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.  

What We Don’t Know, Week Fourteen in the New Abnormal

It was the summer of 1979.  Thanks to a student loan I was in Paris studying French, which I didn’t retain and Art History, which I preserved with many future visits to museums. I felt so cosmopolitan sipping a café au lait while enjoying a freshly baked croissant before classes began. We sat at a café off of the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Half the day was spent in classes.  By afternoon I was walking for hours getting to know the city of lights.  

Those were the highlights.  Yet there was so much I didn’t know.  Back in our dorm room we had a bidet.  I was too insecure to ask how to use it or what it was for.  I thought, since we were in a women’s dorm, that it was a douche.  What I knew about douches I learned in Summer’s Eve commercials back in New Jersey.  When my roommates from other college exchange programs asked if I knew how to use it.  I lied.  I said, “Yes.”  Not knowing seemed as if it wasn’t an option for me.  

As memorable as the summer of “79 was, I recall my insecurities as much as I remember the amazing gifts of that European summer.  Over 40 years later and I still recall what my wonderful art history professor taught us every time I go on walks, recognizing the architecture.  Or, appreciating a painting in a gallery or museum because of what she imparted in our classes and tours.   I’m also currently enjoying the marvels of a bidet in our New York City apartment.  It’s not a separate structure as it was in Paris.  It’s attached to our toilet, a wonderful addition from Tushy.  I use less toilet paper, reveling in the simplicity of continental hygiene.  The focused stream of water cleans up beautifully.  

I may now know what a bidet is and how I can use it effectively, but over the years I have learned to admit what I don’t know.  I’d rather learn and grow than pretend that I’m more knowledgeable so someone else won’t judge me. We lose ground when we make believe we’re smarter than we are.  I compromised my learning curve and the breadth of joy while in Paris because I couldn’t admit what I didn’t know.  Thank goodness I know better now.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Think of something you have wanted to know or learn.  Look it up.  Or ask a friend about it.  It feels nice to understand what we didn’t know before.  
  • Make time to laugh.  Do it purposefully.  And laugh with abandon.  
  • Be open to be inspired.  Keep an open mind and go about your day.  Whether you anticipate it from a known teacher, or whether it comes in an unexpected moment, being willing to be inspired is the open invitation to wonder and awe.  

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.  

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.  

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.  

Balancing Act, Week Three in the New Abnormal

I keep deluding myself into thinking I know the best formula for getting through these difficult times.  I meditate twice daily.  I make sure I don’t make plans more than once a week, except in special circumstances.  I go for daily walks.  I work.  I try to make easy dinner a few times a week.  I like doing all these things.  While I’m doing them, I feel perfectly fine.  But in other moments I am short-tempered.  I am impatient.  I long for more assistance.  I understand how fortunate I am to have supportive people in my life.  But we all need extra scaffolding, and since most of us are depleted, we have less inner resources from which to give.

When I get heated, lash out, or feel deflated, I know I am far from being balanced.  I was never athletic, and I could barely do a cartwheel in gym class, but throughout school I felt comfortable on the balance beam.  Not skilled, but able to stay upright.  Now at a more advanced age, I feel at ease with balance stances on my yoga mat.  But feeling steadied after a full day of work and a few minutes facing my to-do lists is not an available option these days.  I am off-balance.  

For months on end during the pandemic I was keen on regaining whatever balance I had before.  That wasn’t working so I tried to find a new balance.  Perhaps for some that’s a possibility, but I can only speak for myself, and I was nowhere near anything I could call balanced, beam or no beam.  Now I’m not quite embracing the collective destabilizing forces, but I am doing what I can to live in it.  

Yes, walking helps.  True, carving out alone time makes a difference.  Saying no when I don’t have the wherewithal.  And saying yes when opening myself up to something out of my routine gives me renewed joy. All simple, but not always easy.  I am grateful for laughter and art as balms in this uncertain storm.  It allows me to come back to myself.  A place in which I can be kind to myself and others, understanding most of us are a bit wobbly as we try to regain our footing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Have a private Karaoke. Turn up a song and sing along loudly, releasing your inner artistic spirit. 
  • Get a small plant while practicing loving discipline.  Choose a commitment level by picking out a plant you can easily care for.  
  • Read a short story.  It gives you a sense of accomplishment without a long-term reading commitment.