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I’m wondering if any of you have seen this meme going around that says: “My desire to be well informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane”. I don’t know about you but I’ve been feeling that way since the beginning of the last presidential campaign season and it’s only been getting worse. My desire to be well informed is most definitely at odds with my desire to remain sane.

The news these days feels traumatizing in a way that it never has before. It seems as if things have just never been this bad. However, a quick glance back through time actually shows that things have been much, much worse at numerous periods in the history of our evolution. Looking back, David Barker, the author of A Crash Course in Big History reminds us that somewhere around 72,000 BC there was a volcanic super-eruption that exploded with the force of 1.5 million Hiroshima-size bombs. The skies darkened and global temperatures fell. Food sources died off, and the number of people left alive was reduced to around 10,000.

And of course there was the year of 1348, when in the space of 18 months the Bubonic Plague killed at least a third of the population of Europe.  Parents abandoned their sick children. Cadavers were left in empty houses and dogs tore at the bodies of the dead that lay unburied in the streets. That’s was a pretty bad time.

And what about the major famines in Asia and Africa, or the start of the extermination of native populations in the Americas or the trans-Atlantic trade in African slaves, the rise of European imperialism and Hitler?  1919 alone was a year of political chaos, social unrest, economic disasters, health epidemics, bloody race riots, and brutal government overreach. Much worse than today.

History is full of horrendously perilous times where crazy, egomaniacal, people have wrested most of the power and money for themselves and wreaked havoc on the rest. Ghengis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, Napolean, Idi Ahmin, Stalin, Kim Il Sung, Pol Pot, the list goes on and on. So with all the progress we’ve made toward eradicating disease, more rights for more people, better financial security for record numbers of people, longer lives, etc. Why does it feel to so many of us as if things have just never been this bad?

I know there is a contrast effect, in that when things are so good, bad things feels much worse than they would if things were hard to begin with. We here in the US generally have a very high standard of living and most of us have freedoms that are unheard of in other places or at earlier times in history. But I’m pretty clear that my own sense of despair and feeling that this must be the worst of times is much more related to the level of exposure that we’re subject to.

Back in 1348, no one was Tweeting about the Black Death. There was no minute by minute, breathless, edge your seat coverage of the 1919 Influenza epidemic, or the massive labor strikes of the Indiana steel workers. No one had yet figured out how news could be entertainment or a huge platform for selling soap. One needed to be to be literate, which was far less common than it is today, and to seek out a newspaper to have even a small chance of knowing what was happening in other parts of the county, never mind the world. Folks in rural Kansas didn’t generally know, and frankly didn’t care that much about news in other parts of the world that didn’t directly affect them. It was easy to keep your focus on what was directly in your own sphere of influence without being unduly upset by things you had no control over.

Today, it’s almost impossible to escape the news. Facebook feeds are filled with petitions to sign, phone calls to make, articles and arguments about everything. My gym has televisions all around with CNN, MSNBC, and FOX news running at every hour.  And, that so much of the “quote unquote” coverage isn’t even real news just adds to my distress. Much of what is so excessively accessible is slanted, biased, bought and paid for coverage. Or it’s totally fake news. Fear mongering and alarmist messages being used to try to control people’s opinions and beliefs.  It’s all become too much for me to weed through to try to separate truth from truthiness. In case you’re not familiar with truthiness, it’s a term coined by comedian Steven Colbert that means: The quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like. There’s a lot of truthiness flying around.

So I’ve decided that because my desire to be well informed is at odds with my desire to remain sane, I have to make a choice and I’m choosing sanity. If I’m feeling traumatized, sad, stressed out, and terrified, and convinced that this is the worst of times; I can’t possibly hope to show up in my life in any meaningful way. I need my sanity to do my work in the world. I’ve decided to make a conscious effort take some distance and to shift my attention away from all the bad news onto what’s good. Not to deny what’s happening in the world but to have my sanity at the expense of being a little less well informed. Like the song says, from a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land. From a distance we are instruments marching in a common band, from a distance even though we are at war, you look like my friend.”  Right now I think many of us could use some of that perspective.

As I wrote previously, one of the ways I’ve taken that distance is by disabling my Facebook account. I miss the intermittent feelings of connection I used to find there, but taking a break from Facebook has helped me enormously to get my focus off all the political strife.

used awareness. It’s important, because whatever one focuses attention on grows in our minds. Most of the news today is begging for us to pay attention to the horror. To what divides us. To what incites us. I’m trying something different. Fred Roger’s, of Mr. Roger’s neighbThere is a mountain of research looking at the role of attention in our lives. Attention is focorhood said that when he was a boy and would see scary things in the news, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” That’s a beautiful example how we can shift our focus of attention away from something awful to something uplifting

If we look for it, what is good and beautiful and uplifting is all around. One of the things I did to help me to shift focus was to sign up for a daily email from the Good News Network and Positive News organizations that collect stories of good and uplifting news from around the world. I read there about a man who for years has been going through the drive through at his local Tom Hornton’s muffins several times a week and always pays for the order of the person behind him.  Recently he was found and told that one of the people he had bought coffee and a muffin for had been planning to kill herself later that day and that receiving his anonymous act of kindness changed her mind. Wow. That’s good news.

I’m also reading the bi-monthly newsletter from Future Crunch another online media source that focuses on good news, specifically news that shows hope for our future. They ended the year by collecting 99 stories illustrating why 2017 was actually a great year. It was an incredible year for a serious rise in global health, and there were some stunning victories for global conservation as well as rising living standards for billions of people. And it was a terrible year for the fossil fuels industry and an amazing one for clean energy. And there are so many stories from this past year that reminded me, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” It’s so easy to forget that when we’re only focused on all that is happening that is so unjust. On all the things that divide us.

One of my favorite stories from the Good News Network was about a young aspiring rapper from Harlem who became friends with an 86 year old Jewish woman from Palm Beach Florida through the online game “Words with Friends.” After a year of the online connection, his pastor flew him down to visit her as part of her project entitled “Relationships Change Us.” And they do.

Research shows that regular feelings of connectedness lead to higher levels of happiness, lower levels of depression and anxiety, and enhanced physical health outcomes. Back in December, guest minister Kathleen Green talked about the human imperative for connection in her service “Connecting the Dots.” She told us that research professor Brene Brown defines connection as:  the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; Facebook is designed to mimic true connectedness but I don’t think most of us really feel truly seen, heard, and valued in the virtual realm. I’ve found that taking a break from Facebook has led to my reaching out more to really connect with my beloveds and that’s what really helps me feel sane. To really feel the interconnected web of life that we are all a part of. I do actually believe that  “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

Along with connectedness, a growing body of research is showing that gratitude, kindness, and self-compassion all contribute to better health and a sense of well being. These are all keys to noticing what makes the present moment the best of times. To practice gratitude, I like to write down one or two things, every day, that I appreciate and then I put the scraps of paper into a jar. Every month, I take them out and read them. It’s amazing how gratitude for my public library, or for my access to quality food, or the wifi connection that allows me to skype with my sister in Boston, can lift me right out of the black cloud of despair that threatens to overtake me when I think too much about the world’s bad news. I’d like to invite you to take a moment right now to remember something you’re grateful for and then turn to your neighbor and share it.  Doesn’t that feel great?

It’s so simple; just as kindness and self-compassion are simple; simple, but not always easy. When I’m caught up in my own stressful life circumstances and I’m feeling terrified about what’s happening in the world it’s hard to remember to be kind to others. My survival instincts kick in and my natural ego response is me me me. But when I make the effort to remember to be kind, to reach out and help someone, smile, hold a door, ask the grocery clerk how his day is going, maybe even pay for the person behind me in the Dunkin’Donuts drive through, not only do I feel better but who knows how it might lift someone else out their hard place. And I also want to be kind to me.

That’s the self-compassion piece. Compassion is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. So self-compassion is recognizing your own suffering and then being kind to yourself and perhaps taking action to relieve your own suffering. Shifting your focus away from what is horrible and outside your realm of control to what is uplifting and good is a practice of self-compassion. Seeking true connection with others is a practice of self-compassion. Paying attention to what you’re grateful for is a practice of self-compassion.
I have come to truly believe that these practices are the way for me to live in the present as it is and recognize that it is not the worst of times. It may not be the best of times either, but it is the time we are in. I can make choices and while I might not be the best informed person in the room, at least I’ll have my sanity.

 

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Facebook informs me that I joined the site 10 years ago today. They even made me a cute video to “celebrate” and of course, they’re hoping I will share. I’m certain that Mark Zuckerberg himself is having a little office party at headquarters in appreciation of my ten years of wasting thousands of hours on Facebook.

During those hours, I mostly see a lot of things that I don’t want to see, like upsetting news, political posts, or stupid (and every once in awhile mildly entertaining) memes or cat videos. It drives me crazy that any time I “like” something, a choice of clickable “related” posts, by various media outlets that I would never read, pop up next in my newsfeed. And it’s totally creepy that I will immediately see ads for anything I looked at anywhere on the internet; because I googled a question about how to care for a wool rug, I’m now seeing ads for new rugs. Ugh.

Very occasionally I see a personal share or photo from someone I care about and even more occasionally I share something that sparks a few comments. Likes and hearts are fairly meaningless at this point but if my friends actually engage with me or share something meaningful themselves, that gives me a feeling of real connection and that’s what keeps me coming back to FB to scroll my news feed several times a day.

Yesterday I read a quote by David Greenfield, author of the book “Virtual Addiction” that nails it for me. He says, “Your brain is guiding you toward rewards that you either imagine or hope will be there. It’s not conscious like ‘Oh! I’m gonna go on and see everything I want.’ It’s that you get rewarded intermittently, and you don’t know when the reward will be there, or what it’s going to be.” Bingo.

A feeling of connection is the reward I crave and I don’t think I’m alone in that. So many of us are isolated in our lives, living in our single family homes or apartments without true community or regular get-togethers with large numbers of the people we care about. My parents are gone, my kids live far away, most of my friends are not local, and my work life is very insular and doesn’t allow for reciprocal relationships outside of my office. I’m grateful to have a loving and supportive partner to share my day to day with and I actually enjoy my own company but I still yearn for more contact with my beloveds, thus I keep coming back to Facebook. But with all the garbage that most people are posting and the valueless ease of a “like” or some other emoji, the reward is seriously intermittent. Of course, anyone who understands how behaviorism works will get that this is the very thing that makes the draw so strong.

I keep saying I’m going to quit this FB habit and maybe I will. Right after I read everyone’s comments on this post.

 

 

 

 

As my 40th high school reunion approaches, I have so many mixed feelings. I’m looking forward to being with so many of the people who grew up alongside me; people who shared the experience of living in the “All American” town of Bloomfield during the same period of history. These are people who I went to Hebrew school with; people who had the same developmental milestones at the same time as me; people who listened to the same music, wore the same style clothes, and went to the same local restaurants and movie theaters that I did. And yet, these were not my friends.

It’s still bizarre to me that I’m “friends” on Facebook with so many school-mates that were not my friends during my high school years. I see photos of their lives, and their kids, and grand-kids. I celebrate their successes and feel compassion for their struggles. I “like” their posts and they “like” mine but I’m always aware that these virtual relationships are far deeper than any connection I had with any of them when we went to school together.

In 7th grade, the first year all the elementary schools came together, I struggled to fit in, wanting so much to be part of the “popular” crowd. I could never understand why some kids seemed to be accepted, invited to all the parties, clustering together in the hallways and sitting together and laughing at lunch. I spent most of the year sitting at the popular kids’ table with no one even acknowledging my presence. I was lonely and sad but I remember thinking that at least the rest of the kids in school would think I was part of the “in” crowd since they saw me at their table. Was I wearing the wrong clothes? What was it about me that made those kids decide that I just wasn’t going to be accepted? And what was it about me that made me want it so badly that I couldn’t seem to let it go and make an effort to find a group where I would fit in?

I eventually dealt with my feelings of rejection and loneliness by deciding I just didn’t care. I would march to the beat of my own drum and numb any feelings about it by smoking as much pot as I could get my hands on. By the time we got to high school, I had a boyfriend who was 6 years older and I wanted to be just about anywhere other than at Bloomfield High.  I was the classic under-achiever, getting A’s in English and Art and C’s in almost everything else. I can remember sitting in the back of Mr. Cunningham’s math class and reading a novel while he taught algebra. I skipped more school than I attended and I almost didn’t graduate because I had missed so many gym classes I didn’t have the PE credits I needed.

While I had one Bloomfield friend that I occasionally spent time with and there were a few people I partied with if we happened to run into each other at Penwood Park for sunset, I was basically friendless and without any real social life with my age peers during high school. I didn’t participate in any extracurricular activities, didn’t attend my prom, and was not once invited to anything by fellow students at BHS. Everyone else seemed to have tons of friends and a group where they belonged. If you had asked me, I would have sworn that I really didn’t care but still, I felt like there was something wrong with me, always on the outside looking in. I suspect that I didn’t appear that way to others, but the truth is I have no idea what anyone else thought about me if they thought about me at all.

Happily, I’ve grown from that wounded, lonely, angsty, teenager into a secure and confident woman. I understand myself at very deep level and carry deep compassion for my own painful experiences and know that there were others who also felt lost during that time. In my life today, I have a close-knit circle of friends, rich and satisfying work, and a loving family. I like and accept myself just as I am.

As our 40th reunion approaches, classmates are posting old photos and reminiscing about the halcyon days of friendship, fun, and feeling like family at our school in our very special town. But for me, those were not golden years and I’m not going to the reunion to re-connect with old friends.  I’m going to meet up with some new friends and to reaffirm to myself that these are the shining years and that the best is yet to come.

 

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 I first wrote this piece for my Facebook friends in 2010 and it showed up in my “Memories” today, right on the heels of a conversation I had with a colleague yesterday about the increase in numbers of young women we see in our psychotherapy practices who are suffering from weight, food, and body image issues. I’ve decided it’s time to share it on my blog:

Like so many women, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my body all of my life and until fairly recently, it’s been weighted pretty heavily on the hate side, no pun intended. Even as a pre-teen I especially despised my legs. Why did I have these lumpy, cellulite laden thighs when it seemed that all the other girls had smooth, shapely limbs that looked great in the requisite cut offs of the seventies? You wouldn’t catch me dead in a pair of shorts.

I was always a pretty girl and most of the positive attention I received, even as a little girl, was centered on my looks. I learned early on how to work that angle, becoming an expert flirt and using it to my every advantage. But like so many women, in order to maintain what I perceived to be my primary value, I also had to learn a whole series of disordered eating patterns as well as the habit of obsessive exercise. Thin was in and what I assumed was most desirable, but it took considerable effort to make a body that naturally wanted to be a ripe pear look more like a string bean.

Unfortunately, no amount of exercise or dieting could change my skin. Genetics dictated that I seem to be sadly lacking in whatever it is that makes one’s skin elastic. Where some folks’ insides seem to be housed in fabulous new spandex, my epidermis more resembles cotton; soft to the touch but easily stretched and little ability to snap back into its original shape.

After carrying and nursing two beautiful babies, even after I twice fought my way back to my pre-pregnant weight, the skin on my belly was left hanging like a cowl necked sweater. If I lay on my back, my once perky and swollen breasts completely disappeared into my arm pits. The stretch marks on my abdomen that once resembled a quickly drawn local map transformed into a full blown, detailed atlas. No matter how taut I kept the muscle underneath, the battered skin that had housed and fed my children just continued to fall, making the southward journey with increased speed as every year passed.

I spent my forties wrestling with the question of how I might move into the inevitable aging process in a graceful way given our youth, beauty, and thin obsessed world. Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote a famous book about the 5 stages of grief that people go through when they learn that they have a terminal illness. The stages are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Well, life is terminal and aging can make one face that truth and as I approached and turned 50, I watched myself cycling through these stages.

  1. Denial: I bought a push-up bra and always dressed in ways that covered the worst bits of skin.
  2. Bargaining: I continued to obsess over every morsel of food that passed my lips in order to fight against those extra pounds that would result from the slowing metabolism of aging and menopause.
  3. Anger: I raged against this culture that so values thinness and youth and smooth young skin, constantly furious at myself for continuing to buy into it even with all my awareness of the issues.
  4. Depression: yes.
  5. Acceptance: Over time, thankfully I find I’m having more and more. (and as I’m now pushing 60 I’ve finally, gratefully, landed in acceptance!)

All I have to do is think about my two amazing children, now adults and both living vibrant, full lives of their own, to know that my sagging skin is a small price to pay for bringing them into the world. They are the greatest source of the joy and meaning my life holds. And my heart breaks when I witness them, each in their own struggle to love and accept their bodies given our sad and deeply damaging cultural expectations. I want to be a power of example of a woman who can accept and love herself just as she is.

So I want to set an intention and share it with you all right now. I ask you to join with me in any part of this intention that fits for you.
Today, I will embrace and love my body JUST AS IT IS. I’ll remember with pride that my breasts and belly sag because I chose to nourish my beloved children. I’ll eat what I enjoy and focus on being healthy as opposed to thin. I’ll see the increasing wrinkles on my face as signs of wisdom and lines of laughter and joy. I’ll wear what I like and what’s comfortable, even if it’s not particularly flattering. I’ll continue to age with panache and grace!

Yes, I’ll wear my bikini with pride but it’s still pretty unlikely you’ll ever see me in a pair of shorts!

 

The Jordon Porco Foundation is a wonderful organization whose mission is to prevent suicide, promote mental health, and create a message of hope for young adults. I was thrilled to be asked to write a guest blog for them. You can read my post here.

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It is human nature to direct all our energy to feeling better. We have been taught to believe that pain equals danger and our survival instinct is to do whatever it takes to avoid pain. Our systems, both internal and external, are geared toward getting us away from pain as quickly as possible and the strategies we use are myriad and incredibly clever and often totally unconscious.

I sometimes wish I could be as blissfully unaware as so many seem to be but, leading up to and in the aftermath of the election, I’ve been watching myself cycle through my own go-to ways of avoiding and relieving pain. Even as I write this now, I see how I’m using the attempt to order my thoughts and feelings in writing, along with the idea of sharing it with you, as an attempt to feel better. Sure, I hope something I say might also help you but primarily I’m seeking relief from my own suffering.

I’m suffering because I’m sad and afraid. I’m afraid because I am a Jewish woman, mother of a gay daughter, and a friend and ally to many people of various already marginalized groups. I’m a professional therapist who sits daily with the pain of sexual assault survivors and victims of domestic violence. Today I see a world where instead of moving toward a more loving and healing understanding of differences, so many seem to be ignoring, if not inviting, the growing atmosphere of hate and intolerance.

I’m heartbroken that we now live in a country where because of the presidential campaign and its result, many people feel as if permission has been granted to attack women, people of color, LGBTQs, Jews, or Islamics. I do not believe that everyone who voted republican is a perpetrator, but it’s scary and sad to know how many people continue to ignore or deny that this is happening with even greater frequency than it already was. I am terrified and grief stricken that so many people appear to place their fear of their own financial insecurity before the basic rights to human dignity for all people.

I’ve been bouncing all over the place in my thoughts, feelings, and actions but really I know that I just have different parts of me that have differing ideas of how best to protect me from drowning in the fear and sadness that seems to be threatening to overwhelm me. These protectors believe that if I fall into the fear and grief I cannot survive. These parts of me are afraid that those feelings will kill me or that a suicidal part may take me out because for someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, suicide is the final solution; the ultimate protective strategy to avoid the pain of living.

It’s hard enough to keep awareness and sort through my own internal system’s struggles with how best to handle the truly terrifying state of our world today so witnessing with awareness and holding compassion for everyone else’s ways of managing their pain has been extremely challenging for me. In the context of my work, I can hold that space fairly easily and open heartedly but beyond that, my tolerance for people’s various strategies for trying to help themselves feel better has been fairly low. Even though I myself have been engaging to some degree in everything from trying to focus on the positive and what good can come, to self-righteous anger and needing to take immediate action, to rehashing what happened and what should have happened, plus more than a small dose of Netflix and chocolate cake, I’m having a hard time witnessing everyone else doing any of these things. I keep saying I’m going to stay off of Facebook, but then I go back, hoping to see something that helps me to feel better.

Fortunately, I have a big part of me that knows that I can actually tolerate the fear and the grief. This part of me knows that if I welcome it in and just sit with it for a while, allow the tears and the shaking to come, I will not die or want to kill myself. In fact, I will begin to heal more quickly and be better able to be fully present in whatever life brings next. But I still have many parts of me that don’t know this and I’m watching as these parts do their best to keep me from feeling the depths of the despair that threatens to take over.

What I really want is just a little space to allow myself to feel the pain. Feel the fear. Feel the sadness. Cry. Don’t be all wise or inspiring or impassioned. I want to be with some folks and sit Shiva for the world. I’ve tried to find that space for myself but it’s been hard to find people to share that with. It’s too hard to just be in the grief of what we have lost and the terror of what’s coming next. People don’t want to do it.

There’s lots of outrage and organizing; plenty of discussion about next steps happening, protesting and letter writing. I applaud that and I understand how it helps people to feel better when they jump into much needed action. But I’m not ready for that. I need to just feel what I’m feeling, even though it hurts.

If this resonates for you, I encourage you to gather and make a space for grief. Put the organizing and action planning aside for just a moment. Get off Facebook and get into someone’s living room. Find a place to share food, to pray, light candles, cry, dance and sing together. Let’s honor the sadness and the fear, acknowledge the cycle of life and then, from that place of healing, go forth and stand for what you believe in.

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We must not lose hope. We must believe that we are having labor pains and it hurts like hell and sounds like murder but ends with the birth of something amazing and new.

ON THE 2016 ELECTION

When my daughter was growing
inside me, my belly big as a boat
barely navigating the narrow waterways
of life, I remember the terror
and joy I felt from her amphibious
flutters, tiny feet and hands
that seemed to swim upstream,
deeper into the dark of my womb,
as if she knew that soon
she would have to face the vast landscape
of our magnificent, mutilated world

where wars blaze like late summer wildfires
whipping in the wind and we wander
lonely, so many homeless, hungry, fighting
to survive beneath the dark canopy
of an endless sky of stars so bright
we cry out in awe to see one fall.

When my water broke, the flood
tide of life’s liquor pooling at my feet,
I bellowed like a wild animal caught;
howled as I fought to expand
into each agonizing contraction,
the tender skin tearing jagged
and wide, a bloody new avenue from
inside me to this spectacular earth.

I cradled the tiny babe, spilled
out with that last push, still slippery
and shining from the swim. Drinking
in the deep blue of her new eyes
I listened to her crying voice
raised in greeting
and in protest
of all that would follow.

Penny Field

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Today’s big news is that Britain votes to leave the European Union. My first reaction: Where is my opportunity to vote to leave the things that I no longer want to participate in? Sometimes I think I would like to separate myself from almost everything happening in the world today. I know this thought is rooted in fear; of course I want to just escape everything that scares me. I suppose I could leave Facebook, as I am so often tempted to do. At least then I wouldn’t constantly and instantaneously have in my face every little piece of horrible news (true or not) when I’m simply hoping to see something that will make me feel a little closer to my many beloveds who live far away; but I’d miss all those adorable cat memes.

I understand how terrified people are and that it is a survival instinct to do whatever most quickly allays the fear from anything that seems to be a threat. Anger, denial, greed, blame, and sticking with those who are just like you can seem like the way to security. Separatism can feel safer than anything else. I get it. But still it is horrifyingly shocking to see such a surge in blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, violence, poverty, and corruption in the world today.

The truth is, I have been struggling deeply with what to do with the feelings I have about the state of the world and people’s reactions to it. I feel myself slipping into my own private pool of despair and I’m paddling like mad not to drown. I can get caught in the downward spiral of berating myself for not being more of an activist and getting out there in the world in some kind of major way to “be the change I want to see.” I can think that my way of being an ally to the marginalized and downtrodden or the individual work I do sitting with people in pain somehow isn’t enough. I often worry that I lack the wisdom to know the difference between what I must have the serenity to accept and what I must have the courage to change.

I could get on a soap box about the media or our political system and how we’ve all been bought and sold etc.  I could also go on about the psychology of fear and human nature. But so many other people sell those suds much more articulately than I ever could and I really don’t want to feed into the focus on how we’re all going to hell in a hand basket; in fact, I’m desperately grasping for anything that gets me out of that basket even for a moment.

I am finding that I need to make a conscious effort to attend to what is good and beautiful in the world. I can notice how the late afternoon sunlight is dancing with the shadows on the leaves of the maple outside my window and how my whole house (yes! I have a home!) smells deliciously of the garlic I’m roasting for the dinner I’ll soon share with my beloved. I don’t really want to leave this life, no matter how scary it is, so as the poet Adam Zagajewski tells me, I must try to praise the mutilated world. I need to ignore the screaming sirens of scary news between the picture of my friends’ vacations and new born babies instead of leaving Facebook because I need those connections. And I need those videos of laughing babies.

TRY TO PRAISE THE MUTILATED WORLD  (Adam Zagajewski )

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
One of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion waited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtains fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
And the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

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A few months ago I glanced up at one of the many TV sets scattered around my gym to see a woman on QVC selling a line of “fashion clothing.” The pants on offer were an elastic waist, large pocketed polyester blend model that came in a rainbow of lively colors, as well as faux dungaree material, and whose length allowed for possible oncoming floods and insured the wearer need never worry about tripping on them. And, of course, there were also an array of loose flowered tunics and complimentary vests for mixing and matching on offer.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the memory of cleaning out my mother’s closet after she died last year. I found myself crying, right there on my yoga mat in the health club, recalling bagging up her countless pairs of ankle length, elastic waisted pants. I felt such grief in that moment, thinking of my Mom and her later in life wardrobe. When exactly had she made the shift from stylish, well-tailored outfits to what I could only think of as Old Lady Clothes? And why?

In that moment, I swore to myself that I would never ever dress that way. I would wear pants with a real waist band, zippers and buttons until they were patting dirt on my face. I would be the fashion forward forever woman who ages with grace and beauty, holding on to my personal style of the perfect balance of form, function, and comfort. My daughters would never feel the sadness of carting off bags of my old lady duds to the Goodwill, I vowed. In fact, they’ll want my clothes for themselves when I’m gone.

The next weekend I went to visit my in-laws in Rochster, NY. I don’t go with my husband all that often but my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s; I know that there is a limit to the time when she will still know who I am so I suffered the 6-hour car ride. There is still a brilliant, highly social, intensely judgmental person somewhere behind her ever more confused eyes but she can no longer place herself in time or keep a thread of conversation on a straight seam. A published author, she has heartbreakingly lost the ability to read, although she carries a book and an old New Yorker magazine with her at all times.

I spent a lot of our visit helping her in the bathroom. She has mostly forgotten how to use the toilet (thank heavens for Depends!) and she is befuddled by buttons and zippers. Once fit and trim, most of her clothes are uncomfortably tight on her widening frame. To avoid her confusion, we discovered that she often sleeps in her clothes and wears the same outfit until her 3-day-a-week aide arrives to give her a shower and help her change. Over the weekend, I dressed and undressed her just as I did for my little girls thirty years ago. “Arms up!” as I lifted her shirt over her head and grabbing hold of a foot or a hand to guide it through the appropriate sleeve.

It was clear, at the very least, she needed new clothes; ones that fit comfortably and were simpler for her to navigate. That QVC line flashed in my head and suddenly I understood my own mother’s choice of apparel. While her dementia was mild, her arthritis and degenerative disc disease was not. Of course at some point she would choose clothing that saved her aching fingers from the intricate work of buttons and zippers and felt comfortable on her pain ridden body. What hubris for me to imagine that I could somehow choose to avoid the need for ease in my own fashion choices if I’m lucky enough to reach my elder years!

Growing old is no picnic although it usually beats the alternative. It’s especially arduous in the youth and beauty obsessed culture we live in. It’s hard enough to manage the increasing aches and pains and the decline of sharp sight and wit as the years wear and tear at our bodies. Add in the insult that gravity takes on the flesh and the extra pounds that tend to accumulate as time passes and it’s a painful equation. I’ve decided that the best formula for my own fortunate advance towards old age is a combination of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a large dose of acceptance, even if it eventually means accepting a closet full of Old Lady Clothes for me.

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It’s been a long time. Apologies to those of you who have been anxiously awaiting my next post (right.) After five years I’m imagining you thought I must of died. Or given up writing all together. Of course, there’s nothing possible in between those two choices that might have accounted for my disappearance on WordPress, right?

Yes, many things have happened in my life in the time since my last post. I have traveled to Europe, the Middle East, and across the US. I have been to Burning Man.  I have seen my mother through several years of dementia and remained by her side until her death last winter. I have watched my daughters grow into fascinating, deep-thinking, completely financially independent (!) women out in the world following their own bliss. And I have sat for thousands of hours with people in pain and held them in compassion (and I hope with great skill) in my private psychotherapy practice.  Life has been full.

You might be wondering, as I have many times, “Why not write about those experiences?” Didn’t I promise that I’d be sharing stories here to help uplift my readers and that I would challenge myself to do it even though I’m sure I have nothing new or Earth shattering to say? How did I so quickly renege on my commitment to blog about progress, not perfection?  I do have so many things to say about what I continue to learn in the very rich life that I lead.

So let me share a little about my adventures with writing over the last 5 years.  I want you to know that I’ve struggled. As I’ve in a previous post, I have a part of me that is a staunch perfectionist. And I have a part of me that loves to write. Those two parts are not friends. In fact, they are often at war with each other and the easiest way to reach detente between the two is to not write. Perhaps you can relate. Most people have different parts of themselves that are opposed. We often experience that as the feeling of, “Part of me wants this but part of me wants that.” Well part of me wants to blog, and part of me wants my writing to be perfect. Not a good match.

One of the reasons I decided to blog in the first place is that writing in a vacuum isn’t appealing. I’m not someone who will quietly fill pages and pages with poetry and prose and never feel the need to have anyone read it. And I judge myself that I’m not a “real” writer if I don’t feel like I have to write whether anyone reads or not. I want interaction. I want to be read. Like most people, I want a mirror that says, “You’re the fairest in the land!” or least, “You don’t suck.”

Recently, in an attempt to kick-start my writing again, I signed up for an online class. Each week there was a theme to write on and we shared our work with our fellow classmates and the teacher giving and receiving feedback, all in written form online.The rule generally was: only positive feedback allowed. There I was, craving the magic mirror and getting it, but also knowing that I had no chance for improving my work if I only received accolades. Quite a conundrum.

And isn’t that how it goes in life? We all want those gold stars and blue ribbons but they lose their meaning if everyone gets them every time. But after brief stint with with a writing coach who unkindly told me that my poetry was not really poetry, and mocked the poets I admire,  I’ve decided that I need to find a teacher who can give me good honest feedback on my writing but do it with kindness and compassion. The Bhudda said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’m ready for a mentor who can say what they mean, mean what they say, but not say it mean. Meanwhile, until the teacher appears, I’ll keep writing and hope you’ll be interested enough to read.

 

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