Final Thoughts on my Year of Living Consciously

31 Dec

Here it is. The last day of 2011.

Some rights reserved by sara_kateAnd with it I have come to the end of my “30 Days at a Time” challenge. During this year, I have taken on different projects to incorporate into my life for 30 days. Most people agree that it takes somewhere between 21 and 30 days to ingrain a new habit into your life, and I wanted to integrate several things into my life as well as give myself some challenges. All in all, I completed ten 30-day challenges – there weren’t a total of 12 because I usually paused for about a week in between the challenges.

All together, here were the projects I took on in 2011, in order:

  • Six Items or Less – For one month, I selected only six items of clothing and wore only those things, in a challenge to pare down and simplify both my closet and daily life.
  • Giving Project – Every day I gave something; whether that was money, volunteered time, donated used goods, something.
  • Meditation – I committed to a mindful, disciplined meditation every day, to see what positive effects that might have.
  • The Happiness Project – Following Gretchen Rubin’s book chronicling her year experiment with creating her own happiness, I embarked on a conscious study of practices that bring more internal, sustainable joy to daily living.
  • Sustainability Challenge – Though I already strive to live as eco-friendly as possible, I wanted to learn more about sustainable living and incorporate habits into my life that would reduce my carbon footprint.
  • Locavore – For one month, I committed to eating local and organic as much as possible. Again, this is something I do a lot of already, but I wanted to see what would happen if I really strived to do away with processed, shipped, artificial and packaged foods as entirely as possible, and live off farmers markets and local food.
  • Living on a Discount – My rules for this challenge were to buy nothing, except non-negotiable fixed items such as rent and insurance, that was not discounted by at least 30%. I used a lot of Groupons and similar deal sites, won some things, bargain shopped like it was a competitive sport and took advantage of lots of free stuff.
  • Photo Challenge – Here I jumped on the bandwagon of existing 30 Day Photo Challenges, and shared a photograph every day according to pre-set subjects such as “Someone You Miss” and “10 Things about You.”
  • Learning – I enthusiastically set about to learn as many new things as I could, from dance and hot glass blowing to language lessons and new cooking skills. I even took a pilot lesson and flew a plane!
  • 30 Ways in 30 Days – My last challenge of the year was in conjunction with Take Part, which offers a simple action every day that you can take to make the world a better place.

Some rights reserved by sirwiseowlSo, how was it all? What did I learn, and am I still doing any of the practices? The short answer is yes, a lot of them. I really looked at 2011, and this entire project, as my “Year of Living Consciously.” For the most part, a lot of us go through life just getting from one task to the next, planning dinner or the next day, repeating the same mistakes or bad habits, sort of drifting through life without being really cognizant of what we are doing, the life we are creating.

“With our thoughts, we make the world,” said the Buddha.

Put another way, John Lennon famously remarked, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

Some rights reserved by mag3737

And so days pass, unheralded. Months and then years slowly trickle by, and we realize that we haven’t done so many of the things we set out to do, we wanted to do. We are getting older, and still we have not lived.

I don’t want life to be that way.

Living mindfully means, most of all, focusing on the present moment. The now. It’s all we have really, this actual moment happening right now. Be there. Enjoy it, or at least learn from it.

Here are my main take-aways from my 30 Days at a Time challenge:

Stuff clutters our lives and our minds. I’m no austere minimalist, don’t get me wrong. I have my share of things, but by and large I try to be selective about possessions that have real value and meaning to me. After my Six Items or Less challenge, I cleaned out my closet and gave lots of stuff away. I did the same with other items during the Giving and Sustainability projects. In the never ending rush of accumulation and consumerism that seems to drive so much of American life, stuff becomes our master. Have too much of it, and it begins to own you.

Some rights reserved by kaputniqWe choose to be happy, and create our own happiness in our minds, by and large. Of course events and situations can be painful, tragic and traumatic. At those times we are often unhappy, stressed or even grief-stricken. But I’m talking about the permanent ongoing baseline, not fluctuations of circumstance. True happiness is internal, not external, not reliant on other people or things or events. We make our own
happiness, every single day.

We should never stop learning. I believe that the minute we stop being curious about the world, that’s the minute we start to become old. I always remember a story someone told me years ago, about standing in line for college registration behind an elderly man. After striking up a conversation, the young student asked the co-registering man how old he was. 80, was the reply. “But don’t you realize you’ll be 84 by the time you finish college?” To which the old man replied, “Son, I’ll be 84 anyway.”

Some rights reserved by Your Secret AdmiralGiving really is better than receiving. Really – it’s been scientifically proven. People who give or volunteer their time are happier themselves, and generally healthier, than people who don’t. There’s even a documented phenomenon called the “Helper’s High.” Even though I’ve always volunteered and supported loved organizations, doing so on a daily basis in my Giving Project really showed me this. The days when I most didn’t feel like doing it – the days I was in a hurry, or stressed out, or it wasn’t such a great day – were the days when that act of thinking of someone else, taking me out of my own little world and problems, was the thing that turned my whole day around and made it better.

Surround yourself with people who inspire you. It took me a long time to learn to weed negative, toxic, soul-sucking people out of my life. We can’t always pick and choose, and have to get along with people who are in our paths, at work, etc. But as far as people you let into your inner circle, your entire life, it’s just as with food – what you bring into it is what you’ll get from it. I am blessed to have a wonderful partner, loving family and some of the most awesome friends in the world. I have made a conscious choice to leave toxic people out of my life and surround myself with the pretty darn wonderful. Don’t be with people who make you miserable; be with people who make your spirit soar.

Living well doesn’t have to be expensive. Going back to that idea of living more simply, with less stuff, it’s also been proven that experiences bring us more lasting happiness than things. In most places there are a wealth of things you can do for free, or really inexpensively, that add to your quality of life. From free music to street fairs and museums; or simply take an hour to look at flowers with your child or take a walk with your partner.

What we do really matters. Paying attention to little things around the house that suck energy; buying a lot of food from your local farmer rather than stuff that’s been trucked thousands of miles by a corporation…all these things add up. They may seem small, but there are seven billion people on our planet now. If enough of them do enough small things, we really do affect the world.

There’s no excuse not to live consciously, mindfully, with intention. Every moment.
As far as we know, we only have this one life. Let’s make it count.

Thank you for coming with me on this journey. For 2012, you might want to jump on over to my new blog, Trading Places. I’m just getting it set up; it’s all about the places around the world I will go during the year, learning new things and meeting new people, and chronicling how these regular, local people all over the planet live their daily lives. And you can always find me on my website as well. I wish you a happy, prosperous, peaceful New Year.


The Results – 30 Days at a Time in 2011

30 Dec

WordPress sent me an end-of-the-year recap of how 30 Days at a Time did, and I thought it was interesting enough to share. What were some of my top posts, in terms of readers and comments?

First of all, the overall stats according to WordPress:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

My busiest day was on February 9th, with 409 views of my post, Do the Clothes make the Person?. This was from my first challenge, the Six Items or Less experiment.

The second most popular post ever was False Happiness (or Don’t Believe American Television).

The post that was the most commented on in 2011 was Eating Local & Organic = Better Health, Better Taste. This was largely due to a lot of crazies who somehow took offense to the fact that I had decided to eat less meat. Go figure.

Here is a recap of the top five posts of the year:

Thanks again everyone, for helping to make it an awesome journey!

Doing Good during the Holidays

30 Dec

So the past week’s 30 Ways in 30 Days actions have centered around the holidays and what we can do at this time of year, through small actions, to make the world a better place. I’m not going to list all the week’s actions – you can find them at Take Part’s website – but here are a few of my favorites:

Skip the Mall—Make Edible Gifts

This is one of my favorites, because I am not really into holiday gift-giving. I don’t care for the over-consumption and the excess that comes with holidays, nor do I care for the stress that goes along with people running around buying presents for other people who don’t “need” anything. I prefer to buy something for someone I care about, whenever I see something that I know they would cherish. I also like giving consumables, so this action was perfect. Continue reading

It’s all about Protecting Kids

21 Dec

Last week’s 30 Ways in 30 Days actions were all about the kids. Here’s what we did:

Buy a Pencil to Send a Child to School

It takes so little to send a child to school in the developing world. If you have a bit of cash to spare, consider donating $25 to Pencils of Promise to help educate a child for one year. I wrote about Pencils of Promise before, when I donated to them as part of my 30 Days of Giving project. When you give, you’ll get a symbolic black pencil that says, “This pencil educates one child.” Continue reading

Toys, Trees and Turtles

15 Dec

I’ve kept up with my 30 Ways in 30 Days project, in spite of being out of the country on a press trip. Here are the actions that I’ve taken in the last few days:

Donate a Toy to Toys for Tots

Do you remember unwrapping the My Little Pony or Transformer that you’d been dreaming about all year?

Help give a a little boy or girl a special holiday this year by donating a toy to Toys for Tots.

I decided to make my toy donation to my friend Janet, who is running a toy drive in honor of her son Luke, for Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Luke died a little over two years ago from DIPG, an extremely rare brain stem cancer. He was 10 years old; you can read a story I wrote about him and Janet here. We also appeared on Good Day Austin to talk about the fight against childhood cancer. Continue reading