Gifts from Strangers, Week 19 in the Time of Coronavirus

I hadn’t anticipated it, but yesterday was an enriching day.  It started out hot and humid, and I knew that if I was going to get out, I wasn’t going to be able to move at a clipped pace.  I was wary of taking my bike out, believing that the park would be crowded, and I just needed something less populated.  So, I ventured out on foot listening to a new book Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala, a Nigerian-American author.  It’s beautifully written and the readers are terrific.  

My destination was a Cambodian restaurant, the only one in the city. I had read about it but had never visited.  I saw that it was closing at the end of the month, and so used it as a destination.  I would order take-out and carry our dinner home.  Though I couldn’t go inside, when I stepped up to pay, I viewed a stunning interior.  There were Buddhist art pieces and Cambodian décor.  The owner was there, and she was more than gracious.  So kind and generous, offering extra side dishes and beverages.  She was losing her restaurant to the pandemic, and yet wanted to treat me to something extra.  Her kindness softened my spirit.  

Then, in the evening, I was tired but not sleepy, so I perused Amazon, Apple TV, and finally Netflix.  It was there that I found an intriguing documentary, Mucho Mucho Amor.  It’s the story of Walter Mercado, a famous Puerto Rican star who brought joy to so many with his astrology readings.  He was an amazing man, and I was moved by his humanity, and fanciful lust for life.

  

I had to put the film on pause as I was finding out about his rise to fame.  Lucy had to be walked, and I was the only one home who was awake.  I was frustrated but these things can’t wait.  We went out to our stoop.  I wasn’t sure if she just wanted to be out in the hot night air, or if she really had to go.  Either way, she was on pause at the bottom of the steps.  It was then that I heard a group chanting.  I saw a few cyclists on their bikes leave what looked to be a rally.  Then I heard peaceful chanting, “Black Lives Matter!”  I realized that the weekly bicycle rally for the Black Lives Matter movement ended their ride in front of Gracie Mansion, the temporary residence of the Mayor.  It’s just down the block from our building.  

There was such camaraderie.  It was all peaceful.  Cops were acting as escorts.  I witnessed fellowship.  And, there was so much hope.  I felt so fortunate to be a bystander to the positive power.  Shortly thereafter Lucy and I were up and on the move.  They had all cycled away by the time Lucy completed her walk.  And, then I was able to finish watching the film.  I went to bed later than usual and fully inspired.  

So often during the time of Coronavirus, I have felt as if the days are long and so little gets done.  But yesterday, though I did little, I was given so many gifts.  They were all provided by individuals from other races and ethnic backgrounds.  How rich life is when we learn and grow because we are in touch those who are different than us.  

Self-care Tips:  

*Enjoy something outside your familiar patterns.  It could be a new cuisine, a virtual look at an international museum, reading a writer you don’t know, or simply noticing things around you that may have slipped your gaze previously

*Pause.  When you are feeling overwhelmed, or you’re about to act impulsively in a way that may not support you, take a moment.  Be conscious of your breath.  Take in a few things that surround you.  And, then reassess what you want your next action to be.

*Notice at least one thing that brought you pleasure at the end of your day.  Of course, it could be more.  Maybe it was a beam of light from your window that played on a surface.  Or, perhaps it was a chat with a friend.    In this way you double your pleasure as you think about those moments again.  

*Keep it simple.  These times are trying for most, so it helps to keep things simple when we can to alleviate extra stress.

*Do something from your childhood.  Whether you choose to play a game of hopscotch on your sidewalk, skip down the block, or sing a childhood song, finding childhood pleasures is an easy way to bring joy on.  

Week 15 in the Time of Coronavirus; Diminished Choices

Summer is here.  But it’s not like summers of our past.  Vacation options are restricted. Outdoor dining is limited. And sometimes the choices at hand are not terrific.  So, what to do?  If I can’t make long-term plans, I can think of what may or may not take place on any given day.  

Take this morning, for instance.  My plan was to walk to Central Park, take a slow run in the shadiest, least crowded spots, then come home to write this blog post.  I tried writing yesterday, but I hit a wall in all things productive, and rested more than anything else.  

So, earlier today I left later than planned, walked to the park noticing the bustle of Stage 2 of our city opening.  I was in turns impressed and apprehensive.  I listened to a book, did my run, and had the pleasure of speaking with a friend, and purchasing fruits for the week.  Okay, okay, I may have found a good number of ways to procrastinate, but in the end, I’m sitting here thinking about the choices I made to start my day.  

What I’ve noticed, more in retrospect than at the exact moment, is that I’m making small choices throughout each day.  Most of these are seemingly insignificant decisions based on what’s right in front of me.  Even with the to-do lists I write, if I don’t review them, it’s probable that less than half the items on that list will get done.  Instead I assess my wants and needs, or I impulsively make a determination because I can.  I checked out my office grocery needs by stopping into Whole Foods.  I had no intention of going there this morning, but I was passing by and it seemed like a good idea.  As it turned out, it was a good idea.  They had exactly what I wanted, and the store was pretty empty.  I was in and out in less than 15 minutes.  

However, good choices are hard to come by these days.  I’m noticing that choices during the pandemic have been informed by my perception of what will keep me and others safe.  Sometimes the choices were fraught with anxiety.  Where can I walk keeping proper social distancing?  What can I say that is respectful to others while holding my personal truths?  How can I maintain patience in the face of grief and stress?  And, how do I let go of plans that have changed while finding joy in the every day?  I have no definitive answers.  At times I’m successful in finding ways to answer them truthfully.  And, sometimes I get it wrong and have to learn from these failures to find grace under fire.  

I think we’re all exhausted from calibrating these small choices.  But when plans can’t proceed, and I’m faced with a lack of control, then I’m left with the small choices of everyday living.  They aren’t fancy, but, when I make them consciously, they keep me grounded.  And, when I’m a bit out of it and I make a choice, I get to assess the benefits, or lack thereof, when I’m fully present again.  

There will come a time when we will navigate our world post-Covid-19.  When and how remain to be seen.  For now, I can choose a proper mask each day, and live moment by moment, choice by incremental choice.  

Well-Being Suggestions

  • Choose one brave act a day.  Make it small.  Choose to say “yes” to something that is unfamiliar.  Or choose to say “no” to something that doesn’t sound right.  
  • Write a letter from your future self.  Write from a place of having accomplished something you’ve wanted, or having a view point of something you’ve learned.
  • Laugh.  If you can’t find something funny, use an old acting exercise and force yourself to laugh aloud until it turns into a genuine laugh.  Sometimes it helps to do it with others, because laughter is contagious.  
  • If you are thinking negative thoughts, when you’re alone say them to yourself out loud.  But do it in an accent, not in your own voice.  It allows you to hear harsh thoughts in a different way and can lessen their impact. 
  • Find a smooth patch of skin on yourself and rub it.  It will bring tenderness to your self-care.  I like the inside of my forearm. If you can’t do that, find fabric that is soft and rub that to soothe yourself.  

I am Cautious

IMG_0603.JPG

I am cautious. I ride a low bike so that when I stop my feet reach the ground. This is reminiscent of my old banana seat bicycle in the 70’s with the purple handle bar streamers. It was comfortable because of its lack of height and its smooth, plastic seat. I was a proud rider on the streets of Haddontown, Kresson Heights, Brookfield and Woodcrest, riding my modern bike in my bright red keds.

Unknown.jpegUnknown-1.jpeg

This past week I braved the New York Streets to take my bike out for the third time this summer. I was halfway to my destination, Central Park, when I realized the traffic was too thick. Cars and trucks were double parked. I am not that adventurous. I am cautious. So, at Third Avenue I turned around and headed for the promenade on the East River. When I get to the park I ride to the crosswalk because I can avoid riding up on the curb. I like a flat ride, no bumps. That’s not easy in New York, so I do what I can.

Unknown-2.jpeg

 

IMG_0604.JPG

It wasn’t very crowded. It was Tuesday, and some had just started back to work, while others were just getting back from their Labor Day getaways. I rode as if I were a child, gleeful to have the promenade virtually to myself. I ring my high-pitched bell when the few people walking are four wide and there’s no place for me to go. They part and I move on, happy I didn’t have to stop. I am in heaven. There’s something so sweet about moving in space, especially when I know at any given moment my feet can touch the ground.

 

Back to the Basics

 

Unknown-1.jpeg

I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

Unknown.jpeg

I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

hqdefault.jpg

 

In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

Unknown.jpeg

Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

images-3.jpeg

There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

images-1.jpeg

 

 

First Race

I was 11 years old.  In the back of our school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1971, I ran the 900-yard dash.  On the dirt around the playground I pushed myself as I ran as fast as I could.  Again and again my classmates past me, even tough my mouth was dry, my chest was tight, and the left side of my abdomen was in a knot.  I had on my red Keds.  They were not serving me well.  Three classmates were behind me when I reached the finish line. There was little pleasure in that. 

            I knew I was not a runner.  I took this knowledge with me for a long time.  I liked to walk and I enjoyed walking for miles in the city, my favorite mode of transportation.  Often joggers passed me by, and I looked at them as if they were another species.  Friends of mine would speak of their runs, their races, their ability to go miles in any type of weather.  Not me, I just walked. 

            And, then two years ago I tried to run.  A friend suggested I could run a slow pace, so that I could be gentle on knees, and not hurt my lungs.  It worked.  As 70 year old runners passed me by, I started out jogging a quarter mile, a half, and then one full mile.  It felt great.  I liked it.  I could do something I never thought I could do. 

And, then this past weekend, I ran my first races.  Yesterday I walked to Randall’s Island and slowly but surely ran the 5K, or 3.3 miles.  Because I am so slow, I had a lot of space between me and the next runner.  I happily passed walkers, but wasn’t even close the other runners.  I didn’t care.  This was for me, and I could put one foot in front of the other towards the finish line. 

It felt good to complete the race.  Larry, my husband, and Lucy our Tibetan Terrier were there to cheer me on coming an going.  It was so nice to have them there.  And, today I was in Central Park to run a five-mile race.  I don’t know my time.  I didn’t even bother to find out.  For me, the fact that I was there was enough.  I have no designs on a marathon.  Being able to run at all is a win for me. Image

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.