Category Archives: Happiness

Sustainability and Free Play

Jake&Zoe at the Pond
Photo by Marv

I’ve begun to think about the relationship between free play and sustainability for our planet. Does the early childhood experience of hiding behind a wide tree trunk while playing hide and seek or daydreaming in a field of high grass as I did in childhood lead one to equate happiness, a sense of well being, with nature?

Imagine— if somehow we could imbue the present generation with enough connection and joy for the out of doors as for their I-phone or latest X-man offering— how they might influence and steer the environment challenges which are already upon us.

In preparing this blog, I went to my files to retrieve an article, Wild in the Streets, about the loss of free play, The Journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, May/June Issue, 1997. I was in private practice and ordered a dozen copies to distribute to highly anxious two career parents who were struggling with the demands of over-scheduled lives and its effects on their children.

Given the explosive shift in global temperatures, weather patterns and Artic ice melts, Laura van Dam’s citation of scientific research on the benefits of play on long-term development are particularly salient now. As a family therapist trained in systems thinking, I was struck by how a family’s daily choices and the rhythms of their everyday life affected mood and ease of adaption.

And while no doubt everyone can find nurturing from the natural world, children who need an alternative to unhappy home situations —and over scheduling, a break from technology —may particularly benefit from quietude outside.

I introduced the notion of “play,” shifting the rhythms of structured activities to more spontaneous, out of doors activities, to my clients. Those with childhood experiences in nature tapped into their positive memories and embraced the notion of intentional choice. Clients who clung to structure resisted and needed point-by-point homework assignments to dip their toes into what seemed unnatural. In time, perhaps because of my own certitude in the benefits of embracing the natural rhythms in one’s life, I helped families flex and find more balance.

Given the merchandise hawking of the latest technological gismo and our lemming impulse to follow, the challenge of offering the next generation quietude in nature is more daunting. Yet, through Facebook posts, I experience possibility and hope reflected in the many stories and pictures of my colleagues raising children in New York City or in forested Greenfield, MA, where they offer their children extensive opportunity for play, connection and creativity in the out of doors.

We are what we experience. I am grateful for long years of quietude, and my own childhood experience of long hours in backyard play and roaming in nature, passed on to my children and grandchildren. van Dam cites—

Out door experiences, particularly before adulthood, is the most frequent motive people give for caring for the environment.

 Time outdoors can nurture a deep concern about the natural world.

….the natural environment offers space and time for reflecting on one’s own— which is critical to developing a sense of self.

 The question at hand—how does one train the self as well as the next generation to shift attention to the larger issues of global warming and its effects? I would be grateful if you could share your experience in my comments section or on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

About Sustainability

Listening Frog
photo by Faye

The June 3rd front page headline, Trump Risking the Planet for Own Gain, Kerry Fears, resonated with my own sense of the effect of Trump’s ill thought out decision to withdraw from the historic Paris climate agreement. The article leads with how Kerry, just one year ago, his 2-year-old granddaughter Isabelle, in his lap, signed the historic climate accord. And now, only 13 months later, at first pretending to have listened to all sides of the evidence, Trump has discounted and misrepresented the scientific evidence, which mandates the necessity of attention to climate change.

All during May, from dawn to dusk, and sometimes during the night, these erratic-in-weather spring days seem to match President Trump’s fitful tweets and irrepressible amoral edicts.

As a gardener, I live close to the earth and its seasons. Every day, I am wedded to checking the weather and scanning the garden to see how my plants, trees or shrubs are faring. Rain causes wilt, rot, and satisfying plant growth, excluding the intrusive weeds. The absence of sun is frustrating and challenges my planting and weeding schedule.

Yet, each day, I am grateful to arrive at a space of quiet, soft moist smells and beauty. During this past two weeks, the purple arrivals— iris, lilacs, and columbine have given way to mounds of white rhododendron blossoms trailing above the pond. The effect is inviting and calming.

Just yesterday, as I began my daily soul tracking near the small pond, a lean and muscled green and brown frog leapt from the water and jumped to the far side where it sat at the edge, as if in listening mode.

“Good morning, Mr. or Ms.” I said. “Nice day.”

The frog did not flinch, unafraid.

“Lovely day, I’m glad for your presence,” I continued.

That statement, said aloud, bore the truth. This rainy spring, in particular, whenever I have approached the pond area, I’ve been greeted by a shrill “eep” sound followed by a flash and a splash.

But this silent, still listener was different, seemingly curious. I felt comforted by his calming presence, a sign from the universe, I was certain, that taking note of the small things in our environment best feeds and forms our sense of connection and meaning.

I am grateful for mayors and governors who are stepping up to counter the effects of shifting environmental challenges on their citizenry every day. I appreciate organizations such as 350.org, The Sierra Club, Green Peace and Union of Concerned Scientists.

I am especially grateful to Governor Jerry Brown for his passionate engagement and willingness to explore sustainability options with China, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s willingness to pledge $15 million to support the United Nations agency that helps implement the Climate Accord agreement.

There is something to be said for the groundswell of concern, worry and love for Mother Earth. Perhaps, the full effect of Trump’s egregious decision to abandon responsibility for Earth’s well-being will fuel and feed our considerable will and creative energy to find more useful and usable solutions to sustainability. One can only hope.

 

 

Mindful Attention: Cloud Watching

Cloud watching
on a sky blue day

The plan to slow down, to allow more time for reflection and writing, as the world around me speeds up, is no easy task. Given the historical events of Comey’s firing & Mueller’s appointment, the experience of my ability to turn inward, to focus and write, seemed miraculous. I am grateful for the habit of mindfulness, which I learned through the practice of soul tracking.

Last night, as I began to consider the focus of this blog, I recalled how I was drawn to the book see your way to mindfulness on the literature shelf at the Newton Library. On the cover, David Schiller promises Ideas and Inspiration to Open Your I. Cute and meaningful, yes—the intertwining of “eye” and “I” which resonated with my intention of finding a meaningful book.

I was expectant as I scanned the library’s New offerings. The title of the book caught my attention; its size, 6 by 6, and the rosy cover picture of clouds and tree branches resonated with the “I” and my wish to slow. On page 1, Schiller sets his intention—“And once we’re off the meditation cushion…Forget about it. It’s as if society has fashioned a world whose sole purpose is to distract us from the here and now.”

He cites all the inventive technological gismos which have lead us down the rabbit hole of screen watching, texting messages, selfie photo-shooting, tweeting and snap chatting.

He follows with a century-old story of a man who asked the eccentric Japanese teacher and poet Ikkyu to define the highest wisdom. Ikkyu wrote one word: “attention.” When the man didn’t quite understand, Ikkyu repeated, “attention means attention.”

I could not agree more. During my first year of training in social work graduate school, I wrote down and processed, word by word, the nuances, and affect of every client I interviewed. My supervisor reviewed my transcript and taught me how to attend. Questions such as “What did you notice, how did you feel at that moment,” were common. She was rigorous in her mindset training, to stay in the moment and avoid assumptions and distraction.

The practice of attentive noticing is basic to a mindfulness practice. In Schiller’s words, “Seeing isn’t really looking and it’s not watching.” Seeing is active. To my mind, seeing is about engagement. Through conscious action to pause followed by deep breaths and specific effort to slow down, one aspires to shift attention away from automatic thoughts to that which is in focus— a tree, a flower, the waves of the surf, the quest to articulate a mindful experience as I attempt to do right now.

Schiller uses pictures and quotations to prime the consciousness with everyday inspirations from nature and thus offers a way to learn to fully attend. For those in search of a primer, a small, easy to read book with prompts and pictures, I can recommend see your way to mindfulness. For those ready to practice, check out my Soul Tracking blogs dated 10/24/16 and 10/31/16.

Yesterday, I trimmed the top 4-or-5 inches of foliage off several bloom-spent daffodil plantings. Afterwards, I lay back in full sun to watch frilly-laced cloud puffs cross the blue sky. I was grateful for the sense of peaceful calm. As a result of this writing, I am grateful to experience it twice fold.

 

 

 

 

On A Big Birthday & Goal Setting

Faye @85th birthday dinner

Every birthday is a marker in time, an opportunity to look backward and forward. Perhaps, because I was born at the apex of spring in the midst of the vibrant arrival of cherry blossoms, daffodils, and azalea, my senses are heightened. This past 85th birthday, I learned that aging is like breathing, rhythmical and effortless, until you pay too much attention.

There was no warning that this mid-decade birthday would feel like a big event; but the night before, after a fun tour of Fenway with a group of elders where we walked (slowly) up five flights to the top of the monster ball park and Shabbos dinner where close to my age friends dug into topics of aging at home, maintaining health, and presidencies over eight decades, I was off balance, feeling the weight of accrued years.

As I write this, the shock of recognition has faded and I am focused on the best way to maintain balance by paying less attention to what has passed and more attention to what is possible in my creative life.

Two weeks before my birthday, I began to revise a short essay for my annual submission to the Solstice MFA Anthology. While reading the piece aloud, I was taken by the rhythmic structure of several sentences and as I labored to shape it, the piece morphed into a poem. It took two full weeks and daily devotion to detail to reshape the piece into stanzas. An individual poem, because it is more compressed and every word is significant, can demand what seems like an inordinate amount of time. Yet the process, in and of itself, was compelling and joyful.

For many years, during my psychotherapy practice, I maintained balance by writing and revising poems daily; but once I retired, I left poetry behind in the wake of essays and memoir. The return of my poetry muse, especially in this post Trump world, convinced me to re-examine my writing schedule. Thus, for the near future, I have decided to shift my blog writing to every other week so as to attend to poem making as well as the longer works of nonfiction.

On the subject of setting goals in this post Trump world, I came upon an April 13th New York Times Opinion piece by Nicholas Kristoff in which he cites how he quizzed a scholar, Gene Sharp, 89years old, THE expert on challenging authoritarians. Sharp and a colleague, Jamila Raqib offered the main message that effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

“Think!” Sharp said. “Think before you do anything. You need a lot of knowledge first.”

Kristoff points to how Sharp gives emphasis to grass-roots organizing, searching out weak spots in an administration and patience before turning to 198 nonviolent methods he has put into a list, from strikes to consumer boycotts, to mock awards.

I’m grateful for Kristoff’s column; it is well worth the read to those of you seeking to weigh in and make a difference.https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/opinion/how-to-stand-up-to-trump-and-win.html

 

 

Passover 2017: We Continue On

Beth conducting Seder

When a word sticks in my head, appears and re-appears in my consciousness, I know something is brewing. On this, the 6th day of Passover, the day I will prepare charoses for our family Seder, hosted for the first time by my daughter, Beth, the words pass over cry out for attention.

The event of Beth’s stepping up to host the Seder marks the passing over of the beloved and sacrosanct family Seder to the next generation. Last year at this time, my first cousin Sid, then 99 years old and living in an assisted care community, carried on the tradition to host my mother’s extended family of cousins and friends, a group of 40 plus.

Sid’s death this past fall marked the ultimate passing over, the end of a five generation Passover gathering of my mother’s family.

Sid’s older brother, Lew and his wife, Selma welcomed Marv and myself as a newly arrived couple in the Boston area. Spring, 1958, the sight of an elongated “T” table set with Selma’s personally constructed Haggadah set the scene. Lew, as eldest son of Kunah, my mother’s half sister, an articulate and wise lawyer, held the reins, insisting that each and every participant read aloud in English or Hebrew, that we all take part. The mood was irresistible: we were grateful to come together, to re-tell the story of our ancestral exodus from tyranny, to raise our cups in thanks, to sing with verve and spirit.

As a child, I had little sense of the meaning of Passover. My father read the entire service in Hebrew from a black bound book lacking pictures, transliteration and songs. In contrast, Selma’s 8×10 bound Haggadah was printed in English and Hebrew, and included songs and pictures drawn by all the children.

When Selma and Lew passed, Sid and his wife relocated the Seder to their home in New Jersey. For two decades, I took over hosting our own small version of the family Seder. Using Selma’s Haggadah, I followed the tradition of my mother’s extensive menu of hard boiled eggs and salt, gefilte fish with horseradish, chicken soup with matzos balls, brisket, tsimmes, fresh green asparagus, my own baked macaroons and fresh fruit.

When my children married and started their own families, each one continued the tradition— Craig, returning home those first years and ultimately taking Selma’s Haggadah to the Midwest and Beth, still in the Boston area, joining with me, cooking the chicken soup. To continue on, we adapted. To include family members from afar, we shifted the Seder to a weekend date. In time, to accommodate restless children,we shortened the story telling and experimented with new and modern Haggadahs.

I recall my gratitude a decade ago when Sid relocated and re-instated the family Seder. With his passing, I am grateful that Beth has stepped up to host this first year with her family and close friends. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon scraping and cutting carrots and sweet potatoes, mixing the dried fruit, orange juice and spices to blend the flavors. My mother, Goldie’s hand written recipe card, alongside my favorite New York Times recipe, guided me. I am grateful to continue on.

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.

 

Grateful My Mom Was an Immigrant

Goldie, My Mom

If my mom were alive today, she would be shaking her head in disbelief and concern about the stories of immigrants being rounded up and deported with little warning. At the age of ten, she journeyed from Lithuania to Boston Harbor with her mother and brother to join her father and half sister in Portland, Maine. Strangely, there were no stories or pictures of that time and all during my childhood and teen years, I never thought of my mother as an immigrant.

Unlike my great aunts and uncles, she spoke English without trace of an accent. A business school graduate, she identified as an American. She attended the Fanny Farmer Cooking School where she embraced modern cooking and hospitality. An adventurous and creative cook, she was known for her excellent baked goods and desserts.

In retrospect, it’s remarkable how little I knew of her first ten years in Lithuania. She enjoyed the “American Way” and relished the role of wife, mother and homemaker. I was about ten when I first realized Mom had a different life before arriving in America. We were visiting a family at a lake when the host invited us for a rowboat ride. In an instant, my confident and relaxed mother shook her head and said, not for me, and encouraged my brother and me to get in the boat and drift onto the water.

Years later, after another similar incident, she was willing to tell me the story of her nauseating and frightening 2 week voyage in steerage; she ate stale bread with water and lay on a hard bench for the entire trip. It would be many more years before I fleshed out the story of how my great grandfather, worried about the conscription of Jewish young men, made three trips from Lithuania to New York to assure safe passage for the entire family. Sadly, in the end, he was turned away because of a cough.

Last night, on television, I watched a segment about refugees, fearful of Trump’s ban and ICE roundups, finding their way to cold and icy Canada. At the border, an American and Canadian custom agent approached a lone pregnant woman. It was heart breaking when the American agent asked if she had a visa. Her body shrank in defeat as he placed her in a patrol car.

I’m grateful Great Zadie had the courage to forge the way for the entire family to undertake such a long and arduous journey. It was a time when health was a key requirement for admission. I believe Mom’s silence about what she endured was as much about her sadness for her beloved grandfather left behind as the upset from the listing boat traversing those miles of ocean swells.

I am grateful for the ACLU, the lawyers and many citizens who embrace and defend the safe harbor of America, the America who welcomed my mother, the America who sheltered and educated me, the America whose values we need to honor and protect.