Category Archives: Mindfulness

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

 

 

A Gratitude Shout Out

Science March, Washington, DC
Thanks to N.Y. Times

Thanks to Bill Maher, I no longer feel guilty over my wake-up habit of checking my I-Phone to get a reality check on our president’s nighttime tweets. In last week’s broadcast, he rued the day-to-day anxiety of Trump’s unpredictable behavior and copped to his own habit of waking in a nervous sweat, needing the safety of facts to begin his day. I was so taken with Maher’s mirroring my own behavior, I yelled at the screen, “Me, too, Bill. That man makes me nervous.”

What helps is the sheer gratitude I have for all those folks who are engaged and active in resisting the capricious and arbitrary edicts of Trump’s administration. I have a cast of journalists, reporters and writers who ground me. Every day, I read news and opinions in my favorite  outlets and varying articles suggested by my peeps on Facebook. I listen to Maddow at 9:00 every night. I relate to her broad perspective and close tracking of issues that spell “danger.”

Yesterday, in particular, the occasion of Earth Day, combined with the Science March, highlighted two of my main concerns: the well-being of the earth and the well-being of all living creatures who inhabit the earth.

This blog is a shout out to the thousands who turned out yesterday here and Boston and all through our nation to march for Science. It seemed unbelievable, the need the educate, never mind to organize a march, to emphasize the importance and worth of scientific thinking and reasoning for the growth and safety of our nation.

Eager to get a close-up of the Washington events, I logged onto the Washington Post live stream from the podium. Rain drops clouded the feed just a tad but did not deter my appreciation of the crowd trying to stay warm and dry as they listened to the speakers representing scientific organizations of every realm. It was clear: we are a nation under siege from our executive branch and now is the time to step forward to protect what is precious.

Like many fellow writers, I turn to the written word to shout out, to express my concern, and to try to make a difference. In the lead up to the planning for the march in Washington, The New York Times posted a book review column titled, American Poets, Refusing to Go Gentle, Rage Against the Right. The columnist, Alexandra Altra, caught my attention in her description of the poet, Jane Hirshfield.

The poet Jane Hirshfield has never thought of herself as an agitator. A self-described “genuine introvert,” Ms. Hirshfield likes to spend her days gardening, hiking and writing verses about nature, impermanence and interconnectedness.

But a couple of months ago, to her own surprise, she emailed the organizers of the March for Science in Washington and urged them to make poetry part of the protest. At the rally on Saturday, Ms Hirshfield will read her new poem “On the Fifth Day,” which addresses climate change denial and the Trump administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations.

I am grateful to identify with a sister poet/gardener and offer her poem, On The Fifth Day, for your reading. Just click on the title above or continue on.

On the fifth day

the scientists who studied the rivers

were forbidden to speak

or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air

were told not to speak of the air,

and the ones who worked for the farmers

were silenced,

and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,

began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak

and were taken away.

The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers

that spoke of the rivers,

and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees

continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,

and the rivers kept speaking,

of rivers, of boulders and air.

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,

the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,

code writers, machinists, accountants,

lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,

of silence.

 

 

 

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.

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.