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.  

Week 16 in the Time of Coronavirus; Attending to the Mundane

While social distancing, and quarantining when necessary, I have experienced, as we all have, moments in which we are faced with small but necessary tasks.  Cleaning for me is one of those responsibilities that feels great when it’s done, yet I procrastinate getting it done.  This weekend I had to defrost my small office freezer.  It’s not so difficult as it is annoying.  And, even on the annoying scale it’s pretty low, especially when we have to deal with so many annoyances while going through this Covid-19 period.  Nonetheless, when the ice trays can’t be removed, and my Tito’s bottle is stuck, both from neglect, as well as frost accumulation, it’s time to take on the mini fridge.  

The nice part about it is that I can do it in stages.  First stage is to empty out everything from the refrigerator.  Mostly it’s water bottles, beverages, and condiments.  I place anything that needs to be kept cold in a bag.  Then I turn off the unit, open the door, and place a large, absorbent towel in front to prevent flooding.  Next I haul the bag one and half blocks where I place it in my apartment fridge.  From there I went on a walk.  

I loved the walk.  It was a hot and humid day yesterday.  So I walked a bit slower into Central Park, then north on the bridal path, and uptown once again to the shady north woods along a brook.  It was quiet and peaceful.  I try to take paths I don’t know.  It’s fun to get lost and see things I might not have seen before.  Or, find that I can see them from another vantage point.  After I was satisfied and tired, I trekked back home. When I made it to the Eastside it started to rain gently.  Perfect.  The streets empty out, yet the precipitation is light enough to barely get wet.  I could smell the musky, sweet aroma of a storm to come. 

 

I was instantaneously brought back to summers of yore when I would be playing outside and had to run in, sometimes getting my red Keds wet in the process.  It is a routine perfumed scent, yet very specific, bringing joy to me as I made my way back home.  Once home, I saw that the rugs needed vacuuming, and I had just enough energy to get that done.  Again, a mundane task, yet I recalled all the weekends as a child I had to stay in until I finished my chores.  One was to dust and vacuum the living room, a golden carpet under staid furniture that barely hosted activity.  

There is much in these small moments, these mundane undertakings that recall memories.  Today I went back to my office to wipe down the refrigerator and restock it, remembering broken freezers in my 20s, and impromptu parties so the goods wouldn’t spoil.    These mundane projects remind us that getting through this time of the Coronavirus connects our troublesome present with our past, as well as hope for a safe future.  A future when we can blend banal moments with pleasurable diversions like walking in Central Park with a friend.  

Self-Care Tips

*Read poetry. There’s everything from accessible poetry like Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and  Maya Angelou.  Or, other forms such as Rumi, Nikki Giovanni, Mark Doty, and Shakespeare.  There are also really funny and fun poems, if you’d like to lighten your day.  Elinor Lipman on FB has very funny poems (they have a left slant).  Or, go basic like Dr. Suess, Shel Silverstein, or Dorothy Parker.  

*Decorate a mask.  Make your mask your own.  Draw lips, or if you’re okay getting messy, put on bling and sparkles.  Enjoy presenting your creativity when out.  

*Hydrate.  Being outdoors in the summer can be fun, but staying hydrated allows for even more fun.  If you are opposed to drinking water, find flavored, unsweetened water or make your own.   I find fresh mint leaves in my water or iced tea is really refreshing

*Clear up one small area in your space.  Whether you tackle a drawer, or simply straighten up your work area by going through some papers and making it a bit tidier, it will help to bring the smallest bit of mental space.

*Be silly.  Find the playful child in you.  

When Will This End? Coronavirus Blog 5

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We’ve hunkered down and we’ve stayed the course.  We’re tired, we’re unfocused, we’re cranky, and we’re over it.  Yet, caring for ourselves and making sure we’re all well is not a one-time deal.  I hate that.  In all things I prefer to go after something, get it done, appreciate what I’ve accomplished and then, Bam, I can go on to the next thing.  Take cleaning.  It’s been a great distraction to clean.  My office is sparkling.  My closets are in order.  Yet when I was dressing this morning, I saw that things were not exactly the way they were when I refolded and cleared out my drawers on Friday.  And when I got to my office today, I could see dust accumulating again.  Cleaning can be great, but it’s a never-ending job.  And, that’s pretty much how it feels to move on with life during the Coronavirus.

I didn’t think it would be easy to cancel all my plans, work remotely, and live in a small apartment with my family, each of us with our own style of being.  Nor did I know that who I thought I was prior to the Coronavirus needed an update during social distancing.  I am more defensive, and less productive than I imagined I’d be at the start of this.  I have to dredge up self-compassion from well below the self-criticism that has become the proverbial inner-chatter.  I need more sleep.  I’m reading less.  I’m deleting emails with recommendations on best practices now.  There’s too much to read, watch, and engage in.

My impatience, and, I imagine, the impatience of so many of us, to “get on with our lives,” is a disruptive hum as we go on with life as we’ve come to know it.  This is a process fraught with uncertainty.  Our minds like definitive answers, and there are none now.  It is challenging to stay in the moment, living for the now.  And we’ve come to understand that the only thing we are certain of is the uncertainty.

Unconsciously, to combat the uncertainty I’ve been hard on myself. It’s an old habit that comes out when things get tough.  We all have old behaviors that sneak up on us when we’re stressed.  Some of those behaviors have taken hold as we march on in quarantine.  My challenge is to name it, and to then bring compassion, patience, and loving understanding to myself, even as my thoughts veer to benign cruelty.  I don’t like that I’m mean.  So, I’m working to do better.  It is an on again off again process.

Though I’m not 100% grateful for this, one of the gifts of this prolonged social distancing is that we can work on self-care in a way we might have missed out on before.  My moods and negativity are now front and center.  Making incremental changes that will help me to live life with more consideration, more care is a priority at this time.  And, as the announcements come in prolonging social distancing, I am given more time to employ compassion moment by moment, day by day.

 

A few simple exercises in which I’ve engaged to prompt benevolence to an impatient mind.

 

Stretching – It allows me to feel my body but it’s gentle.  Sometimes I add sound, like a Sigh, a groan, or an Ahhh to it, for a more substantial release

Taking a Moment – I walk away from whatever I’m doing.  This helps to see something from another vantage point.  It allows me to look at something different, and in this new view, my mind shifts.

Breath – I know, I know, it’s so pedestrian.  And, yet, focusing on our breath, whether we choose focused breathing or some other form or discipline, gives us a pause, and creates a bridge to a calmer moment.

Drink a glass of water – Getting the water and drinking it gives us a chance to recalibrate.  Not only do we hydrate, but we take ourselves out of the negative moment into something more neutral.

Turn on a Song and Dance – Moving changes everything.  I might cry or smile so big.  It’s a mood changer like no other.

 

 

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