Happy Jewish New Year, Week Thirty-Nine in the New Abnormal

The Hebrew Year 5783 is upon us.  It’s a celebration of new beginnings.  Sometimes called the great reset.  We have a tradition of bringing bread crumbs, which symbolize our sins, down to the river to release them so we can start anew.  For me the letting go of the recent past to move on is an unburdening.  It’s a kindness we can give ourselves in letting go of what we deem to be opposed to our values.  It’s a personal forgiveness so we can live better lives through right action.  

I love the symbolism in this act.   Not only do I affirm the wrongdoings of this past year, but it holds me to a higher standard, which I appreciate.  Even if I lose my cool when I get upset and don’t take a moment to pause, or I unintentionally hurt someone, I am still one step closer to learning from my missteps. 

Life is filled with lessons.  I have a friend who always reminds me when I get frustrated or upset with someone, that they are my Buddha.  That person is there to teach me if I’m willing to learn.  When I just want to be right, I have the opportunity to bring compassion for myself and others.  In those moments, I’m not so thrilled to embrace the lesson, but with time, especially on the eve of this New Year, I am motivated to try again.  

Self-Care Tools:

  • Find a way to let go of things you’ve done that you have a hard time forgiving.  Create a ritual that will assist you in forgiving yourself while learning from what was done.  
  • In place of being hard on yourself, or justifying hurting someone else, be gentle and kind to yourself, and in turn, to others, easing any internal criticism. 
  • Dip apples in honey.  The apples symbolize hope and abundance, while honey symbolizes sweet possibilities for the New Year.  

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.  

Twenty-First Anniversary, Week Thirty-Seven in the New Abnormal

Today is what twenty-one years post 9/11 looks like.  All New Yorkers who were in the city that day, as well as those close to lower Manhattan, or around the country, and the world remember where they were the day the towers fell.  

For those who survived, their stories were heartbreaking and profound.  It was one of the first times I know of that corporations, small companies and organizations prioritized mental health and called in specialists from around the world to work with their employees, associates, and volunteers so they could get through the trauma of that day.  

So many wanted to contribute as we felt helpless in face of the enormity of the tragic events.  We couldn’t get enough crayons so the children who lived downtown could draw as a part of their trauma therapy.  We didn’t have enough tissues for the adults who lost loved ones or witnessed the unimaginable.  

I was privileged to work with downtown families, first responders, the bereaved, and co-workers who had to get through that clear September day in 2001.  Everyone wanted to and needed to share their personal stories. Personally, I had gone full circle having worked as a proofreader at Morgan Stanley, having gone to graduate school while there, then returning counseling former co-workers and supervisors as a trauma consultant.  From there I consulted at number of businesses landing at Salomon Brothers for a couple of years.  

What I took away from that time is the courage and resilience of the human spirit.  That experience has been reinforced these last couple of years.  We encompass an enduring strength fostered by courage in the face of great hardships. An unfathomable tragedy took place twenty-one years ago, and as we remember, we can honor the bravery within each of us when we confront personal, national, and international trauma.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Acknowledge your personal courage for the small struggles and large hardships you’ve faced. 
  • Who are your heroes?  What qualities do they possess?  In what ways do you embody those qualities?  
  • What aspects of courage do you want to develop?  Identify one to three small steps you can take to expand that courageous characteristic.  For example, I will say “no thank you” when asked to do something that is not right for me, even when I risk hurting someone’s feelings.  

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.  

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.  

Happy Friendship Day, Week Thirty-One in the New Abnormal

I’m writing this on International Friendship Day.  It has me thinking of past friends, some gone by mutual consent, some, as the wonderful Claudia Shear put it, are ‘location specific’, and some died too young.  The rest still bring me laughs, tears, and meaningful moments either with posts, texts, emails, or on a rare visit.  

I have hurt friends in the past.  I wasn’t always trustworthy.  I wasn’t always able to set limits until it was too late.  Or I just didn’t understand when to speak and when to keep quiet. I have run into previous friends who I must have upset because, though I have been happy to see them, they don’t share that sentiment.  I may not know the specifics of their interpretation of events, but I recall not really understanding how to relate to others. 

However, the friends who stuck by me, the ones who forgave me, or who didn’t feel upset by my actions taught me so much about friendship.  They taught me about the imperfect, human connectedness that is key when relating to others.    They taught me to appreciate the differences and treasure what we share in common.  I’ve learned about new musical artists.  Books have been exchanged, topics seriously discussed.  There’s been a lot of theater and film, and meals shared.  

Friendship is a gift. Sometimes I squandered that gift.  Not on purpose, but by not knowing my value, thus not appreciating that my actions impacted others.  Nevertheless, I now value those gifts from the past and in the present. I’ve internalized each and every one with whom I’ve shared an alliance. I have learned from great generosity of spirit.  I’ve enjoyed shared belly laughs, and poignant moments.  Most importantly, my friends have taught me, and continue to teach me the importance of seeing beyond our imperfections.  I have learned to celebrate happy times with friends. And my friends have comforted me when things have been tough.  I am so grateful as I continue to learn and grow thanks to dear friends.   

 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Reach out to an old friend.  If you can get together, great.  If not, send a note.  
  • Send a cartoon or meme with a friend.  Nothing like a shared laugh.   
  • For times when you need more energy, take a few breaths through your nose, then quicken those breaths.  Repeat three times, First take regular breaths through your nostrils, then quicken the breaths for about 3 to 5 inhales & exhales.  Stop if you get lightheaded.  Best to do this sitting.  

Moods Ebb & Flow, Week Twenty-Eight of the New Abnormal

The cycling of moods continues.  Today I’m happy.  It’s beautiful outside.  I get to walk on fairly empty sidewalks, and I’m ticking things off my to-do list.  Earlier this week I was crestfallen.  Too many tragedies and so much shared pain in the world.  I find it fascinating how the ups and downs shift from day to day.  Well, really, from moment to moment.  

The good news about these shifts is that I know when things are particularly low, they will rise again.  And when things are going well, I can appreciate them, understanding the fleeting nature of my feelings.  Impermanence used to feel like a threat.  I was always aware of the inevitable loss of something good. Luckily, given the fullness of time, I see things differently now.   I understand that there will be other occasions of highs and lows, and that I can plan to give myself extra care when things are tough, and I can delight in the glory days when they show up.  

I’m grateful that it’s been a good day since I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But even a good day for me, may not be good for someone else.  If I’m feeling strong, I can listen and learn from someone in a different space.  But, often when I’m not at work and it’s been difficult for me, I don’t have the wherewithal to take in the troubles of others.  That is when I have to set limits.  It’s not easy since I don’t want to hurt someone else. And, yet, I know I will be hurting myself should I extend myself past my limits.  In that case, having the courage to say “No” to someone else is a huge Yes to me.  A simple but challenging kindness I can give myself.  

Self-Care Tools:

  •  When you notice that your inner resources are scarce, see if you can lessen any interactions with those who require more of your energy than you can spare.  In this way you can build up your strength for whatever is to come.  
  • Listen to music that meets your mood.  Move to that music, whether it’s a simple sway, or a more vigorous dance.  
  • Surround yourself with those who are genuinely happy for you when things go well.  Their generosity of heart can be empowering.  

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.  

Dashed Plans, week Twenty-Five in the New Abnormal

Our best intentions don’t always go according to plan.  I had all weekend to work on a project.  I planned on spending this weekend, as I have in the past, writing and rewriting to meet a deadline.  Lucy, who is my constant companion loves the cooler air and asked to be taken on walks more than usual. Once we were outside she was happy to let the breeze mess up her hair as she sat on the sidewalk.  

I, on the other hand, had a job to do and if she didn’t want to go for a walk, then I needed to get back to work.  She was having none of it.  As a dog, she knows nothing about responsibilities.  She knows what she likes, and she likes to be outside.  

When I finally made it back inside after the third walk/sitting, I was exhausted and knew that a short nap would give me the fuel to keep going later.  My naps usually last 20 minutes or so, this one was more like 45 minutes.  I was startled awake by Larry, who was supposed to work late tonight, giving me more time alone to write.  

That was not to be.  His schedule changed and he is happily enjoying a Bosch episode in our living room.  I will not be alone tonight to get my work done.  My initial reaction after a lovely day, though not a productive one, is to curse under my breath.  I can be rigid.  And when things don’t turn out the way I expect them to, I tend to be cranky.  I blame myself or someone else.  

But there is no one to blame.  Lucy is a dog.  I love her and she was so happy to be outside.  Larry is my husband, I love him, and he’s so happy to have the night off.  Rather than blame myself, I will do my best to be flexible.  

I will figure out how to reach my goals.  I try to make the distinction between a problem and an inconvenience.  This is no problem.  Yes, I was inconvenienced today.  But it was a gorgeous day.  The work is waiting for me to complete.  And I will.  Perhaps I’ll start early tomorrow after getting a bit more done tonight.  Sometimes creative writing can be about creating the time to get it done.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When annoyed, assess whether it’s a real problem or a mere inconvenience.  An inconvenience can take the sting out of the emotional mix
  • Strengthen your ankles and support your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds each.  
  • When plans change or your expectations aren’t met, get creative.  Create a new way to find enjoyment or meet your needs with the circumstances at hand.