I’ve just completed by second 30-Day experiment – the Giving Project has come to an end, and I am ready to embark on my next experiment: 30 Days of Meditation. This experiment experiment will consist of a disciplined meditation, 15-20 minutes in length, EVERY single day. Before we get to that, though, I’ll recap briefly the last days of the Giving Project.
My gives for the last two days of the project:
March 8 – Save the Children: Through Sparked, an absolutely brilliant concept that matches micro-volunteers with charities to help out in convenient online projects, I helped out one of my favorite large, worldwide charities. Save the Children recently launched a blog, and they were looking for professional feedback on what worked and what didn’t.
March 9 – Fundraiser for Bicycle Claire: My friend and fellow writing colleague Christine Cox put together a fundraiser for her daughter, Claire, who is wheelchair-bound and trying to raise money for a very expensive adaptive bike. I pledged a couple of donations for it. The fundraising event will be held at J. Black’s on March 23, if you want to come out and have a drink and bid on great auction items to help Claire get her new bike!
Finding a way to give something – volunteer time, donated items or money – every day for a month had a lot of lessons. My biggest takeaways from this experiment were:
- It’s not that hard to find easy ways to incorporate giving into our daily lives as we go about our business. An extra dollar at the check-out line, a few cans of food to put in the food pantry collection at the grocery store, dropping off a few clothes you no longer wear at a shelter or Goodwill. Don’t save yourself up for the “big give” – try to do something small every week. I think it adds up more in the long run.
- People with less money and resources give, on average and as a percentage, much more than wealthier people do. If they can do it, so can those of us who have plenty, even if we may not be rich. We all have something we can give.
- Focusing on something outside ourselves and our own lives is extremely valuable – to ourselves personally, and to our places in the world. Doing this every single day really woke me up to this fact; and I will make an effort from here on out to, in some way, focus on someone else or a bigger picture in the world every day.
- When you’re having a bad day or struggling with a problem, try doing something for someone else. Maybe it’s volunteering or making a donation, or maybe it’s just doing a favor or kind act for a relative, friend or even a stranger. The act of giving, in and of itself, does a lot to help lift me out of a bad mood or stress.
- Giving is an awesome high and makes you feel great!
I was intrigued to read a piece in the New York Times that reported a recent scientific study on the effects of meditation on our actual, physical brain waves. The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
Wow. That’s a significant endorsement, to me. M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.
So, today is the first day of this challenge, and off I go. I’m not a stranger to meditation; I do it regularly at the end of yoga class several times a week (that’s basically what savasana is, reclining meditation), and meditate sometimes to clear and focus my mind. But I’m very curious to see what daily, structured and disciplined meditation for at least 15-20 minutes will do. I guess those closest around me can tell later if I seem smarter and less stressed. Interested in trying this out for yourself? Below are a few Austin-area meditation centers and online resources.
- http://austin.shambhala.org/ – Free meditation instruction is available Sundays at 11 AM and Wednesdays at 6:30 PM.
- http://www.learningmeditation.com/ – Great online resources for getting started with meditation
- http://www.meditationcenter.com/ – Online meditation center
- http://www.austinzencenter.org/ – Austin Zen center