Gratidue and Generosity: Karma Kitchen

I can’t tell you how many times I have begun the process of learning one thing only to find that I am meant to learn a different (but often related) lesson. This is what has been happening for the past 10 days with the 428 Days Gratitude Challenge. I started with the idea that I would explore gratitude and gratefulness. I imagined that I would write some letters of thanks to people that have touched my life or meditate on messages of gratitude. Yes…I will probably do those things. However, I find that each day my focus on gratitude is motivating me to explore generosity. I am being led to acknowledge the beautiful parts of our world AND look for ways to contribute to them. It is an unexpected, but valuable lesson. Take a look at the work of Karma Kitchen. They are a beautiful example of this idea!

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A Lesson In Gratitude

My experience with 428 Days has been life changing. For the past three months, I have been tweaking small parts of my life in an effort to become more open to change. It has been a wonderful journey that, like most journeys, has come with its own set of forks in the road, potholes, and beautiful sunsets.  What has been most interesting is the ways in which the different challenges are connecting with each other. For example, two months ago, I challenged myself to see more beautiful in my world. It was a transformative challenge, and the impact has stuck with me. In short, Seeing Beautiful has become a habit.

Now, on Day 3 of my 428 Days Gratitude Challenge, I am learning that my attempt to be more grateful is connect to my experiments with Seeing Beautiful. This film by cinematographer, Louie Schwartzberg, is a perfect example of this. In it, he connects an awareness of the beauty in our world to a lesson in gratitude. In the same ways that I learned to acknowledge the beauty of my world during Septembers challenge, I am now learning to celebrate that beauty through gratitude.  In the same way that I realized just how much beauty there was around me during the September challenge, I am now reminded that there are just as many opportunities to be grateful.  And just as I realized that much of the beauty in my world was found in my relationships with other people, I am also realizing that many of my opportunities for gratitude are connected to others in my life.  These same ideas are expressed simply by the older gentleman spotlighted in the film:

And so I wish you that you would open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you that everyone who you would meet on this day will be blessed by you. Just by your eyes…by your smile…by your touch…just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you then it will really be a good day.

With that being said…I wish you a good day.

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The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude

This month, I have decided to commit to changing one small thing in my life…for the next 28 days I focus on being grateful and showing gratitude. The idea was inspired by the video above. I stumbled across it one day while browsing around on the net.  The title contained words that I immediately connected with…Science…Happiness…Experiment…and Gratitude.  I figured I could give 7 minutes of my life to see what an experiment in gratitude actually looked like.  What I witnessed was video of individuals engaged in the simple act of showing gratitude.  However, what was even more inspiring was the immediate effect the act seemed to have on their lives.  They smiled. They laughed. They cried. They experienced what seemed to me to be a rush of love and joy by simply connecting with another human being in a celebration of gratitude.  That’s all it took for me to realize that I also wanted to experiment with gratitude.

Like many people, I’ve been reminded to be thankful for the blessings in my life.  I must admit that sometimes the pressures, frustrations, and disappointments in my life make it very difficult to say, “Thank you.”  More often, I find myself asking, “why” during those moments.  I often forget or take for granted those parts of our world for which I should be grateful, and, as a result, my world can seem bleak and disconnected from things like…happiness, passion, joy, beauty, and love.

For the next 28 days I am committing myself to the work of being grateful.  However, I want to go beyond merely acknowledging the wonderful parts of my life.  While this is important, I don’t feel that it would represent a true 428 Days experiment.  I want to do more.  I want to find ways to rediscover those parts of my life that I have forgotten; those relationships, passions, and ideas that, for whatever reason, I have taken for granted.  I also want to go beyond simply being grateful.  I want to celebrate the blessings in my world by showing gratitude. Like the people in the video, I want to look for opportunities to share my gratefulness with others in ways that go beyond a polite thank you.  This will be the true challenge for the next 28 days.  However, it is also the part I am most excited about experiencing!

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Learning from the Masters of Play

I watched this video today and was reminded, once again, that somewhere along the road to adulthood, I forgot how to truly play. These past three days have really challenged me to think about my ideas about play. Every day, I am pushing myself to break through the barriers of the responsible adult for just a moment. I want to experience true play. Here is what I am learning: First, I need to move to space that may be unfamiliar to me. I need to challenge myself to feel comfortable with exploring something I don’t really know much about. Second, I need to put aside my need to judge things as good/bad, effective/ineffective, worth/unworthy, and useful/useless. This need to evaluate my play is limiting my opportunities to play. Finally, I need to be comfortable with being an authentic human being. It seems that somewhere along the way I learned about appropriate behavior for adults. Unfortunately, those lessons made very little room for play…real play. I may need to leave those lessons behind if I really want to learn the new lessons waiting for me in these 28 days.

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Never Too Old To Play

Today began my new For 28 Days Challenge…Play! For the next 28 days, I will look for ways to incorporate more play into each day of my life. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Here’s the crazy part…I’m actually a little nervous about this one. After all, I’ve pretty much replaced all the moments of play in my life with “responsibilities.” Don’t get me wrong. I still play the occasional game of basketball. I’m good for game on my iPad when I have a moment to spare. I’ll even take my kids to the neighborhood park now and then. But rarely do I really, really PLAY!
Truth be told, I miss the days when I played with enthusiastic passion whenever I could. There is a part of me that wonders if I will be able to “do it the way I used to.” After all, it’s been a while. Then, there is the adult side of me that is over thinking every part of this challenge. It is the part that is planning for tomorrow’s play (Is it really play if you schedule it on your Google calendar?). It is the part that is wondering if I’ll do it right (Is it possible to play wrong?). It is the part of me that is concerned that I will look childish if someone sees me (Don’t adults need to play too?). These were the questions that were flooding through my mind as I sat drawing a huge chalk flower on our driveway with my kids this evening. I had a great time, but for much of the time I was questioning everything about the experience. My children, on the other hand, were playing like virtuosos. They moved effortlessly…gracefully…from one experience to another (drawing with chalk one second…digging for ants the next). Meanwhile, I stressed over the shading on the petals of my chalk flower. It seems that I have a lot to RE-learn about play, but I have 28 days to learn these lessons. After all, you are never too old to play!

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The Macho Side of Beautiful

I made an interesting observation today. I have been participating in my 428 Days See Beautiful challenge for 17 days now. I have told lots of people about the idea. I chatted with friends over meals. I’ve discussed the impact of seeing more beautiful with folks on Facebook. I’ve even handed out some inspiring See Beautiful swag to people I’ve connected with in the community. Nothing too surprising there. Here’s the interesting part: By and large, most of these people who I have interacted with about Seeing Beautiful…are women. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had one extended conversation about the project with a man.
The tough questions that I am now facing are: Why is this happening? Am I avoiding interactions with men about the See Beautiful campaign? Is there a part of me that feels that it would be inappropriate to give another man a See Beautiful bumper sticker? I’ve really been wrestling with these questions. I believe that I have answers for most of them. I just don’t like the answers I’m getting.
The past 17 days have been inspiring, revitalizing, and just plain fun. I can’t imagine that any human being would not benefit from seeing and sharing more beautiful with the world. And yet, there is a part of me that feels that as a man I am not supposed to reveal this part of myself to the world. I am not sure when I learned this lesson. All I know is that I learned it and I learned it well.
My wife posted this short video on her Facebook page last night. I watched it and immediately connected it to my dilemma. As a father, teacher, and community member, I want the boys and men that I care about to truly experience and appreciate the parts of our world that are beautiful. In order to nurture this idea, I need to really consider some of the lessons I learned about being a man in this world. Likewise, I need to think about the lessons that I may be unconsciously teaching my own son (and daughter) about being male. Truth be told, I’m truly challenged with this one. I guess some lucky guy will be getting a See Beautiful bumper sticker!

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Lesson’s Learned From A Cardboard Arcade

Today is the halfway point of my 28 day journey; day 14!  My first post was inspired my daughter. Coincidentally, today’s post is inspired by my son, David. It is nice to be reminded of how much I learn from my two children. A couple of days ago, David came home from school talking about Caine’s Arcade. He talked about it while he did his homework. He talked about it during dinner. He talked about it as he got ready for bed. Finally, he came to my room right before bedtime and asked if I would search the net for Caine’s Arcade. Needless to say, by this point, I was more than just a little curious. I pulled out my phone, tapped on the browser, and stepped into a beautiful example of innovation, imagination, and commitment to a vision.
The story of Caine and his cardboard arcade taught me a couple of very valuable lessons. First, while there are plenty of beautiful people, things, and acts in our world, beautiful may also exist in the form of ideas and visions that have yet to be realized. These things only become a reality when the dreamers are courageous enough to commit their time, energy, and resources to them. As I watched the story of Caine’s arcade, I realize that throughout my life I have had plenty of cardboard-arcade-like-ideas. Many times, I have decided against acting on them because I doubted that others would see the beauty in them.
That brings me to the second lesson from Caine. Simply put, it is important that you see the beautiful in your dreams, ideas, and visions. You must see the beautiful that exist in you. How else would you build a cardboard arcade and sit in your little chair in front of it day after day waiting for customers to come and share in your creation? Inevitably, Caine’s arcade was successful because he wholly believed that his creation, blue t-shirt and all, was a beautiful one.
Finally, Caine’s Arcade is also the story of a community acknowledging and celebrating an act of beautiful. It is true that the vision for the arcade was rooted firmly in a child’s imagination. However, the reach of Caine’s beautiful creation was extended when others decided to connect with Caine, play in his arcade, and share his vision with others around the world. As a result, Caine’s arcade has inspired millions and launched a movement to foster creativity and entrepreneurship in children ( David and his classmates have been inspired. They are working on their own cardboard arcade at school. And I have been inspired to continue to contribute acts of beautiful to our world, to trust in my own visions of beauty, and to celebrate the beautiful works of others. I hope that you have also found some inspiration in the simple (but beautiful) creation of Caine!

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I Accept Love

Yesterday was a tough day. I found myself facing challenges to which I saw no immediate solution. I received news throughout the day that was ripe with disappointment. I left work feeling mentally and physically exhausted and a bit defeated. It was just one of those days. On my drive home, I kept thinking to myself, “How in the world am I supposed to see beautiful in all of this?”  As I attempted to answer that question, my phone rang.  For a second, I considered ignoring the call.  After all, it was just one of those days. In the end, I decided to take a chance and roll the dice in hopes of landing on a bit of good news.  The voice on the other end of the phone was that of a long time friend and colleague.  For much of the day, she’d been trying to get in touch with me.  I explained to her that my day had been spent putting out fires and trying desperately not to start new ones.

“It’s been a tough day to See Beautiful,” I said.

“Well, let me help,” she responded.  “Today, I was reminded of something beautiful…thanks to you.”

Of course, I had no idea what she was talking about.  I hadn’t seen or talked to her all day.  With the mood I was in and the day I was having, I seriously doubted that I had aided anybody in seeing beautiful.  She went on to tell me that she’d been looking for my contact information on her phone when she came across the last text conversation we’d had…almost a year ago.  At that time, she was caring for her dog who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  On the day of the text messages, she had traveled with her dog to see a specialist at a local university.  I’d sent her a text on that day to ask about the visit and the doctor’s prognosis.  She went on to say that she really appreciated the text messages on that day, and that it meant a lot to her that I thought about her and her pet.  She also mentioned that rereading the text messages brought back a host of beautiful memories of her dog and all the wonderful things he brought to her life.

I smiled as I listened to my friend describe this inadvertent brush with beautiful.  I smiled because I also remembered her wonderful dog with bright eyes who was always ready to play.  I smiled because her memory inspired memories of my own dog who I’d lost years before; the lovingly patient one with wise eyes who was always ready for a walk.  I smiled because I realized at that instance in time that beauty can be found everywhere…even in moments of pain, loss, confusion, and disappointment.  In other words, beautiful can be found on one of those days.

I went to bed last night thinking about this very important lesson.  I woke this morning, September 11, 2013, with a renewed commitment to see beautiful.  On my way into work, I listened to the local radio station’s rebroadcast of news clips from the attacks of September 11, 2001.  As I listened, I recalled the events of that day; the fear and sadness, the calls to loved ones, the anger and frustration.  Immediately, I found myself spinning in the same ball of confusion I’d been met with just the day before.  “Where is the beauty,” I wondered.  Immediately, I thought of the conversation with my friend.  I was immediately reminded of the acts of beautiful that grew out of the tragedy our world experienced on September 11th.  I was reminded of the acts of bravery and kindness enacted in support of community.  I was reminded of my own renewed appreciation for family and friends. I was reminded of the calls for peace, nonviolence, and cooperation that went out from communities around the world.

Recently, I came across footage from the ABC show, What Would You Do?  I believe it is a nice example of a beautiful act in the midst of struggle.  Given the players involved, I feel it is also especially relevant for today.  If you have some time, take a look at the clip.  I hope that it will remind you of the beauty that exist around you today; the smile of loved one, kind words from a stranger, an act of forgiveness, or a walk in the neighborhood with a furry, four-legged friend.

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Be the Change

I have to admit. I’m pretty uncomfortable with change. I like my coffee with a splash of cream and a couple of spoon fulls of sugar. I find comfort in tradition. For 28 Days is pushing me to really consider the value of change; especially when it is for the better. The funny thing is that sometimes you won’t know the benefits of a specific change (be it large or small) unless you embrace it.
Enjoy the video. I look forward to continuing this journey with you tomorrow. Be the change that you want to see!

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A Letter From Fred

A powerful example of beauty in action. A group of musicians connect with a man with lyrics of love to create a beautiful piece of music. To love openly and freely is truly an act of beauty!

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