The Compassion Diet, Week Fifty-Two in the New Abnormal

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Should we end this year and start the new year with resolutions?  For me, the answer is no.  I will think of what I’d like to let go of, and how I will be caring to myself and others, but there is no declaration in that.  What I have been thinking about as I view commercials and advertisements enticing us to try new weight loss pills and programs is the mixed up past I, and so many of us, have had with messaging around food, eating, and the lack of joy in caring for ourselves.  In the spirit of that, I am thinking of a diet of compassion.  Not a food diet, but nourishment, nonetheless.  

When looking up the word diet, I found the restriction in its definition.  But I also found that the origin of the word “diet” comes from the Greek word “diata” meaning “way of life.”  I like that.  We can incorporate compassion as a way of life.  It’s a wonderful concept because it addresses all aspects of our lives.  And, on this diet of compassion, we could bring compassion at any moment.  If we find we’re being hard on ourselves, we can notice that.  Then we can fold in compassion as a way of care as we go through something difficult.  

Compassion connotes respect.  It is a way of acknowledging ourselves and others that we recognize something may be difficult.  We see that we and/or they are in pain, and we take a caring stance.  It does not mean allowing a hurtful behavior to continue.  But we can appreciate that whether we are being insensitive to ourselves or others, it probably means we are hurting, and our behavior can clue us in on that.  Once we make note of that we can insert a generous dose of compassion.  It may take time and the courage of vulnerability, but we will emotionally soften with the effort.  And when others are mean, rude, disrespectful, or uncaring, we can do our best to choose to get out of harm’s way. If possible, as we exercise silent compassion for the pain they are in.  We can also, double down on compassion for ourselves for being in harm’s way.  

So, as we finish this difficult year off, and as we begin what we hope will be a gentler year, let’s all enjoy a diet of compassion.  No deprivation, just love and respect.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Create a jar or a box or a journal in which you write down good times, happy experiences, and joyous moments.  Then, you have a record of those times at the end of 2023.  (This was taken from The New York Times’ where it was reported Martha Johnson of Maryland Heights, Mo., had the idea to create a jar labeled “Good Stuff in 2022. 
  • Keep an old-fashioned pen and pad by your bed so if you wake up and think of something, or forgot something, you can write it down, allowing you to return to sleep without any blue light.  
  • Move one thing from your to-do list to the “I’ll try to-do list.”  This way you can ease into it, and give yourself a break, rather than forcing something that only makes you feel critical of yourself.  Of course, whether you can move it or not, whether you get it done, or not, be compassionate with yourself.  That, too, will be a kindness.  

City Blooms, Week Seventeen in the New Abnormal

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A three-minute walk from our apartment stands a small lone cherry blossom tree.  It’s located behind a dull brick building.    On this seemingly empty city block the tree feels like a sign of hope.  Hope that beauty can hold up in the face of asphalt and concrete.    

As I walked on, I saw so many volunteers planting bulbs, clearing paths, and cleaning up both Carl Shurz and Central Parks.  There is a friendly buzz among the volunteers as they give of their time and dedication to bring natural beauty to our city.  

I am so grateful for the rare flowering tree on the curb side of the sidewalk.  And how enchanting it is to walk through the parks and gardens that provide an abundance of natural splendor.   The garden boxes on windows and the landscapes of certain buildings also provide color to our lives.  

The city in springtime is a panoply of beauty, we just have to look to take in these delightful seasonal palates.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When outside, see if you can find and focus on new blooms.  Notice how it feels to purposely take notice of what may have been background previously.
  • Bring flowers into your home.  Do you like potted flowers or cut, or both?  Where do you like to put them?  
  • Find inspiration from this season.  What might you enjoy now that’s different from other times of the year?    

On Repeat, Week Sixteen in the New Abnormal

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Life isn’t linear.  I had always hoped I’d solve what I considered to be my problems, and then live a quality life.  The truth is that we revisit issues time and time again.  Even when we think we’ve beat it, it will show up unexpectedly.  Perhaps it’s why the movie Groundhog’s Day resonates for so many of us.  

We are trained early to think that we’ve failed if we have to repeat lessons.  In school if we fail a grade, it must be repeated.   We are not taught that relearning is nothing shameful.  It would be much more helpful should we be told that repeating grades can be as useful as moving ahead.  Can we learn that somethings bear repeating?  

I have a difficult time learning steps.  Dance classes did not come easily.  I much prefer workouts that don’t include dancing.  Yet, I love dancing on my own, when I can move my body to the music.  In some cases, not on the beat, but with the mood rather than the tempo, I feel joyous.  That joy is robbed when specific steps are introduced.  I go into my head and my physical attunement goes out the door.  

That doesn’t stop me from trying to learn.  Luckily at this age I can laugh at my difficulties, at least as far as dancing is concerned. Of course, there are other lessons that I continue to struggle with, even if I understand what might help make it easier.  

I put together a Seder for our small family.  I didn’t over prepare.  And I kept telling myself that I should write a list.  I never did.  I had forgotten to open the horseradish, which I then couldn’t find.  I looked everywhere in the refrigerator.  Larry kindly volunteered to go out and get a new jar.  He had to walk a few blocks since we don’t live close to a food store.  This all happened when we were about to begin our short Seder.  During clean-up we found the horseradish on the counter where I left it to open it before the meal.  Also, the spinach remained in the oven forgetting that, too.  

It all worked out. We enjoyed the spinach yesterday.  But I know myself. Through the years I’ve come to find that I am well-served keeping lists.  Yet I refused to create one for Passover.  The forgotten foods were a needed reminder that lists help me.  

I will continue to face issues, big and small, that seemingly repeat again and again.  While I used to berate myself for what I could or “should” know., now I am grateful that I can learn from ostensibly familiar mistakes. It may seem like the same old issue, but it is new in this never lived before time and space.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Try something that might seem difficult for you.  See how it feels.  Follow it by something that seems easy, and compare the sensations you experience, and the emotional response to what comes easy as opposed to what is more challenging. 
  • Keep lists if you like.  They are a terrific tool.  It feels gratifying to cross thigs off your list as you complete them

When faced with a familiar life lesson, keep it in the present.  In the same way you have never breathed that breath before, see if you can be in the moment with something that tends to take your mind into the past.  Notice what is new or different in this 

Two Years of a Coronavirus World, Week Eleven of the New Abnormal

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We just hit the two-year anniversary when our lives changed in unimaginable ways. At least most of us never imagined this.  Although I had plenty of professional experience doing trauma work, that usually meant implementing tools to get through a time-limited traumatic event.  We could count on the passage of time to dull the immediate impact of the trauma.  This was much different.  We had to live through uncertainty and constant change while continuing to navigate other, more personal hardships. 

We found out we are resilient.  We faced our vulnerabilities.  There was acting out.  And there were multitudes of kindnesses.  Relationships were under a microscope. We lost friends and disconnected with family members.   New friendships were forged.  Old friendships were rekindled.  More often than not, differences were highlighted.  We experienced division.  For some heartier individuals we worked through differences to find connection.  In other cases, it was apparent hard work would not bridge the divide.  

As for me, I am tired and grateful.  The last two years wore me down.  I also found unexpected gifts through walking, conversations, posts, and streaming.  Life feels more precious, if also more tenuous.  Spending less time with distractions it’s easy for me to see areas in need of growth.  I can also better recognize a well-honed habit of self-criticism.  I had thought I was further along on my spiritual journey.  I was arrogant enough to think I actually knew what that looked like.  But I am here, now, and it looks like this.  Thank you for your part in accompanying me in this journey. I also appreciate you welcoming me on your journey.  For my part, I couldn’t have done this alone.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Be sure to thank those who have supported you.  We all appreciate being thanked.  
  • Smile when you feel inclined.  We have missed smiles with masks on.  And, if you are wearing a mask, smile.  Remember, a true smile is in the eyes.  Let that warmth melt someone else’s pain.  
  • Review what lessons you’ve learned or how you’ve grown in the past two years.  It’s important to acknowledge what you’ve been through.  

The Winter of Our Discontent, Week Seven in the New Abnormal

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 The weather these past few days lightened our moods.  With colder temperatures and snow today we may slip back to a shared discontentment.  A week ago the general agitation was palpable.  Wide-ranging reactivity was pronounced.  Small misunderstandings caused friction.  And this was among strangers.  Relationships have been strained.  Most are not able to keep up with inflation. Families are under-resourced, overly tired, and living with ongoing exasperation.  Those who live on their own have bouts of loneliness, especially because the difficulty in getting together with others while Omicron was at its height kept socializing at bay.

Distress seems to be the mood of the moment.  It’s been tiresome to put plans on hold again and again.  Reactivity is at an all-time high.  Patience is worn thin.  Frustration and annoyance are way too common.  So many are at their wit’s end trying to figure out a way ahead.  

For a good number there is a relief that the mask mandates have loosened.  For others it adds a new layer of fear. There’s the fantasy that we’ll get back to normal.  But we are not going back in many ways.  Whatever is ahead of us remains to be seen. And that can be scary.  

Though it may take a good amount of time to recover physically and emotionally from all we lost these last couple of years, we can find pockets of hope and joy in the present.  Yesterday I was helped by a thoughtful salesperson at a hardware store.  In a time when customer tolerance is more prevalent than customer service, his assistance brightened my day.  Smiles from strangers have taken on a new worth.  And the unexpected generosity of friends has been priceless.  I will be taking in any and all acts of kindness Now more than ever those moments provide the light that moves us forward.  

Self-Care Tips: 

  • Rub your hands together until you create heat, then gently place them on your eyes.  This can provide a soothing moment. 
  • Sing yourself a lullaby at night to lovingly put yourself to sleep.  
  • Try a new toothpaste.  It will help awaken you in the morning since it’s an unfamiliar flavor.  

So Long 2021, Week 35 in the Time of Transition

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2021 was so, so long.  In this last week I have little interest in reviewing this past year.  The fact that I, that we, got through it is good enough for me.  

The good news is that not looking back, at least for now, keeps me in the moment.  My quandary is whether I‘ve chosen mindfulness or denial. If I choose mindfulness, then there’s space for my denial. If I go with a state of denial, then who cares?  I will not decide.  I will opt for a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” scenario.  

The effort that goes into a binary dilemma is too great.  We spend so much attention making an argument for our point of view.  The more I defend a specific position I take, the less likely I am to learn something new.  

So long, 2021.  I will not miss you.  I appreciate much from this past year.  Larry and I moved to a nicer home.  We didn’t know we could do it, yet here we are. I continue to enjoy a hybrid private practice, in-person and virtually.  365 sunrises and sunsets made for beautiful light.  Being in touch with friends and family, when possible, brought love and laughter.  Reading new essays, books, and articles enriched me.  Not finishing books, no matter how highly praised by critics, was pure relief.  And daily walks always expanded my vision.  For those and many other gifts I am grateful.  

However, having to reach to our depths to get through a full year of the pandemic unnerved most of us. Our tempers were shorter, our patience wanting. We are at the final stretch.  It’s less than a week until we ring in the new year.   For me it will be less of a new beginning than it will be a step forward.  Another step into the unknown.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take the pressure off New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.  If you have plans have fun and stay safe.  If you don’t have plans, enjoy the simplicity of staying in.  
  • Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, think of what you might like to let go of.  
  • Regift.  If what you received isn’t for you for any reason, find those around you who would appreciate it.  Or donate.  Either way, it’s a win-win.  

Generosity of Spirit, Week 34 in the Time of Transition

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I always thought I was a generous person.  Then I got married and I came to realize that I was only generous in certain circumstances.  If something was my idea, great, I was happy to offer services, a gift, or lend an ear.  However, if asked, I found I could be withholding.  Somehow I felt being asked for something implied I was stingy.  And I was.  Sometimes I still am.  Apparently a generous heart is not a one way endeavor. 

I started to notice that “no” was my immediate response when asked for something.  I had to learn to pause to see why.  I didn’t like this stingy quality and wanted to do better. What I found was that I had often volunteered or ignored my needs to give in ways that more often than not were a sacrifice.  I ignored my own needs to unconsciously gain acceptance from others.  Once I stopped giving in those instances I had more room to give of myself at other times.    I felt less resentful, less parsimonious.

Holidays often highlight our generosity or lack thereof.  If we’re motivated by a giving heart, we will feel the joy of the season.  If we receive with a generous spirit, we take in so much more than the gift at hand.  And, yet we’ve been through a lot.  Having foregone so much, with more closures happening at present, we might feel particularly challenged to access our generous spirit.  

As we traverse the Omicron variant surge, let’s do our best to open our hearts to one another.  We’re in for a bumpy ride.  I’m going to do my best in finding the humanity for those who make me bristle.  I will be testing myself.  Do I have the grace to live and let live?  Or will I be judging others?  Seething through a tight jaw.  

I don’t know what will show up when I’m stressed or down.  But I’ll use my reactions as measures of what I might need in terms of grace.  And, then I’ll do what I can to have patience as I move through the end of this difficult year into a new year in which living in the spirit of generosity will serve me more than holding on.  

As we open ourselves up to the many gifts in life, may we all benefit from the act of giving and receiving.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send thank you notes.  It means so much to those who give to us to know that the gift was received in the spirit of generosity
  • Stay within your budget.  It can feel challenging to not overspend.  Remember that an act of love can mean so much more than a boxed gift paid on credit.  
  • Regift to places that accept new items for those who might have lost so much.  Some places you might consider are domestic abuse shelters, tornado victims, emergency immigrant centers. 

Funny Thing About Gratitude, Week 26 in the Time of Transition

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I find it incredibly annoying when I’m upset about a person, place, or thing, I’m on a rant, and the individual listening responds by telling me I should be grateful.  It feels like a dismissal of my complaint, valid or not, and a recommendation that I pivot to a “soft music inserted here” blissful moment when I see how lovely life is and how wrong I was to find the awful in this grand world we inhabit.  

I see the benefits of complaining.  I find it helps me to release my frustration, as well as other unpleasant emotions, so that I can find that blissful place on my own.  I am all for being inspired, but I am not a fan of skipping the messy parts so that I make it easier for someone else.  

Conversely, in moments of awe and wonder I enjoy the wave of gratitude that envelops me.  And, in times when I experience hardship and my family, friends, acquaintances and/or strangers offer their support, I am forever grateful.  Kindness is taken in and helps me to grow.  My heart softens.  

When I listen to award shows, I feel badly for the winners who only want to share their special moment by acknowledging the countless others who allowed them to reach that stage, but the orchestra music plays to interrupt them.  Though I won’t name names here, only because I am apt to miss some, I am forever grateful to my relatives, friends, teachers, mentors, therapists, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and others who have shared their thoughtfulness.  It has inspired me.  Their acts of kindnesses have been invaluable whether they remember them or not.  

So, if for a short time I complain, it is only so that I can unload on my own terms, allowing me to get back to a place in which I am genuinely grateful for all the times I’ve been the recipient of your and others’ generosity of heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find a person to whom you can share your complaints.  In the absence of a neutral listener, write down your complaints so they are not swimming in circles in your brain.  
  • Remember times in which you were the recipient of arbitrary kindness.  Check in with how it feels to recollect that time.  
  • Write a thank you note.  We have lost that art, and they are so appreciated.  

Getting Away, Week 23 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Sometimes we just need to get away.  It helps to clear our heads and take a break from day-to-day stress.  That’s exactly what we did this weekend. It’s been a long time coming.  I booked this trip before the pandemic shut down our world.  I rebooked three times in the hope that quarantines were a temporary inconvenience.  In the end we had to wait until the Canadian borders opened up for the fully vaccinated. 

I was nervous to take my first big trip out of the country.  But I also wanted a proper vacation.  It felt like I needed a proper vacation.  So here we are in Quebec City fully enjoying the hospitality and food that is offered with care.  

The joy of walking unfamiliar streets and seeing the colors change on the trees has proven to be just the break I needed.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Take a break.  If you can’t get away, give yourself quick moments throughout the day when you take 5 deep breaths for a short pause.
  • Start taking note of the colors changing on the trees.  What colors do you like the most?  Which trees look as if they’re ablaze?  Enjoy he richness of the season.  
  • Savor the natural foods of the season.  Whether you like all things pumpkin, or you’re an apple fan, the flavors of fall offer so much.  

Singing in the Park, Week 21 in the Time of Transition

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As a young child I delighted in our Magnavox HiFi.  I would sit on the scratchy green wool sofa in our den while listening to Rosemary Clooney.  Her album, Rosemary Clooney Sings for Children with its pink background was a clear favorite.  I loved the track, Betsy, My Paper Doll, because I was the lucky recipient of the Betsy McCall paper dolls hidden in the pages of my mother’s McCall’s Magazine.  The other song that spoke to me was The Little Shoemaker because my father was in the shoe business.  At six, it felt like Rosemary Clooney was singing to me personally.  I hadn’t realized Rosemary Clooney was an icon until years later when I watched her sing with Bing Crosby in White Christmas on the Sunday Million Dollar Movie. 

Recently I was reminded of that album while walking in Central and Carl Shurz Parks in this time of transition.  On the grass are one- and two year-olds in a safely distanced semi-circle with their caregivers listening to Broadway level singers shaking egg instruments and leading the children in song.  They are singing their hearts out to their young audiences who may or may not be singing along.  Each performer grateful for any gig as theater crawls back from being dark.  

How fortunate I was to have enjoyed the musical styling of a great songstress.  And, how lucky these toddlers are to meet up with some of the best singers from around the country. It’s not clear if it’s simply a part of their activity schedule or if the family values the influence of music in our lives.  Either way, I appreciate walking past them remembering the simple touch of my mother’s hand when placing the needle gently on the spinning album even when I asked to hear it again and again. 

In addition to Rosemary Clooney, I heard Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, and many more who allude my memory, crooning through our oak HiFi.  On Sundays we listened to opera on the classical radio station.  That’s when my grandparents visited. We all sat quietly on the same itchy green sofa or love seat.  If we couldn’t be quiet, we had to go play in the basement.  I favored Puccini and Mozart.  The songs felt pretty to me.  But not having an album cover to attempt to read was a limitation that had me go to the basement after an aria or two.  

I’m not listening to enough music these days.  It’s time to open-up iTunes and delight in Rosemary Clooney and friends.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Play music you used to enjoy.  Take in the memories and notice how the songs and music impact you now
  • Take a walk and see what associations you conjure.  What recollections come to mind?
  • Create new memories by sharing music with someone you respect.  If possible, listen together.  If you can’t, you can enjoy the association with the music. 

BRRR, The Fifth Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

Wow! I just went out to walk Lucy.  It sure is cold out there.  A good portion of the country is very cold.  New York City is no exception this weekend.  Just taking Lucy out for a short walk means bundling up for a solid five minutes to make sure the least amount of skin is exposed to the frigid air.  

Although I had insulated gloves with added glove liners, my fingers would not get warm.  Add to that the couple of times I had to take those sub-par gloves off to pay the brave vendors at the farmer’s market, or to give Lucy a treat.  Not my favorite moments this windy day.  

The thing about the cold is that it really highlights our priorities.  As much as I prefer not going out at all, happy to move to music inside, I do want to support the farms who service us year-round.  And Lucy, whom I adore, is not likely to be able to endure a day inside.  This is her weather as a Tibetan Terrier.  She doesn’t want a doggie jacket, she just wants to feel the wind on her face and the cold air on her hairy body.  She has hair rather than fur.

I curse under my breath when she gives me her usual signs that it’s time to go out.  Though she waits for me patiently as I don layer after layer until I’m ready to face the elements.  Thankfully I have a bevvy of face masks that I wear happily knowing that my nose and lower face are covered from the elements.  Grateful for my protection from the cold.  

It’s unbelievable I was strolling on the beach a week ago.  Now, miles to the north that recent memory feels like a long time ago.  Weather is a constant reminder of the transient nature of life here on earth.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find the coziest clothes to wear.  The cold can feel so uncomfortable.  When the fabric’s surface gently soothes our skin, it can add an extra benefit aside from simply keeping us warm.  
  • Dance inside.  Even if it’s for one song.  Enjoy the freeing experience while keeping you actively warm.  
  • If you have to go out, walk in the sun.  It’s a good reminder that even when we deem the weather to be bad, there are no absolutes.  It can be beautifully sunny and still gratingly cold.  

Swimming on Vacation, The Fourth Week of the Second Year of the New Abnormal

I swam for an hour, my head submerged in the warm pool with tiny, wavy prisms, iridescent in the sun-drenched water.  The luxury of having a pool to myself is priceless.  Being able to move seamlessly underwater, thanks to my swimmers’ mask, allows me to stay beneath the surface, enjoying what I’d describe as a meditation in motion.  

 We’re on vacation.  That in and of itself is a gift of relaxation.  I had become rather snippy the first weeks of January, which is always a sign that I need a reset.  I’m still noticing some sharp edges that have yet to be smoothed completely, but the warm air, the sun and the tranquil atmosphere are working their magic.  

There’s a simple ease to being in the Caribbean.  Being able to swim with my mask adds a layer of delight as this vacation kneads the knots of stress from my body, mind and soul.  Sometimes in life there’s a simple fix that changes an experience from okay to wonderful.  That is true of my swimmers’ mask, a device that looks like an outer space unicorn.  It takes up the entire face, so unlike a snorkel, I can breathe just under the surface of water from either my mouth or nose.  There’s a stop at the tip of the hose at the center that prevents water from entering.  And the hose at the center means that swimmers like me can stroke our arms without hitting the tube.  All in all, I am so grateful for this wonderful addition to my swim.  

Life hacks can really help us when they make life easier or more enjoyable.  Years ago, Larry taught me that having the right tool for the right job matters.  He showed me how a well sharpened knife makes a huge difference in the joy of cooking.  Or the correct screwdriver can shorten a belabored task.  Now I have my swim mask, less a tool that a piece of equipment that provides a panoramic view of the pool or the ocean.  A few more swims and the last of the sharp edges will disappear.  At least for now.

Self-Care Tips:

  • Check to see if there’s an easier way to do your chores or activities.  A silicon spatula is helpful to scramble eggs while being gentle on your pan.  A group or family calendar is useful for scheduling.  And a small packet of wipes in your bag or car are good at any age.  
  • If you feel overwhelmed, rather than power on, take a short break.  Walk around the block, meditate, take a power nap, or stretch.  Breaks help us to refocus.  
  • When on the phone, smile while speaking.  It brightens our tone and communicates a softer nature.  

Doing & Being, The Third Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I have salt lamps in my home and work offices.  They are supposed to have a calming effect with the soft pink glow.  I also have a host of self-help books with recommendations on ways to be happier, less stressed, or healthier in every way.  There are not enough hours in the day to prepare and slowly enjoy nourishing meals, move our bodies, meditate, document our thoughts, our habits, our gratitude, mindfully practice yoga, recycle, enjoy nature, be nice to everyone, call our friends, practice aroma therapy, see our health professionals, read or listen to the news, laugh, bring some art into our lives, be creative, be informed, be conscious, relax, be generous, and be happy.  I am overwhelmed living my best life. 

Making a choice to care for myself in one way means I’m making a choice to not do something else.  Perhaps it’s another way of caring.  Resting means I’m not working out.  Working out means I am not relaxing. And so on.  

Nonetheless choices have to be made.  The best I can do is be present in whatever I’m doing.  I see it as checking in with myself and my environment.  What is happening?  How do I feel?  Am I paying attention?  If not, can I refocus?  If I had to describe this, I would say it’s being in the moment, or “beingness.”  It sounds very new age, and perhaps it is in some sense.  But I think more in the tradition of artisans who customarily have singularly focused on their craft.  

Being a psychotherapist has been helpful in learning to be in the moment.  I find it’s essential to listen with intention.  Even when a story has been said before, it has never been said in that moment.  Can I hear the changes? Can I see what connections are being made?  This has been useful.  But since not everyone is a psychotherapist, nor do all psychotherapists practice the same way, each of us can find ways to choose what’s appropriate for any given time as we awkwardly make our way to live our best lives.  

I, for one, will keep my salt lamps burning.  Do they help?  Though I don’t know the science, I do like them, and that’s good enough for my best life.  

Self-CareTips:

  • Do something that brings you joy.  Notice if you can be aware of your mood, sensations in your body, what’s going on around you, and anything else associated with the joyful activity.
  • Make a conscious choice to not do something.  How does that feel?  Can you be present even as you are not doing whatever you’ve chosen?
  • Hydrate.  We tend to forget to drink water or other hydrating liquids in the winter.  

What’s For Dinner? Second Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I was preparing dinner as I do many nights.  Last night was pesto glazed salmon and garlic-marinaded skirt steak with sauteed spinach, garlic bread, and a spicy salad.  Thanks to Marion Zinn, my mother-in-law, I have the best marinade for the steak.  She was a wonderful hostess and served many delicious dishes.  Conversely, my mother would get anxious when hosting guests.  Nonetheless she deserves a shout out as an excellent baker. All three of my siblings and I have fond memories of annual birthday cakes baked from scratch, stored on a glass cake plate with an aluminum cake dome.  I used to cook and bake regularly, but as life’s responsibilities expanded, my domestic duties dwindled.   

Sometimes, though, I want to have a home cooked meal.  I shopped at the farmer’s market gathering some ingredients for dinner, and foraged the refrigerator for the rest.  Even as I began the prep work, I remained hopeful for a nice dinner.  Inevitably, by early evening, I was forgetting one thing or another, and my hope slipped to a tepid aspiration for a good enough meal.  Perhaps it’s this feeling along with my full schedule that diminishes my fondness for cooking these days.   

I realized, which might mean I’m late to the game, that planning, and subsequently serving, dinner is a process that mimics the complications of caring for oneself and perhaps others.  First there’s the consideration of taste.  What do I like?  What does Larry like?  Are there foods that appeal to us as the same time?  If not, what variations do I make?  Will I challenge myself with a new recipe or will I rely on the tried and true?  Not only does flavor matter, but so does nutrition.  I’m not a stickler that every meal meets the daily requirements of a balanced meal plan. However, I do like to have a variety of tastes, textures and basic health guidelines met.  

Now and again meals are more fly by night, others are indulgences, and more often meals are simple and easy to put together after jam-packed days.  I always enjoy good food.  I’m flexible in that I truly enjoy an array of possibilities from vegan to Omakase, and so much in-between.  I prefer local and organic, but I also shop at Trader Joe’s appreciative of their vast and changing selections.  One thing is for sure, I prefer choices, as I do in so many parts of my life.  

In getting dinner together, last night and previously, I’ve noticed the range of feelings I experience.  I start out hopeful, I have moments of frustration, periods I feel relaxed and trusting, and times I get annoyed, wishing I was being served rather than doing the serving.  And I challenge myself to get through the feelings of anxiousness closer to putting the meal on the table.  All in all, it replicates the processes I go through in other areas of my life, which include the original idea, the thought process and the execution.  So much stuffed into a quotidian endeavor.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Recipe for Marion’s marinade: ¼ cup olive oil, just less than ¼ cup cider vinegar, 3 Tablespoons or more of soy sauce, ¼ cup honey, lots and lots of chopped garlic, ½ teaspoon grated ginger (can use fresh, jarred or dry ginger if that’s what you have) Enjoy!
  • Take an everyday activity and break it down, checking in to see the array of feelings you have throughout the process.  Can you insert kindness and care when it feels uncomfortable?  Are you able to go with it when it feels pleasant?  If so, acknowledge yourself.  If not, see if you can make room for whatever comes us.  
  • Chapstick. It’s a great way to get through the winter.  Choose from a host of aromas, flavors, textures and ingredients. Find the one that’s good for you.  

The Happiness Project, The First Week in the Second Year of The New Abnormal

I subscribe to The New York Times.  As an online subscriber I often miss stories and articles that are of interest to me. However, I was fortunate enough to receive the Happiness Challenge of this last week.  It wasn’t an outsized commitment but small acts of recognition and gratitude.  

For too many years I lived with a deprivation mindset.  It meant that I felt lacking in so many ways.  Even when good things took place, it felt like it wasn’t enough to fill the void.  I could intellectually recognize a good thing, but emotionally I wasn’t able to internalize it.  When I learned to be grateful for acts of kindness, and when I learned to appreciate moments of joy, I was able to slowly move away from resentment and feelings of deprivation. 

Happiness, at least as I understand it, is more of a mindset.  It doesn’t mean denying the unpleasant.  It only means that there is an open-mindedness to take in pleasure, care, and joy.  Happiness and joy can be cultivated.  So often life’s difficulties wear us down challenging our ability to appreciate the good in our lives.  Nonetheless, with intention we can rebuild the natural joy hidden within.  

By building relationships, and creating a bridge to old positive influencers, we will experience a shared happiness.  By serving others with no intention of having them give you something in return, joy is a welcomed by-product.  Little acts can have big returns.  You may have to exert courage to shift from scarcity of joy to ample happiness, but that courage will pay off.  

It’s so nice to live in the abundance of goodness all around us.  We only need to look to find it.  

Self-Care Tips:

So Long 2022, Year Two in the New Abnormal

Here we are as we move away from 2022 to 2023.  It’s the weekend.  It’s also a milestone in the annual calendar.  

One thing I know for sure is that as much as we hope and try, mistakes will be made this coming year.  We might prefer to forget the hardships of the last three years, but we’re still recovering.  We may want to reach new goals, or old goals yet to be achieved.  Hopefully we’ll get there, but the challenges and lessons along the way may not be easy.  As we work on being better and doing better, they’ll be disappointments and setbacks.  

Let’s create space for the unexpected.  No path forward in the real world is a straight line.  There will be rolling hills, detours, and sometimes we’ll hit a ditch.  We may have to spend more time on life lessons, even when we think we already know the answer.  

Let’s be curious about what’s ahead.  Let’s be courageous as we ease into the journey that will be 2023.  I plan to finish a book that’s halfway done but with no contract yet.  I’ve been challenged and am learning new ways to work full time, care for myself, and reach this goal.  My expectations of myself have been unrealistic causing me to doubt myself.  But I will forge on.  

It turns out that I have mistaken being busy for being productive.  As I face the new year, I will continue to tease out this issue so that I may finish this book without sacrificing my well-being.  It will take courage to work through this. The courage of grit.  And the courage of forging my own path.  My book is on courage in therapy and in life.  So, it’s only fitting that I will harness whatever courage I need to complete my goals.   

The courage of vulnerability was required to share this about myself.  A good way to open new doors to start off 2023, even if it leaves me feeling a bit scared.  I’m hopeful we’ll all find our innate courage to be kind, caring and compassionate with ourselves and one another.  It’s easy to fly off the handle, as we’ve repeatedly witnessed this last year.  Let’s do the necessary work to soothe ourselves so we can face the road ahead.  It’s an imperfect journey, but if we learn from our mistakes, and learn from one another, we will grow exponentially.  

Wishing all of us a healing year of personal and global well-being in 2023.   

Self-Care Tools:

  • Be curious.  We learn so much more when we don’t get stuck on assumptions.  With curiosity we open up our hearts and find compassion rather than getting jammed-up because we have to be right.  
  • Find your courage of vulnerability by sharing something about yourself that may be risky but also will feel freeing.  It can be something as simple as saying “I’m scared,” or as uncertain as admitting you don’t know something.  
  • Take one small actionable step towards something you want.  You could start a savings account even with $5 for a future vacation, or for another aspiration.  You could clean out a drawer as a way of beginning to create order.  Whatever it is make sure it’s doable.  It may be challenging, or you think “what difference will this make?” Nonetheless, small steps lead to big goals.  

Lost Gloves, Week Fifty-One in the New Abnormal

I’m going to think of my gloves as rentals.  No matter what I pay, and how I try to keep them deep in my pockets when they are off my hands, I seem to lose one or more throughout the winter-wear season.  Say what you will about gloves, they undoubtedly lack permanence.  I suppose we could say that about life itself.  

When listening to Buddhist thinkers, or mindfulness teachers, I often hear them speaking thoughtfully on the impermanence of life.  I believe the concept is true, but my mind goes into a strange denial of things lost.  I will retrace my steps a day later in the hopes of finding the errant glove.  I will attempt to undo something I said that can’t be unsaid.  Or I will try to figure out exactly where or how I can contact an old friend no longer a part of my present life.  It’s hard not to be upset when I’ve lost a document, or worse, files to computer purgatory.  

Conversely, I’m happy when an unpleasant experience comes to an end.  Or I’m finished with a deadline allowing me to move on.  I can bask in the memory of a delicious meal, not upset at all of its impermanence.  But I guess we can’t have one without the other.  


Am I upset that this year is in its final weeks?  Not at all.  So many of us carried a heavy load this year.  I’m glad 2022 is almost over and I will not regret its passing.  I’m hopeful our burdens will be lighter these last two weeks as we experience the impermanence of time passing until 2023.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you’re able to afford it, buy two pairs of gloves instead of one.  This way when you lose one you have one from the second set to take its place.  You can also do this with socks.  
  • Carry a smooth stone in your favorite color to rub when you need a bit of grounding or stress relief.  
  • Sing in the shower.  If you want to sing along with music, set your phone with a playlist in a dry place in your bathroom while you shower.  It’s a great way to clear your windpipes (along with your head) while getting clean.  

Emotions During the Holidays, Week Fifty in the New Abnormal

I was in an emotional tailspin earlier this week.  I could tell I wasn’t in the right headspace as I kept thinking of past mistakes I’ve made, times I’ve previously hurt friends, and ways in which I had poor judgement. I was not coming out a champ.  More like a chump.  The negative barrage is not unfamiliar, but it happens less often than in former years.  By Tuesday, I knew that I needed to clear my head so there’d be space for self-care and kindness.  Luckily, I had my weekly therapy session.  

I became a therapist 25 years ago because of the help I received in therapy.  I learned a lot about myself, sometimes painfully conscious of how my choices perpetuated circumstances I had wanted to change.  Yet, year after year life got better.  So much so that I came to value mental well-being. While the descriptions of being overly sensitive in my family and social life were seen by others as detrimental traits, they are the very qualities that ensure I’m in the right field.  

My self-criticism earlier this week was important because it not only told me to continue to do the emotional, psychological, and spiritual work to be less judgmental to myself and others, but it was also a reminder of the depth of condemnation I internalized. 

As we carry on through this holiday season, we will find it imperfect.  There will be lovely moments, as there was when I walked past the Rockefeller Christmas tree late at night.  But there will be times when we’re stressed, when we feel as if we’re not enough, or when we might be disappointed with failed plans, substandard gifts, or family members acting out.  If we find we’re being hard on ourselves in those moments, perhaps we can all give ourselves the gift of benevolence.  Let’s give ourselves and others the benefit of the doubt.  We got through a pandemic, we’re still dealing with its aftermath, and there’s a big push from retailers and social media for these holidays to be fabulous.  

Let’s settle for being real rather than make believe.  There may be flaws in the realness, but there will also be true joy for accepting what is. 

Self-care tips:

  • Get a post-it pad and write “I am Enough” on as many pages as you want to post.  Put it inside your medicine cabinet, on the fridge, in your sock drawer, in your wallet.  Write it on your calendar.  Remind yourself throughout the day that yes, indeed, you are enough.  
  • Rather than trying to let things go, see if you’re able to think about letting it be.  It doesn’t mean you’re not working on it, or you’re helplessly accepting something that is bothersome, it’s just that by letting things be, we don’t have to take an immediate action.  We are not required to DO anything, which is a way of giving yourself a break.  
  • Do something for someone else that is anonymous.  It’s a gift to yourself to be happy to give freely without any need or expectation for something in return.  

A Pile of New Yorkers, Week Forty-Nine in the New Abnormal

I made it to page 50 of the New Yorker with the promise of a poem on the next page.  Of course, this is the November 14th Issue, which may seem to indicate I’m a month behind.  Not so, since I arbitrarily picked it up from a pile that goes back to issues from last year, I now am down to eleven unread issues.  This is my ongoing plight with New Yorkers.  My pile expands or contracts based on what’s happening any given week.  

I love receiving the magazine, checking out the cover art, viewing the contributors.  Each week I have the best of intentions of getting through its pages, ending on an entertaining crossword puzzle.   However, it’s a rare week when that happens.  Instead, I save them for a doctor’s waiting room.  Or, better yet, I bring a small stack with me when traveling.  If I can get through an issue before a flight lands, I am deeply satisfied.  Even better, is when it’s a long flight and I get through two or more.  If I’m on vacation, part of my relaxation is in the form of reading the magazine’s contents, sans political pieces. I get through my issues, one by one, as if I’m triumphing over one of life’s accomplishments. 

This is my mixed relationship with The New Yorker.  I’m not alone.  A good number of colleagues have bemoaned their unread New Yorker stacks.  Conversations with friends reveal their backlogs of the magazine.  We keep it because we know, even if we don’t read the entire issue, there will be jewels in between the covers.  It could be a restaurant review, poetry, letters to the editor, in which we get new perspectives in small bites, or the amusing cartoons.  Whatever the case, we know when we get to each publication we will learn something new.  

The accumulation of my New Yorkers is a metaphor for life.  There’s always more to get done.  Our relationship to what’s in front of us is what makes the difference.  I used to feel uncomfortable looking at my unread issues thinking that it reflected a lack of discipline.  Or it said I wasn’t on the cutting edge.  True, I’m not on the cutting edge.  But that’s okay.  If we can look at what we want to get done and assess we can reasonably get done given whatever limitations show up, we will find great relief.  Breaking things into smaller steps allows us to stay in the moment while still following a path of our own making.  The pile of New Yorkers is not about what we haven’t done, but rather an aspiration of what we hope to accomplish in the fullness of time.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Give yourself a break and simply read the cartoons in an old New Yorker, then give it away, or recycle it, rather than keeping it for a time that never comes.  
  • When making a to-do list, break down the tasks into bite-sized activities, so that you can experience accomplishments along the way of completing any given undertaking. 
  • Sigh aloud.  There’s a wonderful release when we can freely sigh.