Category Archives: Creativity

Show Up, How To Advocate — Part 2

What You Can Do Now Training
photo courtesy of Ashiaray.com

For those of you are trying to focus on a way to make a difference, I offer Part II on Training To Make A Difference. I’m grateful to those of you who weighed in on my last blog and offered feedback about how difficult it is to focus on one issue. Scrambling events, scrambled minds seems to be the order of the day. All the more reason to call upon what is common knowledge about mindfulness— to pause, take a deep breath, and seek resonance to what calls you.

SOLIDARITY is the byword: Pick an issue you’ve never thought about, and show up

Initially, I scratched my head at this suggestion and then, thinking about the big picture, the element of weighing in, the surprise of commonality made sense.

  • It’s as simple as showing up. Be a body among others.
  • Especially at local levels, public forums: 10 more people can swing how a room feels
  • You don’t have to agree on every single thing an organization does to recognize and support the common fight

Be Brave 

  • Braver than officials are or can be 

How many times since Trump took office have I been amazed, surprised, pleased, grateful for the throngs of citizens who show up at public forums, at the doorsteps of their representatives, in marches, with placards, unafraid to shout out what is essential for their well being.

Practical details of Contacting Your Representatives

Request a specific action 

  • Methods in decreasing order of impact. Write OpEd Letter to the Editor, plan 1:1 meetings, attend legislative office hours, write letters, make calls, participate on social media, send e-mails. DON’T FAX 

Know critical information about what you are requesting, make it personal 

  • bill number, current sponsorship http://magov/Bills/Search
  • re: bill he/she have sponsored—ask how you can promote
  • keep staffers’ email addresses
  • Remember: officials and staff are real people
  • suggestion: “I think you are the kind of person who can do the right thing.”

Make It Local

  • If you’re federal representative isn’t listening, go local

Stay informed & spread the word (examples are from MA. check your locale)

Following the training, there was a lengthy Q&A session. The following points are salient and useful in understanding the impact of participation.

  • Re: increasing turnout: detach from an individual, attach to ideas
  • What doesn’t work: Data suggests that “the sky will fall if X wins/loses” is a failed model
  • What works—engage on issues: go door to door to engage on a specific issue that regularly affects your life (social security, education, healthcare)
  • one study on this approach: 18% increase in turnout
  • In relating to those with different views—1. if you start with your values, you open a discussion about how to fix a problem. 2. if you start with your policy position, most people will assume you are closed to their point of view.

I close with gratitude for the opportunity to share this valuable advocacy training experience with my readers. In highlighting the information I felt most compelling, I have a far greater sense of how each and every one of us, in stepping up in small and big ways on issues that relate to our values, can make a difference. As always, I am grateful for the give and take of comments and look forward to your sharing.

 

 

 

Grateful for Advocacy Training—Part 1

What You Can Do Now Training
photo courtesy of ashiaray.com

For weeks, feeling like a small cog in a big world, as I’ve absorbed the outpouring of tweets and network news about our nation’s challenges, I’ve wondered how to focus and weigh in, how to make a difference.

This past Sunday afternoon, I joined about 500 others in an What You Can Do Now 2017 Advocacy Training event, a day of activism and #resistance training organized by the Newton, Massachusetts Democrats.

The scene: Newton South High School Cafeteria, stripped of tables and warming stations, lined up with row after row of chairs. I came early for the keynote but all the seats were filled. I was fortunate to sit on the edge of a table, up front, to the right of the speakers. The visibility and sound were great!

The Keynote speakers: Jordan Berg Powers, MASS Alliance and Brian Barrish, Legislative Director and General Counsel in the Office of Massachusetts State Senate Majority Leader, Harriette Chandler.

Both men were incisive, spirited, knowledgeable, and filled with specifics on issues which they imparted with spirited, spunky, no nonsense “can do” language. In this and subsequent blogs, I will offer highlights taken from my notes and a transcript—

FOR NEW ACTIVISTS—IT’S NOT HOW YOU DO IT BUT HOW TO THINK 

Stop labeling issues 

  • Lead with values and real people (underlines are mine)
  • Make real the terrible things we see around us
  • Policy has the power to destroy or create people’s loves
  • “criminal; justice reform” vs. “decriminalizing poverty” or “no one should go to jail because they cannot pay a $50 fine.”

My Take: Be mindful. Focus on details, tell a story, use metaphor, allegory, a visual reference that shows understanding, embraces empathy, can stick.

Stop expecting your representatives to be leaders

  • Their job: to get 51% of the vote in their next election
  • Our job: building a progressive future
  • By definition, a candidate cannot get so far out in front that they lose their followers.
  • We will lead us and they will respond…or not get elected.

This was an eye opener— the idea that if an elected representative gets too far out in his/her vision and mandate, the voters will lose faith. Tone, the step by step shaping of a vision, in pragmatic terms gets my attention. I lean towards representatives who have a keen grasp of the English language and can paint a verbal picture that resonates with my values. I miss Barney Frank— his passion and sense of humor.

Expect to fail…and dig in

  • 90% of this work is failure and anticlimactic wins.
  • Wins just happen: there’s no parade, no balloons.
  • Typically, there’s 10 years of work behind any major bill.
  • The left spends a lot of time worrying about winning vs. trying and learning from doing.
  • If the conversation is, “I don’t know if this will work,” WALK OUT OF THE ROOM.

My takeaway on this was huge! I felt enormously grateful for how these speakers encouraged empowerment of each individual to make a judgment and to sign onto causes, movements, ideas, in which there is engagement, passion and a belief in “can do.”

Be Brave and creative

  • This fight will demand both. “We are going to see the things we love destroyed.”

A Hard Truth: Destructive decisions targeting the EPA, the environment, immigrant safety have been disheartening. This administration’s avarice for power fuels my #resist imperative.

Don’t be a “nattering nabob” of negativity

 Don’t be this person: “That’s not going to work,” “you’re doing it wrong.”

  • If someone’s being brave, encourage them!
  • The litmus isn’t “will it work?” The litmus is, “Will it move the conversation?”
  • If you think it’s not as effective as it could be, make it more.

Takeaway Warning: We all want to be accepted. In the back and forth discussion of political imperatives, new activists can be intimidated by strong, skeptic voices. Build a team with risk taking folks who are not afraid to speak truth to power—those folk who need to clean up their power over posturing.

Dig in on SOMETHING

  • Find one thing you care about, and go deep
  • There is always work to be done….websites, press releases, photos, op ed pieces, etc.

I am grateful to share what you can do now advocacy training. Comments re: what you care about, where you might go deep, are welcome. To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plants: My Trump Winter Balm

Gaillardia & Gerbera
on the Windowsill

Two weeks ago in the Northeast, in the midst of the Russian /Flynn /election connection and the endless Trump twitter maelstrom, spring temperatures warmed the ground. Clumps of daffodils began their stretch to maturity. Lily leaves peeped out. Buds appeared on shrubs. I embraced the warm air.

Spring in February, a seductive distraction, seemed too soon. Within days, a  snowstorm blanketed every bud and plant with soft snow, a coating that is protective. After the spring thaw, some leaves will look fragile and need to be cut. Thankfully, the blossoms will emerge intact and open.

The seduction of spring stuck. Just as the plants began to stretch upward in the warming earth, I culled my garden catalogs and began to fantasize about rich colors and new plantings for my garden.

There is nothing more appealing to a winter-shut-in-gardener then the  sight of red, yellow, peach and pink primrose plants at the entry to the super market. My first choice was a red plant, my second choice, yellow. Primroses are easy plants. They like “wet feet,” meaning that every few days they require watering from the base up. It’s easy. I simply pop the plant into a bowl of water and let the plant infuse what it needs. I then place it in the sink to drain out the excess moisture.

The next week, I was tempted but hesitant to buy a bright orange gerbera. My prior efforts at growing gerbera in summer have resulted in wilt. But this was a winter experiment. I had the intuition to water my orange beauty the same way I watered the primrose. Gratefully, the plant has thrived and produced multiple blooms.  My hope is to set it in the garden along with the yellow and red gaillardia with its effervescent blossoms.

My gaillardia and gerbera plants on the sunny windowsill draw me into a practice of mindfulness. Every day I check each leaf, each bud for wilt, aphids, any sign of distress. When a blossom fades, I cut it off to engender more nourishment to new buds. A drooping blossom signals the need for water. Rotation helps the plant stay tall, otherwise it bends too far  into the sun. It’s about reading the signs.

As a child, I enjoyed  the freedom to indulge in flights of imagination and play in the backyard. Often, my dad joined me as he trimmed shrubs or cut the lawn. During World War II, I watched as he chose a half moon shaped tool to cut the edges of a bed and turn the soil for planting tomatoes, green beans and peppers. Every summer day, he tended his garden. It was part of the war effort. My father was a careful man; he understood the signs. At the right moment, he invited me to pick a lush tomato to bring to the table for supper.

I am thankful for the lessons of my father: gardens and plants engender beauty, food and connection to the earth; nature is nurture. Especially during this extended Trump winter, I am thankful.

 

Why I Stick With Gratitude

a grateful moment

In this fast paced, twitter-tweet-news-in-the-moment world, gratitude slows me down. When I consciously focus on the question—for what am I grateful today— the question in and of itself slows my monkey mind. After two and a half years of daily practice, I have trained my mind to slow and seek out the answer.

Lately, and to my delight, my friend Carol gave me feedback about her own experience of experiencing gratitude. She described it as a “process,” an apt description. In these weekly essays, I try to show how the process of gratitude engages one’s sense of self to include other human beings, the natural world and beyond.

The more I engage with the question—what encounter, what experience of noticing makes me grateful— the more I slow and go deeper within myself. In practice, the seeking is a spiritual quest, to go beyond the immediate and tap into what appeals and resonates with one’s being.

Yesterday, I attended a class with eight other mental health professionals. The topic, A Hot Button Intervention Model, was taught by Stanley Gross, Ed.D. Close to ninety, this was Stanley’s last teaching engagement on a subject he has studied and taught for much of his long career. We all have “hot buttons”—events out of the blue which set off reactivity and behavior that is familiar and often, uncomfortable.

I needed CEU’s for my professional license, and signed up in the hope that I would come to understand my quick, impulsive reactions in the face of a threating situation. Each of the participants shared a recent hot button experience. Mine was with a recent unexpected bout with vertigo. Stanley is all about process, and the need to take time to assess and evaluate the unconscious origins of a hot button reaction.

After six hours, I came away calmer, more aware of the how I over-reacted to this particular incident and its source in resurrecting a similar childhood experience. Stanley’s knowledge and teaching skills, a man in a similar life stage to my own, offered an experiential training. You can see how such a gift of new information and behaviors could bring immeasurable gratitude.

Additionally, I reconnected to a social worker/writer friend and renewed memories of a colleague we have in common. It made my gratitude experience all the sweeter.

In these Trumpster times, we need ways to move out and beyond the immediate, to give pause, to engage and refresh our senses. Each of the participants, all therapists who spend much of their workday dealing with others shared their relaxation practices. They included: swimming daily, dance, hiking, walking, working out, especially with weights. I practice David Dorian Ross’s Tai Chi Flow, a breathing/meditative/movement practice.

I am grateful to share my recent experience and the benefit that comes from a deeper engagement with unconscious aspects of myself. I am grateful to those of you who are reading this and would enjoy your comments about a recent gratitude experience.

 

No Gratitude in Trump’s 77-Minute Press Conference

Gratitude block on my windowsill, thanks to Beth

I was pretty shaken by the president’s recent lengthy press conference—77 minutes of on-my-mind-on-my-tongue comments. Afterwards, a question nagged. Where is President Trump’s gratitude for having won enough votes to win the country’s highest office?

His negative, belligerent tone gnawed at me. Here was a man whose parents — his mother, a Scottish immigrant, his father a successful developer—provided opportunities far beyond the average, setting the stage for the privileged and fastidious lifestyle he can indulge at any moment.

It is the United States government, its considerable resources and dedicated civil servants, its very working, which has provided the foundation and cushion of his life. Yet, by all accounts— from his inauguration speech, subsequent communications and impromptu tweets, he asserts that it is we who must be grateful to be saved from the catastrophe of living in America, 2017. I just want you to know. I inherited a mess, he declared last week.

We are fast learning that Trump must criticize, must tear down what is and has been operational and functional, so as to declare his place in history— the savior of a crumbling scaffold, to redesign, to replace the old and well-enough-served with the new. His mantra, “Make America Great” is intended to promulgate the belief that he and he only (with his chosen people) can envision and change the trajectory of our destiny.

No doubt, our scaffolding needs repair at significant junctures. But improvement does not appear in Mr. Trump’s plan. Straight out of the gate, he is compelled, driven to make good his promise of rooting out illegals, securing borders, building the wall, dismantling the administrative state. (Banner’s words)

Would that President Trump could offer compassion and empathy for the dilemmas of immigrants who have set down roots, yet have no clear path for citizenship. Would that he could embrace the possibilities of the range of immigrant resourcefulness to our national well-being.

After I printed out the transcript of the 23 pages from Trump’s press conference, I searched for words, thoughts and ideas, which might reflect thankfulness, a sense of personal gratitude. Thirteen minutes in, Trump had an opportune minute to express appreciation for the swell of voters who pushed him over the top. Instead, he offered, 270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes.

And that’s the way he and it goes, throwing out words as if they were real descriptors, set in stone, proof of the intent to deconstruct what I have lived and appreciated over the past years. At the very end, he did politely state, It’s a great honor to be with you. Thank you very much. Thanks.

I wish I could say “Thank you, Mr. President.” I am grateful to Fox News and the New York Times for the transcript; I am grateful for a discerning education; I am grateful for the freedom to write this blog.

 

 

 

Lists and Mental Health

Amaryllis in Window

I find list making calming. With a half-awake president wandering the darkened White House corridors at 3:00 a.m., asking his National Security Advisor about the benefits of a strong or weak dollar, tweeting edicts for the a.m. news, we are rapidly becoming a nation of insomniacs and worriers.

When I worry, I make lists—in my head, on legal or skinny sized notepads, where the eye can scan down, take note and experience a semblance of control.

First and foremost, my ever-present go-to is the grocery list. It’s comforting to use the last bit of blueberry jam and pen it on the top line. As if by magic, I have replaced it, a mental guarantor of a satisfying taste for the start of my day.

“To do” lists serve a similar purpose— phone calls to the plumber or a friend; e-mails, mostly personal, a prompt to send a birthday card or a note of sympathy.

As I writer, I list ideas, random thoughts, phrases, words which evoke, please, resonate. I list projects— essays in process, essays to submit, essays submitted— acceptances and rejections.

The most helpful and yes, the list requiring the most discipline and effort is the gratitude list. Since Trump’s election, my mental health depends on finding a balance between sources that nurture my inner world and those that direct my energies outward. I offer this week’s example.

Week of February 8, I’m grateful for:

  • My fluffy amaryllis, wide open with four striped petals and a lime green throat—a beautiful gem which opens my heart every time I stop to notice, to touch its creamy skin.
  • Breathing in the unexpected warmth of Wednesday’s spring-like day, temperature near 60, earthy smells, my clogged sinuses opening with lightness.
  • Relating to the Diane Rehms (2/10/17) blog post— “Inside The White House and Coping in an Age of Anxiety.” A well thought-out distillation on considering anxiety as a resource and the positive attributes of harnessing anxiety in the cause of resistance.http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2017-02-10/inside-the-white-house-and-coping-in-an-age-of-anxiety
  • The 3-0 unanimous decision of the 9th circuit’s court of appeal to maintain the stay on Trump’s order to restrict travel from seven ( predominantly Muslim) nations. Relief that the checks and balances are holding.
  • Elizabeth Warren, who though silenced on the Senate floor, appeared on the Daily Show, spoke out on The Rachel Maddow Show, and disseminated a video where she persisted in reading Coretta Scott King’s letter and talking about Jeff Session’s role when African-Americans were beaten away from the polls.
  • An unexpected part-time job offer from the Team Leader at the Whole Foods Whole Body aisle with whom I often swap nutrition and supplement info. Job requirement: knowledge of health issues and supplements, check; job experience with people, check; ability to stand on feet, check; climb ladders, lift 50 pound boxes, forget it! Nice fantasy, especially at my age.

If you have experience with list making and its mental health benefits, please share in the comments section. I’m grateful for  thoughts and ideas on this timely and important topic.

 

 

 

 

Patchwork Resistance: Mindfulness in Action

Grounded
Photo by Marv

I was literally spinning last week— an acute bout of vertigo. It happened, out of the blue, as I began my usual routine of stretches in bed. No sooner did my head hit the mattress when the walls began to spin. I sat up, too suddenly, setting off a rocket reeling spin and acute anxiety.

Like the fallout from Trump‘s presidency, this inflammation had been building. Mid-winter sinus pressure was not new. I hadn’t paid enough attention. The weight of my head was real and slowed me down. Twenty-four hour mindfulness (without exaggeration, even in bed, to avoid sudden motion) was necessary to hold off the spinning sensation.

I was grateful to move from bed to steam pot to my computer. I was grateful for Marvin’s presence to assure my safety.

I researched and began alternative anti-viral remedies. When I saw my doctor, she approved, and raised my blood pressure medication a tad. Thankfully, she is cautious and resonated with my self-diagnosis: “Trump anxiety.”

For weeks, I’d been sad. My clogged sinuses made sense. Not once had I cried.

Over breakfast, January 30th, I was served a plateful of gratitude . On the Boston Globe’s front page, the lead story —“A Stroke of the Pen, then 34 Tense Hours in Boston.” Journalists Ramos and Ryan told the story of a “patchwork resistance “in which two women, Susan Church and Heather Yountz, friends and lawyers, demonstrated how mindful attention and a willingness to step up can make a remarkable difference.

Both women are mothers: Saturday meant sports for Church and for Yountz, taking her son to an immigration rally on the Common. Given Trump’s order to limit immigration from seven Muslim-minority countries, “They knew they had to come up with a plan.” By mid-morning, the order was being enforced, and a citizen from one of the affected countries was put on a flight back to Europe.

These women worked together to carry their immigrant legal training forward. They acted—went to the airport and posted flyers in search of a person being detained. By 6:00 p.m., an Air France flight having just arrived,” they realized this might be their last chance to find someone.” In minutes, they overheard a woman, also waiting, speak of a case-by-case vetting procedure and recognized that these very people might be waiting for a loved one to be released.

They engaged a plaintiff, connected with ACLU lawyers, wrote the complaint, phoned a judge, coordinated a complaint suing President Trump, divvied up the pleadings, offered the case in court and waited. At 1:00 the  morning. of January 31st, four lawyers, three women and a man, won a temporary stay.

As I write this, I am grateful to feel less sad. Clear in head, I am steady on my feet and grateful that “patchwork resistance” in the hands of civic-minded citizens is making a difference. Case in point: though the seven-day Boston stay was not continued, later on the last day, a Seattle judge ruled to halt immigration across the entire country!