Go Do Cool Stuff and Make the World Awesome

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In the past couple years, I’ve become an absolute believer in the power of volunteering. Wanna make the world more awesome? Volunteer. Wanna do something nice for your community? Volunteer. Wanna make friends with cool people and learn things at the same time? You get the idea.

A gift of your precious time and energy can make worlds of difference for people in your community, and you may be surprised at how much helping others boosts your own sense of well-being. Helping others makes you powerful in the best possible way. So, what are you waiting for? You can start right this second. Pick a community you love or an issue you care about, and go have fun making the world a better place. Here are a few of my favorite ways to volunteer along with suggestions from my friends:

  • Walk dogs or pet cats for the SPCA — yes, playing with animals is a form of community service!
  • Join a Habitat for Humanity build team. Bonus: They will teach you how to use power tools!
  • Pick up litter around your neighborhood.
  • Sort clothing/donations at a nonprofit thrift store.
  • Serve food, help cook, or clean up at a soup kitchen.
  • Read to nursing home residents or children in the hospital.
  • Assemble care packages and/or help give them out to the homeless in your city.
  • Knit/crochet hats, scarves, socks and blankets for the ill, the elderly, or the homeless.
  • Coach your favorite sport for a local youth team.
  • Be a conversation partner or instructor for people learning your language.
  • Help out with local art events, community concerts, conventions or any other happening you’d like to see more of in your community. Bonus: Volunteering often means you get free admission, too!
  • Help plant flags at the veterans’ cemetery on Veterans’ Day.
  • Offer your professional skills (blogging, design, IT, accounting) to nonprofit organizations.

Extra bonus for all types of volunteering: It’s a great opportunity to meet other folks who care about the same things you do, which can lead to some of the most enriching friendships of your life.

Need some direction to find your perfect fit? Check out these organizations to find the best way to volunteer in your community:

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Monday Night Nonfiction: Who Showed Up

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Last week, I had a yoga class with only one student. This happens a lot. It’s just part of being a yoga teacher in a small studio, especially when you’re subbing. If only one person shows up, I still hold a class. If no one shows up, I try to stay and do my own practice. This time, I wasn’t feeling so great. I was recovering from the flu, I was groggy from NyQuil, and I’ll admit I would’ve been happy to go back to bed.

The person who showed up was woman in her early 50s who we’ll call Liz. Liz has been a pretty consistent yoga student for some time now, and we’ve practiced together a lot over the summer.

Liz let me know that she’d suffered a dizzy spell in another teacher’s class last week. The episode was a total surprise to her, and she was pretty alarmed by it. The other teacher suggested that it could be caused by dehydration and/or a drop in blood pressure, so Liz was making sure to stay hydrated and had gotten her blood pressure checked. She even had plans to see the eye doctor next to rule out any vision-related causes. I know she has a strong yoga practice and can hang with a pretty intense vinyasa, but this new information made me glad I’d planned a gentle class.

We had a really great practice together. It was slow, meditative, and focused. Rather than moving quickly through a lot of poses, we slowed down and connected with the breath more deeply in each pose. By the end of class, Liz definitely had a greater sense of calm around her. Still, in our closing meditation, her eyebrows were furrowed and her face was tense. Her chest seemed tight, as though her breath wasn’t moving freely. When I closed my eyes to meditate with her, I felt the strangest sense of holding, like a jaw clinched so tight it starts to create dizziness. I know that sounds nutty, but that’s really the sense I got.

When class ended, I said, “Liz, I should’ve asked you this earlier when you told me about your dizzy spell, but … how has life in general been for you lately? Has it been kindof chaotic? Or are things going along normally?”

She immediately began to cry. She told me about a death that took place in her family several months ago and how she simply hadn’t felt the same since. She felt powerless to help her loved ones in addition to some intense grief that she couldn’t really talk to anyone about. It seemed like she mostly needed someone to talk to, but those intense emotions were also creating some major anxiety for her. I told her about a meditation technique I use when dealing with intense emotions in hopes that it would help her.

When Liz left, she seemed a little bit comforted. Maybe being listened to was all she needed. Maybe she’ll try that meditation technique, and it’ll help deal with the emotions. I’m glad she’s checking out possible medical causes for sure! Maybe it’s a little vain of me to think I might have helped someone. All I did was listen and give some potentially useless advice. But I dunno. I felt like I had an opportunity to help someone, which was cool. She left smiling. She gave me a hug. It was a good day.

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How to Give Joyfully

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Take stock of what’s awesome in your life. Make a list if you need to.

First of all, if you’re reading this, you probably have internet access. You’re pretty intelligent. You’re a forward-thinking person who’s always looking to grow and become better. Chances are good that you’ve got some kind and loving people in your life, and most of your basic needs are met rather reliably.

We remember Maslow’s hierarchy, right? The more of your basic needs are being met, the more freedom you have to go be awesome. When you’re not worried about where your next meal is coming from, you can think about things like art and literature. You can go dancing or enjoy the sunshine. You’re able to look around and appreciate all the goodness in the world.

When you’re feeling good and grateful, ask yourself: “What if everyone was this lucky?” What if everyone could marry their best friend? What if everyone was healthy and felt good about their bodies? What if everyone had enough to eat and a safe place to sleep? When I notice how lucky I am and how good life is, I feel compelled to share it with everyone I can in whatever way I can. For me, that’s teaching yoga and writing. Especially when I’m teaching yoga, I have the opportunity to give people an experience of joy, compassion, and well-being that I think is priceless. And the joy I get from this? It’s immense.

That kind of giving is really receiving. I may be giving you a yoga class, but I’m receiving the immeasurable honor of connecting with you on your path. If you love cooking, giving a meal to your friends or someone in needs is wonderfully fulfilling. If you love fashion, helping someone assemble a perfect date or interview outfit could feel great. Anything you do can be turned into a gift to the world. You can coach coach a little league sports team, lead writing or art workshops, teach a friend to knit, or volunteer to support a cause you’re passionate about. If you share what makes you happiest and the most grateful, giving will feel like a blessing, and you’ll never want to stop.

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