My Shade of Gray

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Some changes are easy. Changing my clothes after a walk on a hot day, changing my mind, when I go for a walk rather than a yoga class, easy. Changing my hair, not so much. I’ve sat in many salon chairs, tears in my eyes, feeling helpless while scissors cut away the vision I tried to communicate to the hairdresser. Conversely, I loved the artists who gave me so much more than I had hoped. But the last few years I’ve gone back and forth about going completely gray or continuing my once a month trek to my local salon, tediously covering my roots.

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Like my dad, I went gray at an early age. Like my mom, this wasn’t something I wanted to share publicly. So by my mid-twenties I dyed my hair any number of shades of brown, auburn, chocolate, and other colors not easily found in nature. This past year I made the decision to stop dying my hair. I came to this decision partly because I don’t enjoy going to the salon, and mostly because I’m working on not doing things that aren’t pleasurable to me, if I can help it. Dying my hair fell into the category of something I could help.

janet-zinn-1 (3)silk jacket dyed green; hair dyed dark auburn.

At first it was uncomfortable to walk around with gray roots. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been because my hair is curly and I don’t usually part my hair. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the style that I wanted to sport. But I let it grow and grow, walking around as a two-toned woman. And then last week I cut it all off. I hadn’t imagined the freedom I’d experience. I feel unburdened. I can’t explain it, but I feel liberated. I cut away a part of my past and am embracing my present. I am fully gray and proud of it.

Photo on 6-16-15 at 12.13 PM (1)two-toned

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Wrong Again

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The impulse to judge is a strong one. Although I can be intuitive, seeing how someone holds him or herself or has a certain expression that speaks volumes about character, I can also go to a less caring place when looking at others. More often than I’d like to admit, I can dismiss someone at first glance. Sometimes, though, I’m fortunate enough to be proven wrong.

The other day I was in a group and I totally dismissed a conservatively dressed woman as someone tight, lacking a sense of humor. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When she shared she had us all laughing with a wonderfully dry wit. Now, here’s a woman I wanted to know. Yet, I almost didn’t give myself the chance because of my own inaccurate conclusions.

I wonder how many missed opportunities I’ve experienced. How many people would have contributed to my outlook if I hadn’t been so judgmental. In reading a wonderful piece about a fat bride and her joyous wedding, Lindy West affirms true happiness.

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http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/21/my-wedding-perfect-fat-woman

While I persist in learning to be open, I have no doubt I’ll continue to be inspired. And, thank you to those who reveal your true selves, rather than the narrow impression I forged, I am humbled.

Choices

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I am not going to my yoga class today. If I go I won’t get a chance to write, and I want to go for a jog before work, too, which I won’t be able to do if I go to my class. I love yoga and will miss the stretching and the relaxation that comes from the class. Lately I’ve chosen not to go more often than I go. I miss it. But when I do go, I miss these easy mornings before long days. I miss time spent with the family in the morning, or taking Lucy, our dog, for a walk and enjoying beautiful Carl Shurz Park. With every choice I gain something and I lose something else.

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Unknown-2A View of Carl Shurz Park

When I was in my 20’s & 30’s I hated making choices. I felt personally responsible for others’ happiness and if I made a choice that someone didn’t like, then I felt deeply guilty. I always said, “it doesn’t matter to me, you decide.” Often I did have a preference. I preferred to go to a café rather than a coffee shop for breakfast, but I kept my mouth shut, while I silently regretted their decision. It took a long time for me to be able to voice my preferences. It’s not always easy, but I’d rather have a say in what happens, feel whatever I feel in relationship to the results than resent the ultimate outcome.

When we’ve experienced deprivation in any form making certain choices can feel daunting. We know we’ll feel a loss of what we don’t get, even as we know we’ll enjoy what we have. This has happened to me on vacations. By the time I take a vacation, I am so looking forward to the rest. Yet, because I yearn to travel the world, I am sad that I’m not choosing the Amalfi Coast over an inn in Connecticut. The practical, easier choice is the inn, which will be lovely. But the Amalfi Coast looks splendid. And, Italy is a wonderful country. If, in the end, I choose to go abroad, then I choose wander over simplicity.

6951_p1The Bee & Thistle Inn

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No, I am not deprived in that I get a vacation, a luxurious option in any life. But considering my options brings up all the times I had to do what I was told without being able to voice my unhappiness or disgust. The fear of the consequences of voicing my displeasure always seemed worse than just doing what I was told.   So even though my current life is not one of deprivation, making a simple choice can feel oppressive. But with practice the deprivation lessens, and the choices get easier. So, as I learn from a day without yoga , I feel more equipped to make the harder choices that life brings our way. And, I don’t feel like the old victim because I now understand that I do have a say.

Walking on

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If I’m not aware what I’m feeling, I become acutely aware when I start walking the city. Walking through beautiful Central Park on my way to a morning appointment a runner came towards me. As far as I was concerned she was going against the clearly marked directions on the pavement. I held my ground, and when I kept walking towards her, righteously indignant about following the markers, she barely moved to get around me, whispering, “Fuck you.” I wasn’t sure I heard her right. But she was a fast runner and she was well past me when I started to think of replies. My first thought, was, “Have a nice day.” Like I said, I was feeling righteous, and I thought my fake kindness served my feelings well. Sometimes I can just stew over a simple incident like that. But it was a beautiful morning, and I had gotten a rare early start.

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Then I was crossing 72nd Street, it was my light, but a cyclist tore down the road. He waved at me, indicating that he’d go around me, and I smiled back. A lovely New York moment. I forgot my self-righteousness after that. I find it amazing that a mis-matched moment can embroil me, but an act of kindness lifts me to a better place.

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This happens a lot as I walk or jog public areas. Sometimes someone takes up the whole sidewalk. He or she unconsciously walks in the middle so no one can get by. More often than not, I get irate, as if it’s my private sidewalk and I take it personally, silently cursing them out.

I went for a short jog this afternoon, but school was letting out, and, again, I got angry at the parents and caregivers who straddled the sidewalk.  Funny how I love to walk, yet I can get worked up over minor inconveniences. Perhaps my walks give me a chance to move through my emotional repertoire. An inner drama played out on the streets of New York.

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Getting it Right

There is a myth that if we just did things better or differently we could avoid some unpleasantness. That certainly has been my credo for a long time. My self-criticism has known no bounds. I was sure that my unhappiness was a matter of me lacking something essential. And, once I was able to gain that something special, I would know eternal happiness. In my mind this included having more money, a fit body, harmonious relationships, and constant inner peace.

I thought I just needed to be more positive. Or, I should be more disciplined, or less critical. Maybe that’s true, but going on a mind loop of what I need to change hasn’t actually helped me. So, rather than perpetuate this thinking, I’m trying accepting my negativity. And, when I say accepting,  I am not saying I am proud of it, nor do I really want to flaunt it. But I can say that it’s part of how I think and if it’s part of me, it’s worth accepting.

I work so hard to be a better person. I’m tired of working so hard, especially when that work brings me back to my starting point. And, now that I’ve returned to my imperfect self, I think I’ll stay here for awhile and see how it feels. Perfection is a great concept, but it’s not really part of my everyday reality. I’m taking a break. Secretly, I’m hoping embracing imperfection is the answer to getting it right. I guess that’s part of the endless loop. And, so it goes….

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Something Different

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I can be a solitary person. I like my alone time. I like to figure things out on my own and I like doing things by myself. But I learned something new about myself today while running my first race in awhile. I resist change. In the past I was happy to be a solo runner. I am a very slow runner, mindful of my age and the wear and tear my body has endured. I was pleased to be running at all, and it took me a couple of years to run even one race.   Then I ran one run, uncertain of the shouts and cheers the volunteers provided. They meant well, but I liked going at my own pace, listening to a book or a podcast, enjoying beautiful Central Park.

Today for the first time I ran with a partner. Zena, my husband Larry’s cousin, asked if I would meet her to run, and I said I would. She has been a wonderfully encouraging supporter of my running. She runs in Chicago, as well as around the world when she’s traveling for work. So today I ran alongside her. We talked, and she asked how I felt about run/walking. My friend Jeannette, another supporter and avid runner suggested it last week, but I said I wasn’t sure. Clearly they both knew something I didn’t.

The four-mile run today was set to Zena’s clock so we could run nine minutes and walk one minute. I was afraid that if I stopped running I wouldn’t want to start again. But it was a great way to pace the run and feel rejuvenated and motivated. I have always thought myself someone who is open to change, but today seemed more of an exception than the rule. I really enjoyed having a running partner, and I liked the walk run process. I’ll be doing it again. Plus, I may need a good running trainer. As much as I like to do things myself, getting proper support is invaluable. Or so I recognized today.

So, between Zena & Jeannette, my running support, and Larry, as well as our friend, Justine, my cheering squad, along with our dogs, Lucy & Nyah, this run was truly delightful.

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NYC Marathon

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Watching the NYC Marathon runners down First Avenue was simply inspiring. Seeing each person with their own reasons for running push through to continue their relentless course communicates discipline and tenacity. For a few hours this windy, Autumn day I screamed on the sidelines to strangers. I was able to see someone I knew, which was amazing.

The marathon is meaningful to those who run their race. They set a goal and mostly achieved it. And, if they fell short, they can be proud of making the effort to complete it. The marathon is very real, but it’s also a metaphor for life. In my work as a psychotherapist, I witness my clients face challenges in their lives. They work hard to overcome the limitations in their lives, like those who choose to do a marathon. And, mostly, they succeed. Then they face another obstacle and move through the pain and constraints to get to the other side of that challenge. And, so on and so forth.

Most personal processes are private. The individuals who go the extra mile to accomplish their goals have no one on the side-lines cheering them on. The courage they experience is known to only them. It is a solitary path. Depending on the achievements there may be bragging rights. But perhaps not. My good fortune is being able to witness my clients’ triumphs. I may not be yelling, “You Can Do It!” behind the barricades, but I am inspired all the same. I feel so fortunate to respectfully observe the marathons that change lives, both on and off First Avenue.

Mood Minders

Weight Watchers is known in the diet arena for their Points Plus platform. Inspired by their model, I am introducing my own points program.  It is a diet, but not of the food variety.  My points program is based on overall attitude rather than foods and exercise.  I am naming it “Mood Minders”™, an alliteration to assure successful branding. 

            Mood Minders”™ works like this.  We start out with twenty points per day, with an extra 40 points for the week to use at your discretion. You can use a portion of your weekly points daily, or you can save them up and have a full fledged tantrum at the end of the week, if you like. 

Neutral moods are zero points.  So if I’m observing a situation but not getting upset or making it personal, then it’s a zero points experience.   For instance, if I’m watching a driver parallel park on my block, and I notice they must be from the suburbs where they normally park in a lot, but I am not critical of the many maneuvers they make to come as close as 10 inches from the curb, then it’s zero points.  However, if I make a nasty comment to my husband and we banter on about our superior parking acumen as compared to the shnook in the car, then it goes from zero points to costing me four points.  Two points for being catty, two points for innocuous gossiping.  Cruel gossip can cost as much as ten points, since it’s not just a mood, but can be mean spirited. 

            We earn the most points, eight, by volunteering, random acts of kindness, and true forgiveness.  Laughter and joy earn us a hefty five.  Patience and generosity are also worth six points.  And, the good news is patience for yourself, as well as for others, is counted as well.  I was able to earn my six points when I made a mistake in my Mood Minders™ meeting by pronouncing omniscient, “omni cent.”  While being corrected by one of the self proclaimed intellectuals in the group, I felt my face flush, thanked him for correcting me, and smiled meekly.  If it weren’t for my minding my points, I might have made a pathetic excuse, while silently cursing him for saying anything.  Instead of costing me points, I gained points, forgiving myself for my error, and forgiving him for using my mistake to show off. 

            Based on my new program, my well wishing to Weight Watchers gave me three bonus points.  I can later use those points in the event I find myself being critical, like when I ask tight-lipped that my husband pick up his dirty socks, again, as I did yesterday and the day before that.  Of course, a program as rigorous as Mood Minders™ should be done with the support of a group and a group leader (me).  Note:   I do not lose any points for arrogance since I did not claim to be a great leader.  I merely stated my role within the group.

Let’s take a look to see how some of patients, I mean Mood Minders™ group members, have fared. 

Norma wasn’t quite depressed, but she was constantly comparing herself to others, whining that her life wasn’t as good. She had been known to describe herself as miserable. This always cost her four points, two for complaining, and two for burdening others with her gloom. It took the loss of many points in meetings to get Norma to finally track her points.  She as appalled and dismayed to find out that while she viewed her misery to be the fault of others, in the end she was in a points deficit herself.  She started recording, and has now created herself anew.

Then there’s middle-aged Paul.  He was a rageaholic.  If something didn’t meet his expectations he would yell, bullying others to change things so he could be appeased.  He would become virtually apoplectic when on the phone with his cable server when there was a service failure.  But once he started working the Mood Minders™ technique, he thought twice before he reacted.  He realized he had a choice about instantly becoming irate.  He learned to take a moment before reacting.  He started to think before he went into a complete frenzy. It’s not that Paul doesn’t ever get angry anymore.  But he knows he only has a certain amount of set points for his rage, so he judicially uses them when a situation is worthy of that response.   Paul can now manage to stay relatively calm when speaking with his IT manager, even when his computer is on the fritz, because he knows that being patient with him will help him get the result he wants.  He still yells at sales people from time to time.  But not always, and never in the few hours on Tuesday before he attends his Mood Minders™ meeting. 

Amy started Mood Minders™ when her anxiety was at an all time high.  She was a worrier.  Once she found out that she could earn points for laughing she had would intersperse her angst with mirth.  She stopped frowning as much, saving her countless thousands in botox injections.

Although Norma, Paul and Amy are a mere sampling of the possibilities of Mood Minders,™, there are all kinds of unhappy people. And, if you’re reading this and thinking you are above Mood Minders,™  Think twice.  Self-righteous indignation is a lonely path, and a holier-than-thou attitude will cost you a hefty 5 points.  But by following MM’s simple outline, life can be more enjoyable.  

           

 

A quick outline of Mood Minders™:

 

*You have the power to choose how you react to situations.

*You can minimize your unhappiness, and maximize pleasure

*You can still be miserable, if you like, your points are yours to use

 

Zero point moods:

Feeling your feelings without judgment, Observation, patiently waiting

One Point:  Mild annoyance, Apprehension, Slight Impatience, Boredom

Two Points: Rolling your eyes at someone’s comment; having a bit of a snide tone when speaking

Three Points:  Defensiveness, Being Judgmental

Four Points:  Mild Gossip, Self-righteous Indignation

Five Points:  Being a Naysayer, Help-Rejecter (Someone who asks for help, then when given the help they reject the offerings)

Six Points:  Quitting Because You Don’t like the Probable Outcome, Bragging at the expense of Someone Else, or Trying to Look Better than Another

Seven Points:  Scaring Another with Your Anger; Scaring Yourself by Coming Up with Worse Case Scenarios

Eight Points:  Intentional, mean-spirited gossip; Laughing At someone in public

Above Eight Points:  Taunting, Bullying, Spiraling with Fear or Anxiety, Saying hateful things to yourself

 

**Bonus Points**:

One: Refraining from Sending Superstitious Chain emails; Smiling

Two: Small forgivenesses; Being a Good Sport

Three: Giving Compliments; Writing Thank you Notes

Four: Keeping Your Judgmental Opinion to Yourself

Five:  Full-out laughter; Spreading joy

Six:  Patience; Generosity

Seven:  Good Manners; Being Gracious

Eight:  Volunteering; Random Acts of Kindness, True Forgiveness

Joyous Laughter, Glee, Volunteering, Random Acts of Kindness, Forgiveness, Complimenting others, Taking responsibility for one’s actions, Giving Anonymously to Charity, Charitable Giving (less of a bonus, but on the plus side, nonetheless)

 

 

If you want more information, or you think the Mood Minders™ itinerary is right for you, you can become a founding member of Mood Minders™ for a generous fee.  The high cost will ensure you extra weekly points since you will be contributing to the growing prosperity of this amazing program.