Life is Beautiful, Living is Hard; Week Thirty-Eight in the New Abnormal

I woke up this morning to a stunning sunrise.  I slept well and was in a better mood than I had been the last couple of days.  Sunrises bring hope.  They help me to begin the day with gratitude.  The day is lovely.  It’s warm enough to avoid outwear, but cool enough to enjoy the breezes on my walk.  The outdoor cafes are filled with happy brunch diners.  The city is moving along nicely.

Even so, as I appreciate the days, I am also struck by the enormity of personal pain and struggle we have had to endure.  Some are dealing with illnesses, others chronic conditions, still others are doing what they can to manage mental illness for themselves and loved ones.  If that weren’t enough, there are financial concerns, and there are individual hardships.  Too many people are bullying others because they can’t soothe their own pain.  Others are simply unable to sit with uncomfortable feelings, so they act out, scaring others. 

I notice that I’m more sensitive these days.  Loud noises, and there are many, especially the raucous cars and motorcycles in the city which startle me again and again.  I feel like my radar is on high alert since there are more vehicles including dirt bikes, scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, and racing bikes, as well as cars whose drivers don’t abide by traffic lights.   

I feel so fortunate for good friends, family, and amazing work colleagues and clients.  I still love New York City, despite the cacophony that pollutes my ears.  Nonetheless, I am acutely aware of the everyday difficulties we endure, whether we live in or outside a city.  It’s been tough.  We can take refuge in those glorious moments when we gaze upon a sunrise or sunset.  We can enjoy a good laugh.  And we can be moved by the courage we witness.  It doesn’t take away the hardships, but it does give us a little something so we can continue forward in our beautiful and hard world.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stop.  Sometimes we forge ahead and forget that a break will help us in the long run.
  • When you feel that you’re at your breaking point, step away.  Even if you can simply take a few breaths, create a small space between you and your inner pain.  
  • Keep it simple.  It’s easy to blame ourselves when things go wrong.  Instead simply identify that it’s a hard moment, and if you hear a critical thought, simply say, that’s a thought, I will not add it on to this difficult time.  

Scaffolding, Week Thirty-Four in the New Abnormal

Pre-Covid, I took a wonderful writing workshop with Emily Raboteau at the Key West Writer’s Workshop.  Not only was it a beautiful setting, but the guest speakers and the workshop itself were invaluable.  One thing Professor Raboteau taught us was the necessity of proper scaffolding to support the writing.  It took time, but I built my scaffolding.  It’s been more precarious than proper, but I worked with the materials at hand and I’m finding my way.

In terms of all types of scaffolding, New York City brick buildings must be inspected every five years.  If they need to have new bricks to replace the old, scaffolding goes up and the work begins.  Such is the case for our apartment building.  It’s a messy job that clogs air conditioners and gets dust between closed windows.  Nonetheless, safety comes first.  I’m hopeful the scaffolding is safe for the workers and protective for pedestrians.  Though It adds a dark, ominous feeling coming from and arriving home.  

Even so, as the many workers toil in the August heat laboring their way around the building, it has brought to mind the importance of creating scaffolding, not only for writing and edifices, but for our lives.  Supportive friends and family are great members of our scaffolding.  But the care we can provide ourselves is essential. Sometimes I do a better job than when I’m avoiding my feelings, or caught in anger, resentment, or victimhood.  Walking, meditating, reading, delicious, nourishing meals, are some of the nuts and bolts of my scaffolding.  Writing has become part of the foundation.  Laughing is a daily essential, though I forgot my sense of humor last night.  

I’m glad I noticed that so I can fix it today.  Just as the buildings in the city need inspection and improvements, my precarious scaffolding requires daily upkeep. Perhaps after a good cry, I’ll dance today bringing in music, while laughing aloud.  My scaffolding makes room for emotional variations.  Feeling those emotions is a crucial element of my scaffolding.   Let the progress continue…

Self-Care Tools:

  • List what elements of scaffolding you already have in your life.  Then add small supports that will augment your list.  
  • Remember to laugh whenever you can.  And, if you lose your sense of humor, do whatever helps to bring it back.  It will lighten your perspective
  • Thank workers for what they do.  Our lives are supported by all those who successfully do their jobs.  

Moods Ebb & Flow, Week Twenty-Eight of the New Abnormal

The cycling of moods continues.  Today I’m happy.  It’s beautiful outside.  I get to walk on fairly empty sidewalks, and I’m ticking things off my to-do list.  Earlier this week I was crestfallen.  Too many tragedies and so much shared pain in the world.  I find it fascinating how the ups and downs shift from day to day.  Well, really, from moment to moment.  

The good news about these shifts is that I know when things are particularly low, they will rise again.  And when things are going well, I can appreciate them, understanding the fleeting nature of my feelings.  Impermanence used to feel like a threat.  I was always aware of the inevitable loss of something good. Luckily, given the fullness of time, I see things differently now.   I understand that there will be other occasions of highs and lows, and that I can plan to give myself extra care when things are tough, and I can delight in the glory days when they show up.  

I’m grateful that it’s been a good day since I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But even a good day for me, may not be good for someone else.  If I’m feeling strong, I can listen and learn from someone in a different space.  But, often when I’m not at work and it’s been difficult for me, I don’t have the wherewithal to take in the troubles of others.  That is when I have to set limits.  It’s not easy since I don’t want to hurt someone else. And, yet, I know I will be hurting myself should I extend myself past my limits.  In that case, having the courage to say “No” to someone else is a huge Yes to me.  A simple but challenging kindness I can give myself.  

Self-Care Tools:

  •  When you notice that your inner resources are scarce, see if you can lessen any interactions with those who require more of your energy than you can spare.  In this way you can build up your strength for whatever is to come.  
  • Listen to music that meets your mood.  Move to that music, whether it’s a simple sway, or a more vigorous dance.  
  • Surround yourself with those who are genuinely happy for you when things go well.  Their generosity of heart can be empowering.  

Compassion vs Disregard, Week Twenty-Seven in the New Abnormal

Thurgood Marshall said, “The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.”  Yet what I’ve experienced in the last months and perhaps years is an eroding of compassion and care for others. So many are getting annoyed with others, some acting out in ways that are harsh and harmful.  This preponderance of disregard for other’s human frailties is hurtful to all of us. 

I am not immune to a general sense of annoyance for people that aren’t mindful of others.  After having a negative emotional reaction I spend time and effort to bring caring kindness to myself and work on having compassion for those who bother me the most.  It’s an imperfect process.  Nonetheless I find it helpful.  

The pandemic, plus many social and financial inequities have left us feeling burdened.  And when we look for support, it can be hard to come by since many of us are among others who also feel burdened.  

I don’t know that there is a perfect solution, though I wish there was.  What I do know is that the more vulnerable to others’ ire I feel, the less I have access to inner resources that help me get through tough times. Therefore, having patience with myself, doing my best to be thoughtful to others, and staying connected with and expressing compassion help me get through my days, especially when I encounter insensitivity from others.  

Perhaps this is the time we can move from a disheartening crisis of callousness to bring forth a much-needed time of compassion.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Try the RAIN (Recognize, Acknowledge, Investigate, Non-Identity) mindfulness practice.  You can find it on Tara Brach’s site, or at Mindful.org
  • Practice loving-kindness meditation.  You can find it at SharonSalzberg.com, YouTube or at Mindful.org
  • When you have the thought, “What’s wrong with me?” or What’s wrong with you?”  Rather than answering that question which has negative implications, ask, “What is happening now?”  or, “What am I experiencing?” These questions open up an inquiry, and are gentler when things are difficult.  

Dashed Plans, week Twenty-Five in the New Abnormal

Our best intentions don’t always go according to plan.  I had all weekend to work on a project.  I planned on spending this weekend, as I have in the past, writing and rewriting to meet a deadline.  Lucy, who is my constant companion loves the cooler air and asked to be taken on walks more than usual. Once we were outside she was happy to let the breeze mess up her hair as she sat on the sidewalk.  

I, on the other hand, had a job to do and if she didn’t want to go for a walk, then I needed to get back to work.  She was having none of it.  As a dog, she knows nothing about responsibilities.  She knows what she likes, and she likes to be outside.  

When I finally made it back inside after the third walk/sitting, I was exhausted and knew that a short nap would give me the fuel to keep going later.  My naps usually last 20 minutes or so, this one was more like 45 minutes.  I was startled awake by Larry, who was supposed to work late tonight, giving me more time alone to write.  

That was not to be.  His schedule changed and he is happily enjoying a Bosch episode in our living room.  I will not be alone tonight to get my work done.  My initial reaction after a lovely day, though not a productive one, is to curse under my breath.  I can be rigid.  And when things don’t turn out the way I expect them to, I tend to be cranky.  I blame myself or someone else.  

But there is no one to blame.  Lucy is a dog.  I love her and she was so happy to be outside.  Larry is my husband, I love him, and he’s so happy to have the night off.  Rather than blame myself, I will do my best to be flexible.  

I will figure out how to reach my goals.  I try to make the distinction between a problem and an inconvenience.  This is no problem.  Yes, I was inconvenienced today.  But it was a gorgeous day.  The work is waiting for me to complete.  And I will.  Perhaps I’ll start early tomorrow after getting a bit more done tonight.  Sometimes creative writing can be about creating the time to get it done.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When annoyed, assess whether it’s a real problem or a mere inconvenience.  An inconvenience can take the sting out of the emotional mix
  • Strengthen your ankles and support your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds each.  
  • When plans change or your expectations aren’t met, get creative.  Create a new way to find enjoyment or meet your needs with the circumstances at hand. 

Post-Vacation, Week Twenty-Two in the New Abnormal

I don’t like the phrase at the end of a vacation, “Back to real life.” I think vacations are real life.  It’s a break from the everyday, but enjoying that break is very real. Coming back to my work and apartment, and New York City after this vacation was a terrific reentry.   

What I will take away from my vacation, and the Galapagos in particular, is that everything has an impact. That systems change and even if we think of the good in the short term, the long term might not be served by our actions.  This is nothing new for me.  I do understand if I savor a delicious meal but eat beyond my hunger, I’ll be uncomfortable later, even if I don’t want to end the delicious mouth experience.  In the same way if I read the news, I’m informed, but if I keep digging for every opinion piece on any given subject, I can become over saturated and can start to feel anxious.  

In the same way, if I push myself to be “productive” I end up having to redo some of what I’ve done because my good judgement wains.  Slowing down actually helps in my productivity.  I will do my best to remember that, too, from vacationing.  And, if I don’t, I need look no further than an impulsive purchase or a task I must do again.  

I like the idea of balancing rest with activity, another take-away from vacationing.  I will continually identify and work on calibrating that balance with the demands of life between vacationing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When rushing to get everything you need done, slow down by taking a couple of breaths and then do the next thing focused on each step in the moment.  
  • When hungry, chew slowly, savor each bite, and listen to your body for signs up satiety.  Stop when you feel full.  
  • Turn on music when busy or when you’re able to uplift everyday chores.  It brings joy to the mundane.  

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

Reparenting This Mother’s Day, Week Nineteen in the New Abnormal

Though cards, commercials, and media would have us romanticize motherhood, the truth is Mother’s Day can be stressful for so many.  Whether families grapple with mental illness, death, physical illness, the court systems, mismatched needs of child/mother, in-law drama, or whether there are reproductive issues, or other circumstances that make the day difficult, allow for kindness and caring while enduring the day.  

My Mother’s Day started out with a tepid shower.  Very unsatisfying.  I was looking forward to a longer, indulgent shower, washing my hair, and deciding which light aroma of my foam soaps I might choose today.  Instead, it was a quick and uncomfortable in and out.  I cursed while drying off.  But my coffee was ready and it’s delicious.  

Can I move from one moment to the next without holding on to upsets?  That is my challenge, as it has been for a long time.  Will I be able to feel the abundance in my life rather than focusing on what isn’t happening today?  I will do my best.  

As I go through this day marked to celebrate parenting, for better or worse, I think I will focus on reparenting.  Reparenting is treating ourselves with loving kindness, employing patience, and compassion.  It’s part of my daily mindful practice.  And, thank goodness it’s a practice since I haven’t, nor do I expect to, perfect loving kindness.  It’s an imperfect practice.  We’re imperfect, worthy of love and continued care in all our states.  So, I wish you a Happy Reparenting Day, no matter your relationship to motherhood.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write down at least three things for which you are grateful.  Gratitude journaling supports a feeling of abundance.  
  • Soothe your senses.  Choose a fragrance, stretch, listen to beautiful music, or eat something delicious. It’s a small, kind gift to delight your senses,  
  • Find a meme, card, affirmation or anything that acknowledges your worthiness.  

On Repeat, Week Sixteen in the New Abnormal

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Life isn’t linear.  I had always hoped I’d solve what I considered to be my problems, and then live a quality life.  The truth is that we revisit issues time and time again.  Even when we think we’ve beat it, it will show up unexpectedly.  Perhaps it’s why the movie Groundhog’s Day resonates for so many of us.  

We are trained early to think that we’ve failed if we have to repeat lessons.  In school if we fail a grade, it must be repeated.   We are not taught that relearning is nothing shameful.  It would be much more helpful should we be told that repeating grades can be as useful as moving ahead.  Can we learn that somethings bear repeating?  

I have a difficult time learning steps.  Dance classes did not come easily.  I much prefer workouts that don’t include dancing.  Yet, I love dancing on my own, when I can move my body to the music.  In some cases, not on the beat, but with the mood rather than the tempo, I feel joyous.  That joy is robbed when specific steps are introduced.  I go into my head and my physical attunement goes out the door.  

That doesn’t stop me from trying to learn.  Luckily at this age I can laugh at my difficulties, at least as far as dancing is concerned. Of course, there are other lessons that I continue to struggle with, even if I understand what might help make it easier.  

I put together a Seder for our small family.  I didn’t over prepare.  And I kept telling myself that I should write a list.  I never did.  I had forgotten to open the horseradish, which I then couldn’t find.  I looked everywhere in the refrigerator.  Larry kindly volunteered to go out and get a new jar.  He had to walk a few blocks since we don’t live close to a food store.  This all happened when we were about to begin our short Seder.  During clean-up we found the horseradish on the counter where I left it to open it before the meal.  Also, the spinach remained in the oven forgetting that, too.  

It all worked out. We enjoyed the spinach yesterday.  But I know myself. Through the years I’ve come to find that I am well-served keeping lists.  Yet I refused to create one for Passover.  The forgotten foods were a needed reminder that lists help me.  

I will continue to face issues, big and small, that seemingly repeat again and again.  While I used to berate myself for what I could or “should” know., now I am grateful that I can learn from ostensibly familiar mistakes. It may seem like the same old issue, but it is new in this never lived before time and space.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Try something that might seem difficult for you.  See how it feels.  Follow it by something that seems easy, and compare the sensations you experience, and the emotional response to what comes easy as opposed to what is more challenging. 
  • Keep lists if you like.  They are a terrific tool.  It feels gratifying to cross thigs off your list as you complete them

When faced with a familiar life lesson, keep it in the present.  In the same way you have never breathed that breath before, see if you can be in the moment with something that tends to take your mind into the past.  Notice what is new or different in this 

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.