Walking in the Rain, Week Forty in the New Abnormal

Dear friends, acquaintances, and strangers in Florida, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other hard-hit areas are cleaning up the devastation left in the hurricanes’ wake.  The strength it takes to put ones’ life in order when ones’ home has been decimated is extraordinary.  It takes a particular type of courage to face hardship not of ones’ making.  

            Having to put forth grit to come back to the lives we’ve had, not only takes stamina, but it takes a private inner force to move forward.  These were my thoughts walking in the rain this weekend.  I realized how fortunate I was to be able to walk in the rain. I may have been wet and tired, but not stopped by the power of a weather system.  

            So many of us have had to pull everything together to return to lives changed by trauma, familiar to what was, but not the same.  Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to realize the strength we didn’t know we had.  Other times feel beaten down by hardships.  And then there are many times we’re worn down even as we find the inner resources to build anew.  

            I will probably be walking in the rain in the next few days.  I am hopeful that I can sustain my gratitude for the luxury of a light storm rather than a hurricane.  But I also know that hurricanes will hit us at some point, and I will find inspiration from my friends who have been through dark times before me.

            Self-Care Tips:

  • See where you can help.  If you prefer specific one-to-one giving, gofundme.com has many personal requests.  Unicefusa.org, is providing assistance.  The Atlanta based natural disaster fund, care4others.org is hands on.  Or give to your favorite relief cause. 
  • Cultivate a gratitude practice.  This can be a daily gratitude journal, a meditation practice, or create something on your own.  Gratitude softens our defenses.  We can commune with our humanity.  
  • Sigh!  There’s a great relief in sighing aloud.  Do it again.  Even more relief.  

Life is Beautiful, Living is Hard; Week Thirty-Eight in the New Abnormal

I woke up this morning to a stunning sunrise.  I slept well and was in a better mood than I had been the last couple of days.  Sunrises bring hope.  They help me to begin the day with gratitude.  The day is lovely.  It’s warm enough to avoid outwear, but cool enough to enjoy the breezes on my walk.  The outdoor cafes are filled with happy brunch diners.  The city is moving along nicely.

Even so, as I appreciate the days, I am also struck by the enormity of personal pain and struggle we have had to endure.  Some are dealing with illnesses, others chronic conditions, still others are doing what they can to manage mental illness for themselves and loved ones.  If that weren’t enough, there are financial concerns, and there are individual hardships.  Too many people are bullying others because they can’t soothe their own pain.  Others are simply unable to sit with uncomfortable feelings, so they act out, scaring others. 

I notice that I’m more sensitive these days.  Loud noises, and there are many, especially the raucous cars and motorcycles in the city which startle me again and again.  I feel like my radar is on high alert since there are more vehicles including dirt bikes, scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, and racing bikes, as well as cars whose drivers don’t abide by traffic lights.   

I feel so fortunate for good friends, family, and amazing work colleagues and clients.  I still love New York City, despite the cacophony that pollutes my ears.  Nonetheless, I am acutely aware of the everyday difficulties we endure, whether we live in or outside a city.  It’s been tough.  We can take refuge in those glorious moments when we gaze upon a sunrise or sunset.  We can enjoy a good laugh.  And we can be moved by the courage we witness.  It doesn’t take away the hardships, but it does give us a little something so we can continue forward in our beautiful and hard world.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stop.  Sometimes we forge ahead and forget that a break will help us in the long run.
  • When you feel that you’re at your breaking point, step away.  Even if you can simply take a few breaths, create a small space between you and your inner pain.  
  • Keep it simple.  It’s easy to blame ourselves when things go wrong.  Instead simply identify that it’s a hard moment, and if you hear a critical thought, simply say, that’s a thought, I will not add it on to this difficult time.  

One Year Older, Week Thirty-Five in the New Abnormal

Today I turn 63.  In my 20s and 30s I wanted a lot of celebrating.  By 40, after I started my present career as a psychotherapist, low key became my preferred option.  Don’t get me wrong, I wanted recognition.  Sometimes, I say with some embarrassment, I demanded recognition.  But smaller became better for me.  Today I took myself to the Bronx to walk among the August flowers at the New York Botanical Gardens.  

Going in the morning was key.  I could walk for a good while without seeing anyone else.  The day was hot, but there are so many shaded spots that the sun’s early rays didn’t overheat me.  A couple of hours of simple pleasure was a wonderful gift. But it’s not the only gift. 

While social media is often scorned for the propensity of many users to err on the side of negativity, that was not my experience today. The outpouring of birthday wishes is a testament to the warmth in the precious hearts of those with whom I’m acquainted.  I am filled with gratitude.  The abundance of good will on social media platforms has the power to transform.  The well wishes took a simple day and layered it with kindness and care.  My heart is full.  Thank you.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you have a chance to enjoy time in nature, seize the opportunity.  The beauty and majesty of gardens, woods, sea, desert, and mountains can soothe our souls.  
  • Take in the positive posts when on social media.  It will move you and/or bring a smile.
  • Look up Don MacMillan’s comedy.  He is very funny.  We went to Stafford Elementary School together.  He was smart and funny then.  He’s only gotten better since those early years in Cherry Hill.  https://www.youtube.com/user/donmcmillancomedy

Scaffolding, Week Thirty-Four in the New Abnormal

Pre-Covid, I took a wonderful writing workshop with Emily Raboteau at the Key West Writer’s Workshop.  Not only was it a beautiful setting, but the guest speakers and the workshop itself were invaluable.  One thing Professor Raboteau taught us was the necessity of proper scaffolding to support the writing.  It took time, but I built my scaffolding.  It’s been more precarious than proper, but I worked with the materials at hand and I’m finding my way.

In terms of all types of scaffolding, New York City brick buildings must be inspected every five years.  If they need to have new bricks to replace the old, scaffolding goes up and the work begins.  Such is the case for our apartment building.  It’s a messy job that clogs air conditioners and gets dust between closed windows.  Nonetheless, safety comes first.  I’m hopeful the scaffolding is safe for the workers and protective for pedestrians.  Though It adds a dark, ominous feeling coming from and arriving home.  

Even so, as the many workers toil in the August heat laboring their way around the building, it has brought to mind the importance of creating scaffolding, not only for writing and edifices, but for our lives.  Supportive friends and family are great members of our scaffolding.  But the care we can provide ourselves is essential. Sometimes I do a better job than when I’m avoiding my feelings, or caught in anger, resentment, or victimhood.  Walking, meditating, reading, delicious, nourishing meals, are some of the nuts and bolts of my scaffolding.  Writing has become part of the foundation.  Laughing is a daily essential, though I forgot my sense of humor last night.  

I’m glad I noticed that so I can fix it today.  Just as the buildings in the city need inspection and improvements, my precarious scaffolding requires daily upkeep. Perhaps after a good cry, I’ll dance today bringing in music, while laughing aloud.  My scaffolding makes room for emotional variations.  Feeling those emotions is a crucial element of my scaffolding.   Let the progress continue…

Self-Care Tools:

  • List what elements of scaffolding you already have in your life.  Then add small supports that will augment your list.  
  • Remember to laugh whenever you can.  And, if you lose your sense of humor, do whatever helps to bring it back.  It will lighten your perspective
  • Thank workers for what they do.  Our lives are supported by all those who successfully do their jobs.  

A Good Morning, Week Thirty-Three in the New Abnormal

My short bob is all over the place.  I remember a time my mother would claim, “We have to tame your hair.”  I still hear you, Mom, but I am wearing it untamed today.  Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it was a deeply satisfying morning, but I’m feeling a bit untamed myself.  Today is one of three City Streets in which Park Avenue is open to cyclists, runners and pedestrians.  I took out my low bicycle and headed west to Park Avenue at 6:45 for a 7 a.m. start.  I trudged up a small hill, understanding this was the only practice I’d get before riding on the northern hills of Park Avenue.  

My helmet was on, my fanny pack in place. My curls sprouting from said helmet.   I have been inspired by Jennifer Weiner’s long-distance rides, though this was not nearly as intrepid.  I took off, surprisingly less judgmental about runners on the left where bicycles were directed to go.  The slopes, which seem less of an incline when walking, felt particularly high when seated on my bicycle.  I silently chanted from The Little Engine That Could, a childhood favorite, “I think I can, I know I can,” while trudging up the hills.  It felt like one minor accomplishment after another enjoying my seven-mile ride.  

I dropped my bike off and Lucy and I went off to the local farmer’s market.  I had passed by on my way home while they were setting up, though when I returned the lines were long.  I waited patiently.  While I meditate to have patience, and I work on having patience, long lines and my precarious patience are not always a good match.  Today, though, I easily had patience.  Even when a woman claimed to have a spot in line in front of me, though I had never seen her before, I just let it be.  Clearly getting to the register first mattered in some way I couldn’t understand.  

When I got home I made gazpacho.  I followed a simple recipe with the vegetable I procured from various farmers, and enjoyed it for a non-traditional, late breakfast.  I had forgotten how much I love it.  And, if that weren’t enough, the weather is beyond splendid.  It’s cool with a breeze, something more akin to May than August.  But I’ll take it.  Lucy seems happy with it, too.  She wasn’t clamoring to come back home as she often is in the sticky humidity.  

All in all, it was a great morning.  I’m grateful for days like today.  This week was strenuous.  A lot of tough emotions in and around me.  This unexpected break has been a gift.  Perhaps a nap today?  Why not? 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stand with your feet apart and stretch out your arms so that your fingers are pulled out to either side.  Take up space.  Affirm your place on this earth.  
  • Challenge yourself to climb a metaphorical or actual hill.  What would have you enjoy a feeling of accomplishment?  Can you take a step to get it done?  O do you have the time and energy to complete it?  Once done, acknowledge yourself for what you’ve undertaken.  
  • Take a short summer vacation with a Jennifer Weiner book.  Her latest is: The Summer Place.  I’ve enjoyed her stories and books since Good in Bed in 2001.  

Compassion vs Disregard, Week Twenty-Seven in the New Abnormal

Thurgood Marshall said, “The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.”  Yet what I’ve experienced in the last months and perhaps years is an eroding of compassion and care for others. So many are getting annoyed with others, some acting out in ways that are harsh and harmful.  This preponderance of disregard for other’s human frailties is hurtful to all of us. 

I am not immune to a general sense of annoyance for people that aren’t mindful of others.  After having a negative emotional reaction I spend time and effort to bring caring kindness to myself and work on having compassion for those who bother me the most.  It’s an imperfect process.  Nonetheless I find it helpful.  

The pandemic, plus many social and financial inequities have left us feeling burdened.  And when we look for support, it can be hard to come by since many of us are among others who also feel burdened.  

I don’t know that there is a perfect solution, though I wish there was.  What I do know is that the more vulnerable to others’ ire I feel, the less I have access to inner resources that help me get through tough times. Therefore, having patience with myself, doing my best to be thoughtful to others, and staying connected with and expressing compassion help me get through my days, especially when I encounter insensitivity from others.  

Perhaps this is the time we can move from a disheartening crisis of callousness to bring forth a much-needed time of compassion.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Try the RAIN (Recognize, Acknowledge, Investigate, Non-Identity) mindfulness practice.  You can find it on Tara Brach’s site, or at Mindful.org
  • Practice loving-kindness meditation.  You can find it at SharonSalzberg.com, YouTube or at Mindful.org
  • When you have the thought, “What’s wrong with me?” or What’s wrong with you?”  Rather than answering that question which has negative implications, ask, “What is happening now?”  or, “What am I experiencing?” These questions open up an inquiry, and are gentler when things are difficult.  

Falling Down But Not Falling Apart, Week Twenty-Four in the New Abnormal

I’m moving a bit slower presently.  While on vacation I sprained my ankle.  I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying every moment of our amazing time away.  Now that I’m back home, I’m doing bi-weekly physical therapy while curtailing long walks.   I only made it to Central Park once this week. In full walking mode, I usually make it at least five times weekly.  Thank goodness for Carl Shurz Park, it’s close, by the East River. A smaller park, but volunteers and park workers have created a beautiful outdoor space.  Sometimes it gets crowded, but Lucy, our dog, and I walk around them.  

Walking slower has its advantages.  Though I don’t go as far, I can observe building facades and other block by block details. When not nursing my ankle, I’d quickly pass by on my way to one destination or another.  Another plus is Lucy and I going at the same pace.  There were many times that I would have to employ patience as Lucy sniffed and stopped to acquaint herself with a certain spot.  Now her gait serves me well.  

Another advantage is recognizing how getting older has improved my ability to accept bumps in the road.  Yes, I fell on a muddy hill in the Andes on a trail to a stunning waterfall.  When younger that fall would have potentially ruined my trip, and it would have had me cranky upon my return.  I would have been impatient to get back full mobility so I could do what I’ve always done.  Now, I can let the healing process unfold as I enjoy short, slow walks, and slow bike rides. 

Going slower even as others pass me by is not new to me.  In social situations, I learned skills later.  I believe that may have contributed to falling apart when things got tough.  My self- esteem was fragile, so hardships felt personal.  These days, if things aren’t going right, though that’s subjective, then I turn left, enjoying a less traveled path.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow down.  Notice details around you that you may have missed when rushing about.  
  • Take inventory of what you’ve learned about yourself in the past two years.  How have you changed?  In what ways are you proud of yourself having faced hardships?
  • If plans change, are you able to find the silver lining?  If not, process your disappointment, and be curious if anything lovely shows up given the changed circumstances.  

Reparenting This Mother’s Day, Week Nineteen in the New Abnormal

Though cards, commercials, and media would have us romanticize motherhood, the truth is Mother’s Day can be stressful for so many.  Whether families grapple with mental illness, death, physical illness, the court systems, mismatched needs of child/mother, in-law drama, or whether there are reproductive issues, or other circumstances that make the day difficult, allow for kindness and caring while enduring the day.  

My Mother’s Day started out with a tepid shower.  Very unsatisfying.  I was looking forward to a longer, indulgent shower, washing my hair, and deciding which light aroma of my foam soaps I might choose today.  Instead, it was a quick and uncomfortable in and out.  I cursed while drying off.  But my coffee was ready and it’s delicious.  

Can I move from one moment to the next without holding on to upsets?  That is my challenge, as it has been for a long time.  Will I be able to feel the abundance in my life rather than focusing on what isn’t happening today?  I will do my best.  

As I go through this day marked to celebrate parenting, for better or worse, I think I will focus on reparenting.  Reparenting is treating ourselves with loving kindness, employing patience, and compassion.  It’s part of my daily mindful practice.  And, thank goodness it’s a practice since I haven’t, nor do I expect to, perfect loving kindness.  It’s an imperfect practice.  We’re imperfect, worthy of love and continued care in all our states.  So, I wish you a Happy Reparenting Day, no matter your relationship to motherhood.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write down at least three things for which you are grateful.  Gratitude journaling supports a feeling of abundance.  
  • Soothe your senses.  Choose a fragrance, stretch, listen to beautiful music, or eat something delicious. It’s a small, kind gift to delight your senses,  
  • Find a meme, card, affirmation or anything that acknowledges your worthiness.  

City Gallery, Week Nine in the New Abnormal

We went for a lovely birthday celebration of a new friend.  To get there we took the subway.  It’s been quite a while since I last went on the underground train.  The most recently expanded line, The Q Train, has an artist featured on each of the newest stops.  We got a good look at a few by Chuck Close done with tiles as portrait mosaics.  

There is an instantaneous sense of delight when I see and enjoy art in the city.  I especially enjoy unexpected art.  Not only do I appreciate the mosaics in the subway stations, but walking through midtown brings waves of art appreciation. 

 

Though not the same as in-person viewing, here are a few samples of simple and large scale art on my walks throughout the city.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Create your own art as if you were five-years-old.  Remember when we crafted art that was so much fun, and we felt good about the result just because we made it ourself?  Try that now.  
  • Go for a walk and see the art around you, whether person-made or naturally occurring. 
  • As war takes a toll in the Ukraine and other countries not in our news, let’s make peace in our lives, in our homes, with those we love, and with those with whom we don’t see eye to eye.  Intentionally peaceful actions make a difference for all of us.  

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.