankfully did not escalate), and by commending the near-victim for handling the situation so well.

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Day 97

Today I learned about the life of Johannes Kepler, the German mathematician and astronomer (or “celestial physicist” as he supposedly said). Fun fact: his mother was accused of being a witch, but was released from her trial when Kepler defended her.

Today I meditated for 12 minutes, focusing on my breathing, on the sounds around me, and on expanding my awareness beyond thoughts.

Today I acted kindly by noticing that a stranger was very nervous for her interview and therefore giving her a high-five and reassuring her that she would do great. Her response: “Oh thank you, I really needed that!”

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Day 96

Today I learned that people search Google for information on mental illnesses more often during the winter months than during the summer. (Here is a report of the finding, although the article’s title is misleading.)

Today I meditated for 20 minutes of mindfulness. Some of you have asked me about trying secular meditation, so here are a few resources if you are interested: I would recommend guided meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn or Sharon Salzberg (they both have CD’s on iTunes or Amazon), but also here are some free guided meditations and here is a timer for silent practice.

Today I acted kindly by preparing and serving food for homeless people at the local charity kitchen.

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Day 95

Today I learned about the emphasis on digital design among architects (with Frank Gehry at the forefront) in recent years, enabling more complex planning and facilitating collaborations.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes on the theme of compassion and I thought, again, about the importance of translating meditation practice into everyday action. The more stuff I have going on, the more important meditation practice becomes, because that translation is less intuitive when I am distracted by my own stuff and therefore less attentive to other people.

Today I acted kindly by leaving toys (a frisbee and a bucket with a sand shovel) at a local playground for kids to find. I put notes on them to reassure parents, which said, “You are the recipient of a random act of kindness! Whoever you are, no matter your age, this is yours to play with and, if you’d like, to keep or share. Have fun!”

But the best part was when, a few hours later, I walked back through the park on my way home, only to stop in my tracks: There were two kids, brother and sister, throwing the frisbee and digging with the shovel and bucket. I couldn’t believe it. That was the point, of course, but to actually see the effect—namely, their smiles while playing—was fantastic. I smiled, too, the whole way home.

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Day 94

Today I learned about a cautionary perspective regarding neuroscience research. Whether or not you agree with his view, the author’s advice to “Recognize when you have reached the limits of your data and have moved into the realm of speculation. Despite the demands of the media, avoid the urge to publish premature or oversimplified conclusions,” is important for any scientific discipline.

Today I meditated for 17 minutes, doing a body-scan mindfulness meditation.

Today I acted kindly by writing and mailing a letter to the owner of the construction company that has been digging up my street for the last month, to commend his personnel for going above and beyond what is required of them. The workers are not only friendly, courteous, and conscious of pedestrian safety, but they also help old ladies who are struggling to get out of cars (which I have seen on two occasions), for instance. So the letter basically said, Bravo for proactively turning an inconvenient situation into a positive experience.

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Day 92

Today I learned how to play on guitar and sing this song.

Today I meditated for 20 minutes, doing a walking meditation. I have tried a walking meditation once before, but I was on top of a mountain instead of in the midst of a city. Trying to deliberately practice mindfulness while making my way along streets was interesting and a nice change of pace (literally) from my usual sitting meditations.

Today I acted kindly by anonymously paying it forward: I gave a café barista enough to cover any beverage and asked her to use it for whoever came in next, without telling the person that it was from me.

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Day 91

Today I learned that humans carry around 100,000,000,000,000 (one hundred trillion!) microbes. This video explains more (I really want his shirt). Moral of the story: Choose who you kiss carefully, friends, because you are an ecosystem.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes. Food for thought about meditation: There is a beautiful passage in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying that emphasizes not only being disciplined and devoted during meditation practice, but also being inspired and creative with it. The author suggests using music, poetry, art, flowers, candles, or whatever inspires and elevates you. As well, he says,

“And if you find that meditation does not come easily in your city room, be inventive and go out into nature… Stand by a stream and mingle your mind with its rushing; become one with its ceaseless sound… Everything can be used as an invitation to meditation: A smile, a face in the subway, the sight of a small flower growing in the crack of a cement pavement, a fall of rich cloth in a shop window, the way the sun lights up flower pots on a window sill…”

-Sogyal Rinpoche

Today I acted kindly by trying to anonymously pay a random stranger’s library fines. Unfortunately, the librarian couldn’t access accounts for me to do so without the stranger’s library card, but she seemed so elated about my attempt that I think I actually made her day instead…

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Day 90

Today I learned about Lyme Disease from the perspective of someone who is recovering from a severe case of it. Lyme is transmitted through tick bites in most countries around the world and, as in my new friend’s case, can be quite debilitating.

Today I meditated for 12 minutes of mindfulness.

Today I acted kindly by putting notes—some with compliments, some with jokes—on the windshields of random cars, like on Day 12. Below is one example. (Thanks P for being my partner-in-crime for this one… crime of kindness, that is!)

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