Stop Everything

 

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For the past few days I’ve spent most of my time in bed with a hot water bottle. I had a lower back spasm that seemingly came out of nowhere. The first two days were difficult to get up and down. On second thought, difficult is an understatement. But with the pain came some important lessons I apparently needed to learn.

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The first was how kind and generous my family and friends were. I am usually a do-it-myself kind of person, sometimes to a fault. I am strongly independent. But there are moments I can become resentful when others don’t pitch in. It’s in these moments that I realize that I could use some help. But when I feel aggrieved my requests sound more like criticisms than inquiries.

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Since my mobility was impaired, I had to ask for anything I wanted. What happened felt like a flood of love and care. Emma, my daughter, and Larry, my husband, were very helpful. Emma didn’t give me her usual teen attitude, and Larry went out of his way to make sure I had what I needed. Friends offered to help., which meant the world to me.

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What surprised me most was when I called to cancel theater tickets for two shows, both theaters were more than accommodating. And when I had a time-limited gym class, they postponed it without hesitation. Normally I don’t ask for special requests. I want to, but I respect most rules and adhere to them. I can even be righteous when others don’t respect the rules. I know, not an attractive quality, but true, nonetheless.

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I think this back pain may help me to recognize the need to ask for help more often. It was great for accommodations when there were special circumstances. But it seems like an activity worth pursuing even when I just want or need something. It could be as simple as someone helping me with reaching a product high on a Fairway shelf, or it may be asking a favor of a friend or colleague. In any event, this is a time when the pain gave me a positive gain.

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Pleasurable Reading

I haven’t been writing, I’ve been reading. It’s a solitary experience, so it doesn’t get much glory. Nonetheless, I had forgotten how much I love reading for pleasure. For a number of years I read for work, for classes, for workshops, or for information. I slowed down my pleasure reading. Yet, while away, I relished the simple gratification of reading books and articles just because it made me happy.

(before vacation/during vacation)

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Our lives rarely lend themselves to the simply pleasurable. We may enjoy the odd quote or statement on Facebook or Twitter, but it’s rare that we allow ourselves the kindness of curling up with a book. But after this vacation I cant ignore the fulfilling aspect of reading for pleasure. Although my colleagues may scoff, I will be reading less professional journals and reading more fiction. It makes me happy.

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My apartment might get dustier but my smile will come easier.   Another thing I started to do a couple of years ago is to stop reading if the book wasn’t satisfying. I used to feel compelled to read if I started a book. It was as if I made a solemn commitment to the book, and it was my obligation to finish it, no matter what. Not so now. Reading now has more to do with my relationship to myself than to an inanimate object.

 

This may translate into creating more quiet time so that I can read. Living fully between reading, and committing myself to the space to enjoy my books, that is my goal. It’s only been a week since I returned from vacation, and I’ve been able to read, as well as listen to good music. This weekend I can endure doing taxes knowing a book is waiting in the wings. It’s great to get back to the simple joys.

Life is short, yet good literature lasts a lifetime.

 

Some of my recent favorite books:

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Slowing Down

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This past week I had jury duty. My first reaction was one of annoyance.   I’ve done a lot of jury duty, even one stint for three months. So as far as I was concerned, I’ve done my time. But then I thought again. It’s an enforced day of quiet. I promptly changed my schedule around and planned my reading accordingly. First were some back issues of The New Yorker. Then, much to my delight I was going to be able to read Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door. The book came out the day prior to having to serve and I made sure I had my copy.

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Years ago when I walked downtown to the courthouses, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, I had a clipped pace and could make the five-mile trek in 90 minutes. But this time it took me 110 minutes. 20 minutes longer than in the past. It wasn’t the cold weather. I walked throughout the winter in the long trial. Though cold and windy, I enjoyed the empty sidewalks allowing me to walk with ease. Perhaps the 20 minutes isn’t so bad given it was 20 years ago when I moved quicker, getting to my destination with time to spare. But I did notice I’m losing some stamina.

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I enjoy walking just as much as I did in the past, but I’m slower, tending to walk shorter paths. 20 years ago I’d walk to and from 100 Centre Street, last week one way was more than enough. I also started noticing that I’m doing less outside of work. I’ve always been a busy person, mainly pursuing the arts such as exhibits, theater, films, and the occasional dance performance or opera. Now I’m more selective, finding I prefer to rest more.

I guess I couldn’t keep up with my previous pace. And, I suppose I don’t have to. Losing a minute a year for a five-mile walk allows me to enjoy more of the scenery on the way.

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Letting Go in ’16

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What a concept! Letting go has been used as a catch phrase describing a way of not feeling what we don’t want. I am not amused when I make a complaint and I’m told, “just let it go.” If I could have let it go I wouldn’t be complaining in the first place. But 2016 feels like a good time for me to let things go. Partly because I haven’t liked what I’ve felt, but mostly because what I have previously over-enjoyed isn’t serving me right now.

 

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I usually make lots of plans, however, my plan this year is to plan less. I’m letting go of being too busy. It means more Yes time to do less, and more “No”s in the scheduling category.

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I feel relieved with this plan. In the past I would get overwhelmed with all that I had to do. I am smiling as I write this because I’m looking forward to less. And in this case less is more; more freedom, more ease, more inner peace.

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I don’t imagine living a less fulfilling life. In fact I image I will be more fulfilled doing less. But New York City still offers a lot. I will try to relax as I choose plays more judicially, or pick what art exhibits I’ll see. I go to the opera and dance performances less, so that feels easier. Movies may be difficult to decide on, but I’m up for the challenge. I will be reading less based on recommendations and more on what moves me at any given time. I’ve been fortunate to have gone to a lot of parties and events over the years, and am happy to slow down significantly. I’m just not in the mood right now. I still look forward to going to work, walking, running, and spending time with my family. And I’m always up for a good laugh.

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It will be interesting what I end up doing or not doing, as the case may be. Yet, letting go does not feel like an imperative at this juncture, it feels natural, as if I made it to this point and letting go is what’s next.

Taking a Break

 

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I took an unintended break from my blog. Every weekend I thought of writing something but I felt distracted, uninspired. This weekend is no different except I’m going to post this. Breaks are important. We could all use a vacation from time to time. But discipline is important, too. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what’s most important at any given time.  It’s like when I need to rest, and I also know it will feel good to workout. What do I choose?

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In the past few weeks I defaulted to taking it easy. Or, more accurately I took it easy on writing while celebrating the holidays and catching up on daytime tasks. I just didn’t feel like writing. In life there seems to be so much I don’t want to do that has to get done like paperwork or washing dishes. So when I set a task for myself because I think I should, I can rebel then criticize myself for not doing whatever it is I think I should be doing. Not a great set-up, but one that’s oh so familiar.

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How many times throughout my life have I had a bad case of the shoulds? There was a time I had been even harder on myself. Ironically being hard on myself didn’t necessarily make me more productive. Often it prevented me from doing what I needed to get done. My inner meanness shut me down to a mentally warring state.

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In general I’m more motivated now. And, yet there are times, like this past month when I hit a wall. For now I’m going to respect that wall. Maybe it stopped me for some unknown reason. If I take it easy I may just find out why I needed to slow down to a halt.

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Perhaps what’s next in 2016 will be revealed. I’m counting on peace and kindness being in the mix.   I’m happy to break for that.

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Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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Paris Burning

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As I pondered what to write I heard about the terrorist attacks, as we all had.   It’s so sad and tragic. What more can be said? It’s hard to imagine the mentality that focuses so hard to harm so many people in Paris, in Syria and throughout the world.

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The one thing that did come from the Paris terrorist attacks is that we are not thinking of terrorism as something that takes place in far-off places. So many of us have a connection to and have been to Paris. We can no longer be limited to the belief that terrorism is only in Israel, or Iraq, or other Middle Eastern or foreign lands.

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Throughout my life I heard and repeated, “Peace on Earth.” And when I was a child we would sing the song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” What exactly has that meant? In theory I want that. I know we all want that. And, yet, there has been more hate and violence towards one another. I marvel at the Buddhist monks whose job it is to pray daily for world peace. They are trained not to become attached to the outcome, but to identify with their lives’ purpose – Peace on Earth.

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I know kindness is an important component if we are to have peace. I know compassion is also key. What can I do to expand those in my life? Is it as simple as being less snarky if I don’t like something or someone? Perhaps I can have more patience instead of jump to anger and self-righteousness when I come upon two mothers in double-wide strollers talking while passers-by struggle to get around them. Would that help?

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I don’t see how that would end police brutality, or terrorism, or other hate crimes. I could read up more. Try to understand what ISIS is demanding. Find out the roots of the movement and feel compassion for the conditions that would spawn such a movement. It might help me converse better, but would it help to bring world peace? As I think about how we can make a difference, I am stuck. On the one hand I think small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness always make a difference. Smile at a stranger, help keep the door open for the person behind. But, then I think how naïve that is.

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Large acts might be more useful, but the fight on terror has resulted in more terrorism. Sending money to various causes make us feel better, but does it actually do the work we intend? World-wide negotiations haven’t been effective with ISIS and other terrorist groups. I know I’m not alone in feeling powerless. And, in many ways the acts of terrorism speak of the terrorists’ powerlessness, or they wouldn’t feel compelled to murder and hurt others as a communication device.

I will continue to explore ways in which I can be part of a peaceful world. Perhaps if we all just do our best to do better in our own lives we will, in fact, do better as a whole.

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To World Peace.