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. 

Falling Down But Not Falling Apart, Week Twenty-Four in the New Abnormal

I’m moving a bit slower presently.  While on vacation I sprained my ankle.  I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying every moment of our amazing time away.  Now that I’m back home, I’m doing bi-weekly physical therapy while curtailing long walks.   I only made it to Central Park once this week. In full walking mode, I usually make it at least five times weekly.  Thank goodness for Carl Shurz Park, it’s close, by the East River. A smaller park, but volunteers and park workers have created a beautiful outdoor space.  Sometimes it gets crowded, but Lucy, our dog, and I walk around them.  

Walking slower has its advantages.  Though I don’t go as far, I can observe building facades and other block by block details. When not nursing my ankle, I’d quickly pass by on my way to one destination or another.  Another plus is Lucy and I going at the same pace.  There were many times that I would have to employ patience as Lucy sniffed and stopped to acquaint herself with a certain spot.  Now her gait serves me well.  

Another advantage is recognizing how getting older has improved my ability to accept bumps in the road.  Yes, I fell on a muddy hill in the Andes on a trail to a stunning waterfall.  When younger that fall would have potentially ruined my trip, and it would have had me cranky upon my return.  I would have been impatient to get back full mobility so I could do what I’ve always done.  Now, I can let the healing process unfold as I enjoy short, slow walks, and slow bike rides. 

Going slower even as others pass me by is not new to me.  In social situations, I learned skills later.  I believe that may have contributed to falling apart when things got tough.  My self- esteem was fragile, so hardships felt personal.  These days, if things aren’t going right, though that’s subjective, then I turn left, enjoying a less traveled path.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow down.  Notice details around you that you may have missed when rushing about.  
  • Take inventory of what you’ve learned about yourself in the past two years.  How have you changed?  In what ways are you proud of yourself having faced hardships?
  • If plans change, are you able to find the silver lining?  If not, process your disappointment, and be curious if anything lovely shows up given the changed circumstances.  

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.  

Goodbye Galapagos, Week Twenty One in the New Abnormal

I’m sitting at the Quito airport in the wee hours of the morning.  This past week I had about one hour total of internet.  It was divine.  I thought I had overcome my reliance on electronics, but I have been habituated.  And, as much as I enjoyed the downtime, I also am happy to be on my way home to enjoy the benefits, while cursing the downside of being “connected.”  

There was a lot to do in the Galapagos.  By the time we returned to our lodge, I was way too exhausted to turn on my phone or Macbook.  Had I known the amount of time I would be going on and off boats, let alone the climbing, hiking on volcanic rock, and learning about fauna and flora, I may have opted out of this trip.  So glad I didn’t fully comprehend the rigor of this trip beforehand.  

The Galapagos is spectacular.  I am not able to describe the splendor of being so close to the unique wildlife, while learning about this ancient eco system.  More than the countless breathtaking moments was the simple fact of pushing past my fears to be able to enjoy this trip of a lifetime.  Actually I did not push past my fears.  They were in close proximity throughout the days in the Galapagos and in the Andes.  I heard them but did not heed them.  

I am afraid of falling.  Careful to watch for cracks in the sidewalk in the city, it felt harrowing to navigate the stony paths and uneven surfaces in the Galapagos Islands.  Plus, I am not much of a sailor.  Which is pretty much an understatement.  I get seasick easily.  I am naturally clumsy.  When we had to get on and off small boats, I needed assistance.  When getting from small boats to bigger vessels, I needed more assistance.  I was embarrassed and grateful.  

As the week went on, I had more and more gratitude.  Needing to be helped, and having it come with no judgement and endless generosity was a gift I didn’t know I needed.  Yet, this gift is invaluable.  It’s come before, but there was some old belief that hadn’t allowed me to take in other’s kindnesses with grace.  I will continue to work on that.  But the nature of this trip meant I had no choice but to accept the kindness of travel buddies, crew members, naturalists, and strangers.  I hope I came out of this trip a better human for having discovered so much about our planet and having learned something about myself.  

Self-Care Tools:

  • Say “yes” when someone offers to help.  See how that feels. And see if you expand your experience thanks to the assistance.  
  • Schedule downtime from electronics.  Give yourself something in that time you couldn’t have if you were online.  
  • When you have fear, challenge yourself to feel your fear while simultaneously taking a step outside your comfort zone. 

A Trip to the Equator, Week Twenty in the New Abnormal

No one could have prepared me for the beauty of Ecuador.  Wherever I turn the vista is extraordinary.  The pictures barely capture the awe that we’re experiencing.  Going on vacation is the refresh I so needed.  

As if the landscape weren’t humbling enough, I faced my fear to ride a horse to a rushing waterfall.  While approaching the cascade, having dismounted the mare, I slipped on the mud.  My ego was wounded the most, the slide slightly slowing me down in the afternoon.  Nonetheless, I have no regrets.  The landscape is gorgeous.  The hospitality throughout has been most accommodating.  

Sometimes we need a touch of humility in paradise.    

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you can go on a vacation, enjoy the surrounding beauty.  If you’re not able to get away, travel blogs and far-off location books can transport you for moments or hours. 
  • Do something that scares you a little, but not so much that you’re terrified.  As you partake in the activity, notice how the fear can be mixed with other emotions, including pleasure.  
  • Even if it can feel uncomfortable, when appropriate, admit when you’re wrong.  It can feel like a release from silent defensiveness. 

Wild Condor at the Zuleta Condor Sanctuary