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

Just a Little Bit, Week Eighteen in the New Abnormal

I would much rather have a small sample of something I really like than to substitute it for an alternative.  If ordering a dessert when I go out, though I rarely go out presently, I prefer to order a dessert I want than to order the fruit salad or an equivalent.  I can enjoy one or two spoonfuls, savoring the texture and flavors.  Just a little bit goes a long way.  It’s not just desserts I prefer in small doses.  

This week I took two quick visits to The Metropolitan Museum.  Both in the morning.  As a member I can go on many abbreviated visits, allowing me to go through exhibits a few times to take them in.  Or, I can stop by a little gallery within the mammoth structure of The Met.  I love the small bursts of art on a weekday.  I am so grateful to be able to take quick peaks at great works.  

If it’s hard for me to get out for a satisfying long walk, then going for a shorter walk will do.  I always enjoy walking.  And, though there is something mesmerizing about an extended walk, a short walk can scratch the motion itch.  When I do get out for a short walk, I purposely move in the direction of a park.  The flowers, the hidden paths or the greenery nourish me.  

So I will continue with small bites of what I enjoy.  Relishing those little moments collectively add up to a good life. 

Self-Care Tips

  • If you find you don’t have the time for something you enjoy, can you allow yourself a piece of it?  Perhaps go for an amended walk, pick up a delicious snack rather than a meal, or read a couple of pages rather than the entire chapter or story.  
  • Look up.  Sometimes taking a peek at the sky is all the tiny reprieve you need.  
  • Listen to a new song, perhaps recommended from your music app, or music loving friend.  Do you like it?  If so, you can always go back later for more from that artist or group. 

City Blooms, Week Seventeen in the New Abnormal

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A three-minute walk from our apartment stands a small lone cherry blossom tree.  It’s located behind a dull brick building.    On this seemingly empty city block the tree feels like a sign of hope.  Hope that beauty can hold up in the face of asphalt and concrete.    

As I walked on, I saw so many volunteers planting bulbs, clearing paths, and cleaning up both Carl Shurz and Central Parks.  There is a friendly buzz among the volunteers as they give of their time and dedication to bring natural beauty to our city.  

I am so grateful for the rare flowering tree on the curb side of the sidewalk.  And how enchanting it is to walk through the parks and gardens that provide an abundance of natural splendor.   The garden boxes on windows and the landscapes of certain buildings also provide color to our lives.  

The city in springtime is a panoply of beauty, we just have to look to take in these delightful seasonal palates.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When outside, see if you can find and focus on new blooms.  Notice how it feels to purposely take notice of what may have been background previously.
  • Bring flowers into your home.  Do you like potted flowers or cut, or both?  Where do you like to put them?  
  • Find inspiration from this season.  What might you enjoy now that’s different from other times of the year?    

Rest for the Weary, Week Fifiteen in the New Abnormal

In my mind this weekend was filled with activity.  I was going on long walks, I was starting to prepare for Passover, reading as research, writing, walking Lucy, finding items to give away, cooking for the week, and everything else that involves time and effort when not at work.  I forget what is required to get so much done, especially when a nap is in order.  

Even after over two years of a changed world due to the Coronavirus, I am still learning that I need more rest than I had a couple of years ago.  That’s not exactly true.  I probably needed more rest back then, but I thrived on the steady pace of work, perpetual plans, and a never-ending to-do list.  Now, however, my to-do lists alone exhaust me.  I aim to get so much done on the weekends, but I forget that I need more time to rest.  

I am humbled by my limitations. They let me know that I am not super-human, I am simply human.  I was never-super human.  But due to my low self-esteem, I acted as if I had to justify my existance.  To whom?  I’m not even sure.  Having high expectations for myself no longer serves me. Having realistic intentions helps me move forward towards my aspirations, slower than I’d like, but in the right direction.  

My challenge is to continually adjust to the slower pace.  I need to cooperate with the circumstances rather than going full steam ahead.  I’ve learned that being busy may have suited my energy level at one time, but that is no longer the case.  Leading a full life is not a series of crossing-off to-do list items.  Full means being in the moment.  Enjoying a sunset.  Delighting in the spring flowers.  Sharing meaningful conversations.   Stopping to rest.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Rest.  Your body and mind will thank you
  • When feeling overwhelmed, slow down.  Take a moment to check in with yourself.  If you’re able to take a break, do so.  If not, be patient so that you can get through whatever is required of you.  
  • Plan less.  Having open times allows for creative thinking.  

Welcome Spring, Week Twelve in the New Abnormal

Hello spring, you couldn’t come soon enough.  We’ve all needed to lighten our loads. And what better way to start than by taking off our parkas?   Like the shining moon hidden under the clouds, you’ve come from behind the cold for renewed hope.  

The warmer weather feels like a gift.  Being able to meet friends outdoors has been invaluable.  Being comfortable because it’s no longer freezing, simply warms my heart.  Walking this past week felt like a welcomed activity as if I haven’t been walking all along.  Nonetheless, there’s an ease with Spring in the air.  The city comes alive.  The quiet streets are now a recent memory.  

It can be a fickle season.  Rain is abundant, storms are coming, and the warmth can be fleeting.  But for today, I am grateful for the simple pleasure of Spring.  

Self-Care Tools

  • Clean Your Windows.  Spring cleaning is a great start to the season.  
  • Take a walk and see the new blooms
  • Grow herbs and/or flowers on your windowsill, in your garden, or even in a pot on a table.  It helps to connect with nature, wherever you are.  

Two Years of a Coronavirus World, Week Eleven of the New Abnormal

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We just hit the two-year anniversary when our lives changed in unimaginable ways. At least most of us never imagined this.  Although I had plenty of professional experience doing trauma work, that usually meant implementing tools to get through a time-limited traumatic event.  We could count on the passage of time to dull the immediate impact of the trauma.  This was much different.  We had to live through uncertainty and constant change while continuing to navigate other, more personal hardships. 

We found out we are resilient.  We faced our vulnerabilities.  There was acting out.  And there were multitudes of kindnesses.  Relationships were under a microscope. We lost friends and disconnected with family members.   New friendships were forged.  Old friendships were rekindled.  More often than not, differences were highlighted.  We experienced division.  For some heartier individuals we worked through differences to find connection.  In other cases, it was apparent hard work would not bridge the divide.  

As for me, I am tired and grateful.  The last two years wore me down.  I also found unexpected gifts through walking, conversations, posts, and streaming.  Life feels more precious, if also more tenuous.  Spending less time with distractions it’s easy for me to see areas in need of growth.  I can also better recognize a well-honed habit of self-criticism.  I had thought I was further along on my spiritual journey.  I was arrogant enough to think I actually knew what that looked like.  But I am here, now, and it looks like this.  Thank you for your part in accompanying me in this journey. I also appreciate you welcoming me on your journey.  For my part, I couldn’t have done this alone.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Be sure to thank those who have supported you.  We all appreciate being thanked.  
  • Smile when you feel inclined.  We have missed smiles with masks on.  And, if you are wearing a mask, smile.  Remember, a true smile is in the eyes.  Let that warmth melt someone else’s pain.  
  • Review what lessons you’ve learned or how you’ve grown in the past two years.  It’s important to acknowledge what you’ve been through.  

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.  

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.  

The Winter of Our Discontent, Week Seven in the New Abnormal

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 The weather these past few days lightened our moods.  With colder temperatures and snow today we may slip back to a shared discontentment.  A week ago the general agitation was palpable.  Wide-ranging reactivity was pronounced.  Small misunderstandings caused friction.  And this was among strangers.  Relationships have been strained.  Most are not able to keep up with inflation. Families are under-resourced, overly tired, and living with ongoing exasperation.  Those who live on their own have bouts of loneliness, especially because the difficulty in getting together with others while Omicron was at its height kept socializing at bay.

Distress seems to be the mood of the moment.  It’s been tiresome to put plans on hold again and again.  Reactivity is at an all-time high.  Patience is worn thin.  Frustration and annoyance are way too common.  So many are at their wit’s end trying to figure out a way ahead.  

For a good number there is a relief that the mask mandates have loosened.  For others it adds a new layer of fear. There’s the fantasy that we’ll get back to normal.  But we are not going back in many ways.  Whatever is ahead of us remains to be seen. And that can be scary.  

Though it may take a good amount of time to recover physically and emotionally from all we lost these last couple of years, we can find pockets of hope and joy in the present.  Yesterday I was helped by a thoughtful salesperson at a hardware store.  In a time when customer tolerance is more prevalent than customer service, his assistance brightened my day.  Smiles from strangers have taken on a new worth.  And the unexpected generosity of friends has been priceless.  I will be taking in any and all acts of kindness Now more than ever those moments provide the light that moves us forward.  

Self-Care Tips: 

  • Rub your hands together until you create heat, then gently place them on your eyes.  This can provide a soothing moment. 
  • Sing yourself a lullaby at night to lovingly put yourself to sleep.  
  • Try a new toothpaste.  It will help awaken you in the morning since it’s an unfamiliar flavor.  

The Wrong Way I Meditate, Week Six in the New Abnormal

I felt so fortunate that I had a meditation practice prior to the pandemic.  I chose to double up my meditations to give myself devoted time each morning before I started my day.  And, when needed again at night, or anytime I had to find my way back to myself. 

There are so many meditation apps.  I like Andy from Headspace and the Chopra App.  Sometimes I do a Tara Brach meditation, or I’ll listen to Sharon Salzberg. When needed I’ll do my own thing.  I map my breath, I do a body scan, or Iisten to my ongoing thoughts noticing if there are any changes in my mood or physical sensations from one floating thought to another.  I’ve heard others who really like to meditate to Loch Kelly and the Calm app.   Though there are a lot of options out there, once I found two that met my needs, I’ve stuck with them.  

It’s taken years to bring the sensation of meditation into other parts of my waking life.  At the beginning of my meditation practice (that sounds so self-aggrandizing to me) I attempted sitting up straight, adjusting my posture again and again to make sure my spine was aligned.  It was extremely uncomfortable.  If I was in yoga class meditating at the beginning of a session, my leg muscles would cramp.  I focused more on the discomfort than on my breathing.  

For the past twelve years, since I turned 50, I started to meditate laying down.  To some meditation devotees, that’s blasphemous.  For me it was a game changer.  Often when following a guided meditation the directive is usually to sit straight.  No thank you.  At 50 I started making changes that worked for me.  One of the first was to lay flat while meditating.  I can meditate longer.  I can relax in a way that feels illusive while sitting, especially if I’m crossed legged.  

Now I meditate the way that works best for me.  It’s true for other areas of my life.  I enjoy food that I find pleasurable, rather than forcing myself to drink wheatgrass as I had in the late 80s.  I enjoy a walk daily, usually alone, as a moving meditation.  Or I listen to audiobooks, making it easier to get though books these days.  For the first half of my life I tried to follow the rules of life.  I believed if I could just get it right I’d be happy.  In this second half I am making the ever changing rules that support me.  I don’t know if I’m happier, but I am certainly more satisfied.  

Enduring these past two years has tested our every nerve.  We can all be gentle with ourselves by designing our routines to match our needs.  I will continue to meditate on my back, even if others see that as wrong.  Perhaps having grace for ourselves is more important in the long run than “good” form.    

Self-care Tips:

  • Try meditating in a comfortable position.  If you’re new to it, start with 30 seconds to 3 minutes.  If you like it, try it again.  If it’s not for you, either try another modality or let it go.  
  • When you’re feeling over stressed, imagine you’re softening your edges.  What does that look like? How does it feel?  It may assist in easing the emotional strain.  
  • Who makes you laugh?  Watch a video, stream a special, or call that funny friend.  A laughing brake is a terrific relief.