Mindfulness

I’ve been attending meditation at least once a week with the JCC community in Manhattan. This is such a lovely respite. The other day, I had a small victory when, during my meditation, I heard the kids talking loudly in the kitchen. I wanted to find out what was going on: were they fighting? Laughing? I stayed in my meditative state.

When I am on one of these JCC zoom sessions, I can see that everyone else is sitting comfortably, yet I am enjoying meditation in a sivasana pose. So be it.

When this whole covid thing started, one of my first inclinations was: “Great, I’ll use my free time to become a certified life coach.” I’ve always wanted to do this. After all, I love encouraging people and helping them find their authentic purpose in life. But as the days, weeks, and now months, have worn on, I’ve begun to lose my life-long learning mojo.

This morning I perked up again, as I read about workshops in MBSR, mindfulness-based stress reduction, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, offered at medical centers and hospitals everywhere. The eight-week course begins with mindfulness — sitting, breathing, becoming aware, letting go of judgment. The outcome is that as you develop skills consciously, so these coping strategies seep into your unconscious life and improve your knee jerk response to life’s daily challenges.

I like this because I am constantly choosing to be less defensive and reactive. I allow myself to have human feelings without judging myself harshly. It’s so simple and yet, it can be so hard. In getting myself help in my daily mindfulness practice, I can then help others. And they can help others. And so on.

Daffodils

The morning light
hit the daffodils at the dining room table.
Flowers that my mother-in-law planted
decades ago,
Years before her grandchildren – my now adult children – were born.
What do you plant?
What is the gift of beauty
for descendants
or daughters-in-law whom you have yet to meet?
Plant kindness.
Treasure hope.
Look for signs of spring.

My mother in law’s daffodils
Those who plant kindness shall gather love.
In memory of Charlotte Weaver Jones at the local library.
Where I write, in the morning light.

Some Say

Some say the world was shook like a timepiece on its side

What’s that called again?

drifting, falling sand in a time thingy?

It doesn’t matter. Words don’t matter.

In the mornings, I’ve watched the birds

I hear their screeches calls pitches as if nothing’s changed.

I watch

I wait

It is not forever in a moment

It is only shifting sand. I lose words.

Loose words.

Words take their own meandering path.

Words, at a loss.

Picked up by birds

Flying where?

I will watch

Wait

Shifting, falling sand in an hourglass.

Oh, Thank God! That’s the word – hourglass.

I thought I’d lost it.

Shifted, shook untimed time in an hourglass beyond the sun when the dawn or dusk swoops like sand

falls

drifts

drops

done

timeless time in a moment. Now.

Coloring and sleeping. Restoring and replenishing.
Walking. Watching. Waiting. Travels with Charlie.

Why here?

About ten days ago, I got my hair highlighted at Jean Louis David. As I was leaving, I saw a friend, an older neurologist, getting his haircut and he said that his spouse was coming up to Westport the next day. A voice inside me cried, ‘Can she take me with her?’

But then I remembered my three kids and the dog we were planning to dogsit. My connections. One of my daughters was returning the next day from college and the other was uncertain if her college was going to reopen as planned.

That night I helped at the church soup kitchen. Then the kids met me and we walked to my son’s climbing wall. That was the last time we were in a group of more than our core family unit. My one daughter and I climbed very briefly, then we shopped.

And now we’ve landed here.
Why here?
Why now?
I think that there is something about this place in the Adirondacks. It is where we came after 9/11. It is where I was when Hurricane Sandy hit.

And when my friend Mary suggested the escape from NYC and connected with me one week ago today, I jumped. We moved up to Westport, NY on Saturday night.

Because, like with 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy, once again, the world changed over night, didn’t it?
Our indoor rock climbing jaunt was not even two weeks ago. But it was a lifetime ago. It was another world. One we knew would change. Change for good? We wait.

The climbing wall is definitely a great metaphor for this moment. ‘We grab a hold, not that one, this one. stretch this way. scamper up. use every bit of strength you have. use every possible move. like chess but with your body. find your toe hold. hang on. if you fall, land gently.’

Tough times can spark depression. It’s possible that if you’re not depressed right now, you’re not paying attention. Yes, there’s depression and there’s planning and gratitude. Of course, immensely grateful for the medical workers, grocery clerks, sanitation workers. My beautiful, crazy kids, this crazy dog.

Let me add: grateful for car rental companies and gas station attendants. I bought milk on the four or five hour trip north on Saturday night. Overflowingly grateful for my sister-in-law who’s been caring for Chris while he shelters in place in Florida with her.

Having a spouse with physical challenges is hard enough. Disability is hard enough in good times. Extra hard in tough times. Still he and I talk by phone every day. We say, I love you; It’s going to be okay.

I find comfort in the beauty and the softness of nature as the world came / comes crashing down.

I write these thoughts by setting my timer for ten minutes. Creativity and nature and community and friends will save us. They already have.

A week ago I jotted down this list:

1) write thank you notes and birthday cards 2) journal 3) make a schedule 4) eat well 5) slow down 6) take the news in small doses 7) notice nature 8) check in with the olds 9) read 10) foster an animal 11) make art.

Charlie – our dog for a couple of months.
View from the office this morning.

You are special

This!

“You can’t do what I do,
but I can’t do what you do either.
That’s why we are both important to the plan of God.”

This quote from Mother Teresa, heard by my friend Fr. John Cusick and shared this morning on his Lenten reflections Facebook post, reminds me, firstly, that there are so many things that I cannot do. I cannot sing, speak Arabic or Spanish, wire electricity, move mountains, provide hospice care, trade bonds, nurse a baby, or climb a high ladder.

But there are also real gifts that I do have. There are many things that I do really well — write, edit, teach, laugh, encourage, walk, dance, paint, and advocate for justice.

When I was a kid, we had a poster in the kitchen, something like: ‘You are beautifully made. God doesn’t make junk.’ I believe it was a contemporary version of the Psalms: ‘You are beautifully and powerfully made.” This poster always made me feel good. Because, you know, sometimes we all feel worthless. But if we’re made in the image of God, we can’t be all bad. And I do believe God was so happy when God made us. God said, ‘wow, this is good,’ not just when the great saints, like Mother Teresa, were made, but when you and I, ordinary saints, were made. That warms my soul.

See, every day is a chance to start anew, to take ordinary actions in this extraordinary moment in history. Write the new story. Find the new way. Seek higher ground. Unite rather than divide.

And in telling your story, choose to emphasize your gifts and the talents of those around you. Do not belittle yourself. Or bully those whom you perceive as weaker. The other day when the boys I teach were gossiping a bit cruelly, I reminded them, “Do not be like vultures, eating at the tragedy of others.” I know it’s a graphic image but mean-spirited gossip is like that — a bit of a foul feast. And the boys paused when I gave them this image and I hope that they asked themselves whether they were dining on roadkill or stopping like a Good Samaritan to help some fellow animal in need.

For we are only human animals. In our shared humanity, we can find and celebrate our own gifts and the gifts of others.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Poster

After seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood the other day, I was inspired by Fred Rogers and told a third grader C. who was struggling with a grammar problem, “You’ve got this. You’re special.”

“I hope so,” C. replied, a bit indignantly, as if it was so obvious how special he was. It made me smile. I hope today finds you smiling at the wisdom and gifts of those around you, too, including yourself.

Stay with the Team

Stay with yourself. Don’t go anywhere. It’s tempting to check out — to join the mob of hatred towards those whom we consider ‘other’ — be they those folks on the far right or the far left. Whoever sees the world opposite from us could be seen as the enemy. But maybe you can learn from the ‘enemy.’ If you are one who runs away from this kind of conflict, stay and join the good fight. If you fight too much, check your ego, calm yourself, and carry on.

Do not go away. Do not seek to numb your rainbow of feelings with drugs, alcohol, gossip, social media, television, food, easy hatred. Stay present for the feelings — like the weather, they will pass.

In times of conflict within my family, work, or country, I feel called upon to be a peacemaker and at other times, I feel, “Oh, why the hell should I bother?” I have so much to give, but I sometimes feel that my contribution is not valued. I am such an amazing teacher, photographer, writer, deep thinker. These gifts are not nothing, but often my contributions are not sought when teams form to strategically think about an organization’s direction. And this is one of my strengths, based upon that Strengths Based Learning leadership Academy thingy we did at the General Board of Global Ministries. I am frustrated when I am asked to do very little when what I want and have is so much to give.

My cure for this malady has been to form my own team, to be my own boss, to write my own words, to teach my own classes. But another strategy is to apply this thinking which I learned from the theater world — ‘there are no small roles, only small actors.’ What if I fully, one hundred percent, throw myself into my small and supportive roles? Would that help my lingering resentment and my wounded ego?

Or am I supposed to totally abdicate the ego? I doubt that I can do this as I am not Buddha or Jesus. I am an aging woman in 2020, hoping to make a positive difference in a difficult world.

When your ego is broken down, how do you build yourself up?

Recently, I have been acutely aware of how my participating in teams has carried me through. I loved my work with the marketing team at GBGM. We strategized and made amazing campaigns. Same is true for my SPSARV work and peeps. And for my Boot Camp for Writers team.

After my father’s death a couple of months ago, the school where I teach offered a weekday Catholic mass for him. About a dozen of my friends attended the 30 minute service and we went for a quick coffee afterwards. This team of friends comforted me. See, I could’ve gone to the mass alone. I could gone through life alone. But I asked for a team of friends. I need community. I need my people.

Who is your posse? How do you use teamwork to make the dreamwork?

Today’s bike ride home-cold and clear.
Nothing like a team of friends.

The Gifts of Growing Older at Work

Teaching is seen as a young person’s game — maybe it’s the sheer physicality of it — the bending down and looking at papers on short desks or stooping to have eye-to-eye conversations with rugrats.

Despite a possibly dwindling supply of energy as teachers dash between classrooms, older teachers bring truly needed gifts to schools. While many school administrators might be attracted to the enthusiasm and malleability (is that okay to say?) of young people, older people still have the zip and a growth mindset, as well as the patience and wisdom, of their younger colleagues.

Older people may also bring a larger connection or network of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, having spent years building up their rolodexes, filofaxes, and then, moving all those hard copy contacts to their LinkedIn sites. And of course, the best PR for any school or non-profit is word of mouth. If a school or biz wants a good rap, give the older people in their employ somethings to brag about. Let them brag about the awesome intergenerational mix of employees. It’s so good for teachers to model for their students how older and younger teachers work together and learn from one another — true examples of character-building and growth mindsets, attributes we all love to see in one another.

Total generalization here — but it seems to me that people over 55 are slower to anger. Working with kids requires a ton of patience and a great sense of humor. These are some of the reasons I love my second career of teaching.

Sadly, one former older teacher colleague has said that he stopped learning some of the lower school and younger teachers’ names because they come and go so quickly. I believe that older teachers stay longer, have more loyalty.

Not that anyone asked, but I would advise all teachers to:

  1. Learn each others’ names
  2. Keep up with their professional reading
  3. Stay positive about the contributions of all faculty, seasoned and fresh
  4. Make friendships across generational lines
  5. Realize that teachers of all ages can master tech in the classroom
I photographed this radiant couple a while ago at my favorite cafe, Margot Patisserie, on the Upper West Side. It’s true — everyone looks beautiful when they smile. Especially old people.

Was inspired to write this after reading the Sunday NYTimes interview with the founder of Encore.org

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Maya Angelou