Being Social vs. Wanting to Do Nothing, Week Ten in the New Abnormal

This past week has been jubilant in some ways.  First, thanks to Larry and his friend Alan, we enjoyed our first indoor concert in over two years.  Elton John, his band, and crew did an amazing job of giving music and lifetime memories to their audience.  I was so happy to be there, even as I was overloaded to be among a mass of people. 

We are now visiting a few dear friends in California.  It’s wonderful to reunite with a few special individuals.  Seeing them in person is a true gift.  Going to the airport and traveling was a surreal experience.  A series of glitches culminated in an upset, which was unpleasant, but let me know that I took too long for a much-needed vacation.  And here we are, in chilly southern California, yet warmer than NYC.  Happy to be away.  I feel replenished from social isolation.  And yet….

I also am overwhelmed.  I know I need alone time.  Time to clear my head.  Time to rejuvenate.  I am doing what I can to nap, walk and meditate, I was looking forward to swimming, but when it’s cold, and the pools are not heated as they are in Iceland, swimming is not as calming as I like.  

I have made one positive choice to see dear friends while recognizing the need for quiet time.   Life these days doesn’t provide the time for both socializing and rest in equal measures.  I accept that for now with a bit of umbrage.  

Making choices often means there can be a sense of loss for the unchosen.    Honestly, I hate that.  There are still traces of deprivation that show up when facing the choices I make.  I will miss the friends I didn’t get to see.  And I already feel negligent for the rest I will not get.  Such is life.  Having choices is a privilege.  For that I am grateful.  And, yet, having privilege doesn’t mean that I am perfectly content.  For the moment I will choose the option to enjoy whatever contentment comes from the choices I made.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Practice micro-meditation.  Take 30 seconds, one minute, or three minutes to breath and do a quick body scan.  It can help when there is little time available for longer stretches of self-care.
  • Make time for a visit, whether it be via phone, Zoom, or in-person.  Reconnection brings depth to our existence.  
  • Choose whatever mask habits work for you.  It’s so easy to be influenced by our surroundings and those in it.  Only we can make a choice that is right for us, situation by situation.  

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.  

Hello Sunrise, Week 25 in the Time of Transition

When I was a young child and my bedtime was 7:30, the advent of a darker evening meant that I was awake longer while the night sky became opaque.  It felt as if I was staying up later, even though I understood in theory I was going to bed at the same time.  Since the pandemic my bedtime has gotten earlier.  I go out less, plus I got older these past 19 months.  I have yet to go to bed at 7:30, but it feels easy to get into bed when it’s been dark for a few hours.  

The advantage to this is that the sun rises later giving me a chance to wake up with time for coffee and a very short walk to the East River promenade to get a picture of the morning’s dawn.  I love how frequently the light changes from moment to moment and from day to day.  While our world has changed in so many ways, I appreciate the regularity of the sun.  Even on cloudy or rainy days, the sun may not make an appearance, but trusting it resides behind the clouds gives me great comfort.  

There is a simple joy in recognizing the beauty in nature.  While a city girl at heart, getting away, or finding the green patches among the concrete, is a balm for the soul.  The cool weather sunrises, and when possible, the sunsets provide a colorful array of grace.  Those moments have been invaluable in bringing ease during these tenuous times. 

Self-care Tips:

  • Enjoy sunrises and sunsets.  If you don’t have a view of them, there are amazing pictures online.  Thank you to those who post such gorgeous photographs. 
  • Ground yourself by standing on grass, rocks, or other solid earthbound foundations.  Feel your feet connecting to the earth.  Stand tall so that you feel as if the crown of your head is extended from an invisible cord skyward.  
  • If your schedule permits, allow the early dark evenings to ease you into a sense of restfulness.  

A Week in the Country, Week Seven in the Time of Transition

It’s heading towards dusk this Saturday evening.  We’ve left the city for a short stay in the Catskills.  The air Is fresh, the bird songs ever present.  Our arrival was greeted by running ground hogs.  On my walk of the vast property, I saw a leaping buck, ducks, yellow, blue and black with red birds.  It feels good to have left the endless concrete for greener pastures.  I love New York City and have no desire to reside anywhere that requires driving to get from one spot to another.  Though taking a road trip is a nice change of pace. 

This time of transition has been a bit overstimulating.  I may not be doing the same amount as I had pre-pandemic, but my mind is swimming in new choices.  And I’m not alone in that.  That is why this time away from my everyday environment is so helpful.  I may still be overthinking new possibilities, but I am doing it from afar. In this regard, I am not also looking at every corner seeing something I have yet to do or didn’t even know needed doing. 

I am processing and resting in turns.  Finishing this after a night’s sleep, this morning is foggy.  I had wanted a colorful sunrise, but instead was left with a misty grey.  Soothing rather than exciting.  Tomorrow rain is upon us.  It will literally dampen our plans for hiking.  Instead, I may cook, do some yoga, and write.  Ease rather than activity.  I am not always a go with the flow kind of gal.  I like to have plans, mapping out a way to accomplish them.  But these two days away give me the opportunity to move away from old habits and adapt to my surroundings.  A new lesson in the transition. 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow down.  Take yourself out of the clipped pace of your every day and see what that space provides
  • Create something out of leftovers.  Give yourself a new take on an old dish. 
  • Write a list of what you want to maintain from the lock-down, and come up with ways in which you can institute them as things continue to open up. 
  • Go to https://janetzinn.com to sign up for my quarterly newsletter.

Individualism, Week 58 in the Time of Coronavirus

I’ve been confused.  I thought I knew myself. Instead, who I knew was a woman who was highly influenced by the world around me.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just wasn’t representative of the totality of me.  We’ve all been there.  Whether we’re enticed by a product commercial, or whether we want to join in on experiences with those who surround us, we make choices based on an outside influence.  Sometimes this works to our advantage.  I’ve visited beautiful places based on recommendations.  I’ve also spent a good amount of money on things I didn’t need, and ultimately didn’t want.  

There are some things that have been a constant.  I knew what I liked, theater, work, blueberry crumb muffins.  I knew what I didn’t like, loud noises like relentless car horns in stuck traffic, or people who take up the entire sidewalk making it impossible to pass.  Nothing has changed on those fronts.  I have noticed that I like a lot more now, though, than my previous short list.  

I like my garden much more than in the past.  I’m enjoying it more, too.  I’m a squeamish gardener at best.  For some reason getting my hands dirty is not fun for me.  For instance, as much as I love lobster, I am no fan of pulling it apart to secure the tender meat.  But choosing flowers and enjoying a small and rare patch of green in the city is as good as it gets while I find my way back into the larger world.  

I’m also much more appreciative of the small things.  Kindness, whether from a friend who reaches out, or a stranger who keeps a door open, mean so much to me.  I am grateful for Alex’s late night texts filled with bad jokes, and lots of love.  I am grateful that Larry washed the dishes last night after a long day at work.  He did it without me asking, or even before I could complain that I had one more thing to do. 

There are many things that I would not have known about myself had the world not changed drastically.  Surprisingly, birds have been nice to see.  In the past I appreciated the bright red cardinals I’d pass, but I was nonplussed by other avian varieties.  Now, when walking in the park I look up to see all sizes and colors of birds, enjoying the brief siting as I move through the now leafy spaces.  Most importantly to me, I’m not missing the many activities that defined my evenings.  I assumed I’d be bored if I did less.  Not so. I am better rested.  I feel more grateful.  Letting go feels easier.  

An unexpected benefit of this time of Coronavirus is being untethered from much of the external influences.  Other than Netflix, along with other cable programming, choices are limited.  That’s helped me and others make choices that feel personally authentic.  It allows for a freedom we didn’t know possible.  Our worlds grew smaller, and our hearts expanded.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find something in your drawers you forgot you have but brings a smile.
  • Take a private moment to enjoy something that is fun for you, it could be dancing alone, singing in the shower, or drawing. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not.  
  • Get out in the sun and take in the vitamin D.  

Hello Again, Spring, Week 56 in the Time of Coronavirus

This past week proved to be particularly challenging for so many of my clients, as well as friends and colleagues.  Walking through the city brings a needed brightness as the early signs of Spring appear.  The warm air feels fresh.  The cooler air keeps the parks emptier.  Either has its benefits.  

Though we’ve become accustom to our pandemic routines, it seems unbelievable that we’re beyond a year in the time of Coronavirus.  As with all things far-fetched, it takes time and repetition to integrate the reality of these circumstances.  We got through the past year (plus a few weeks) by imagining a time beyond the pandemic.  At present, though, we’re left with an uncertainty that belies our peace of mind.  

I am counting on the same anchors to continue getting through this.  The sun rises every day.  When I’m awake in time, I go to the East River to start my day.  The beauty envelops me, and I let it.  Though I don’t get a good view of sunsets, I do appreciate the changing lights at dusk that I witness when facing west.  And I always appreciate the photographs of others’ sunsets when posted.  

Then there’s meditation.  Some days it’s as if I’m being lifted up.  Other mornings meditating feels like a long time to be with a racing mind.  Similar with a gratitude journal.  Some days my heart is open, and then there are the days when I have to push for appreciation of simple things.  I have so much for which to be grateful, but exhaustion and a hazy mood sometimes get the better of me.  

We’ve learned a lot during this time.  Though I adore the city, it has been nature that grounds me, providing peace and joyful moments.  I have learned the importance of rest.  Prior to March 2020, I took advantage of all the city had to offer.  I lived by the Warren Zevon credo, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”  Now I’m sleeping, napping, being still, resting, or simply, taking it easy to enjoy living, as best I can.  

This year has slowed me down.  There is still so much to get done, but my to do list is less important than listening to friends and family, doing the work I love, and looking up at the sky.  Glad that Spring is in the air.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • * Take a break.  Sometimes stepping away is the best choice.
  • * Find a small smooth stone to rub when you need soothing.
  • * Try flavored salts.  They add another dimension to dishes.
  • * When noticing a behavior or habit you don’t like, rather than judge, ask what might be happening that prompted the behavior, and bring compassion.
  • * Look up at the sky and enjoy the sun, the clouds, the stars and the moon.  

Cautiously Optimistic, Week 43 in the Time of Coronavirus

Is this really a Happy New Year?  Yes, we survived 2020.  And, yet, recalling how happy we were to be in a new decade just a year ago, we are constantly reminded of the unexpected turn of events in March.  

In this first weekend of the new year, we take stock of the meaning of “hindsight is 2020.” Relieved that 2020 is behind us, our memories are raw from all we witnessed, and all we faced personally.  I now know the impact of ongoing stress on my body and mind.  I am just beginning to understand what is required to sooth myself and support others going through the intensity of extreme tension.  Sometimes it means reaching out and caring for someone, taking the attention off myself.  Other times it means paying close attention to what I need, whether it be a nap, meditation, or another episode of Law & Order.  

I am appreciative of the laughter brought to me by New Yorker cartoons, silly memes, posts on social media, and absurd memories with my sister, Sharyn.  I have grown to love the color of the sky as I walk through the city streets and parks.  I am grateful to my grandfather, Sam, who watched nature shows like The Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  Though I was bored as a child who preferred to see The Jetsons in those early years, now that I’m his age from that time, I appreciate the pleasure of seeing animals in their natural habitats on the small screen.  

I have chosen not to make any resolutions.  I am not resolving to be better in any way.  Yes, I will work on bettering myself, but that remains a daily practice, one with many pitfalls, and flawed attempts.  And, this year, much like last year, I will pick myself up again, and again, dust myself off, and slowly move ahead.  If I remember I will look up at the sky in child-like wonderment.  A moment of awe whatever year it might be.  

Go gently into 2021, step by small step.  

Self-care Tips:

  • Alternate self-care behavior.  This way you find what works best, and what you need in different situations.
  • If and when you feel aches or pains, touch the area with care.  This is not a substitute for medical care, please attend to that.  This is a small gesture that affirms the healing power of touch.
  • Rather than thinking of all you will do in 2021, think of what you will no longer do.  Find the joy of saying no thank you to one or two “shoulds.”
  • Lower your expectations.  We’ve lived with a lot of disappointments this past year.  Lowering our expectations allows us to take in and act on what comes our way.  
  • Try something new, or try anything you’re not good at, like a new recipe, trying your hand at poetry, or learning a new language.  It helps us to develop humility.  

The Fluctuating Value of Sleep

 

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When I was ten-years-old I was going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I was leaving for 2 weeks at a bare-bones Y camp in Medford, New Jersey. The night before I left I was atwitter with anticipation. What should I wear? I want a low key, yet cool look. In 1970 that meant hot pants and a tight colorful tee. I’d save my red hot pants for a dressy camp night. And, while awake, going over my list of flashlights and swimwear, I decided I’d arrive wearing denim shorts with my tie-dye t-shirt. It wasn’t snug, but it was cool enough to appear nonchalant.

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That decided, I stayed up all night nervous about the friends I’d make, and wanting to have a good experience. I was happy to go off on my own. Even at ten I had an independent streak. I didn’t mind losing any sleep. I wasn’t tired in the morning. Getting little sleep just heightened my excitement. My parents couldn’t get ready fast enough, even though we couldn’t arrive until after 1 PM.

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Camp was great. I could eat all I wanted. We were allowed foods never offered at home, fried chicken, camp-made blueberry pie, pancakes, and bacon. Every day was an adventure. And, it wasn’t just that we were in the woods, but we learned to row and canoe. I learned and loved archery, group activities, theater and songs. They were all pleausrable. I slept well after fun-filled days. I didn’t think twice about how much sleep I was getting.

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And, when college came, I got great enjoyment in staying up all night going from one disco to another, until I came home to change so I could get the train to school. Even though I might have had to force my eyes open throughout the day, I took pride in the fact that I stayed up all night. Later, in my twenties, getting little sleep was a semi-regular event. I’d work all day, take an acting class, go to rehearsal for one showcase or another, go out with friends, and crawl home between 1 and 3 AM. With 5 hours or less sleep, I’d get up for work thinking about how to learn my lines for the showcase, while offering professional level customer service during the day.

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This summer of 2017, I am not so happy when I lose sleep. And, I do not have the same get up and go as I did in my first 30 years. Now when I can’t sleep I feel like I’m losing something, rather than simply adding hours to my day. Not getting enough sleep has become a regular event. Once losing sleep was the cheap price I paid for a good time. Now, a coveted commodity, sleep is worth its weight in gold. Having a good time is predicated on a good night’s sleep. I can only enjoy dinner with friends or family, or a night at the theater, if I slept well. This might even include a precious nap. I no longer stay up thinking about what I’ll wear out. Comfortable sleepwear is more my concern. Soft fabrics keep me cool and woozy. These days I no longer measure my strength in how many hours I can keep going. These days I measure my sleep, happy when I sleep in past 8 AM.

Napping; A Ground-Spirituality Post

DSC_0001I admit it, I take naps. They are a small delight given my crowded schedule. I used to think that naps were a luxury I couldn’t afford. I had to get on with life, seizing every moment. Days were filled with activities, proving how busy I was. Somehow being busy justified my existence. Or, rather, I defended against the notion that I was lazy. It all started when my Grandmom Becky called me lazy when I was a teen. To her it was a nasty trait, with filth as a close second. She spent hours mopping her white tiled, kitchen floor. When finished she’d scrub any perceived grout from her bathtub. If she wasn’t cleaning she was exercising, staying fit well into her late 90s. Although I could never keep up with her undiagnosed OCD, her unbridled criticism had a long-term impact. I learned to have a lot going on. Now I’m undoing that training.

I started with planned naps. I would schedule a nap as a therapeutic response to exhaustion. Naps were utilitarian. No longer. Now I am happy to take a nap, planned or otherwise. I long for a Mediterranean lifestyle of yore, one in which siestas were a way of life. I like getting up early, and I enjoy working or going out at night. In-between a nap creates a civilized break, a refreshing reprieve ending one part of my day before the start of another.

Our overly crammed lives have taken us away from the natural pleasure of a short slumber. Like eating when we’re hungry and stopping when full, napping is a way to honor our body’s exhaustion level and take care of ourselves. The fullness of our lives don’t lend themselves to regular napping. But I’m happy to learn from infants. When they’ve had enough they’re down for the count. Napping might not have the spiritual cache of mindfulness or mediation, but turning off our minds has a positive impact. It’s like reading a good novel rather than an important self-help book. At this point, I read a few pages of fiction before I nod off, telephone on silent.

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