29-Day Giving Challenge: An Interview with Cami Walker

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"What I notice is that the people who are taking part in this, what is common amongst us all, is that we all count our blessings. We practice gratitude. We feel like our lives are full no matter what we have."
-Cami Walker, Founder, 29 Day Giving Challenge

The 29 Day Giving Challenge is a global giving movement where participants give away one thing each day for 29 days. I wrote about my experience with the Giving Challenge last spring in the post, 29 Day Giving Challenge Takeaway: Compassion is Hardest to Give. I'll be starting the challenge again on October 30, 2008 so that the 29th day of my challenge will be on November 27, 2008, American Thanksgiving. I hope you'll join me! You can download a 29 Day Giving Calendar and gift cards on the 29 Day Giving Challenge social network.

Below is an edited transcript of an interview from October 11, 2008 with Cami Walker, the founder of the 29-Day Giving Challenge, which you can also listen to on the Big Vision Podcast. In the interview, Cami mentions that she is writing a book about the 29 Day Giving Challenge. She is looking for personal stories about the healing power of giving from people who have completed the Challenge. The deadline to submit your story is November 29, 2008.

What is the 29-Day Giving Challenge? Cami Walker

The 29-Day Giving Challenge is actually an odd little creative experiment that I started about seven months ago, almost exactly. It started with me. I was in a very dark place struggling with a very serious health condition. I have multiple sclerosis, and my life was in a very awful place. I was broke. My business hadn't made any money in months. I was too sick to work. I'd been in the hospital five times in three months, or something like that. My marriage was under a lot of stress because of all of this.

I work with a medicine woman from Oakland. Her name is Mbali Creazzo. I called her to complain, and she gave me a prescription that day to give away 29 gifts in 29 days, as a way of getting out of myself. I thought it was a really crazy idea. I jotted down in my journal, "Give away 29 things in 29 days," and then put the journal away and promptly ignored it.

About a month later things were even worse, and I was in an even worse place. I guess I'd gotten in enough pain that I was willing to try anything [laughter]. I happened to open the journal. I was awake all night one night, and it was like three a.m. I picked up my journal to write, and opened it right to that page that said to give away 29 things in 29 days.

I thought, well, I don't think it's going to hurt me, and maybe it will help. So, I decided in that moment that I was going to go ahead and do it. I gave my first gift that morning, which was just a supportive phone call to another friend who has MS. That same morning, an amazing string of events happened that showed me that maybe this really could help.

So, I decided to go ahead and do it. By the midpoint, around day 13, my life was so much better, and I was so inspired that I decided to throw up a website and send out an email to some of my friends, about 30 people, and said, "Hey, I've been doing this interesting thing where you give away 29 gifts in 29 days, and it's really helping me. You should try it."

A week later 120 people had signed up. And now, it's about seven months later, and we have over 2,500 members on the website [laughs]. So, yeah, that's how this all started.

What are the things that people can give?

29 Day Giving ChallengeIf you decide to commit to the 29-Day Giving Challenge, you can give anything to anyone. The gifts can be material things. If it's a material thing, we like to encourage you to re-gift items that you own. So, go through your book collection and take books to the library or a used book store, or pass them on to someone on the street, or whatever. Or, go through your CD collection, or your clothes. A lot of people have gone through their kitchens, and made up snack packs. People will make 29 snack packs and then take them out and give them to people who are hungry, or to food shelters, or whatever.

The gifts can also be non-material things like kind words, or doing something nice for someone, or volunteering some time. I'm a marketing consultant, so a lot of times what I've done is give away small amounts of free consulting time to people who couldn't afford to pay me what I charge.

So really, it's any kind of gift to anyone. The gift can go to someone that you know. It can go to a stranger. Sometimes people even sit down and do meditations, and send out positive energy to the world.

What is the favorite gift that you have given?

There are a lot of gifts that I've enjoyed. I'm really enjoying the Flower Power Gives, though. That started with me, as well. I live in Los Angeles and when I was wrapping up my third cycle (I'm actually three or four days into my eighth cycle of 29 days of giving), I decided to go buy four dozen roses. I went out to a really busy street corner. There was a Whole Foods parking lot there and a bunch of bus stops nearby. I made a few loops around that area and gave away all these roses to strangers. That was awesome.

That has kind of become a signature give through 29 Gifts, because we had a few other members who individually then went out [and did it]. One woman went and picked wild daisies. We have these little 29 Gift cards that people would tie onto the flowers, and she actually made a couple vases full of those, and took them into a local coffee shop. They were free for anyone to take.

Now there are organized events happening locally. People have organized group gives in Atlanta, Houston, a couple times in Los Angeles, and it will happen tomorrow in San Francisco, that as a group we get together and give away roses to strangers.

How has it changed you ? What's your favorite gift that you've been given from the 29-Day Giving Challenge?

Well, I have to say, selfishly, that the favorite gift I've been given is a book deal [laughs] to write the 29 Gifts book.

Though, I've had such amazing changes happen for myself. You know, when I started doing this, I literally couldn't walk. I was very, very ill. And, by the 13th day of giving, my first cycle, I was actually back on my feet and walking without a cane some days. By the 29th day, I really was walking pretty much unassisted. I mean, every once in a while now I still have to break out the cane if I'm having a really rough day. The day that I stopped walking with the cane regularly was a very odd day. I had been out, my husband took me out to breakfast. And then a friend picked me up and we went for brunch, or lunch, and we stopped at this bookstore afterwards.

When I got home, I was getting ready to leave again that evening, and I couldn't find my cane. I realized that I had literally walked away from the cane at some point during that day. I don't remember when or how. I was like, "OK, something's working here." [laughs]

Getting my health back has been a huge gift, for sure. My relationship with my husband has dramatically improved because I'm not a resentful, miserable woman anymore that he doesn't want to wake up next to everyday. I've gotten closer with all of my family. A lot of wonderful things have happened in my life.

As you mentioned, there are over 2,500 people who've signed up on your site who have committed to do this, more than once sometimes. And they're also sharing stories. What are some of your favorite stories?

One of my favorites is a woman named Anne who, she's been doing this for a few months now as well, and I'm not sure at what point in the cycle this happened, but there was a gift that she gave that led to her reconciling with her brother who she hadn't seen in eight years. So, that's a really moving story.

There's a woman named Erin who is a community manager of our site. She helps manage the team of volunteers that run the site. In her first 29-day cycle, she built up to the 29th day. One of the things that was suggested by Mbali originally to me was to give one thing that you feel you can't live without, or give something that feels really scarce in your life.

For Erin, the one thing that she felt she couldn't live without, she doesn't have a lot of attachment to material things, was a breast pump that she had kept for many years. She'd loaned it out to a couple people, but she'd always really been careful about getting it back because it was the breast pump that she had used for her two babies who had died of heart defects.

This breast pump represented to her the one thing that she could do to help her babies stay strong and live as long as possible, feed them breast milk. This breast pump held a very deep emotional attachment for her. At a point during her first month - I think it was her first month - there was a friend of hers who wanted to borrow it. Apparently, the friend was notorious for returning not things, and she was really conflicted as to whether she wanted to do this, and actually said no.

Then she tried to sell it because she thought, "Well, it might be good to get rid of this. I've had it. It's probably good to let it go." She tried to sell it at yard sales, and on the websites, and no one would buy it. So, finally, she realized she was supposed to give it away to this woman. What unfolded, once she let go of that item, is a turn of events that happened in her family, and her family is in dramatically better circumstances now.

I think it's interesting what can happen for us if we let go of an item that we have a deep attachment to. I think we commonly don't realize that our energy can get bound up in an object, especially if you have an unhealthy emotional attachment to it.

Those are a couple of my favorite stories. There are over 3,500 stories that have been published on the site, so it's really hard to narrow it down to one favorite one. I could probably talk for hours about that.

I'm wondering, as we're in this crazy time of economic need, of so many people who feel like they don't have enough, and that they need things, and that they need to be given things, have you noticed any difference in the people who are signing up, or what people are giving, or the feelings? How has it affected the project, if at all?

Well, you know, we've actually had some really interesting discussions on our site. We have a forum on our site where there's been a good amount of discussion about abundance and scarcity. Mbali actually posted a very insightful response to Wall Street just a couple of weeks ago on the site.

You know, this is totally a personal belief that I'm going to spout off here [laughs]. I just want to add that disclaimer. I really do believe in the concept that our thoughts create our world.

Where I was at when I started this is I was in a deep place of "scarcity thinking" where I believed, I really did believe that my life was over, and I believed that I had nothing to offer anyone. I also believed that I was incapable of offering anything to anyone because I needed every ounce of my own energy for my own healing.

I was completely forgetting that healing actually happens through our interactions and connections with other people. It doesn't happen in a vacuum when you're locked up in a room for three months alone. That's really not a good place for any human being to be, honestly. [laughs] No matter how healthy you are, you should not be alone for three months.

I was in this place of lack, stuck in a place of lack. It was reflecting in every area of my life. Yes, it started from a physical, health-related issue, but it was reflected in my bank balance, it was reflected in the quality of my relationships, it was reflected everywhere.

One thing that Mbali said to me when I finally decided to do this, I called her later on that day or something, and she said, "I'm so happy you decided to commit to this because taking an action, giving something to another person, and taking an action of that sort, will immediately change the energy of your life. I teach that to my clients, but you know how we are, the things we teach we don't practice a lot.

It was really one of those moments where I felt myself reorganize on a cellular level where I really got something deep in my gut, and understood it.

The people who sign up for this, we all come from very different circumstances. There are people who need to use food shelters. There's actually a homeless couple who is taking part.

And then there are people, like me, who really aren't in desperate need of much. That's the reality. I like to convince myself sometimes that I need more, more, more. But that's not the truth. I'm fine. I have a roof over my head. I have a little bit of money in my bank account. I have a big balance on my credit card, but whatever, you know? [laughs]

What I notice is that the people who are taking part in this, what is common amongst us all, is that we all count our blessings. We practice gratitude. We feel like our lives are full no matter what we have.

In an economic crisis it is very easy for us to all trip into scarcity thinking, to begin to hoard things, and to be living in fear of losing a job, or losing our investments, or whatever, and that is the worst place we can go.

If you are spending all of your time focusing on losing things, you are going to lose things. That is the reality, but if you are spending your time reflecting on everything you have to offer, you are going to be attracting more of what you have to offer.

You mentioned you have done this eight times, and there are other people who have done it multiple times, do you think you will ever stop?

Well, I don't like to ever think I know what the future holds [laughs]. I find if I think I know what the future holds, I am in trouble usually! [laughs] Right now I have a hard time imagining removing this. This is a part of my daily spiritual practice now, in a mindful way, offering something to another human being. It is hard for me to imagine my abandoning that practice, but I have abandoned parts of my spiritual practice before for periods of time. Sometimes I come back to them, and sometimes I don't. I'm not sure if I can really answer that firmly. Right now I think I will be doing this for quite some time.

When does it stop being a challenge and become, like you said, a practice, or a lifestyle. Does it ever stop being a 29 day project, and become something that is more incorporated?

People often ask, "Why 29 days. Why not 30? Why not . . .?" whatever, and the truthful answer to that is, I don't know why the 29 days, and Mbali doesn't know.

This is a tradition that was passed on to her by a teacher, and when I asked her, "Why 29 days?" she said, "That is what my teacher told me, and that is what I'm telling you," which is the answer I get from my yoga teachers a lot. "Why do you teach it this way?" "Because that is how my teacher taught me."

I didn't really question the 29 days. My assumption, because this comes from an indigenous African medicine culture, is that it is related to the moon cycle. The reason that I actually gravitated towards the number 29, and I appreciate it and like it, is because from a scientific perspective, we generate new neural paths, (it depends on whose data you read), but anywhere from 21-28 days is what it takes us to generate a new neural path, so if you actually practice something every day for 29 days, you've begun to ground a new habit, a new way of being into your body, and your mind. I really like the practice of doing something every day for 29-30 days for that reason.

For me, it really was after that first 29 day cycle where it was just part of my day, and I didn't want to stop. I think that has been a common experience for people on the web site. Whether they choose to stay an active member of the community online or not, most people on their 29th day when they post say, "I am going to keep doing this. It has really helped me. It has changed my life in a lot of ways, and I am going to keep doing this everyday." I think it's probably different for everybody, where that switch happens, but for me it happened pretty quickly.

How can people join the Challenge, and how can they participate? What is your web site?The URL is www.29gifts.org. When you get to the home page you will see that there are buttons that say, "Sign up" and buttons, that say "Join us." You can click any one of those buttons. We ask you a few, very simple questions like, "Why are you choosing to give? What would you most like to receive?" You will be a member of the community within a minute, if you take the time to answer those questions.


Is there anything else that you want folks to know about the 29 Day Giving Challenge?

Well, one thing that I like to say about this is that it is founded on a personal belief of mine that we are all creative beings, and that creative expression is truly essential to our health, our well-being, our sense of purpose, and our happiness in the world. I really do encourage people to take part in the community. It is OK if you don't want to, if you fill out a profile, and do your giving privately, that is completely acceptable.

But, I do see that the people who seem to really get a lot out of this, and really experience dramatic change in their own life are the people who are active on the discussion forum, who are active in their blog and actively post artwork in the community gallery.

Lately we have had people do video blogging and put shorts up, or a couple people have written songs, and sent them to me to put into the community music player. Create something to tell us what kind of impact this has had for you, and share it with the community because those stories and artwork that people are sharing are what are inspiring people to sign up, and keep this movement growing.

Together I really do feel we are making progress at our collective mission of reviving the giving spirit in the world, and I hope you will decide to join us, and be an active participant.

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Here are a few bloggers' reflections on their experience taking the Challenge
The Painting Project for the 29-Day Giving Challenge is Complete!!! by Spirit River Studio.
My 29 Day Giving Challenge: An Update by Morningside Mom
29 Day Giving Challenge by The Life of a Soon to Be Mommy!

BlogHer Contributing Editor, Britt Bravo, also blogs at Have Fun * Do Good.

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