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.  

Emotions During the Holidays, Week Fifty in the New Abnormal

I was in an emotional tailspin earlier this week.  I could tell I wasn’t in the right headspace as I kept thinking of past mistakes I’ve made, times I’ve previously hurt friends, and ways in which I had poor judgement. I was not coming out a champ.  More like a chump.  The negative barrage is not unfamiliar, but it happens less often than in former years.  By Tuesday, I knew that I needed to clear my head so there’d be space for self-care and kindness.  Luckily, I had my weekly therapy session.  

I became a therapist 25 years ago because of the help I received in therapy.  I learned a lot about myself, sometimes painfully conscious of how my choices perpetuated circumstances I had wanted to change.  Yet, year after year life got better.  So much so that I came to value mental well-being. While the descriptions of being overly sensitive in my family and social life were seen by others as detrimental traits, they are the very qualities that ensure I’m in the right field.  

My self-criticism earlier this week was important because it not only told me to continue to do the emotional, psychological, and spiritual work to be less judgmental to myself and others, but it was also a reminder of the depth of condemnation I internalized. 

As we carry on through this holiday season, we will find it imperfect.  There will be lovely moments, as there was when I walked past the Rockefeller Christmas tree late at night.  But there will be times when we’re stressed, when we feel as if we’re not enough, or when we might be disappointed with failed plans, substandard gifts, or family members acting out.  If we find we’re being hard on ourselves in those moments, perhaps we can all give ourselves the gift of benevolence.  Let’s give ourselves and others the benefit of the doubt.  We got through a pandemic, we’re still dealing with its aftermath, and there’s a big push from retailers and social media for these holidays to be fabulous.  

Let’s settle for being real rather than make believe.  There may be flaws in the realness, but there will also be true joy for accepting what is. 

Self-care tips:

  • Get a post-it pad and write “I am Enough” on as many pages as you want to post.  Put it inside your medicine cabinet, on the fridge, in your sock drawer, in your wallet.  Write it on your calendar.  Remind yourself throughout the day that yes, indeed, you are enough.  
  • Rather than trying to let things go, see if you’re able to think about letting it be.  It doesn’t mean you’re not working on it, or you’re helplessly accepting something that is bothersome, it’s just that by letting things be, we don’t have to take an immediate action.  We are not required to DO anything, which is a way of giving yourself a break.  
  • Do something for someone else that is anonymous.  It’s a gift to yourself to be happy to give freely without any need or expectation for something in return.  

Arrgg, Change; Week Forty-Seven in the New Abnormal

A couple of days ago I installed an iPhone update.  I find this new format annoying.  I get it, things change.  But sometimes the changes come all at once and too fast.  I just wasn’t ready for a new change, small as it is.  

I often hear from spiritual leaders, meditation teachers and self-care gurus that change is inevitable.  Just this week I was listening to Dan Harris and Anushka Fernandopulle speak of the impermanence in life on the Ten Percent Happier App.  I meditated in it.  And I was as calm as I could be following each mediation.  The idea of impermanence is appealing.  It helps us accept whatever comes our way.  At least that’s my philosophical take.  But when I encounter change in real life, as much as I apply the concept of perpetual change, the reality feels very different.  

One would think that my spontaneous side would embrace change.  And when it’s a small change, I’m okay.  But when it’s a small change like an iPhone update in a time of big changes, it feels less okay.  I’ve been agitated.  I overshare.  Truthfully, it’s more over-complaining than sharing.  And my self-care is more on the impulsive side rather than a thoughtful consideration of what’s needed given these changes.  

As we shift into holiday mode, which can upend our regular routines, I will do my best to be patient with myself.  Yes, change is inevitable, and living with change is unescapable. Feeling my irascible emotions while going through change is my challenge.  I’ll do my best to bring patience and kindness in those moments.  And, when I don’t, I will have many more opportunities to learn how to cope with kindness since change will predictably show up again and again.    

Self-Care Tips:

  • As the holidays approach, make a list of what you enjoy most and what you can change that will bring some ease to the holidays.  Feed the joy of the season, while letting go of the parts that rob you of that joy.  
  • Remember to thank those who have been generous of heart.  Sometimes small acts make a huge difference.  Saying thank you perpetuates kindness.  
  • When feeling frustrated or upset in the face of a change, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself what you need.  If you’re able to give that to yourself, great.  If not, then see if there is anything else that will bring ease at that particular time.    

Window Dressing, Week Forty-Six in the New Abnormal

I have always found great pleasure in walking the city streets.  Throughout my 43 years in New York City, I’ve seen a lot.  And, yet, I always find something new.  This past week I started to notice the ubiquitous iron work on so many buildings and railings.  There’s a long history, centuries old, of metal and iron works.  On closer inspection there are common patterns.  Chances are they’re cheap.  But not all buildings have the less expensive options.  There are stunning pieces of craftsmanship.  

Decorative arts can easily be underestimated.  In terms of New York buildings iron work tends to be architectural embellishment.  For me, they’ve usually gone unnoticed.  But to the trained eye, the metal works stand out as a separate entity.  A craft in its own right.  

Funny, but as often as I go to museums, a repeated walking destination, I have rarely visited the decorative arts galleries.  I’ve walked past them to see special exhibits, but like the iron work covering many brownstone doors and windows, I walked by them not giving them a second glance. 

There’s so much we don’t see.  Whether we aren’t in touch with our compassion and neglect to notice the pain of a bothersome neighbor, or we fail to see the beauty in the ordinary, as we continue to walk this earth we have so many opportunities to look again and appreciate what’s here in plain sight.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Go on a treasure hunt.  Look for beauty in places that you take for granted.  Notice what you find.  Enjoy the surprises that come your way.  
  • Check out decorative arts when you visit a museum.  It will be a quiet gallery with a virtual private viewing
  • As an act of body love, go over your physical being and notice it’s beauty.  It can be something small like a lovely crease on your elbow, the curves in your hair, or your hips, or you can look at your body anew, appreciating its presence, its strength, its capabilities 

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.  

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.  

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.  

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

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