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.  

So Long 2022, Year Two in the New Abnormal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Tools:

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

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.  

Busy or Not, Week Forty-Two in the New Abnormal

As Autumn has created an uptick in activity, I am both excited to get out more and apprehensive as well.  The surprising outcome of the pandemic was that I enjoyed my quiet time.  What was surprising about it was that I lived a busy life and enjoyed juggling a schedule that allowed me to partake in the best New York City offers.  The theater and museums were a mainstay for me.  When everything shut down, I questioned how I would get on.  The answer was very well.  

Now, I am grappling with my desire to do less and my yearning for my old life.  Being busy has its merits.  There was always something to look forward to.  I love the arts and was wowed by so much of it.  And, if there was something I didn’t like, it didn’t really matter because there was something else around the corner.  

However, taking things easy, enjoying peace, finding calm, and not being on the run provides a type of ease I hadn’t known I was missing.  I am challenged to find the balance between good times out and savoring staying in.  

When life circumstances change we learn new things about ourselves.  In this new abnormal I wonder what I will learn about myself.  I am curious to see how I can listen to what’s best for me, whether it’s a performance or a nap.  I had learned how to check in with myself more these last couple of years.  Yet I am flummoxed when it comes to ambivalence.  Do I want to make dinner tonight by taking advantage of the largess from the farmer’s market, or do I want to keep it simple so I have a rare night off?  

For tonight I’m making dinner and foregoing a dance performance.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Check in with yourself a few times a day to see what you’re experiencing and how you feel.  Checking in regularly helps during more stressful times when it’s easy to forget that checking in slows things down. 
  • When you’re in a quandary, rather than trying to figure out via the facts, try seeing how you feel physically when responding to the options.  
  • Cook, put together, or order something different for a meal.  We change our thought pattern and possibly introduce something new to enjoy.  

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.