Category Archives: Currents

Self-care in This Chaotic Trump Era

Faye @ computer
photo by Marv

I have the privilege, twice a year, as an alumna of the Solstice Creative Writing MFA of Pine Manor program, to audit classes. This past Friday, I participated in an intimate community gathering in which Nicole Terez Dutton (poetry faculty) and Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan (psychiatrist and poet) presented and led students, faculty and staff in a discussion of Writing as Balm, Armor and Resistance.

The Solstice group is diverse in gender, identity, age, and experience. United by the bond of writing, we are, as a group engaged, informed and sensitive to information and the world in which we live. To say that writers as a whole are more sensitive than most might be a stretch. Yet, I believe it to be true.

Writers read voraciously. Writers scan their universe, both wide and intimate, for the details of what is apparent and what is beneath the surface. Story, above all else draws us like a moth to flame. We watch on the subway, we listen at the train station, and in the coffee line at Peets. We observe couples, families, friends. Wired to story, we absorb and chronicle.

In this context, Nicole Terez Dutton set the stage to step back and identify all the variable assaults to our dignity as a nation, as a people of diversity, as a group of involved individuals struggling to live through and manage this wild, chaotic Trump era and its effects of what was once reliable and, for the most part, with precedence.

When she highlighted the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s 14 warning signs of Fascism and ticked them off, one by one, with incidents of this past year, we grasped the full sweep of the dangerous trajectory of leadership in our country.

We have to work against Fascism, we have to help each other to survive, she said.

In introducing Dr. Prabakar Thyaragajan, she said, we need strategies to be well, stay well, to be with each other.

In this spirit, I am grateful to share a brief account of Prabakar’s positivity philosophy of self- care.

  • All creatures deserve to be happy; should is a terrible word
  • Listen to the self; adopt gifting to the self; practice foregiveness of the self

I experienced delight when Prabakar said, the simplest way to listen to the self is to keep a journal (he keeps his on his phone, a novel idea to me). His directions to track sensations are simple and basic to the practice of mindfulness.

  • keep a close ear to the ground; give weight to the everyday experience
  • what does the first taste of morning coffee taste like? I am drinking my first cup as I write this: the taste is slightly bitter yet buttery sweet from the mix with coconut milk.
  • what does the walk in air feel like?
  • what does disgust feel like—i.e., I want to vomit when…
  • include mixed feelings—I often struggle with ambivalence and find it helpful to write them out and reflect on the pluses and minuses.
  • On foregiveness of the self :Not fair to judge thoughts and emotions which are not under our control. Okay to feel anger. Aggression is a choice.

Nicole ended with inviting the audience to respond and state how each of us are managing. Solstice writers stood and spoke out about their own struggle and efforts to bring self to the page, to speak to systems of oppression, to take on projects that are satisfying and not too demanding, to bring solace and sustained work to ourselves.

I shared how writing this gratitude blog sustains my creativity while trying to make a difference. I ask each of you reading today to add to the conversation. Please contribute your approach and point of view and write a comment!

My 2018 Challenge: To Maintain Gratitude

readying to write
photo by Marv

Two days into 2018, wrapped in a blanket and typing, the headlines blaring with hard-to-ignore news, I am aware that while I embrace the concept of gratitude, it does not always embrace me. Like all humans, I am not automatically wired to feel grateful.

You would think that after keeping a daily gratitude diary for a year and then writing this gratitude blog for two years, that today’s post would come more readily. I believe that in spite of the weather or news or state of mind, each of us has a story of gratitude to tell. Some are dramatic and compelling like my Mitzvah story of John fixing my flat tire. Others are hidden, less apparent and need to be teased out with intention to seek and mine what one experiences.

When I ignore or forget about intention, I slide right by the signposts of gratitude such as a quiver in the gut as I experience an empathic moment, a smile on my face as a clerk jokes about offering me a job, a moment of calm as I scan the hill laced with white snow outside my window.

Each of these moments holds a story. Each of these moments, were I to sit with pen in hand and describe the details—the what, where, and experience of the encounter— would result in opening and deepening a sense of gratitude.

Take for example, the job offer. The morning before the encounter, I called Whole Foods in search of a digestive product hard to come by. To my delight, I spoke with a person who informed me they had the product and would set it aside with my name on it. That afternoon, I followed an engaging man who opened a large drawer and began to rumble through, saying, “Likely it’s on the bottom; it always is.”

As he began to sort and sift, he moved a standard sized bottle wrapped with a paper note aside. I had the instinct that the bottle could be mine. “Check that bottle right there, please,” I said.

Sure enough, there was my name— “Faye” written on the note. “How would you like a job working here,” he joked. We both laughed. It was a moment of shared gratitude, a moment of levity I sorely needed. More, and here’s the reflection piece, I was grateful to feel and acknowledge my intuition.

In theory, gratitude is always present and available if one can focus and prime the intention. One of my main sources of learning and inspiration and one that I recommend is the https://www.mindful.org website to which I subscribe. They suggest a weekly writing practice two or three times a week. They unequivocally state:

elaborating in detail about a particular person or event for which you are grateful carries more benefits than a list of many things.

I find this to be true. When I take the time to write out a story, in effect to tell myself a gratitude story and spend time reflecting on its meaning, I deepen my sense of gratitude. I am grateful to you, my readers, who motivate me to show up and bring my intention to practice gratitude to the blog page.

 

 

 

 

On Kindness

 

Renah @ Wayne U.
Photo by Marv

When I think about kindness, I think about Renah and Jayne, both felled by polio and wheelchair bound, at a time when I most needed kindness. Twenty years old, a recent transfer from Simmons College, I arrived at Wayne University and made the impulsive decision to move off campus into an untenable roommate situation. Friendless, far from my New England family, I returned to the thirteen-floor, converted hotel dorm in need of a home.

Dressed in a skirt and sweater, knee socks and saddle shoes, I knocked on Renah and Jayne’s door and was greeted by Renah’s welcoming smile. The lilt in her voice, her innate curiosity at my “preppy” attire, tempered my anxiety as I explained that the housing director had suggested I check out their room.

“Sure, we have an extra bed, by the window,” she said, as she gripped the thick rubber wheels of her chair, nodding for me to follow.

“We have a new roomie,” she called out to Jayne, reading in bed, a hand pulley above to lift her to a wheelchair bedside.

I embraced them; they embraced me. The timing was perfect. That year was filled with lessons of gratitude; our day-to-day consideration of one another filled me with ease. We told stories, shared worries. My new friends taught me how laughter can face down hurt.

At least once a week, I would grab the handles of Renah’s chair to walk the block to a storefront restaurant where we joined our little gang for a “real” meal. The wait staff, customers, everyone knew Renah and as her new “preppy” friend from Boston; I was folded in.

Long before the passage of The American Disabilities Act of 1990, there were enormous challenges for the physically challenged student attending a university. Ramps were not a given, nor were elevators in multi-floor buildings.

At her core, Renah was an activist who could look you straight in the eye and compel you to deal straight with any demeaning innuendo or impediment involving her ability to navigate her life. I recall her persistence as she negotiated a third floor change in a classroom location from the third to the first floor so that she could attend an advanced sociology class.

What would she and Jayne make of the “what is” of now—our Trumpean president, a braggart who boasts how women cannot refuse his advances, his reckless leadership? What would they make of the cascade of women truth tellers sharing their stories of male sexual predators stalking and accosting them in the work place?

In my fantasy, Renah would have kicked Harvey Weinstein right where it hurts. A young woman in a hand-driven wheelchair, she learned to be tough to the core to face the unfair and unkind behaviors she encountered.

It is humbling and gratifying to realize all these years later how the lessons of living side by side with two kind and strong-willed women have infused my resolve to stand up and assert, to write and resist the tyranny of entitlement and abuse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Boundaries & Me Too

Sally Brecher’s Olin Birches

A friend recently mused how she was unable to feel gratitude these past two weeks, especially in the face of the Harvey Weinstein story and the implosion of the “Me Too” response. Her comment gave me pause.

How was it, in spite of all the awfulness, I am able to come up for air, take deep breaths, seek and find moments of gratitude. It’s about belief. I believe in balance. I believe nature provides balance and in as much as human beings are part of the natural order, the striving for balance is dormant within us.

The challenge, as I try to describe through this blog, is in the seeking and recognition of meaning. For each of us, it is different. To my friend, a talented artist whose soft edged images of slices of white bark trunks invoke the impulse to touch, I am grateful. Her talent in seeing and transmitting what she sees invokes my connection to nature.

Is this not how as human beings, we are wired? Has not the Me Too outpouring of the experience of hurtful boundary violations given rise to the opportunity for hidden voices to be seen and heard?

In The Boston Globe, October 21st column, “Me Too? It Was Started By Her,”Christela Guerra interviews Tarana Burke, who “originated the idea a decade ago through her work, particularly with young women of color.” I was grateful to read about Burke’s original intentions.

In many regards Me Too is about survivors talking to survivors. It was never really about amplifying the number of people who are survivors of sexual violence. It was about survivors sharing empathy with each other. But when I talk to young people, I use pop culture to promote the idea of Me Too all the time. We have to have something that reaches the masses.

Empathy is key. As a therapist, I specialized in treating women who had been sexually abused as children. Many came to therapy because of symptoms, the source of which they had dismissed or forgotten. Me Too is a call to women to speak out on serious boundary violations, which require the empathy of others to bear witness for healing.

As a woman of 85, I have experienced sexualized verbal and physical assaults. My first incident, at five years old, I was chased around my dining room in the presence of close family who laughed as my father’s friend grabbed inside my dress and placed his hands far down my back to grab the “bugs” inside. I screamed; everyone laughed. Boundary violation, Yes. “Boys will be boys,” the unempathic and uninformed explanation.

“Me Too,” is about candor, a space where people can say, in their own words, what has caused them fear and hurt, bewilderment, shame and grief. What of the difference between harassment and assault? Burke, to her credit, does not discriminate. She states,

If your Me Too was about sexual harassment versus sexual assault but it’s traumatizing to you, then it’s important for you to be heard and seen.

 The memory of strange and icy hands on my back has never left me. It likely planted seeds of gratitude for empathy and the humanness in a response that says you are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

ON GRATITUDE STRATEGIES

Faye in Reflection

Given the preponderance of awfulness—awful violence, awful weather, awful words, awful politics— over the past two weeks, I turn to a consideration of simple, effective gratitude strategies that can be helpful in shifting our attention away from the negatives that swirl around us.

  • Intentionality is the key
  • Decide on a practice
  • Make gratitude a habit
  • Select a strategy

In this post, I will review 4 four key research-based principles for turning gratitude into a lasting habit recommended by The Greater Good in Action Website https://greatergood.berkley.edu/article/item/four_gratitude_strategies

  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. Select a dedicated notebook. At the end of the day, write in detail about three things, large or small, that went well. Spend time with the details of the why and how each event left you with a sense of appreciation, happiness, or well-being.

Over this past weekend, my 13 year- old granddaughter, Zoe, accompanied my son, Craig, for a visit. One night, she prepared caramelized onions and asked, if I had a pair of protective eye goggles she could wear while cutting onions. “Will swimming goggles work,” I asked, pulling a wide framed pair from my catch-all drawer. Goggles in place, she cut and prepared the Vidalia onions like a pro. I experienced such pleasure in watching how carefully she positioned the cutting knife and how patiently she stirred until she perfected the texture.

  • MENTAL SUBTRACTION. This is a “what if” exercise that results in expanding the sense of positivity of a positive event. Consider a positive event such as a job opportunity, the meeting of a friend, an educational achievement. Reflect on what your life would be like without them.

Where would I be without this blog? Without the blog, I would not have the ongoing inspiration or motivation to continue to expand my dedicated gratitude practice and to step up on a regular basis to impart what I am experiencing and learning. The effect is a sense of aliveness in the challenge of daily living in these unprecedented times.

  • I’ve written at length about my practice of soul tracking where I suggest choosing a place in nature and paying attention to what attracts you— sights, sounds, smells— and pausing to reflect and savor. Researchers have coined this process The Savoring Walk—noting a 20-minute walk by yourself once a week, ideally a different route each time, has lasting effects one week later.

I am grateful for my winding garden path and tiny frog pond. Every day brings new possibility as unexpected lily blossoms open in October and tall zinnias continue to bloom. A ten-minute very slow walk can shift my mood and leave me content and happy for hours after.

  • SAY THANK YOU. All forms of acknowledgement of appreciation to others can make a difference to both the giver and the receiver. Research indicates that the effect of writing and delivering a gratitude letter has the greatest positive impact on happiness one month later.

 Dear Readers, Thanks to each and every one of you for reading this post and bringing the possible practice of gratitude into your life. I hope you will choose one strategy to try with the hope that you will find a measure and contentment as you embrace a practice. As always, please share your experiences in a comment.

On Empathy and Repair

Women with Buckets
Thanks to Ginnette Riquelme/Reuters

I spent my entire professional life as a social worker/psychotherapist listening to my client’s struggles, their questions, and feelings. Through it all, in every hour, with each person or persons, I learned that empathy for another, understanding of another, came from mindful attention to the details of another’s life.

Without empathy, I could not imagine the dilemma of others; I could not think through what it would be like to lose a mom at eight years old, to be a first time mom and deliver a stillborn child, to carry on in spite of losing a job to a younger person.

Perhaps, that is why, no matter how hard I try to move away from the subject of President Trump’s personality and leadership style, to consider and write about other subjects, I return to his influence on the mood and lifestyle of our country. His war mongering speech at the United Nations, his name-calling tweets and bullying threats days after Hurricane Irma’s shattering strike reek of empathic-deficit leadership.

Okay, that is the reality; but how does one live with gratitude and hope in the face of such astonishing and aggrandizing tone-deaf leadership? I have concluded that each of us must do our part, the best we can. Individual efforts, actions grounded in empathy, can and do make a difference.

I was transfixed by CNN and MSNBC’s empathic reportage of the Mexican earthquake, the lines of volunteers of all ages outside buildings, a decimated school, passing buckets of debris, energized by care, hoping to rescue adults and children from the crush of burial.

I watched images of rescue operations— electrical workers checking gear, loading trucks from sites all over our country readying to travel to Florida to help remedy thousands of outages. When I think of the networks attending to the detail of reportage, the camera crews on site, the reporters dressed in tall boots and rain gear sending out image after image, I am grateful for the details of efforts to rescue.

Yes, it rained a bit here and as it turned out, more than a bit in my home where water seeped into our solarium (once again) where windows open to sky and trees gave way to the pressure of an all night tropical storm, the after effects of Hurricane Jose on the East coast. I am grateful for an immediate response from Mike, a home team helper, whose attention to and knowledge of details traced the source and helped set the stage for repair.

In some way, we are all responsible for repair. It is in the seeking of ways to help, in the interest of others, to extend beyond ourselves, each in our own way, that will help right the imbalance in empathy. This day, I am grateful to readers of this blog; you inspire me to extend into difficult-to-articulate areas and to connect through writing. Please comment and share your own experience on this topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spot Fake News; Get The Truth

 

Zinnias

In my fall garden, especially as flowering is on the wane, I am on the lookout for decay, the need to cut and clear spotted or curled leaves, the need to savor the remnants of growth. This morning, tall-headed—zinnias, orange, white, yellow—leaned into the warming sun. New, fresh buds are about to open. I am grateful for the possibility of fresh color, the possibility of mulberry pink flowers in September.

Would that the approach to news— how to spot decay (fake news), what to cut out and clear (disinformation)— were as obvious. In my last blog column, I offered concrete sites such as FactCheck.org as a resource which provides long-form accounts based upon factual sequences which can mediate presumptive bias. Since my week at Chautauqua on Media and the News, I am on the lookout for blight, spottiness, imbalance, bias in presentation, the shaping of news.

All news is written from a point of view. Over and over, Trump has labeled all mainstream media as fake news. In effect, his words eradicate most of the news media I reply upon for information. Countering his bluster takes effort. Clarity of sources and point of view about what is being written and promulgated in the daily news is essential to maintaining one’s perspective.

Judy Wolfe, in her presentation at Road Scholar’s week at Chautauqua, emphasized that by simply searching for media bias, one can come upon sites and graphs prepared and posted by a variety of people and organizations. In preparation for this blog, I gave it a try. Yes, the effort to discern and impart information about how to manage media bias is impressive. If you want to dig in, learn more about the possibility of what sites are LEAST or MOST biased, I recommend https://mediabiasfactcheck.com as a starter.

This media bias site offers both a chart and lists of news items according to bias categories from Left to Right starting with Left-Bias, Left-Center Bias, Least Biased, Right-Center Bias, Right Bias, Pro-Science, Conspiracy-Pseudoscience, Questionable Sources, Satire.

As a good example, their lead post on September 8, 2017, is titled How The Truth Can Get Damaged in a Hurricane, Too. Take a look at the following examples.

I’m grateful for readily available resources which, with a touch of the finger, can share multiple social media sites and verifiable facts of current events and issues. Hopefully, I have expanded your “get the truth” tool kit in managing true and authentic news and have inspired you to check out a site or two to use as a ballast in this time of Twitter, Facebook and variable news options.