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.  

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.  

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Tips:

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

Scaffolding, Week Thirty-Four in the New Abnormal

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Tools:

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

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.  

It’s Hot! Week Thirty in the New Abnormal

Heat waves are oppressive.  I’m walking slowly, drinking more water, and commiserating with everyone else who is melting in this humid weather.  I have always preferred hot temperatures to cold, but sometimes it’s just too hot.  As a child I’d ride my Schwinn to the Haddontowne Swim Club and cool down swimming and playing in the chlorinated water.  Today, I can ride my bike, but I’m going to opt for the indoor version in my air-conditioned apartment, going nowhere, and enjoying the solitude.   

In heat like we’ve seen I think less is better.  Less activity, lighter meals, simple plans.  I have a lot of writing ahead of me this weekend.  It makes it easier knowing that I would probably be uncomfortable outside.  So, I’ll hunker down, laptop securely placed on my lap, and a cushion to lean upon.  Simple, though perhaps not easy.  Nonetheless, happy for the space and time to get it done in the cool air.  At least for now.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Hydrate.  Cool yourself off with water or a cold beverage.  I suggest freezing a bottle of water (give it enough space on top) and then let it melt as you sip it through the day.  The iced bottle can also cool you off on the back of your neck, your wrists or anywhere that needs it.  
  • Play some Motown Summer music.  Suggestions are:  All Night Long, Lionel Richie; I Need Your Lovin’ Teena Marie; Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye; Heatwave,  Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
  • Learn a new word.  It’s a simple task that can be enjoying.  Of course, it’s educational.  My new word today is: Emolument.  I had never heard it before.  It means a gift, whether cash, an item or a privilege, one receives because of one’s work title.  

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.