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 

What We Don’t Know, Week Fourteen in the New Abnormal

It was the summer of 1979.  Thanks to a student loan I was in Paris studying French, which I didn’t retain and Art History, which I preserved with many future visits to museums. I felt so cosmopolitan sipping a café au lait while enjoying a freshly baked croissant before classes began. We sat at a café off of the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Half the day was spent in classes.  By afternoon I was walking for hours getting to know the city of lights.  

Those were the highlights.  Yet there was so much I didn’t know.  Back in our dorm room we had a bidet.  I was too insecure to ask how to use it or what it was for.  I thought, since we were in a women’s dorm, that it was a douche.  What I knew about douches I learned in Summer’s Eve commercials back in New Jersey.  When my roommates from other college exchange programs asked if I knew how to use it.  I lied.  I said, “Yes.”  Not knowing seemed as if it wasn’t an option for me.  

As memorable as the summer of “79 was, I recall my insecurities as much as I remember the amazing gifts of that European summer.  Over 40 years later and I still recall what my wonderful art history professor taught us every time I go on walks, recognizing the architecture.  Or, appreciating a painting in a gallery or museum because of what she imparted in our classes and tours.   I’m also currently enjoying the marvels of a bidet in our New York City apartment.  It’s not a separate structure as it was in Paris.  It’s attached to our toilet, a wonderful addition from Tushy.  I use less toilet paper, reveling in the simplicity of continental hygiene.  The focused stream of water cleans up beautifully.  

I may now know what a bidet is and how I can use it effectively, but over the years I have learned to admit what I don’t know.  I’d rather learn and grow than pretend that I’m more knowledgeable so someone else won’t judge me. We lose ground when we make believe we’re smarter than we are.  I compromised my learning curve and the breadth of joy while in Paris because I couldn’t admit what I didn’t know.  Thank goodness I know better now.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Think of something you have wanted to know or learn.  Look it up.  Or ask a friend about it.  It feels nice to understand what we didn’t know before.  
  • Make time to laugh.  Do it purposefully.  And laugh with abandon.  
  • Be open to be inspired.  Keep an open mind and go about your day.  Whether you anticipate it from a known teacher, or whether it comes in an unexpected moment, being willing to be inspired is the open invitation to wonder and awe.  

Omicron in the Time of Coronavirus, Week Five in the New Abnormal

Whenever I find myself feeling righteous for some reason life humbles me, reminding me that in so many ways we’re all in this together.  I had staved off Coronavirus since February 2020.  I felt proud of my record.  When Omicron came on the scene I started wearing masks indoors and out.  I felt mostly protected from the virus and the cold.  All was well.  That ended a couple of weeks ago when I contracted the virus and was put out for days.  

I don’t know why they call them mild cases.  True, I was fortunate enough to stay at home, but it sure kicked my butt.  I haven’t remembered being that sick for years.  It felt like the worst flu I ever had and then some. Luckily, I’m on the mend.  I knew I was getting better when I had the wherewithal to start complaining.     

Funny how feeling ill softens my edges.  And at the first sign of feeling physically better I leaned towards pessimism. As much as I loathed being under the weather, I think the simplicity of life while healing will serve me well now that I am well.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Rest Up.  We easily neglect down time.  The rest is what keeps us going.
  • Leave small notes of affirmations in drawers, on the mirror, or anywhere else in your home. You can write post-its saying things like, “You’re Awesome” or “Be Curious” or anything that has meaning for you.  
  • Try making a new soup.  Simple if you have no time or challenging if you want to expand your repertoire.  

Thwarted Plans, Week Two in the New Abnormal

I made plans months ago to get away this past week.  I was heading to a conference that was cancelled last January.  Looking forward to warm weather and outdoor dining, Omicron thwarted our quasi-vacation.  Instead, I am in my apartment lamenting my unrealized trip.  

Most of us have had to reroute our former intentions.  The only traveling I did this week was mostly by foot.  Though I did take one jaunt by ferry to Astoria Park to enjoy the opposite view of the East River.  Not quite the coastline I had pictured, but the one closest to home.  

I’m hearing about Covid fatigue left, right, and center.  Without recovering from the initial stall of all that we knew to be our lives, we are plodding through the ever expanding unknown.  Here and there we enjoy bright spots.  But just as quickly we are easily agitated by small disturbances.  At least that describes my experience. 

I’m still making tentative travel plans, ever hopeful for shifts in the health of our world.  I may have missed the boat, or rather, plane, this time, but I’m not giving up on future travel.  For now, I have books to take me to new places.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Clean out old emails.  If you’re anything like me, unless it’s junk, I keep some emails just in case. This weekend, I’m purging old emails.  I invite you to join me. 
  • Take the time to unsubscribe from unwanted solicitations. If that’s too much, start with one a day.  
  • Have a plan B.  If and when plans shift, you have something else you can enjoy in the meantime.  

A New Abnormal, Week One in the New Abnormal

Welcome to 2022.  There are a lot of surprises in store.  I’ll be surprised along-side you.  I’m calling it the “New Abnormal” due to the fact that it’s been abnormal for awhile.  A new normal doesn’t resonate with me since there have been too many tectonic shifts these last couple of years.  Although this new abnormal is, well, new, I am no stranger to abnormal.  

When I was 9 years old I secretly played with Barbies.  Under our ping pong table in the basement, I created a world that entertained me for hours.  I quickly came to understand that my third-grade classmates were not still playing with their Barbie dolls.  At least no one admitted to it.  They had moved on to more sophisticated toys like the Zig Zag sewing machine or the totally cool walkie-talkies. But I relished my alone time away from my three siblings to do as I pleased, inventing new roles that my small dolls could inhabit.  Even later when I was to learn that Barbie was no friend to feminists, I silently appreciated those precious years when they provided me with a gateway to my creative mind.  

As much as I loved those solo hours under the table, on Sundays my Grandpop, Sam, would play ping pong with me, my Barbies far from underneath the table in the appropriate cases tucked into the basement closet.  My Grandpop was quite athletic.  When he played ping pong, he played to win.  I only learned the game by trying to keep up.  He usually won.  But he never gloated.  He was a humble man, who taught me the importance of doing a good job for oneself. 

At school I was relentlessly teased for my frizzy hair, my hand-me-down wardrobe, or my socially awkward demeanor.  To certain kids at Stafford School, I was abnormal.  It felt like an unwanted burden as a tween.  As an adult, especially in this time of Coronavirus, I have come to understand that having had a tough beginning was the introduction I needed to get through difficult times.  

As we enter 2022, we all have a sense of what it takes when the unexpected comes.  We’ve had plenty of practice these last 22 months.  Abnormal times require abnormal qualities.  I may have been unpopular playing with my Barbies, but being able to entertain myself for long periods of time in my own company has served me well.  Plus enjoying the company and sportsmanship of my Grandpop has given me an ease with quiet focus.  Let’s rejoice in what’s distinct from others.  Celebrating our inner abnormalities may just get us through this new year.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Laugh a little.  Watch a Betty White clip on YouTube or elsewhere.  
  • Clean out something simple as a signal for a fresh beginning.  It can be a drawer, a pencil holder, a room, your refrigerator or freezer, your oven or a closet.  Throw out what doesn’t serve you anymore.  If you can recycle it or repurpose it, great.  
  • In what ways have you known yourself to veer from the crowd? If it’s something that gives you pleasure and it doesn’t harm you or anyone else, allow yourself the grace to appreciate and enjoy your “inner abnormal.”

Funny Thing About Gratitude, Week 26 in the Time of Transition

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I find it incredibly annoying when I’m upset about a person, place, or thing, I’m on a rant, and the individual listening responds by telling me I should be grateful.  It feels like a dismissal of my complaint, valid or not, and a recommendation that I pivot to a “soft music inserted here” blissful moment when I see how lovely life is and how wrong I was to find the awful in this grand world we inhabit.  

I see the benefits of complaining.  I find it helps me to release my frustration, as well as other unpleasant emotions, so that I can find that blissful place on my own.  I am all for being inspired, but I am not a fan of skipping the messy parts so that I make it easier for someone else.  

Conversely, in moments of awe and wonder I enjoy the wave of gratitude that envelops me.  And, in times when I experience hardship and my family, friends, acquaintances and/or strangers offer their support, I am forever grateful.  Kindness is taken in and helps me to grow.  My heart softens.  

When I listen to award shows, I feel badly for the winners who only want to share their special moment by acknowledging the countless others who allowed them to reach that stage, but the orchestra music plays to interrupt them.  Though I won’t name names here, only because I am apt to miss some, I am forever grateful to my relatives, friends, teachers, mentors, therapists, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and others who have shared their thoughtfulness.  It has inspired me.  Their acts of kindnesses have been invaluable whether they remember them or not.  

So, if for a short time I complain, it is only so that I can unload on my own terms, allowing me to get back to a place in which I am genuinely grateful for all the times I’ve been the recipient of your and others’ generosity of heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find a person to whom you can share your complaints.  In the absence of a neutral listener, write down your complaints so they are not swimming in circles in your brain.  
  • Remember times in which you were the recipient of arbitrary kindness.  Check in with how it feels to recollect that time.  
  • Write a thank you note.  We have lost that art, and they are so appreciated.  

A Pandemic Birthday, Week Eighteen in the Time of Transition

A few years ago I was at a networking event when I spotted an old acquaintance.  I was happy to see her, filled with memories of the two of us with mutual friends enjoying parties, volunteering, and talks in the mid-80’s.  When I approached her and reminded her who I was, in a cold tone she responded, “Yes, I know who you are.”  I felt hurt and dismissed.  I thought about those early years in New York City when I couch-surfed and lived hand to mouth.  It was a hard time, and I was not always my best self.  I had thought warmly of this person recalling her dedication to friends and of her strong work ethic.  Her taciturn words indicated she thought less of me.  

At first I blamed myself, thinking I must have been pretty bad for her to have that reaction.  Then I thought, yeah, I may have done some crazy things, but I have worked hard to grow and change.  I thought how sad for my younger self that I put such a rude person on a pedestal.  And then I was proud of myself for my ability to appreciate the positive qualities in others.  It doesn’t mean I want to befriend everyone.  But it does mean that I can respect others and the gifts within them.  

This past week I was fortunate enough to celebrate another birthday, though new aches and pains may suggest otherwise.  The outpouring of messages and love means the world to me.  I feel abundant, filled with gratitude for friends and family who took the time to send thoughtful messages.  Taking in the goodness of all of you enriches my life in ways that are difficult to articulate.  All I know is that I am better due to you giving your best.  What good fortune to be in such good company.  I apologize to my younger self for giving authority to those who were unkind.  When we’re unseen we cannot be known.  I see you and I appreciate you with all my heart.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Change it up.  Donate to a new non-profit, one aligned with your values but previously not on your radar.  
  • Provide a simple act of kindness to a stranger.  We all need a lift.  
  • Forgive your younger self for making errors in judgement while he/she/they were learning how to appreciate those who appreciate us.