As we approach a year in semi-lockdown we’ve been filled with powerful emotions. Social niceties often allude us as we exchange suspicious looks with masked strangers. We don’t have to dig deep to touch upon anxiety or aggravation. They are neatly placed on the surface of our emotional reservoirs. Our tolerance level has been masterfully challenged. And at times our sustained tolerance is losing ground. Well-wishers tout positivity. I am all for optimism. Heck, I write my blog with self-care tips. But when we’re on the edge, as we often find ourselves in this pandemic, the last thing we want to hear is how lucky we are.
When I feel blue, I’m resistant to hearing that I should be grateful for what I have. And, if we’re being real, most of us have had blue periods in this time of Coronavirus. I’m not saying that gratitude isn’t important. I have an active daily practice of gratitude, and it’s been invaluable. But I do believe that we have to be where we are. When we force gratitude or self-care on ourselves or others, we negate the real experience in that moment. I know things are tough when I’m easily annoyed with little slights. Telling me to let it go, just adds to my exasperation. If we’re going to find hope or gratitude at all, we have to start with where we are. We can’t always make the leap to positivity because someone else is uncomfortable with our irascibility.
When we are able to acknowledge the hardships and upset that we’re experiencing, then we can move on from there. Each of us deals with this differently. Sometimes I can yell into a pillow, cry, and take a walk. And in doing those things I find myself in a lighter place. Other times it takes a good night’s sleep. Or I need to talk in therapy or to a friend. When I do, I have the wherewithal to be delighted by small kindnesses. Just this week strangers made room for narrow paths in the snow, and neighbors waited at the open door while I carried in my groceries. It was lovely. Their kindness allowed for an ease of gratitude. When I have the bandwidth, I, too, will do what I can to ease someone else’s load. And, when I don’t, I’ll do my best to have patience with myself, remembering that we’re living through a pandemic.
Create a list of complaints. Sometimes we need to unload. Be a complainer, write down what bothers you. Give voice to your agitation. If it helps, tear it up, or cut it up, then throw it out with force.
Growl, sigh, exhale loudly. Sounds give voice to our unheard feelings. (If you live with others, warn them first.)
I delight in ______ (fill in the blank)
See if there is a way to make room for whatever you filled in above. If not, see if there are any first steps you can take to have or do whatever you delight in.
Stop what you’re doing. Pause. Ask yourself, “how am I doing?” It’s always good to check in with yourself. It’s good information to have even when you can’t take an action to address it.
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.
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.
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.
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….
In years past I looked forward to Christmas because I knew that I’d sing to strangers in the morning, see a movie in the afternoon, and enjoy a Chinese feast in the evening. I didn’t have the pressure to visit family or put on a fake smile for the gift I would never request. But today I’m relaxing. As a busy New Yorker, quick to fill in an open slot with a museum visit or a show, I eschewed relaxation as an unnecessary commodity. I lived by Warren Zevon’s song title, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” No more. It’s been a great day. Resting was required, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
It’s so nice to change things up. I know I can create rules and then feel like a slave to something that may have worked 13 years ago, but doesn’t fit into my life now. Somehow as a teen and a young adult I felt the need to prove I wasn’t lazy. I was happy to volunteer and humbly speak of my “good works.” I needed to show the world that I was, in fact, a productive member of society. These days, though, I am much more comfortable life’s contradictions. I can be busy at times, and relax when I need to. I am not so keen on denying my laziness now. It was a very special Christmas for me. And, in my own small way, resting was a miracle, a miracle worth repeating