Tag Archives: Giving Back

4 Stunning Examples of Community Love (Video)

The first definition of community is a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. The second definition is much more interesting though – a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.  A feeling of fellowship. What does that mean to you? As we look at the different kinds of love that we give this week, what do you consider your community? Do you give back? How do you celebrate it?

The following videos are about people who went above and beyond for the love of those they share a common attitude, interest or goal with. They are community leaders and kids. They start massive construction projects or simply add a little extra joy to their day jobs. The common thread is that they care about the world and people around them, and are taking the time to show it.

Many of the children currently living in Ethiopia have never known a world outside of the HIV/AIDS crisis. It is something that impacts them every day. These teenagers used their phenomenal dancing skills to create a group called the BEZA Anti-AIDS youth group. They travel around the country performing these dances and hand out fliers and information to the crowds that watch them to help create a more educated society and prevent the transfer of AIDS. Talk about using your artistic talents for a good cause.

We all know that hospitals can be a depressing place, but this nurse makes it his mission to give each of his patients something to make them feel warmer and loved. They call him “The Singing Nurse.” It started with him mindlessly singing as he handed out medications and went about regular tasks. Then he realized it was a great way to give his patients some personal care and make them feel special despite their less than enviable situations. It just goes to show how much joy you can bring even in the toughest jobs if you just open your heart.

Jonny Benjamin was 20 years old when he was diagnosed with a mental disorder that left him hopeless for a normal life. So he decided to take his life, but the kindness of one stranger named Mike convinced him not to do it. Instead of committing suicide, Jonny became a campaigner for mental health regulations and research. He’s a leader that tries to shine a light on illnesses that we still don’t fully understand. A few years after that night on the bridge, Jonny started an internet campaign to find Mike, to thank him for saving his life. His story touched millions as the campaign went viral. Above is the video of their second meeting, and proof of what happens when you just take the time to lend an ear.

Your community doesn’t have to just be the people or places around you. We’re all part of a global community because we have this one thing in common – Earth. So it’s important to show love for that too. In Milan they are creating vertical forests to show some love for Lady Earth. Not only does the project beautify a part of town that has become overrun, but it gives a home to over 900 trees per building. Something to pretty, and it benefits the planet? Where do we sign up?

Do you have an example of someone showing love for their community? Share it with us in the comments below!

Get into the Spirit: Acts of Holiday Kindness

During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of overflowing schedules, maxing out credit cards to fulfill wish lists, and feeling overwhelmed by trying to keep up with it all.Gift

But, it’s important to step back and remember the true meaning of the season. The holidays are a time where we can honor traditions and create new memories, attend festive parties, spend more time with our loved ones, and rejoice in the energy of the pending new year with boundless opportunities ahead.

One of the most beautiful and heartwarming things about the holiday season is that it inspires many to be a little nicer, more giving, more social, and generally overall better to one other.

To gain some perspective on holiday giving, I reached out to a couple of kindness gurus for their take on the gooey heartwarming goodness of the season.

Kris Wittenberg, Founder & CEO of Be Good to People, a movement that’s changing the world one person, one kind act at a time notes, “People are full of good cheer, looking for ways to spread it to others and carry it on into the New Year ahead. There is a sense of altruism brought about by the holiday season. I think people oftentimes are exhausted at the end of the year. They have been running in the rat race, making their way in the world, and as the year ends, they let down their walls a bit and share a common humanity. People are thinking of others as they shop for special gifts, put together their holiday card distribution lists, attend holiday festivities together and spend time with family and friends. It’s just a jovial time.”

Elle Lanning, Senior Director of Communications at Do the KIND Thing: Projects, a program which crowd sources socially impactful ideas and gives away $10k to a winning project every month, adds “when people get in that holiday spirit, they feel compelled to go beyond giving just gifts but also their time, their kind words, and more. Spreading kindness or holiday cheer during this time can be as simple as giving a dollar to the homeless you encounter on your commute every morning, to volunteering, to distributing holiday meals to those in need, to treating a close friend to dinner. The possibilities are endless.”

The holiday season can be a dark time for those who are missing loved ones in their lives or who are struggling to make ends meet. How can one give back this season? It’s a time where we can open up our hearts to those in need while teaching the younger generations that there is more to this time of year than just receiving the latest tech gadget.

Kris Wittenberg gave a few great ideas on how to pay-it-forward over the holidays stating, “there are so many wonderful options for any budget or schedule.” She truly knows what it means to Be Good to People as she offered up these wonderful ideas:

  • Shovel the neighbor’s walk or clear their car of snow before they come out in the morning
  • Offer an elderly person, busy single mom, or someone fighting a debilitating illness help wrapping gifts or decorate the house for the holidays
  • Deliver homemade holiday goodies to a homeless shelter, women’s shelter or nursing home
  • Offer to read holiday stories to kids at the library or to residents at a nursing home
  • Adopt a family (check with your local social services, church or shelter) and surprise them with meals and gifts that fill needs and wants
  • Remember the people who serve with special gifts or notes of appreciation: the mail carrier, the garbage collector, the minister or choir director at your church, the crossing guard, librarian, lunch ladies or janitor at school, the first responders – anyone who makes your neighborhood run. And don’t forget your neighbors!
  • Host a holiday open house and ask that no one bring dishes or drinks but instead bring a new toy wrapped and labeled or a donation that will go to a local charity
  • Instead of just signing holiday cards and mailing them, write a personal note in each – come on, make time! What a difference that makes to the recipient!
  • Deliver warm clothes, socks, shoes, mittens, hats, scarves, and jackets to homeless people – include a warm meal or a gift certificate

While kindness knows no seasonal boundaries, the good holiday vibes, unfortunately, don’t always last forever. KINDS’s Elle Lanning explains, “most people get into the spirit and somewhat inherently fall out when the new year and busy schedules pick up again.” When asked about keeping the spirit alive she says, “The most important thing to remember is that it is simple to be kind and to do it all year round. People often think to do something good, they have to volunteer or write a check. Doing good for others could be simple daily tasks such as holding the door open for a stranger or buying coffee for your colleague.” By signing up for one of her local food bank’s newsletter, she stays in the know of everything they are working on or in need of throughout the year. Signing up for updates on causes you feel in alignment with is a good way to stay inspired and involved with your community as well.

There are so many ways to spread a little love and holiday cheer. Better yet, keep it going all year! What about you? In what ways do you and your family perform acts of holiday kindness? How might you keep the inspiration going year round? Please share with us in the comments below!

(For more from Dawn Gluskin, visit Dawnsense.com to sign up for her weekly love letters and join the inspiring Dawnsense Facebook community.)

photo by: asenat29

Is it Possible to Give Too Much?

Giving Hands I’m a giver. Being born with a giant heart, I’ve spent my life compassionately trying to help others whenever possible. When I see a group of kids standing outside the grocery store trying to raise funds for whatever cause, I always open my wallet. Same with those who show up at the doorstep. I’ve given up nights and weekends to serve on volunteer committees. As an employer, I’ve showered my staff with bonuses and growth opportunities in gratitude for their service. At home, we regularly clean out our closets and cupboards and donate any excess we can. These actions, as small (or big) as they are, have just been a natural extension of what I stand for. Being of service to others is very fulfilling and, frankly, something the world needs more of. However, like all good things, it can have a dark side. Yes, I do believe it is possible to give too much. Let me explain.

When I went in to business for myself in 2008, we were blessed with rapid growth and business “success”. As our employee size and bottom line grew, I knew that I wanted to give back even more. I created a program for our employees to pick a cause in the community and take paid time off to volunteer. We also donated to many others causes through sponsorships and workplace giving programs. I was invited to chair a local non-profit event, which was a pretty big undertaking, but my big heart told me to say yes as I dove right in to the responsibility. And, any time a friend asked for support on a project of their own, I was there to help them in any way I could. It felt great to have the capacity to give back so much. So, what was the problem?

After several years of very strong business growth, we experienced our first major down cycle. The company started losing money. Fast. Instead of laying people off right away, which would have been a strategic business decision, I felt compelled to work even harder to get our profits back up and keep things chugging along. Tried as I did, the economy was taking its toll. I was essentially losing tons of money to keep others on the payroll. Ouch. The ship was taking on water fast and I had to do something before it went under. Alas, I had to get smart and do what my heart dreaded – lay people off.

At this point, I felt like a failure. I was stressed about money. My heart ached for those who had to find new jobs and I felt guilty because they would struggle to pay their bills. I was hard on myself for not magically pulling it all together. On top of that, I was spread very thin with my volunteer work, my home life, and I had just recently become pregnant with our second daughter at the time. People continued to call on me to ask for help, but I finally had to draw the line in the sand and say “no”. I just couldn’t do it any more. It was time to help myself.

I secretly wanted my former employees to be like “thank you for keeping us on so long even though I know you were losing a lot of money.” Some of them did. But, others, of course, were stressed out about their own situation and a little less gracious. Some even hurtful. I wanted the organizations that I volunteered for to be like “Oh, we totally understand. Go take care of yourself and your family.” And, some of them were. But, others seemed disappointed and became less friendly when I couldn’t put in the hours any more. I wanted the friends whose projects I couldn’t support to be like “I understand you can’t support all of them..” And, most of them were. But, others took offense when I didn’t help.

So, here I was, at a pretty low point in my life. I was trying to resurrect my business, feeling horrible about it, and trying to take a step back to pull myself together so I could focus on what mattered most, the beautiful life I was creating inside my tummy. And, instead of offering support, some of the very people that my big heart had gone out of its way to help in the past were upset or disappointed in me because I could not or would not give to them any more. That twisted the knife even more. And, it hurt.

But, I couldn’t blame them, really. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t their fault. It was I that had taught them how to treat me, after all. I had spent so much time give, give, giving that I never set clear boundaries for myself and what my personal limitations were. In my eagerness to help others, I forgot to help myself. People got so use to me being a “yes” that they seemed less than satisfied when I finally had to say “no.’ Also, it had occurred to me that, even in my toughest times, I never asked anybody else for help. I had let the world know that I was a huge giver, but sent a message that I was some sort of superwoman that didn’t need any help. Therefore people were, go figure, not likely to offer their support. Truth be told, whether in the form of understanding, compassion, or just a little pat on the back to say, “it will be okay,” I would have been wide open to receiving that type of encouragement.

Like with all times of trouble, here within lied some incredibly valuable lessons for me. I used the turmoil I was experiencing in my outside world as a reflection of my inner-workings and took some time to go inward and grow from it all.

I’ve since prioritized what matters most in my life and choose to focus my time and energy on what makes my heart expand with love. I accept that, inevitably, I will have to disappoint some people along the way. And, unapologetically so. We simply can’t help everyone. I’ve discovered that we can work more efficiently and have a greater reach when our own truth and boundaries are honored. Often, saying no to others often means saying yes to our own life and dreams.

I’ve learned that everything needs to be in balance to experience harmony. So, I’ve put my intention out into the Universe that, as much as I give, I also want to feel supported. It’s a yin and a yang thing. And, since then, many special people and blessings have turned up in my life. When we are open to receiving, the Universe shows up for us.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have the same big huge heart that I was born with. And, when my cup floweth over, you betcha I’m going to share with those who need it. But, now I am careful not to empty out my own cup completely in the process. I have to honor myself and my family first. Then, I can divvy out what’s leftover as I see fit. People respect and understand personal boundaries. But it is up to us to effectively communicate them.

It’s amazing how much more you can give when you’re careful not to give too much. It’s also pretty remarkable just how much more support you receive once you open yourself up to it and let the Universe know you are ready.

To my fellow big-hearted ones, may you continue to bless others with your graciousness. But, please remember to take care of yourself and be ever-so-careful not to empty out your own cup in the process.


(Visit the Dawnsense page to sign up for future blogs delivered right to your inbox. Also, be sure to join the Dawnsense Facebook page for daily love and inspiration.)

photo by: Artotem

What The Buddha Might Say To Bill Gates

Bill Gates by Tristan Nitot“The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.” – Buddha

Bill Gates is a rare breed. He defies what most billionaires appear to be: trapped in the hoarding of money with a large dose of poverty mind. While most people are obsessed with getting money, Gates wants to give it away.

By the time he was 32, Gates was a billionaire. In May this year he was declared the richest man in the world with a net worth of over $72 billion. He stopped working at Microsoft five years ago in order to focus on using that money to make the world a better place. He and his wife founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with investor Warren Buffet. The primary aims of the foundation are to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty. To begin, Gates is committed to ending polio by 2018, with tuberculosis and malaria to follow.

Although, obviously, few of us have money to spare like Gates or Buffet, and it is easy to applaud them while feeling useless ourselves, it doesn’t mean we can’t give or help another in need, using whatever means we have.

“A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things that renew humanity.” – Buddha

We were in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, in northern India, attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings. It was crowded, cold, and very uncomfortable sitting close together on mats on a concrete floor. Deb was longing to go back to our hotel room so she could meditate quietly on her own when the Dalai Lama started talking about the dangers of solitary peace. He spoke of how tempting it can be to want to be on our own, but how easily this can disengage us from the reality around us. That it is vital to be in communication, engaged in giving, sharing and caring for each other.

Wise spiritual teachers from all traditions have taught how the path of service is the most important of all, as it means we are less self-obsessed; through caring for others we can step out of indulgence and into big-heartedness, releasing any sense of separateness.

“Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.” – Buddha

The generosity Gates is sharing is not the stuff many rich people are made of. It can be very difficult to give when you have so much, as it incites tremendous fear of loss. We only have to look at the upper 1% of this country to see how greed and selfishness rule the day, as they hide their money in offshore accounts, avoid paying fair taxes, and have little time for the poor or needy.

When we feel uncomfortable with generosity we get stuck in our limitations and fear. When we appreciate the joy of kindness our life is transformed. We can both give and receive. Such ego-less moments are exquisite!

We may think we have little to offer but whether it is a few pennies or a whole bankroll, a cup of tea or a banquet is irrelevant—it is the act of giving itself that is important. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” In other words, although life changes are inevitable we can initiate personal change so that we rise to the challenge and become a bigger and better person as a result. As Mahatma Gandhi also said, “Almost anything we do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that we do it.”

“Be generous. Give to those you love; give to those who love you, give to the fortunate, give to the unfortunate — yes, give especially to those you don’t want to give. You will receive abundance for your giving. The more you give, the more you will have!” – W. Clement Stone

As one of our teachers, Sri Swami Satchidananda taught: “Who is the most selfish person? It is the one who is most selfless! Why? Because by being selfless, you will always retain your happiness. A selfish person can never be really happy. So to be happier, be more selfless!”

I slept and dreamt that life was joy

I awoke and saw that life was service

I acted and behold, service was joy. 

Rabindranath Tagore

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Saving Lives One Bead At A Time

DSC01242We just heard two inspiring, heart wrenching, gut churning, funny, amazing life stories, from two Ugandan women, Joan and Teddy, who lifted themselves out of dire poverty and suffering by making and selling paper beads.

The poverty is huge. For example, Millie lives on $1 a day earned from crushing rocks in a quarry, and she has asthma. This is enough money for one meal every day for her whole family. She lives in a 4×7 hut with her six children, two of whom are AIDS orphans she has adopted. They have no water, no electricity, and no possessions. It is so small that one person is appointed to say when everyone should roll over at night.

At least, that was how Millie was living. Now she has a small house of her own, financed by a brick-making business she runs. And this was made possible because she learned how to roll beads out of strips of recycled paper.

How did this happen? Some years ago friends of ours went to Uganda, Africa. Dr. Charles Steinberg was there to teach the local doctors how to use AIDS medicines. Before the family left the US, he, his wife Torkin, daughter Devin, and friend Ginny sat together in prayer. “We said we were tired of talking about how hard the world is, and asked for something to do. This very clear intention was voiced within the context of prayer and sacred commitment,” Torkin told us. “We never dreamt it would manifest through paper beads!”

A few months later, the four of them were in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. On a chance encounter in a Kampala slum, on their way to visit an AIDS patient, the women met Millie who was rolling paper beads. She told them that she had no real market to sell them. They bought a few of her necklaces and, as they wore them, found that many people admired and wanted them. “So we went back to find this woman and discovered a group of her friends who also made beads. We bought about a 100 necklaces. We came back to the US for the summer and began to sell them to friends and at craft fairs.”

The beads began to generate interest, including a magazine article. They realized there was a market, but that most importantly it was about the story and the heartfelt desire to help those in need. One man, who loved the beads so much and wanted to give money to the beaders, offered $200 for a necklace that was on sale for $20.

The women who become beaders all live in slums in Kampala. Many of them are HIV positive, malaria is rampant, and nearly all are raising, alongside their own children, other children they have adopted from some of the 1.4 million AIDS orphans in Uganda. At least 95% of the beaders are women and 40% are refugees, living in huts as small as Millie did with just enough room for them to lie down. All have multiple life challenges. As Torkin says, “It was very humbling to work with these people who struggle so deeply yet also know how to lift themselves up, to laugh, sing and have joy. In a song they wrote there is one line that remains in my heart: ‘We dance while we are suffering.’”

A beader who joins the BeadForLife program gets paid twice a month for their beads and they have to open a savings account. The program is 27 months long and the beaders all receive health care, optional family planning, and business training. By month 20, BeadForLife tops up their savings to $800, enough so that each one can begin their own business to support themselves after the bead-making program has finished. One woman, who used to wash prostitutes’ clothes in a nightclub, now owns a nightclub; there are restaurants, chicken farms, dry good stores, and clothing stores, all begun this way.

Beads can be bought on line, but because of the power of the beader’s stories, most beads are sold through BeadParties hosted in people’s own homes. This is how EVERYONE can help. Many times 2-3 women do this together and it is really FUN. And most importantly, the beads are BEAUTIFUL—vibrant colors and different shapes.

This week and next, between April 9-23, Beadforlife is hosting The Opportunity Tour, with events in Washington D.C., Pittsburg, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Join Joan and Teddy, hear their stories, and buy beads. Get all the details at: www.BeadForLife.org


Join our Be The Change Meditate e-Conference that will uplift and inspire you. 30 eclectic meditation teachers, including Marianne Williamson, Congressman Tim Ryan, author of Mindful Nation, Sharon Salzberg, Robert Thurman, Gangaji, Joan Borysenko, Seane Corn, neuroscientist Richie Davidson who proves how meditation affects the brain, Roshi Joan Halifax, Tara Stiles, and us, Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of the conference companion book, BE THE CHANGE: How Meditation Can Transform You and The World. Expect your life to never be the same again!

For more information: www.edanddebshapiro.com

Why Spontaneous Kindness Feels So Sexy

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 11.40.04 AMThe Dalai Lama says kindness is his religion. Wikipedia says that a random act of kindness is: “…a selfless act performed by a person or persons wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual… There will generally be no reason other than to make people smile or be happier.”

Being sexy means something is delicious, fun, delightful, it makes us feel good with a smile in our heart. Put that together with kindness, and we have the ultimate feel good action!

 We first heard the saying practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty, many years ago when we were at Findhorn, the renowned spiritual community in Scotland. But there can be some confusion about this: perhaps the receiver of the kindness might not appreciate it, it might make them apprehensive or distrustful in some way. Sadly, this seems to speak more about the suspicious world we live in than about the nature of kindness. If there is such wariness then what is needed are more acts of kindness done by more of us, not less.

Perhaps it is the use of the world random that is misleading, and that it would be easier if we used the word spontaneous instead. Spontaneity means we are acting on an impulse, in the moment, freely; we are moved to do something for someone without any thought of receiving something in return. Such behavior is surely the ground of a healthy and joyful society, where we happily give of ourselves to help another and such an act is happily received.

Be generous. Give to those you love; give to those who love you, give to the fortunate, give to the unfortunate — yes, give especially to those you don’t want to give to. You will receive abundance for your giving. The more you give, the more you will have! — W. Clement Stone

What stops us from acting this way? Invariably it is our own insecurities, lack of self-esteem and self-love, doubts and inadequacies. And the same qualities also stop us from being able to freely receive. If we feel unworthy then we believe we have nothing to give; if we don’t love ourselves then we don’t trust why someone would be kind to us. We fear that if someone gives without reason that they actually want something from us, or that they have an ulterior motive.

If we feel uncomfortable with generosity we can get stuck in uncertainty, fear or unworthiness. When we doubt ourselves we fall into an endless pit of self -denigration. When we appreciate the beauty of kindness it takes us out of such self-centeredness; it enables us to let go of self-centeredness and to freely reach out to each other. We can both give and receive. Such egoless moments are exquisite!

Giving spontaneously can have a remarkable affect on all those who come in contact with it. For instance, HuffPost blogger Arthur Rosenfield was in the drive-thru line at Starbucks. The man in line behind him was getting impatient and angry, leaning on his horn and shouting insults at both Arthur and the Starbucks workers. Beginning to get angry himself, Arthur chose to keep his cool and change the negativity into something positive. He paid for the man’s coffee and drove away. By the time he got home at the end of the day, he discovered he had started a chain of giving that had not only continued all that day but had been highlighted on NBC News and within twenty-four hours had spread around the world on the Internet.

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. Scott Adams

Can you imagine a world where no one gave to each other? Where we all just looked after our own needs but ignored everyone else’s? This would surely be a miserable place to live, for ultimately, whether spontaneous or planned, we cannot be happy without being kind, by giving and caring for each other.

Spontaneous kindness is essential to our wellbeing, it liberates us from self-obsession, selfishness, and isolation. True generosity is giving without expectation, with no need to be repaid in any form. This is the most powerful, unconditional, and unattached act of generosity, free to land wherever it will.

Being kind can be as simple as smiling. As Mahatma Gandhi said, Almost anything we do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that we do it.


COMING SOON: Join 32 inspiring meditation experts and luminaries on a magical mystery journey that will transform you from the inside out. Join Congressman Tim Ryan, Marianne Williamson, neuroscientist Richie Davidson, Tara Stiles, Gabby Bernstein and others, on a meditation e-Conference, March 4-8.

Enjoy our award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, foreword by the Dalai Lama.

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10 Ways to Help the World This Holiday Season

By Kathryn Hawkins, from Razoo.com, the site for charitable giving.

The giving season isn’t just about exchanging gifts with friends and family, or watching your kids eagerly check the contents of their stockings to see what Santa brought them. While the holidays are the perfect time to share presents with the people that you love, this time of year also provides a great opportunity to give back to your community and your world. Here are ten ways that you can spread the cheer this holiday season.

1.    Be Santa. Traditionally, it’s a felony to open mail intended for someone else—but around Christmastime, the U.S. Postal Service is willing to bend the rules a little, at least as far as Santa Claus is concerned. Some U.S. cities provide volunteers with the opportunity to read letters from children addressed to Santa Claus, and fulfill the kids’ wishes by sending them Christmas gifts. If you don’t live near a Santa-approved post office, make a donation to Be an Elf (through their sponsoring nonprofit, Friends of the Levitt Pavilion) to help promote the program and recruit new secret Santas to make sure that disadvantaged children wake up to full stockings on Christmas morning.

2.    Purchase alternative gifts for your friends and family. Does your mother already have everything her heart desires? No problem—get her a cow instead. Many charitable groups, such as Heifer and Oxfam America, offer unique giving opportunities that let you purchase farm animals, educational supplies, or other life-enhancing tools for people in developing nations on behalf of your loved ones. If you’re not sure whether a charitable donation will make the right holiday gift, read this article for tips on when to give a charitable gift. For a free $10 gift card that can be used to donate to any US-based nonprofit, email give@razoo.com with “Intent” in the heading (valid while supplies last).

3.    The holiday season is often the time to surprise your loved ones with the new puppy they’ve always wanted—but this is the perfect chance to help an unwanted pet find his forever home instead.  Visit Petfinder.com to pick up a Pet Promise Certificate to give as a gift, to make sure that your giftee is ready for the responsibility of a pet. If you’re not ready to adopt just yet, donate to an animal shelter instead—a donation to Best Friends Animal Society will help care for the 2,000 special-needs animals living at their sanctuary.

4.    Donate new toys to needy children in your local community through the Toys for Tots program. You can make a drop-off at Toys ‘R Us and Babies ‘R Us stores all around the country, or make a financial contribution to the cause online.

5.    Give a Christmas tree to a military family or a soldier stationed overseas through the Trees for Troops program, an initiative of the Christmas Spirit Foundation. Last year, donors contributed enough money to deliver more than 16,000 trees to troop members and their families at home—your donation can make an even bigger difference this year.

6.    Celebrate Hanukkah with a tzedakah box. For Jewish families, tzedakah (Hebrew for charity) is an essential component of religious tradition. If you’re celebrating Hanukkah with your family this year, devote at least one of the eight ceremonial nights to giving back by placing money into the family’s tzedakah box to designate to the charity of your choice.

7.    Purchase your presents through the GoodShop. This online shopping portal allows you to select your favorite charity, and donate a portion of your purchase price to the cause you select. Make sure to bookmark the site—it’s the perfect way to make a contribution whenever you make a purchase through your favorite online shops.

8.    Check out a charity auction. This time of year, plenty of local nonprofit groups hold charity auctions, where you can purchase collectible art, vacation packages, and all sorts of other goodies, with all proceeds going to charity. If there’s not one happening near you, check out an online charity auction site like BiddingForGood.com, or bid on the drool-worthy prizes available through the food bloggers’ annual auction, Menu for Hope, which benefits Friends of the World Food Program.

9.    Volunteer to serve Christmas dinner to the residents of a local homeless shelter or senior care facility. To find holiday volunteer options close to home, run a search on VolunteerMatch.

10.    Sponsor a child in a developing country through an organization like Plan USA or World Vision. Your ongoing contribution will help you establish a meaningful connection with a child, helping to pull him or her out of extreme poverty. It’s what the giving spirit’s all about.

Learn more about ways to help the world, and donate to any US-based nonprofit, at Razoo.com.

Originally published in 2009

Santa: The Best Karma Yogi In The World

Santa Claus by Vectorportal at Flickr.comKarma yoga is perfection in action where our activity is of benefit to others, such as doing good, giving without wanting anything in return, and benevolent service. So who could be a better karma yogi than Santa Claus? Although his appearance may fool you, mainly because he has a habit of eating a lot of cookies, he does get good exercise going up and down all those chimneys. He also has a huge heart, loves to hug children, and is always smiling, which are signs of a good yogi.

For Santa is more than just a jolly old guy in a red outfit. A true yogi is someone who displays wisdom and compassion, and Santa is an excellent example. He sees everyone as his family, is always helping others, and he cares about you whether you’re naughty or nice. Such fine qualities are ones we may all want to emulate.

  1. He makes us do good and feel good. Now that’s a big one, as many of us oftentimes act selfishly and badly.
  2. He gives, endlessly, to everyone, all over the world, all at pretty much the same time. This indicates a truly generous heart, one that takes great joy in giving, without needing to receive.
  3. Yet he does not give blindly. Rather he judges what is the most appropriate gift for each. This shows great discernment, as giving needs wisdom in order to be of most benefit.
  4. 4.     He encourages rituals and invokes magic in every child’s life: letter writing, stocking filling, decorations, parades, milk and cookies. Ritual is an essential part of honoring anything that is greater than us, and magic is the beauty of the unknown.
  5. He listens to our pleas and requests and reads our letters. Meaning that he takes the time to hear us and pays attention, which we could all do a lot more of.
  6. He has great psychic powers: he flies in the sky with reindeer, descends chimneys without getting covered in soot, goes by many names and forms, and is extraordinarily elusive. Has anyone actually ever seen him??
  7. He knows where we live. In other words, he is inside every one of us.
  8. Most importantly, he lifts our spirits at the darkest time, bringing us laughter and joy, which is undoubtedly the greatest gift of all.

Through giving to others, a la Santa, we turn selfishness into generosity and connect to basic goodness within us, a quality of kindness that is easy to lose touch with. Giving—whether a smile, our time, a listening ear—is profoundly joyful, both to the one who is receiving and the one who is giving.

If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble. Bob Hope

12 Ways to Give Back to the Earth

We may be deeply aware, during this season of giving, that our lives depend on the gifts of the Earth. So how can we give back to the Earth? Here are 12 close-to-home ways to practice all year round.

Fresh radishes from a farm near my home in Boulder, CO

1. Eat closer to home. The average American bite of food travels 1500 miles to reach the table. That’s an astronomical amount of fossil fuel used just in transporting the food, to say nothing of growing and packaging it. Join a local CSA (community-supported agriculture), or shop at farmers’ markets. For more info, see scientist and Earth lover David Suzuki’s page on food and our planet.

2. Eat organic. We all know it’s better for human health, and for the same reasons it is better for soil, water, and air health too. Eating organic keeps the soil, the foundation of life, healthy and safe. It keeps synthetic nitrogen out of waterways and prevents carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere. What’s good for your body is good for the Earth. Give back to Earth by giving back only substances that the Earth enjoys.

3. Thank your food. Look, really look, at the plants and animals on your table. Notice each one. Imagine the rice or oat or wheat grasses waving under the sun, the carrots developing underground, the strawberries ripening on the vine. If you eat meat, think about every animal. Picture the cow grazing (and if you eat cows, eat free-range, grass-fed, not corn-fed ones), the chicken scratching (make sure they led happy lives outside of cages), the fish swimming. Think about the life labor that the hen put forth in making an egg, the goat her milk.

Gratitude is a time-honored way of reciprocating. Thank each animal, each plant, every time, for the gifts of their lives and their bodies. Christians call it saying grace. Buddhists call it eating mindfully. All of us can thank the plants and animals. Our lives depend on them. Literally.

Bike-powered mower, from ecogeek.org

4. Power down your lawn care. A gasoline-powered lawn mower, gallon for gallon, emits more air pollutants than a car. Figured conservatively, even after new 2012 EPA lawn mower emissions standards, a mower emits as much pollution as four cars.

And don’t even think about leaf blowers. The noise disturbs humans and birds, they pollute in the same way lawn mowers do, and they disperse into the air millions of microorganisms that were intended to be left in the dirt to compost and renew, such as mold, dust, and animal feces.

If you have to use a mower, use a manual push mower. If your lawn is too big for a push mower, ask yourself, Do I really need this much grass?

5. Plant natives in your yard or in containers on your patio. Locally native plants, trees, and flowers evolved in community with each other and in tandem with the climate and soils in your area. They can handle the heat or the cold or the humidity or wind of your particular place. When you plant natives, you are expressing appreciation for your bioregion, seeking to live in harmony with it. Planting natives invites the local insects and pollinators back to your area, which in turn brings the birds and animals. Planting natives is a way of saying thank-you to your place.

6. For body care, stick to biodegradable. Pick your teeth the old-fashioned way, with wooden toothpicks instead of the tiny plastic picks and brushes that many dentists’ offices are passing out to their patients. For skin and hair care, avoid products with a chemical scent, which likely means they’re depositing synthetic chemicals on both you and your environment. Find products with the label certified biodegradable, which indicates they have been tested and met biodegradable standards.

7. Teach your children reciprocity. Even small children understand fairness. No one wants to get the short end of the stick. Teach your children to give back when they receive something. Practice it yourself. If each of us truly gave as much as we took, the world would change.

Urban redwoods in Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland, CA
Urban redwoods in Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland, CA

8. Thank a tree. As you walk down your street, notice one tree or plant every day. Thank it for making oxygen. Your life depends on it. Go one step further in appreciating trees by stopping junk mail.

9. Work to reduce pesticide use in your neighborhood. We all know about pesticide use in agriculture, but pesticides are used at an equivalent rate on suburban lawns. What about the playing fields at your local school? (Fungicides and herbicides are pesticides too.) Children absorb more pesticides per pound of body weight than do adults, according to the National Academy of Sciences. For more info, see the “Lawn Care” page at Beyond Pesticides.

10. Refuse overpackaging. Say “no thanks” to foods or supplements prepackaged in tiny portions. Every piece of plastic ends up in a landfill—or on beaches or becoming part of the enormous swirling toilet bowls of plastic in our oceans, endangering the lives of sea creatures. Say no to those individually wrapped slices, those one-serving containers. Buy your food from farmers’ markets when you can (it’s local too!). Make it part of your lifestyle to reduce your use of plastic or go plastic free altogether.

11. Host a zero-waste party. It’s easier than you think. Paper plates and cups can be composted in municipal composting processes, and cornstarch-based compostable flatware and cups are now easy to find. Or visit your local thrift store and buy a few dozen older plates and forks and wash them afterward, then donate them back after the party’s over. Same with glasses and cloth napkins. I spent $25 at a thrift store for my last dinner party and then got credit afterward for the same amount in donation. That thrift store benefits a nonprofit group, so when they sell their merchandise twice they raise even more money.

12. Volunteer for a cleanup or restoration project in your area. You get the pleasure of meeting like-minded neighbors in addition to the joy of giving back to the Earth in a very direct and immediate way. The sense of camaraderie and a deep-seated satisfaction after a half day of work keeps restoration volunteers coming back. They look forward to having more fun! For a list of organizations working in ecological restoration around the country, see the Global Restoration Network.

What Are You Grateful For?

This is the time of year when gratitude touches all our lives, when we give thanks for whatever we have and we joyfully help others. One Thanksgiving day we volunteered at a local church to help feed the homeless. It was and still is one of the most heartwarming things we have done, as they were so very thankful: older people, single people, couples, families. It was a gentle reminder to us to be grateful for what we have.

It’s not always easy to be thankful, especially when times are hard, if we are sick, have lost a partner, job, or home. But perhaps those are the very best times to give thanks – for the things we do have, rather than those we don’t have. Rather than bemoaning that we have lost our health we can be grateful for the birds singing outside or the sun warming the window; rather than being jealous of someone who has a job while we don’t, we can be grateful for the free time to spend with ourselves or a loved one.

Deb grew up in England so she didn’t encounter Thanksgiving until she moved to the US in her twenties. Not knowing its history, she just saw it as a wonderful opportunity to remember appreciation and gratitude for all the things that she normally took for granted.

For instance, take a moment right now to appreciate the chair you are sitting on as you read this. Just consider what went into the making of this chair: the wood, cotton, wool or other fibers, the trees and plants that were made into these materials, the earth that grew the trees, the rain and sun, the animals that were involved, the people who prepared the materials, the factory where the chair was made, the designer and carpenter and seamstress, the shop where you bought it—all this just so you could be sitting here now.

Or think of your body and all the different organs and functions and systems that sustain your life, such as your heart, your digestion, or your immune system that protects you from illness. Or the food that nourishes you and where it came from and all the people and plants and weather and transport that were needed to get that food on your table.

You can apply this to everything as nothing is unrelated or disconnected, every single thing is a part of everything else and all are needed to make a whole. It’s so huge, there is no beginning place. There is just an endless stream of connectedness that has come together to enable you to be here right now, in this moment, reading this, sitting on your chair. And you still don’t think you have anything to feel grateful for or worth appreciating?

We invite you to develop an ongoing relationship with gratitude by making a list of things to “remember to appreciate.” You can do this hourly, daily, weekly, finding different things to appreciate each time. Anything can go on that list: each other, toenails, trees, sunshine, the washing machine, walking, hot water, grapefruit, flannel sheets…

What’s on your list? As Thanksgiving is here, let us all try to take some time to say thank you for all those things we usually ignore. Then say “Thank you!” again. Say it out loud over and over. We can never have enough gratitude, let it fill every moment, every thought and every feeling. Experiencing gratitude is totally transforming.

Let us also discover what we can do to make someone else’s life a little easier, or even to ask for help we may need. As our friend Barbara Wilder, author of Money is Love, says, “No matter how little you have, there is always someone who has less.  Give whatever you can to someone who could use a little help, and be open to receiving help from others.”

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