Doing & Being, The Third Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I have salt lamps in my home and work offices.  They are supposed to have a calming effect with the soft pink glow.  I also have a host of self-help books with recommendations on ways to be happier, less stressed, or healthier in every way.  There are not enough hours in the day to prepare and slowly enjoy nourishing meals, move our bodies, meditate, document our thoughts, our habits, our gratitude, mindfully practice yoga, recycle, enjoy nature, be nice to everyone, call our friends, practice aroma therapy, see our health professionals, read or listen to the news, laugh, bring some art into our lives, be creative, be informed, be conscious, relax, be generous, and be happy.  I am overwhelmed living my best life. 

Making a choice to care for myself in one way means I’m making a choice to not do something else.  Perhaps it’s another way of caring.  Resting means I’m not working out.  Working out means I am not relaxing. And so on.  

Nonetheless choices have to be made.  The best I can do is be present in whatever I’m doing.  I see it as checking in with myself and my environment.  What is happening?  How do I feel?  Am I paying attention?  If not, can I refocus?  If I had to describe this, I would say it’s being in the moment, or “beingness.”  It sounds very new age, and perhaps it is in some sense.  But I think more in the tradition of artisans who customarily have singularly focused on their craft.  

Being a psychotherapist has been helpful in learning to be in the moment.  I find it’s essential to listen with intention.  Even when a story has been said before, it has never been said in that moment.  Can I hear the changes? Can I see what connections are being made?  This has been useful.  But since not everyone is a psychotherapist, nor do all psychotherapists practice the same way, each of us can find ways to choose what’s appropriate for any given time as we awkwardly make our way to live our best lives.  

I, for one, will keep my salt lamps burning.  Do they help?  Though I don’t know the science, I do like them, and that’s good enough for my best life.  

Self-CareTips:

  • Do something that brings you joy.  Notice if you can be aware of your mood, sensations in your body, what’s going on around you, and anything else associated with the joyful activity.
  • Make a conscious choice to not do something.  How does that feel?  Can you be present even as you are not doing whatever you’ve chosen?
  • Hydrate.  We tend to forget to drink water or other hydrating liquids in the winter.  

What’s For Dinner? Second Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I was preparing dinner as I do many nights.  Last night was pesto glazed salmon and garlic-marinaded skirt steak with sauteed spinach, garlic bread, and a spicy salad.  Thanks to Marion Zinn, my mother-in-law, I have the best marinade for the steak.  She was a wonderful hostess and served many delicious dishes.  Conversely, my mother would get anxious when hosting guests.  Nonetheless she deserves a shout out as an excellent baker. All three of my siblings and I have fond memories of annual birthday cakes baked from scratch, stored on a glass cake plate with an aluminum cake dome.  I used to cook and bake regularly, but as life’s responsibilities expanded, my domestic duties dwindled.   

Sometimes, though, I want to have a home cooked meal.  I shopped at the farmer’s market gathering some ingredients for dinner, and foraged the refrigerator for the rest.  Even as I began the prep work, I remained hopeful for a nice dinner.  Inevitably, by early evening, I was forgetting one thing or another, and my hope slipped to a tepid aspiration for a good enough meal.  Perhaps it’s this feeling along with my full schedule that diminishes my fondness for cooking these days.   

I realized, which might mean I’m late to the game, that planning, and subsequently serving, dinner is a process that mimics the complications of caring for oneself and perhaps others.  First there’s the consideration of taste.  What do I like?  What does Larry like?  Are there foods that appeal to us as the same time?  If not, what variations do I make?  Will I challenge myself with a new recipe or will I rely on the tried and true?  Not only does flavor matter, but so does nutrition.  I’m not a stickler that every meal meets the daily requirements of a balanced meal plan. However, I do like to have a variety of tastes, textures and basic health guidelines met.  

Now and again meals are more fly by night, others are indulgences, and more often meals are simple and easy to put together after jam-packed days.  I always enjoy good food.  I’m flexible in that I truly enjoy an array of possibilities from vegan to Omakase, and so much in-between.  I prefer local and organic, but I also shop at Trader Joe’s appreciative of their vast and changing selections.  One thing is for sure, I prefer choices, as I do in so many parts of my life.  

In getting dinner together, last night and previously, I’ve noticed the range of feelings I experience.  I start out hopeful, I have moments of frustration, periods I feel relaxed and trusting, and times I get annoyed, wishing I was being served rather than doing the serving.  And I challenge myself to get through the feelings of anxiousness closer to putting the meal on the table.  All in all, it replicates the processes I go through in other areas of my life, which include the original idea, the thought process and the execution.  So much stuffed into a quotidian endeavor.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Recipe for Marion’s marinade: ¼ cup olive oil, just less than ¼ cup cider vinegar, 3 Tablespoons or more of soy sauce, ¼ cup honey, lots and lots of chopped garlic, ½ teaspoon grated ginger (can use fresh, jarred or dry ginger if that’s what you have) Enjoy!
  • Take an everyday activity and break it down, checking in to see the array of feelings you have throughout the process.  Can you insert kindness and care when it feels uncomfortable?  Are you able to go with it when it feels pleasant?  If so, acknowledge yourself.  If not, see if you can make room for whatever comes us.  
  • Chapstick. It’s a great way to get through the winter.  Choose from a host of aromas, flavors, textures and ingredients. Find the one that’s good for you.  

The Compassion Diet, Week Fifty-Two in the New Abnormal

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Should we end this year and start the new year with resolutions?  For me, the answer is no.  I will think of what I’d like to let go of, and how I will be caring to myself and others, but there is no declaration in that.  What I have been thinking about as I view commercials and advertisements enticing us to try new weight loss pills and programs is the mixed up past I, and so many of us, have had with messaging around food, eating, and the lack of joy in caring for ourselves.  In the spirit of that, I am thinking of a diet of compassion.  Not a food diet, but nourishment, nonetheless.  

When looking up the word diet, I found the restriction in its definition.  But I also found that the origin of the word “diet” comes from the Greek word “diata” meaning “way of life.”  I like that.  We can incorporate compassion as a way of life.  It’s a wonderful concept because it addresses all aspects of our lives.  And, on this diet of compassion, we could bring compassion at any moment.  If we find we’re being hard on ourselves, we can notice that.  Then we can fold in compassion as a way of care as we go through something difficult.  

Compassion connotes respect.  It is a way of acknowledging ourselves and others that we recognize something may be difficult.  We see that we and/or they are in pain, and we take a caring stance.  It does not mean allowing a hurtful behavior to continue.  But we can appreciate that whether we are being insensitive to ourselves or others, it probably means we are hurting, and our behavior can clue us in on that.  Once we make note of that we can insert a generous dose of compassion.  It may take time and the courage of vulnerability, but we will emotionally soften with the effort.  And when others are mean, rude, disrespectful, or uncaring, we can do our best to choose to get out of harm’s way. If possible, as we exercise silent compassion for the pain they are in.  We can also, double down on compassion for ourselves for being in harm’s way.  

So, as we finish this difficult year off, and as we begin what we hope will be a gentler year, let’s all enjoy a diet of compassion.  No deprivation, just love and respect.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Create a jar or a box or a journal in which you write down good times, happy experiences, and joyous moments.  Then, you have a record of those times at the end of 2023.  (This was taken from The New York Times’ where it was reported Martha Johnson of Maryland Heights, Mo., had the idea to create a jar labeled “Good Stuff in 2022. 
  • Keep an old-fashioned pen and pad by your bed so if you wake up and think of something, or forgot something, you can write it down, allowing you to return to sleep without any blue light.  
  • Move one thing from your to-do list to the “I’ll try to-do list.”  This way you can ease into it, and give yourself a break, rather than forcing something that only makes you feel critical of yourself.  Of course, whether you can move it or not, whether you get it done, or not, be compassionate with yourself.  That, too, will be a kindness.  

Emotions During the Holidays, Week Fifty in the New Abnormal

I was in an emotional tailspin earlier this week.  I could tell I wasn’t in the right headspace as I kept thinking of past mistakes I’ve made, times I’ve previously hurt friends, and ways in which I had poor judgement. I was not coming out a champ.  More like a chump.  The negative barrage is not unfamiliar, but it happens less often than in former years.  By Tuesday, I knew that I needed to clear my head so there’d be space for self-care and kindness.  Luckily, I had my weekly therapy session.  

I became a therapist 25 years ago because of the help I received in therapy.  I learned a lot about myself, sometimes painfully conscious of how my choices perpetuated circumstances I had wanted to change.  Yet, year after year life got better.  So much so that I came to value mental well-being. While the descriptions of being overly sensitive in my family and social life were seen by others as detrimental traits, they are the very qualities that ensure I’m in the right field.  

My self-criticism earlier this week was important because it not only told me to continue to do the emotional, psychological, and spiritual work to be less judgmental to myself and others, but it was also a reminder of the depth of condemnation I internalized. 

As we carry on through this holiday season, we will find it imperfect.  There will be lovely moments, as there was when I walked past the Rockefeller Christmas tree late at night.  But there will be times when we’re stressed, when we feel as if we’re not enough, or when we might be disappointed with failed plans, substandard gifts, or family members acting out.  If we find we’re being hard on ourselves in those moments, perhaps we can all give ourselves the gift of benevolence.  Let’s give ourselves and others the benefit of the doubt.  We got through a pandemic, we’re still dealing with its aftermath, and there’s a big push from retailers and social media for these holidays to be fabulous.  

Let’s settle for being real rather than make believe.  There may be flaws in the realness, but there will also be true joy for accepting what is. 

Self-care tips:

  • Get a post-it pad and write “I am Enough” on as many pages as you want to post.  Put it inside your medicine cabinet, on the fridge, in your sock drawer, in your wallet.  Write it on your calendar.  Remind yourself throughout the day that yes, indeed, you are enough.  
  • Rather than trying to let things go, see if you’re able to think about letting it be.  It doesn’t mean you’re not working on it, or you’re helplessly accepting something that is bothersome, it’s just that by letting things be, we don’t have to take an immediate action.  We are not required to DO anything, which is a way of giving yourself a break.  
  • Do something for someone else that is anonymous.  It’s a gift to yourself to be happy to give freely without any need or expectation for something in return.  

Arrgg, Change; Week Forty-Seven in the New Abnormal

A couple of days ago I installed an iPhone update.  I find this new format annoying.  I get it, things change.  But sometimes the changes come all at once and too fast.  I just wasn’t ready for a new change, small as it is.  

I often hear from spiritual leaders, meditation teachers and self-care gurus that change is inevitable.  Just this week I was listening to Dan Harris and Anushka Fernandopulle speak of the impermanence in life on the Ten Percent Happier App.  I meditated in it.  And I was as calm as I could be following each mediation.  The idea of impermanence is appealing.  It helps us accept whatever comes our way.  At least that’s my philosophical take.  But when I encounter change in real life, as much as I apply the concept of perpetual change, the reality feels very different.  

One would think that my spontaneous side would embrace change.  And when it’s a small change, I’m okay.  But when it’s a small change like an iPhone update in a time of big changes, it feels less okay.  I’ve been agitated.  I overshare.  Truthfully, it’s more over-complaining than sharing.  And my self-care is more on the impulsive side rather than a thoughtful consideration of what’s needed given these changes.  

As we shift into holiday mode, which can upend our regular routines, I will do my best to be patient with myself.  Yes, change is inevitable, and living with change is unescapable. Feeling my irascible emotions while going through change is my challenge.  I’ll do my best to bring patience and kindness in those moments.  And, when I don’t, I will have many more opportunities to learn how to cope with kindness since change will predictably show up again and again.    

Self-Care Tips:

  • As the holidays approach, make a list of what you enjoy most and what you can change that will bring some ease to the holidays.  Feed the joy of the season, while letting go of the parts that rob you of that joy.  
  • Remember to thank those who have been generous of heart.  Sometimes small acts make a huge difference.  Saying thank you perpetuates kindness.  
  • When feeling frustrated or upset in the face of a change, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself what you need.  If you’re able to give that to yourself, great.  If not, then see if there is anything else that will bring ease at that particular time.    

Busy or Not, Week Forty-Two in the New Abnormal

As Autumn has created an uptick in activity, I am both excited to get out more and apprehensive as well.  The surprising outcome of the pandemic was that I enjoyed my quiet time.  What was surprising about it was that I lived a busy life and enjoyed juggling a schedule that allowed me to partake in the best New York City offers.  The theater and museums were a mainstay for me.  When everything shut down, I questioned how I would get on.  The answer was very well.  

Now, I am grappling with my desire to do less and my yearning for my old life.  Being busy has its merits.  There was always something to look forward to.  I love the arts and was wowed by so much of it.  And, if there was something I didn’t like, it didn’t really matter because there was something else around the corner.  

However, taking things easy, enjoying peace, finding calm, and not being on the run provides a type of ease I hadn’t known I was missing.  I am challenged to find the balance between good times out and savoring staying in.  

When life circumstances change we learn new things about ourselves.  In this new abnormal I wonder what I will learn about myself.  I am curious to see how I can listen to what’s best for me, whether it’s a performance or a nap.  I had learned how to check in with myself more these last couple of years.  Yet I am flummoxed when it comes to ambivalence.  Do I want to make dinner tonight by taking advantage of the largess from the farmer’s market, or do I want to keep it simple so I have a rare night off?  

For tonight I’m making dinner and foregoing a dance performance.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Check in with yourself a few times a day to see what you’re experiencing and how you feel.  Checking in regularly helps during more stressful times when it’s easy to forget that checking in slows things down. 
  • When you’re in a quandary, rather than trying to figure out via the facts, try seeing how you feel physically when responding to the options.  
  • Cook, put together, or order something different for a meal.  We change our thought pattern and possibly introduce something new to enjoy.  

Make it Quick, Week Forty-One in the New Abnormal

I did something Friday that I haven’t done in well over two years.  I went to the movies.  I, know some of you are more intrepid than I and have ventured out to see what viewing on the big screen well before this.  I specifically went to the Soho Film Festival to see a short film produced by my friend Jackie Schwartz and starring Mischa Dani Goodman, a friend and previous co-worker of Larry’s. An unusual but not surprising coincidence.  It was a late night, and I rarely stay up late, but I’m glad I did.  

All seven films were excellent, and the best was saved for last as the audience laughed and thoroughly enjoyed Unbridaled.  There’s nothing like relishing the creative endeavors of those in our lives.  Best of all is being able to watch short films that provide a great deal of content in such a short time frame.  I find that true for certain essays, poems, and short stories, as well.  For me it’s like a mini cupcake, all the goodness of the regular size, and just enough to completely satisfy.  

With a busy schedule, I find that brief encounters can also provide meaningful exchanges.  A short, spontaneous meeting running into a friend can be the highlight of the day.  A planned get-together for a quick meal is always sweet.  In line with brief experiences, I’ll make this post brief, more like an hors d’oeuvres than a cupcake. Shall we say a pig-in-the-blanket?  Or, for my vegan friends, a mushroom wrap.  A quick hello at a cocktail hour.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Listen or watch a quick podcast.  They pack a lot in to a short amount of time
  • Go to Netflix, Amazon, or another channel to view a short film.  You’ll be happy to have given yourself the treat.  
  • When you begin to feel stressed, take 30 seconds or a couple of minutes to do a quick mental body scan.  Start at your fee and move up your body checking in to acknowledge the physical sensations. That alone can bring ease.   

Walking in the Rain, Week Forty in the New Abnormal

Dear friends, acquaintances, and strangers in Florida, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other hard-hit areas are cleaning up the devastation left in the hurricanes’ wake.  The strength it takes to put ones’ life in order when ones’ home has been decimated is extraordinary.  It takes a particular type of courage to face hardship not of ones’ making.  

            Having to put forth grit to come back to the lives we’ve had, not only takes stamina, but it takes a private inner force to move forward.  These were my thoughts walking in the rain this weekend.  I realized how fortunate I was to be able to walk in the rain. I may have been wet and tired, but not stopped by the power of a weather system.  

            So many of us have had to pull everything together to return to lives changed by trauma, familiar to what was, but not the same.  Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to realize the strength we didn’t know we had.  Other times feel beaten down by hardships.  And then there are many times we’re worn down even as we find the inner resources to build anew.  

            I will probably be walking in the rain in the next few days.  I am hopeful that I can sustain my gratitude for the luxury of a light storm rather than a hurricane.  But I also know that hurricanes will hit us at some point, and I will find inspiration from my friends who have been through dark times before me.

            Self-Care Tips:

  • See where you can help.  If you prefer specific one-to-one giving, gofundme.com has many personal requests.  Unicefusa.org, is providing assistance.  The Atlanta based natural disaster fund, care4others.org is hands on.  Or give to your favorite relief cause. 
  • Cultivate a gratitude practice.  This can be a daily gratitude journal, a meditation practice, or create something on your own.  Gratitude softens our defenses.  We can commune with our humanity.  
  • Sigh!  There’s a great relief in sighing aloud.  Do it again.  Even more relief.  

Happy Jewish New Year, Week Thirty-Nine in the New Abnormal

The Hebrew Year 5783 is upon us.  It’s a celebration of new beginnings.  Sometimes called the great reset.  We have a tradition of bringing bread crumbs, which symbolize our sins, down to the river to release them so we can start anew.  For me the letting go of the recent past to move on is an unburdening.  It’s a kindness we can give ourselves in letting go of what we deem to be opposed to our values.  It’s a personal forgiveness so we can live better lives through right action.  

I love the symbolism in this act.   Not only do I affirm the wrongdoings of this past year, but it holds me to a higher standard, which I appreciate.  Even if I lose my cool when I get upset and don’t take a moment to pause, or I unintentionally hurt someone, I am still one step closer to learning from my missteps. 

Life is filled with lessons.  I have a friend who always reminds me when I get frustrated or upset with someone, that they are my Buddha.  That person is there to teach me if I’m willing to learn.  When I just want to be right, I have the opportunity to bring compassion for myself and others.  In those moments, I’m not so thrilled to embrace the lesson, but with time, especially on the eve of this New Year, I am motivated to try again.  

Self-Care Tools:

  • Find a way to let go of things you’ve done that you have a hard time forgiving.  Create a ritual that will assist you in forgiving yourself while learning from what was done.  
  • In place of being hard on yourself, or justifying hurting someone else, be gentle and kind to yourself, and in turn, to others, easing any internal criticism. 
  • Dip apples in honey.  The apples symbolize hope and abundance, while honey symbolizes sweet possibilities for the New Year.  

Exotic Minnesota, Week Thirty-Six in the New Abnormal

It’s cool, clean and sunny in downtown Minneapolis this morning.  I am taking my time this morning on this solo vacation.  Yesterday I went to the largest state fair in the country on the outskirts of St. Paul.  Wow! It was definitely not an experience to be had in the Big Apple, which made it a truly exotic experience for this New Yorker.   I entered in the morning and left as the crowds swelled in the early afternoon.  The grounds were sprawling, and I got lost any number of times leading me to impressive displays of award-winning crafts, deco buildings, and backstage settings.  

Everyone was friendly and respectful. There were long lines for fried anything including but not limited to corn dogs, alligator, twinkies, and a popular favorite in dairy country, cheese curds.  I chose to avoid lines and find my meal outside the fair gates.  Most impressive to me were the multiple exhibits of award fair award winners.  From hand carved canoes to creative sandwiches, there were ribbon winners in so many categories I couldn’t keep count.  Though, the butter sculptures were busts of some of the blue-ribbon recipients.  They were being displayed in the dairy building.  

After a slow stroll through the midway, I was ready to go.  The crowds were swelling.  Since I left New York City to get away from crowds, I decided to sacrifice fair sites unseen for a quieter walk through Minnehaha Falls Park in St. Paul.  This was another experience I wouldn’t have in Manhattan.  Yes, we have small falls in Central Park, but the majesty of the Minnehaha Falls, as well as the expansive network of pathways in the park are unrivaled in my city. 

My first day in Minneapolis was capped off by an impressive meal at Owamni by The Sioux Chef.  That was a very special meal I could only enjoy in Minneapolis.  It features creative Indigenous cuisine, much sourced from local areas.  A great way to end a long and far-off day.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Allow yourself to get lost on a walk or drive.  Then explore what you would never have seen or known had traveled the familiar path. 
  • Give a stranger a smile.  It may take a small measure of courage, but it can brighten their (and hopefully, your) day. 
  • Nap.  We are a busy society.  Taking time to rest is a kindness we can give ourselves.