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.  

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 

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.  

City Gallery, Week Nine in the New Abnormal

We went for a lovely birthday celebration of a new friend.  To get there we took the subway.  It’s been quite a while since I last went on the underground train.  The most recently expanded line, The Q Train, has an artist featured on each of the newest stops.  We got a good look at a few by Chuck Close done with tiles as portrait mosaics.  

There is an instantaneous sense of delight when I see and enjoy art in the city.  I especially enjoy unexpected art.  Not only do I appreciate the mosaics in the subway stations, but walking through midtown brings waves of art appreciation. 

 

Though not the same as in-person viewing, here are a few samples of simple and large scale art on my walks throughout the city.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Create your own art as if you were five-years-old.  Remember when we crafted art that was so much fun, and we felt good about the result just because we made it ourself?  Try that now.  
  • Go for a walk and see the art around you, whether person-made or naturally occurring. 
  • As war takes a toll in the Ukraine and other countries not in our news, let’s make peace in our lives, in our homes, with those we love, and with those with whom we don’t see eye to eye.  Intentionally peaceful actions make a difference for all of us.  

Balancing Act, Week Three in the New Abnormal

I keep deluding myself into thinking I know the best formula for getting through these difficult times.  I meditate twice daily.  I make sure I don’t make plans more than once a week, except in special circumstances.  I go for daily walks.  I work.  I try to make easy dinner a few times a week.  I like doing all these things.  While I’m doing them, I feel perfectly fine.  But in other moments I am short-tempered.  I am impatient.  I long for more assistance.  I understand how fortunate I am to have supportive people in my life.  But we all need extra scaffolding, and since most of us are depleted, we have less inner resources from which to give.

When I get heated, lash out, or feel deflated, I know I am far from being balanced.  I was never athletic, and I could barely do a cartwheel in gym class, but throughout school I felt comfortable on the balance beam.  Not skilled, but able to stay upright.  Now at a more advanced age, I feel at ease with balance stances on my yoga mat.  But feeling steadied after a full day of work and a few minutes facing my to-do lists is not an available option these days.  I am off-balance.  

For months on end during the pandemic I was keen on regaining whatever balance I had before.  That wasn’t working so I tried to find a new balance.  Perhaps for some that’s a possibility, but I can only speak for myself, and I was nowhere near anything I could call balanced, beam or no beam.  Now I’m not quite embracing the collective destabilizing forces, but I am doing what I can to live in it.  

Yes, walking helps.  True, carving out alone time makes a difference.  Saying no when I don’t have the wherewithal.  And saying yes when opening myself up to something out of my routine gives me renewed joy. All simple, but not always easy.  I am grateful for laughter and art as balms in this uncertain storm.  It allows me to come back to myself.  A place in which I can be kind to myself and others, understanding most of us are a bit wobbly as we try to regain our footing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Have a private Karaoke. Turn up a song and sing along loudly, releasing your inner artistic spirit. 
  • Get a small plant while practicing loving discipline.  Choose a commitment level by picking out a plant you can easily care for.  
  • Read a short story.  It gives you a sense of accomplishment without a long-term reading commitment.    

Generosity of Spirit, Week 34 in the Time of Transition

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I always thought I was a generous person.  Then I got married and I came to realize that I was only generous in certain circumstances.  If something was my idea, great, I was happy to offer services, a gift, or lend an ear.  However, if asked, I found I could be withholding.  Somehow I felt being asked for something implied I was stingy.  And I was.  Sometimes I still am.  Apparently a generous heart is not a one way endeavor. 

I started to notice that “no” was my immediate response when asked for something.  I had to learn to pause to see why.  I didn’t like this stingy quality and wanted to do better. What I found was that I had often volunteered or ignored my needs to give in ways that more often than not were a sacrifice.  I ignored my own needs to unconsciously gain acceptance from others.  Once I stopped giving in those instances I had more room to give of myself at other times.    I felt less resentful, less parsimonious.

Holidays often highlight our generosity or lack thereof.  If we’re motivated by a giving heart, we will feel the joy of the season.  If we receive with a generous spirit, we take in so much more than the gift at hand.  And, yet we’ve been through a lot.  Having foregone so much, with more closures happening at present, we might feel particularly challenged to access our generous spirit.  

As we traverse the Omicron variant surge, let’s do our best to open our hearts to one another.  We’re in for a bumpy ride.  I’m going to do my best in finding the humanity for those who make me bristle.  I will be testing myself.  Do I have the grace to live and let live?  Or will I be judging others?  Seething through a tight jaw.  

I don’t know what will show up when I’m stressed or down.  But I’ll use my reactions as measures of what I might need in terms of grace.  And, then I’ll do what I can to have patience as I move through the end of this difficult year into a new year in which living in the spirit of generosity will serve me more than holding on.  

As we open ourselves up to the many gifts in life, may we all benefit from the act of giving and receiving.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Send thank you notes.  It means so much to those who give to us to know that the gift was received in the spirit of generosity
  • Stay within your budget.  It can feel challenging to not overspend.  Remember that an act of love can mean so much more than a boxed gift paid on credit.  
  • Regift to places that accept new items for those who might have lost so much.  Some places you might consider are domestic abuse shelters, tornado victims, emergency immigrant centers. 

Love and Hardship, Week 54 in the Time of Coronavirus

Throughout this past week I heard how difficult the week was.  We had all gone through a year milestone, but there would be no celebrating.  How do we celebrate one year of a pandemic?  We don’t. We hunker down, as we had for over 52 weeks, and trudge on.  It has been recommended that when we feel particularly vulnerable that is the best time to incorporate a self-care and self-love practice.  And, though I share self-care tips, all of which I either try or do on a regular basis, self-love and self-care can feel like ephemeral notions.  

Self-love and Self-care are phrases bandied about as if being able to understand the phrases gives us magical powers in living a life full of love and care towards ourselves.  I, however, think these ideas often stay conceptual because we are told to just do this or that and it will all be okay.  It is my belief that we have to rethink self-love and self-care.  

I used to imagine love meant 100% acceptance of the loved.  More often than not I pushed down feeling of sadness, anger, frustration, and bewilderment.  My thinking was, ‘How can I truly love them if I feel this or that?  I better learn to be more accepting.’  So I moved forward with shame and self-rage so that I could be a “loving” person.  I attended to their requirements, or at least I thought I was, while I eschewed my own needs.  Not only was this the opposite of self-love, but it was a misattunement of all love.  

When we deny ourselves the space to feel all our feelings then we block kindness and care towards ourselves and others.  Love more often than not is imperfect.  We’ve all seen this as we distance in place.  Cohabitating for long stretches without diversions means we witness the best and worst in each other day in and day out.  If we live alone, then we are grateful for any contact, sometimes even when it leaves us wanting.  

When I say how important it is to give ourselves the space to feel our feelings, I do not mean that we are free to rage or dump those feelings on others.  Sometimes I share my love by not sharing my thoughts.  I silently acknowledge this act of generosity.  In this way I have the room to experience my feelings but I am not compelled to hurt some else, even at those times I want them to hurt like I hurt.  

The great thing about love and care is that it is an evolving practice.  When we are hard on ourselves, perhaps for not being as caring as we think we should be, like when we want someone to hurt like we’re hurting, then we can double down on patience and kindness for attempting the difficult.  Perfection and the determination to reach perfection get in the way of living and loving fully.  Now that we have passed the one-year mark of living in the Covid-19 pandemic, let’s applaud our grit.  Let’s celebrate our imperfect love.  Let’s appreciate whatever self-care we’ve been able to incorporate. Let’s acknowledge how hard this has been. Let’s commend all we’ve learned about love, care, kindness, and patience.  Yay, us!

Self-care Tips:  

  • Daydream.  Let your mind go.  These breaks are essential, not only for creativity, but for survival at difficult times.
  • Savor breakfast.  Sometimes we want our day to start so we have whatever we can in the morning.  Truly enjoying our first meal is a lovely foundation for the day.
  • Chew slowly.  We can really relish our food by slowing down, chewing slowly.  It lowers our stress and supports us being in the moment.  
  • Find a new source of humor.  Laughter remains invaluable.  Ask those who share a similar sense of humor if they can recommend a show, a comedian, a video, or anything else that will make you laugh.  
  • Take a picture.  Whether you want to document a moment, beauty, or something meaningful, a photograph allows you to revisit it again and again.