Day 89

Today I learned probably everything there is to know about the possible benefits of self-compassion for overcoming body-dissatisfaction and promoting positive body-image, as I wrote a literature review on the topic.

“For someone to develop genuine compassion towards others, first he or she must have a basis upon which to cultivate compassion, and that basis is the ability to connect to one’s own feelings and to care for one’s own welfare… Caring for others requires caring for oneself.”

-Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Today I meditated for 15 minutes of loving-kindness practice, as described on Day 60.

Today I acted kindly by warning a girl that she was dangerously close to crossing the road into an oncoming car.

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Day 88

Today I learned about multiple examples of humanity being altruistic around the world. For example, this (rescuing a 6-year-old from forced marriage—plus see “Ordinary Heroes, Extraordinary Courage” below the article), this (buying coffee for strangers), and this (making time to help others).

Today I meditated for 10 minutes, doing a body-scan meditation (described on Day 70).

Today I acted kindly by feeding a flock of ducks and a few aggressive seagulls by the lake. This was so much fun, more than I expected (and a much needed break from work).

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Day 87

Today I learned a worthwhile consideration about learning: Namely, not everything is worth learning. I love learning, and I love learning about pretty much any topic, but I think that Sherlock Holmes makes a good point.

“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.”

-Thomas H. Huxley

Today I meditated for 17 minutes, half of mindfulness, half of loving-kindness (or metta, or compassion) cultivation. One thing (of many things) that I love about meditation is deliberately giving myself permission to let go of the control of thoughts, to release any rumination about my to-do list, to cease mind-wandering in the imaginary future or past, and instead to really be here and now—present, aware, alive, enjoying being alive.

Today I acted kindly by stopping, in the midst of hurrying to class, to hold doors open for and help two girls who were struggling to carry a table into a building.

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Day 85

Today I learned the meaning of the word “gentrification” (which I read here). It means the renewal of deteriorated neighborhoods by middle- or upper-income people, which can displace lower-income residents.

Today I meditated for 12 minutes. First I focused my attention on the sounds in my surroundings, then on my sensations, and finally on my breathing. I also experienced multiple moments throughout today in which I was completely absorbed in my work or thoughts, until the awareness that is cultivated through meditation seemed to “wake me up” and to refresh my general mindfulness. Very cool.

“All too often people come to meditation in the hope of extraordinary results… But the real miracle of meditation is more ordinary and much more useful… a subtle transformation…”

-Sogyal Rinpoche

Today I acted kindly by delivering a hand-written thank-you card to someone who was kind to me recently and a hand-written congratulations card to someone who has reason to celebrate. It’s been a weekend of gratitude! (and of work…)

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Day 84

Today I learned about the eclectic architecture of Alvar Aalto in the early- and mid-1900’s: “The notion of relating all functions to the emotional and physical well-being of people is the distinguishing feature of Aalto’s understanding of human Functionalism, which was to become the hallmark of his work” (from Alvar Aalto: Toward a Human Modernism).

Today I meditated for 10 minutes. Like yesterday, food for thought on meditation: Sogyal Rinpoche’s advice for what to do when your mind is amiss and you feel more vegetated than alert (it happens to everyone, even monks!) is, “Alert yourself, straighten your back, breathe the stale air out of your lungs, and direct your awareness into clear space to freshen your mind. If you remain in this stagnant state, you will not evolve; so whenever this setback arises, clear it again and again.”

Today I acted kindly by mailing hand-written thank-you cards to two people who have helped me in the past week.

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Day 83

Today I learned that there may be oceans of diamond in liquid form on Neptune and Uranus, with solid diamond icebergs floating around. As well, because of large amounts of atmospheric methane and extremely high pressures and temperatures, it may be possible for the sky to rain diamonds on those planets.

Today I meditated for 20 minutes. Food for thought about meditation: Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep right away, so I picked up the nearest book on my bedside table and opened it to a random passage. The book was The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and the passage read,

“I have found that modern spiritual practitioners lack the knowledge of how to integrate their meditation practice with everyday life. I cannot say it strongly enough: to integrate meditation in action is the whole ground and point and purpose of meditation. The violence and stress, the challenges and distractions of modern life, make this integration even more urgently necessary.”

-Sogyal Rinpoche

Today I acted kindly by helping an adorable toddler (though not quite as adorable as my own niece and nephews) walk up and down… and up and down… and again up and down a staircase in a café, so his parents could have a moment of rest to sip their coffees. He kept laughing, clapping, holding my hand, and grinning at me. That little dude is gonna catch all the ladies’ hearts.

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Day 82

Today I learned about the ancient origins of holism, the concept that any natural entity should be analyzed as a whole, rather than as separate parts that form a composite (as in atomism or reductionism). For instance, “holistic health” refers to considering all aspects (e.g. physical, psychological, emotional, social, etc.) of a person’s needs as a whole, rather than individually (this is different from holistic alternative medicine practices, such as acupuncture, naturopathy, etc.).

Today I meditated for 15 minutes on compassion.

Today I acted kindly by giving out chocolate Easter eggs to friends, colleagues, and strangers.

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Day 81

Today I learned that daffodils are phototropic, meaning they orient in the direction of the sun. I observed a pot of daffodils on my windowsill face and lean toward the left (east) this morning and toward the right (west) this afternoon.

Today I meditated for 10 minutes of mindfulness. Today is one of those days on the brink of no-human-should-have-this-much-to-do-all-at-once; it seems like a waste of precious time to sit and “do nothing” for 10-30 minutes, right? Well, here’s when meditation as practice becomes practical. All that focusing on the present moment, that concentrating on my breathing, that letting go of distracting thoughts… can it help me to efficiently get through my work? As many advocates proclaim, can mindfulness boost my productivity? I like experiments. So beginning tomorrow, I’m going to test the application of mindfulness meditation in every day life for one no-human-should-have-this-much-to-do-all-at-once week. Let’s see if being more mindful helps me to be less mind-full.

Today I acted kindly by making people laugh!

“Laughing is bad for you.”

-No one. Ever.

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Day 80

Today I learned that stigma toward mental illnesses is higher when they are explained in terms of biological mechanisms (i.e. like a disease) than in terms of behavioral symptoms. The reason may be that people view biological problems as more fixed and permanent and therefore as part of the person, whereas behaviors seem controllable and more easily changeable.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes on slowly breathing in, and breathing out, and breathing in, and…

Today I acted compassionately by observing that one of my peers seemed distressed/distracted and therefore striking up conversation and subtly expressing concern.

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Day 79

Today I learned that geniuses have bad days too. This made me laugh: One day while in a foul mood, Charles Darwin wrote, “But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.”

Today I meditated for 15 minutes. Check out this interesting article that suggests we incorporate mindfulness, compassion, empathy, etc. into the education curriculum.

Today I acted kindly by hand-writing and sending a card to someone in need of some cheer.

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Day 78

Today I learned about interesting research on the preventative effects of various foods for cancer. For example, 79,000 men were surveyed over 20 years; those who consumed 2-3 servings of cooked tomatoes per week were 40-50% less likely to develop prostate cancer. Men! Eat cooked tomatoes!

Today I meditated for 15 minutes of mindfulness.

Today I acted kindly by making a donation to this awesome fund-raiser that will allow 800 high-school students with special needs (e.g. down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, etc.) to enjoy a celebrity-style prom. The smiling faces in the video from last year’s prom say it all.

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Day 77

Today I learned about the invention of bandages that detect infections via electrochemical sensors.

Today I meditated for 20 minutes on the theme of happiness.

Today I am acting kindly by making this offer: I really appreciate the wonderful people who have subscribed by email to join me on this journey. So, I will send something awesome in the mail to the FIRST THREE OF YOU who comment on this post to say WHAT HAPPINESS MEANS TO YOU (comments are only visible to me, so don’t worry if you prefer anonymity).**

**Update: Thank you for your stellar responses! The first three said happiness, to them, is “brilliant spiritual revelation or enlightenment, a feeling of elation mentally, and warm fuzzy feelings over my body”, “being able to share my love of cooking with others”, and “lying in bed on a Sunday morning relaxing and watching movies while ignoring the outside world”. I love how happiness means something different to everyone.

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Day 76

Today I learned about some recently discovered irregularities in our understanding of the universe’s origins. Check out the update here.

Today I meditated for 20 minutes. A note on meditation posture: I usually sit on a cushion, against a support, with my back straight and my eyes closed. Sometimes I lie down. When I had the honor of spending several weeks at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal 2 years ago, I developed the habit of resting my right hand in my left hand with my thumb-tips touching; Buddhists believe that wisdom is necessary for compassion, so the left hand (representing wisdom) supports the right hand (symbolizing compassion) during meditation.

Today I acted kindly by dropping by my adopted 81-year-old’s house to check up on her.

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Day 75

Today I learned about the upsurge of tuberculosis in Russian prisons, particularly in the 1990’s, and about the remarkable microbe-resistance of ants. (Speaking of which, ants may be the coolest species ever. Each ant has a specialized role within its colony so that they are inherently interdependent. In other words, ants behavior is a prime example of selflessness and cooperation.)

Today I meditated for 20 minutes on my breathing.

Today I acted compassionately when a girl (who I had never before spoken with) fainted while giving a presentation in one of my classes. I jumped up, helped to position her safely lying down, rubbed her back while she came back to consciousness, comforted her while she calmed down, gave her water, got her belongings organized, eventually walked her outside, talking and sitting with her until the paramedics came, and waited by her side until they took her to the hospital.

Something similar happened a few months ago when I witnessed a girl get hit by a car. Both times, I realized that my career absolutely must include caring for people in need, because there is some internal thing that happens, that takes over Kasley’s mind and body in these situations, that I can’t take credit for nor explain; it is a calm and focused intuition, an instinctive readiness to be compassionate, and only afterward, when I am no longer needed, do I feel shaken. I think this must be why I am alive.

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Day 74

Today I learned about the current disconcerting and seemingly escalating friction between North and South Korea.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes, with a guided deep-breathing practice that was a medley of breathing-mindfulness, body-awareness, concentration, and relaxation.

Today I acted kindly by leaving flowers at the door of one of my neighbors who is pregnant, with an anonymous note congratulating her.

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Day 73

Today I learned about the horrific treatment of people in a now-closed psychiatric hospital in New York, from the perspectives of former patients and workers (suffering inflicted by humans on humans always makes me wonder, where is the compassion? Where is the empathy?), and about a very interesting and controversial view that science is dogmatic.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes.

Today I acted kindly by giving a coupon for a coffee-shop beverage to a random lady in the line-up, and by smiling to and speaking with every homeless person I passed on the streets.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

-Mother Teresa

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Day 72

Today I learned that dehydration caused by caffeine-consumption can yield wrinkly skin, so it is especially important to drink lots of water if you drink lots of coffee.

Today I meditated for 10 minutes, practicing mindfulness.

Today I acted kindly by offering to help an old man lift his bike down from the roof of his car.

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Day 71

Today I learned about an interesting perspective on how to evaluate nonprofits and charities.

Today I meditated for 15 minutes, focusing on my breathing. Each time my mind wanders, I acknowledge this and bring my attention back to the breath. An important element of meditation is returning one’s attention without judgement or commentary. Indeed, recognition that the mind has wandered indicates a deeper awareness, and refocusing one’s attention represents the choice to not be governed by thinking; these goals are attained through nonjudgmental observation. Another important and related element is non-attachment to outcomes.

Today I acted kindly by giving a hand-written thank-you card to the lady who cleans the hallways of my building every Sunday. We had a nice chat and, when I gave her the card, she was completely surprised and said, “Thank you! That just made my day!” The feeling that I had from hearing her say that was nonsensically giddy and happy (which is often a side-effect of these daily compassion actions). It’s amazing to discover that I have the ability to make someone’s day, even with such a simple gesture, and that, by extension, doing so can make my day too (which reminds me of the quotes on Days 55 and 68).

(P.S.  YOU can make someone’s day…)

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Day 70

Today I learned about more research findings (they are abundant these days!) on the benefits of mindfulness meditation, such as lower depression, anxiety, and stress, enhanced control over chronic pain, and greater emotional stability.

Today I meditated for 20 minutes. I did a body-scan mindfulness meditation, in which one fully and sequentially brings attention to all the parts of one’s body, observing the sensations, and breathing into each area. This practice trains one’s concentration and is extremely relaxing.

Today I acted kindly by reaching out to and expressing concern for a formerly close (emotionally; far away geographically) friend who has slipped off the radar for the past year …and, as vowed yesterday, by consciously making effort to be mindful of the people around me, of their faces, of their states.

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