On kindness

“Kindness keeps the world afloat.” – Orly Wahba, founder of Life Vest Inside

I find that quote so inspiring. At times, the world feels as if it’s sinking. The news can be so overwhelmingly negative that you forget there are good people out there dedicating their lives to making a difference. Like Orly Wahba, whom I’ve quoted above. And like this newly married couple—they decided to forego a wedding reception and a honeymoon; instead, they are using those funds to travel around all 50 states to do random acts of kindness for animals, children, the homeless and so on. I love it! So inspirational!

Then there is The World Kindness Movement, which is dedicated to spreading kindness on a global scale. It’s such an amazing idea because the thing about kindness is it’s so infectious. Also, it really makes a profound impact on people’s lives.

Even science points to the importance of kindness. A recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, sponsored by Dignity Health, found that patients treated with compassion and kindness healed faster, felt less pain and were discharged sooner. Click here and scroll down for an amazing infographic.

A kindness curriculum

I saw this firsthand while working as a teacher in the San Francisco public schools.  I felt like something was really lacking from our curriculum. Yes, the kids were being taught math, science, history, English and so on. But many of my kids were from some of San Francisco’s toughest neighborhoods. They lacked role models at home, were barely passing, and didn’t seem to care about their education. Sometimes it felt so impossible to reach them. Then I wondered … could kindness make a difference?

So my friend Kathy (also a teacher at my school) and I decided to develop a special curriculum on Kindness. She still teaches it to this day. We developed three units on the topics of homelessness, the elderly and animal welfare. Students spent a couple of weeks on each unit—reading, writing and discussing. We also had them create diary entries—putting themselves in the shoes of a homeless person, an animal at the shelter, and an elderly person in a home. What is their day like? How do they feel? And then, at the end of six weeks, they had to do a final project—either write a paper or volunteer five hours in the community (related to one of the units).

I was blown away by how inspired these kids were by our kindness project. The kids who hated school and never did homework—these were the ones spending their weekends cleaning out cages at the SPCA, then bringing videos in to share and report back to us all about what they had learned.

But perhaps what was most surprising was this: the A+ students—they didn’t want to get their hands dirty and volunteer; they chose to write a paper as their final project. Meanwhile, the kids you’d think are “headed for trouble”—these were the ones who enthusiastically wanted to go into the community and get down and dirty and help. Volunteering is the hardest choice, and they absolutely embraced it.

I learned that the kids who were not motivated at all, that I had such difficulty reaching—they were really able to connect and be kind when they started spending time around animals. The “tough kid” suddenly became kind and sensitive when talking about the kittens at the shelter. It was truly heartwarming!

Dogs and kindness

Now through my work with SARA, I’m able to see how acts of kindness can make an immense difference—even in the worst of circumstances. We recently had a SARA fundraiser, which raised more than $3,000 for our teachers in India who offer Reiki to street dogs. This money allowed them to teach animal shelter staff at TOFLA (Tree of Life for Animals), offer classes to the public, and “be” Reiki with the dogs who were dying. I’m talking about really difficult work here. One of my students was able to offer Reiki to a bunch of puppies that came in. They were too weak to survive, but she was there to train people and hold a space of love and kindness amidst all this pain and sadness.

Experiences like these are so meaningful to me … and I want to hear more! Please share your thoughts—and your experiences—on kindness.

P.S.: A wonderful TED talk on kindness and consequence, and some kindness ideas on Pinterest.

The best album I’ve heard in years

You know how sometimes you find that perfect album, the one where every song just resonates to the very core of your being?

Throughout the years, there have been many albums like that for me: Keane’s “Under the Iron Sea.” Colin Hay’s “Going Somewhere.” U2’s “Joshua Tree.” But today, right now–during this particular time in my life–that album is “Ghost Stories” by Coldplay.

Music is personal; I get it. You may not feel so connected as I do to this album, and that’s OK. And while I’m absolutely in love with every beautiful track sung by Chris Martin, here are three tracks that stand out in particular. …

  • “Always in My Head”: The song sounds absolutely angelic as it starts. Then the music ramps up, and it’s so smooth and beautiful.
  • “Sky Full of Stars”: This is my soundtrack to making homemade chocolate-chip cookies with my daughter Indigo. I twirl around in circles and we dance. It makes me feel like a kid again!
  • “O”: Exquisitely written, this song holds a lot of meaning for me. It’s about letting go, but in that letting go, you’re sharing compassion and love with an open hand. Whether with friends or with loved ones, it’s about being unselfish, generous and free in your love.

What album gives you an automatic mood boost? What songs stand by you through times of happiness or times of melancholy? I’m always looking to expand my playlist and would love to hear your suggestions.

Gratitude: Five for Friday

As this week winds down, here are a few things I’m feeling gratitude for today. …

1. Jane Goodall and all the work she does for the animals. She’s the real deal, and she’s my hero. She recently spoke at the USF Sun Dome in Florida. That would have been amazing to see.

2. Jimmy Fallon’s thank-you notes. They make me smile every time.

3. The Vosges-Haut Chocolat boutique inside O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I always go shopping here every time I’m passing through. If you haven’t tried Vosges, you must. It’s delicious! Also, the company uses organic ingredients when possible and is committed to green manufacturing practices, packaging and more.

4. Pilates. Never fond of gyms or “exercising” in general, Pilates has been a game-changer for me. It helps not just in overall health but also in my cancer recovery. My sis Charlotte swears by it, too. I practice twice a week now at Full Circle Pilates in San Anselmo (it’s practically my new home away from home).

5. Innovative thinkers: I just love this idea of biophilic cities, where urban landscapes are designed to merge effortlessly with nature. The article states, “In biophilic cities, there is more focus on well-being and health.” Sounds good to me!

Wishing you a wonderful weekend. What are you grateful for today?

{Photo credit: orca_bc via photopin cc}

 

 

The culinary trick I can’t live without

This is probably obvious to everyone else out there but me, but recently I discovered the art of roasting vegetables. I can’t believe I’ve gone all these years without doing this!

I’m a vegetarian, so eating veggies is already a huge part of my daily diet. But it seems I’ve always blended, baked or sautéed them. Now that I’ve discovered roasting, it’s my new favorite kitchen trick.

Here’s my super easy process (beware—it’s addicting):

  1. Line one or two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Chop all your favorite veggies. If you do potatoes, make sure they are super thinly sliced.
  4. Coat everything with 1-2 tablespoons of oil, pepper, a pinch of salt (optional), and 3 garlic cloves, minced. You can use a bowl or a gallon Ziploc bag for easy cleanup.
  5. Place the veggies in a single layer on the cookie sheets and bake 20 minutes or so until done.
Roasted cherry tomatoes

Roasted cherry tomatoes

That’s it! Once roasted, they’re so versatile. You can sprinkle them inside tortillas, top pizzas and pasta, stir into scrambled eggs or just enjoy alone—whatever works for you.

Here’s a delish recipe for Garlic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes from The Novice Chef blog (see my sis Char’s take in the photo above).

Want to know the best kind of oil for healthy roasting? Check out this great article.

Do you roast veggies? Any tips, tricks or recipes to share?

{Lead photo credit: Dylan Parker via photopin cc}

 

 

Sanctuary spotlight: Best Friends Animal Society

In 2010, Best Friends Animal Society invited me to teach Reiki to a team of their volunteers. I couldn’t wait to share Reiki with the animals. So Charlotte Jensen (my sister), Leah D’Ambrosio (my SARA co-founder) and I piled into a car and made the long desert drive from Vegas to beautiful Utah. We had so much fun! (You can read more about it here.)

Following are some fun facts about Best Friends, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary this past weekend at its national conference in Las Vegas. Congrats on three decades of dedication to the no-kill movement!

CLAIM TO fame: Best Friends is the largest sanctuary for homeless animals in the U.S.

BASED IN: Kanab, Utah

WHERE THE money goes: 78.7% of every dollar directly supports sanctuary programs. (See a full breakdown here.)

NUMBER OF animals at the sanctuary: About 1,700

OPEN HEARTS, open minds: Best Friends welcomes all healing modalities when caring for the animals (including Reiki!).

SWEET SUCCESS story: China, the loving and gentle dog we “borrowed” for our overnight—who lost her owners in Hurricane Katrina—found her forever home last year.

CRAZY FACT: According to Best Friends, Cat World goes through 255,500 pounds of cat litter per year (that’s 700 pounds per day).

STAR POWER: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Alyssa Milano, Bill Maher and dozens more lend their support as “celebrity ambassadors.” But Best Friends points out that contributions from individual supporters like us actually fund the majority of the work they do.

TRAVEL TIP: If you choose to stay in one of their cozy cottages like we did, be on the lookout for the “cute” spiders (on the ceiling…in the blankets…on the walls…). Maybe they wanted Reiki, too?

DON’T MISS: Find your peace at Angel’s Landing, a majestic natural amphitheater (and ancient healing ground of the Anasazi) surrounded by trees and carved into a towering rock wall.

{Photos © Charlotte Jensen}

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