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.  

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.  

Bargains Abound, Week Forty-Eight in the New Abnormal

I just deleted 129 emails from my inbox.  I’m not that popular, it’s simply that retailers with black Friday weekend deals want my money.  Some of the emails remind me that I looked at something I chose not to buy in case I need to see it again. I do not.  

Given the onslaught of emails one would think there’s no recession.  And, though I do appreciate a good experience, I’m less apt to go for more stuff.  I will not be purchasing one more well-being product that usually ends up in the back of the closet, if I haven’t yet donated it.   I imagine Goodwill volunteers grumble when they see yet another foot spa.  Clean socks and winter jackets are preferred items.  

I was so tired on Black Friday, but I also was afraid I’d miss an arbitrary sale.  I made my post-nap walk a destination walk, only to find that the sales were not hawking anything I really needed, Nor did they offer anything I wanted to give as gifts.  I’m sure I may have missed some bargains that offered a deal on the espresso spoons we lack, or the ice tongs we can’t find.  

We’re so fortunate.  We want for nothing.  Well, maybe we want some things.    The truth is we always want kindness, respect, and generosity of spirit.  That’s not something we can purchase at a retail establishment.  But they are qualities that will have me return to a store or online site, should the proprietors and staff possess said characteristics.  The emails may get deleted from depersonalized sources, but when customer service is accommodating, and when there’s a personal touch, I do become a repeat customer.  Because kindness and respect are invaluable.  They’re worth more than whatever needs purchasing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If something gives you joy, and it’s within your means, do buy it.  But check to see if it’s just filling a void and, if so, see if there is another way to give to yourself that is kinder, more caring.  
  • Support small businesses if they value you as a customer.  And, if you own or work for a retailer, don’t underestimate the significance of caring for and about your customers.
  • Thank you notes matter.  Graciousness is often a forgotten attribute.  Sending a thank you is a beautiful way to keep the giving going.  

Halloween Weekend, Week Forty-Four in the New Abnormal

It’s Halloween Weekend and the city is ready for the many trick or treaters at every age.  As a child of the sixties our Halloween was comprised of a trip to Kiddie City to pick out a cardboard box with a clear window displaying the plastic mask with a thin mouth opening with two nostril holes for labored breathing that allowed for a muffled song of “trick or treat” at the door of kind home-owners who distributed candy, both great and questionable.  My favorite candy were plain Hershey chocolate bars, M&Ms, Twizzlers, or Good and Plenty.  I was not a fan of the chalky Necco Wafers or boxes of raisins.  We had plenty of fruit and raisins in our home, so I was on the lookout for forbidden treats that I would hide in the back of my closet.  

I’d bring one or two treats to school a day.  If I was in junior high, then they would be confiscated from the bullies that threatened to ruin an otherwise adequate day.  Nonetheless, the feeling of being rich with sugary sweets was intoxicating. 

The other aspect of Halloween I reveled was wearing a costume.  I loved dress up, and I delighted in playing other characters.  The first time I played someone else was in a Hebrew School Purim play at age five.  Sadly, I did not make the cut for Esther, but wearing a long- haired wig, and a toga, I was one of the other wives of King Ahasuerus.  It wasn’t as fun as Halloween, but it was a solid second. 

There were very little Halloween decorations in our neighborhood growing up.  A few Autumnal pumpkins, some adventurous jack—o-lanterns, but not much more.  Even so, a good costume, from my elementary school age perspective, whether it was Casper, a Disney Princess, or a witch, was a special experience.  Walking home, hitting all the houses on the other side of the street brought heft to my papar bag, and anticipation of portioning my candy booty for the remainder of the holiday season.  It’s been a joy throughout this week to see young children in their costumes on their way to Halloween Parties, proud to represent a character near and dear to them.  

Wishing everyone a safe and Happy Halloween.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you’re not trick or treating, try some high-quality chocolate, one square a day.  It’s a small treat with big flavor.  
  • When someone says something that hurts you, simply ask them “Did you mean to upset me?”  it’s a way to communicate your upset without an accusation.   It will also give you information about what’s going on for them.  And they will know that they hurt you.  Of course, if they answer, “Yes,” then that gives you more information about being intentionally treated poorly, thus giving you a choice in future interactions. 
  • Relax with classical music.  We forget how impactful it is on our nervous systems.  It can soothe us when we are stressed, and lighten our mood when we feel low.  May I suggest Debussy’s Clair de Lune or Pachelbel’s Canon in D? 

Chasing Colors, Week Forty-Three in the New Abnormal

Manhattan is slower to display the vibrant array of Autumn colors associated with this season.  I had planned to leave the city to enjoy the same lush views that friends had posted in their feeds.  That never happened so I opted to wait for our city’s briefer period of transformation.  It has yet to fully show itself.  However, my walk to the North Woods in Central Park gave me a glimpse of what’s to come.  The North Woods themselves are still greenish.  But the walk to and from the north end of the park gifted me with moments of yellows, oranges and reds.  

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy a long walk in the park and I had to purposefully enjoy the walk rather than making the hunt for changing leaves the goal. Sometimes being intentional is an afterthought in my activities.  And it almost was an afterthought when I suddenly realized how fortunate I was to have the afternoon off so that I could walk in Central Park.  With that, my cadence shifted from racing to find new colors to being curious and excited about what I may find. 

That shift was invaluable.  It allowed me to view the beauty of the park and the city rather than coming from a position of deprivation.  I began my walk feeling like I was missing Autumn’s splendor, but I was able to alter my perspective to one of appreciating the abundance of all Central Park offers.  And, truth be told, I will get to see Fall Foliage in the weeks to come.  That’s the joy of delayed gratification. 

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you find you are in a deprivation mindset, take a moment.  Look again to see if you can specify something you appreciate.  It may be that it’s sunny.  It may be the cool air on your face.  It may be gratitude that you can move parts of your body without pain.  It may be you like being at home.  Whatever it is, it’s not a substitute for feelings of deprivation, but it is a reminder that it’s not an all-or-nothing life.  
  • If you’re near a bathroom, don’t delay when you have to go.  It’s a message to yourself and your body that your physical needs take priority.  I got used to delaying until I couldn’t wait, because it’s what many of us learned in school, and, in my case, and perhaps yours, what I learned at home.  It no longer needs to be that way.  It’s a regular bodily function that supports our comfort.  
  • Send a friend or a family member a hand-written note.  I know it’s passé, but as a boomer, I know the value of receiving mail that’s not junk or a bill.  

Make it Quick, Week Forty-One in the New Abnormal

I did something Friday that I haven’t done in well over two years.  I went to the movies.  I, know some of you are more intrepid than I and have ventured out to see what viewing on the big screen well before this.  I specifically went to the Soho Film Festival to see a short film produced by my friend Jackie Schwartz and starring Mischa Dani Goodman, a friend and previous co-worker of Larry’s. An unusual but not surprising coincidence.  It was a late night, and I rarely stay up late, but I’m glad I did.  

All seven films were excellent, and the best was saved for last as the audience laughed and thoroughly enjoyed Unbridaled.  There’s nothing like relishing the creative endeavors of those in our lives.  Best of all is being able to watch short films that provide a great deal of content in such a short time frame.  I find that true for certain essays, poems, and short stories, as well.  For me it’s like a mini cupcake, all the goodness of the regular size, and just enough to completely satisfy.  

With a busy schedule, I find that brief encounters can also provide meaningful exchanges.  A short, spontaneous meeting running into a friend can be the highlight of the day.  A planned get-together for a quick meal is always sweet.  In line with brief experiences, I’ll make this post brief, more like an hors d’oeuvres than a cupcake. Shall we say a pig-in-the-blanket?  Or, for my vegan friends, a mushroom wrap.  A quick hello at a cocktail hour.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Listen or watch a quick podcast.  They pack a lot in to a short amount of time
  • Go to Netflix, Amazon, or another channel to view a short film.  You’ll be happy to have given yourself the treat.  
  • When you begin to feel stressed, take 30 seconds or a couple of minutes to do a quick mental body scan.  Start at your fee and move up your body checking in to acknowledge the physical sensations. That alone can bring ease.   

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.  

Exotic Minnesota, Week Thirty-Six in the New Abnormal

It’s cool, clean and sunny in downtown Minneapolis this morning.  I am taking my time this morning on this solo vacation.  Yesterday I went to the largest state fair in the country on the outskirts of St. Paul.  Wow! It was definitely not an experience to be had in the Big Apple, which made it a truly exotic experience for this New Yorker.   I entered in the morning and left as the crowds swelled in the early afternoon.  The grounds were sprawling, and I got lost any number of times leading me to impressive displays of award-winning crafts, deco buildings, and backstage settings.  

Everyone was friendly and respectful. There were long lines for fried anything including but not limited to corn dogs, alligator, twinkies, and a popular favorite in dairy country, cheese curds.  I chose to avoid lines and find my meal outside the fair gates.  Most impressive to me were the multiple exhibits of award fair award winners.  From hand carved canoes to creative sandwiches, there were ribbon winners in so many categories I couldn’t keep count.  Though, the butter sculptures were busts of some of the blue-ribbon recipients.  They were being displayed in the dairy building.  

After a slow stroll through the midway, I was ready to go.  The crowds were swelling.  Since I left New York City to get away from crowds, I decided to sacrifice fair sites unseen for a quieter walk through Minnehaha Falls Park in St. Paul.  This was another experience I wouldn’t have in Manhattan.  Yes, we have small falls in Central Park, but the majesty of the Minnehaha Falls, as well as the expansive network of pathways in the park are unrivaled in my city. 

My first day in Minneapolis was capped off by an impressive meal at Owamni by The Sioux Chef.  That was a very special meal I could only enjoy in Minneapolis.  It features creative Indigenous cuisine, much sourced from local areas.  A great way to end a long and far-off day.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Allow yourself to get lost on a walk or drive.  Then explore what you would never have seen or known had traveled the familiar path. 
  • Give a stranger a smile.  It may take a small measure of courage, but it can brighten their (and hopefully, your) day. 
  • Nap.  We are a busy society.  Taking time to rest is a kindness we can give ourselves.  

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