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.  

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.  

Post-Vacation, Week Twenty-Two in the New Abnormal

I don’t like the phrase at the end of a vacation, “Back to real life.” I think vacations are real life.  It’s a break from the everyday, but enjoying that break is very real. Coming back to my work and apartment, and New York City after this vacation was a terrific reentry.   

What I will take away from my vacation, and the Galapagos in particular, is that everything has an impact. That systems change and even if we think of the good in the short term, the long term might not be served by our actions.  This is nothing new for me.  I do understand if I savor a delicious meal but eat beyond my hunger, I’ll be uncomfortable later, even if I don’t want to end the delicious mouth experience.  In the same way if I read the news, I’m informed, but if I keep digging for every opinion piece on any given subject, I can become over saturated and can start to feel anxious.  

In the same way, if I push myself to be “productive” I end up having to redo some of what I’ve done because my good judgement wains.  Slowing down actually helps in my productivity.  I will do my best to remember that, too, from vacationing.  And, if I don’t, I need look no further than an impulsive purchase or a task I must do again.  

I like the idea of balancing rest with activity, another take-away from vacationing.  I will continually identify and work on calibrating that balance with the demands of life between vacationing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When rushing to get everything you need done, slow down by taking a couple of breaths and then do the next thing focused on each step in the moment.  
  • When hungry, chew slowly, savor each bite, and listen to your body for signs up satiety.  Stop when you feel full.  
  • Turn on music when busy or when you’re able to uplift everyday chores.  It brings joy to the mundane.  

Just a Little Bit, Week Eighteen in the New Abnormal

I would much rather have a small sample of something I really like than to substitute it for an alternative.  If ordering a dessert when I go out, though I rarely go out presently, I prefer to order a dessert I want than to order the fruit salad or an equivalent.  I can enjoy one or two spoonfuls, savoring the texture and flavors.  Just a little bit goes a long way.  It’s not just desserts I prefer in small doses.  

This week I took two quick visits to The Metropolitan Museum.  Both in the morning.  As a member I can go on many abbreviated visits, allowing me to go through exhibits a few times to take them in.  Or, I can stop by a little gallery within the mammoth structure of The Met.  I love the small bursts of art on a weekday.  I am so grateful to be able to take quick peaks at great works.  

If it’s hard for me to get out for a satisfying long walk, then going for a shorter walk will do.  I always enjoy walking.  And, though there is something mesmerizing about an extended walk, a short walk can scratch the motion itch.  When I do get out for a short walk, I purposely move in the direction of a park.  The flowers, the hidden paths or the greenery nourish me.  

So I will continue with small bites of what I enjoy.  Relishing those little moments collectively add up to a good life. 

Self-Care Tips

  • If you find you don’t have the time for something you enjoy, can you allow yourself a piece of it?  Perhaps go for an amended walk, pick up a delicious snack rather than a meal, or read a couple of pages rather than the entire chapter or story.  
  • Look up.  Sometimes taking a peek at the sky is all the tiny reprieve you need.  
  • Listen to a new song, perhaps recommended from your music app, or music loving friend.  Do you like it?  If so, you can always go back later for more from that artist or group. 

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.  

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.  

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.