Sunday, January 29, 2012

15 Minutes

At the beginning of this year I was gifted two incredible sessions with a career coach, Rich Litvin.  This came out of my connection to Steve Chandler, whose work I have often quoted in this blog.

Rich is one of Steve's associates and he is very smart and insightful (not to mention very handsome.  I checked him out on Facebook.)

We had two long conversations to map out a simple plan for what I want to do this year and one of them is to write for a minimum of 15 minutes a day.  It doesn't always have to be the writing project I'm working on, but it does have to be some kind of writing.  And if I miss a day once in awhile, it's okay - it's just a commitment to do my best.

Last night, Lucy was sick and I had to walk her in the middle of the night, so I couldn't get up very early this morning, which is usually when I like to do my creative writing.  I just came from Judson Memorial Church, where Abigail, my loftmate, gave a lovely sermon, so I thought I would write about that.

Abigail started with a story about her sister, Nancy, who works as a minister, at a maximum security prison for men in North Carolina.  Recently, one of the inmates she really likes came into her office to make a phone call to his sick mother.  Just as Nancy was dialing the phone, the inmate decided it was a good time to unzip his fly and show her his private parts.  Nancy told Abigail later that day that she felt worn out, sick and tired of trying to be a minister, of trying to do good - she was angry and fed up.  She said she felt like the story in the Bible about God and Jeremiah.  I guess Jeremiah was a big whiner to God and God also whined back to him, telling him he was fed up with being God-like (or something like that.)   Abigail spoke about the hardships of life, the challenges.  When we're young it feels like these are difficult challenges to overcome, but when we're older sometimes they are about acceptance. (I think I threw that idea in.)  She mentioned a phrase I particularly love "stronger in the broken places" and also Martin Luther King's quote, which is something like "Over the course of history, the arc of life (or time) bends towards justice."  (I will ask Abigail for the exact quote.)

Judson Memorial has been in that location for something 150 years and the congregation, though small, feels like a real community.  It has always been a place of social justice and liberal political action.  At one point in the service, people get up and share about losses and ask for prayers through difficult times.  It reminds me of all the gratitude for the communities I have in my life.  Judson has been Abigail's lifeline and I enjoy visiting it, especially when she speaks and also when they have flash mobs.  Today, one young woman asked for prayers for her grandfather.  She said it was hard for her mother to be losing her father and she felt so sorry for her mom.   I felt my eyes fill up with tears -- this is such a gift to me -- to feel empathy now, when for so many years I was emotionally closed down, locked up, afraid of feelings because there was just too much to deal with.  Thanks to Friends In Deed in particular, and having safe places to share my feelings and feel held and supported, it's become a great joy to feel alive.

I also realized that after being in therapy for years, I have stopped going to see my therapist.  This began when I started dancing.  I still stay in touch with Mike now and then with an email, I totally value his input in my life, but mostly I'm dancing and living my life.  And writing - 15 minutes or so a day.  I feel joy from dancing, it's truly changing my life. 

Another thing Rich said to me, for this coming year:  "Do what you love."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Becoming happier

I got an email today from a friend who wrote:  "I'm glad to read that you are becoming happier, and (I) miss the more frequent blogs posts from the past."  I guess it's true that for a long time, I wrote about the day to day "suffering" and how I was getting through it and now that I truly am happier, I don't have as much to write (whine) about.  I tried not to whine, but sometimes I think I just had to. 

Anyway, I am happier and I credit dancing.  We watched the Japanese film, "Shall We Dance" the other night and I loved it.  I'd seen it when it first came out and I loved it then too.  I related to the Japanese accountant who was feeling little joy in his life despite having everything he always wanted - a good marriage, a daughter, a wonderful home - but he discovered dancing and became obsessed with it.  Last night, I went to a dance at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) and had a ball.  I was talking to a woman who told me she started dancing when she lost her husband and it helped so much with the grief, she now wishes she could dance all the time.  She's been studying for five years and was very good!  I look forward to every Thursday night and if there's a dance, or a special one night class, I take it and I've learned so much in just two and a half months, I can't believe it. 

The interesting news my friend told me in his email is that recently he'd met a woman he really likes.  Years ago we both talked about going on and how frustrating it is.  Turns out he didn't have to -- he was fixed up by a co-worker, the woman's daughter!  I guess that just shows you, you never know what life has in store and you might as well enjoy each day and do what you love and make the best of your life as it is.  I am so happy for him, I really hope that the relationship continues - he sounds so excited.  Yay!  Becoming's a lovely thing.  I'm grateful that for today, despite the fact that it's freezing out, and there's still so much to be sad about in the world - I can appreciate all the blessings in my life. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Getting hooked"

Yesterday, just as I was getting on the subway, I glanced at my iPhone and saw an email from Abigail, my loftmate, which said "Certified letter."  There was no body to the email just the subject, because my phone didn't have any signal.  I sat on the subway for ten minutes wondering what the letter could be about.

I came home and read the letter (it really doesn't matter what it was about - let's just say it wasn't great and it had to do with money, always something that is upsetting.)  I read it, then took my eye pads (I'll have to share the story about going to the eye doctor to get contact lenses and as a method of increasing moisture, taking a pair of socks, filling them with rice, heating them, and putting them over my eyes every day...but that's another story) and I rested.

I decided, since I couldn't read with the eye pads over my eyes, to listen to a download of a Pema Chodron talk.  I found it on my computer and the talk began where I had left off six months ago:  enlightenment.  She said that no one she had ever heard of had ever really reached "enlightenment" - that is a place where they felt completely at peace with the world.  She said even the most enlightened teachers still have moments when they get angry, or get 'hooked" by something, but that the more we practice meditation and have tools, we find that so many of the things in life that used to drive us crazy, no longer have that power.

That is what I felt about that certified letter.  I didn't feel nothing, I just felt "okay, well, this is something to deal with."  This is such a huge shift for me.  I admit that I used to be and can still occasionally be a bit of a drama queen, but now I have tools and I know that I can always make a call to a good friend (which is what I did earlier in the day yesterday when I was having trouble with a real estate deal) or go for a walk, or listen to a tape, or go to the gym, or do yoga, or get a neck massage (I did that Thursday).  Dancing is also a great way for me to let go of everything that has hooked me during the day.

I wonder if the Buddha ever did swing dancing?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Seriously, what is it with me and fun?

There's a curious saying in Alanon (the 12 Step Program that's about being obsessed - or "addicted" to taking care of others) that when you "recover" and stop focusing on fixing other people, you actually have the time for a hobby.  I don't know that I've ever really had a "hobby" -- there are things I like to do: bike ride, read, go hiking, take long walks, travel, try new restaurants.  I don't know if any of them would qualify as hobbies -  but recently, after many years of talking about it - I decided to sign up for dance lessons.  

First I thought of tango, because I had a date with a tango instructor and he told me I was good, that I could pick up the steps quickly.  I decided to go for swing dancing first, because that seens a bit easier and I had already studied it a few years ago.

Now that I'm no longer a caregiver for my mother, or a full-time parent, or wife, I have found this outlet for myself that is really challenging and fun.  I've been taking classes now for almost two and a half months.  I can't believe how much I've learned -- and after going to a big swing dance the other night with two live bands and watching so many really GREAT dancers, I realize I have so much more to learn.  I loved that the people there were 18-80.  They were all sizes and shapes and danced in so many different variations of Lindy, Swing, etc, I don't even know all the different styles.

I met one of my dance partners there, Rob, he was in the first class I took and we danced together for awhile, practicing what we'd learned. After he left,  I danced with some other men I've met who are from the more advanced classes.  They taught me moves and I taught them a few things I've learned.  I am so grateful for this new "hobby" - it's frustrating sometimes, and when I see the really great dancers I know that I can never be that good, but I just enjoy dancing, and practicing, and I guess it's really too soon to call it a real hobby, but it's a good start. 

Considering it's January, and it's an election year, and the world remains a mess, to have something that actually gives me pleasure each time I step out on the dance floor feels like such a blessing.  I can forget, for at least that hour or so, that the problems in the world are too overwhelming and focus on learning how to do a dip, a yoyo, or a barrel step. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012


It occurred to me just now, after reading an Op-ed in the Times today about stillness, that this blog began as an exploration into meditation and I haven't written much about that in a long time.

Life got in the way and it became more about grief and the Friends In Deed mantra: "the only way out is through." Well, one of their mantras.  Another one is: "the quality of our lives is not determined by the circumstances."

I am still meditating although lately it's been pretty difficult and I'm not sure why.  My mind seems to be wandering more and thoughts keep intruding.  I guess that's always been true, but maybe because this year so much more has happened, I've been much busier with work and writing, it feels harder to just be quiet.  I am happy to report that this morning I went for a long walk by myself along the Hudson River and spent time just enjoying the river and the quiet.  For me now, stillness is not just about sitting in the morning in meditation, it's about taking the time during the day, as often as I can, to just be quiet and not talking on my phone or checking emails.  

I like to try to focus on my breath and allow myself the luxury of sitting in silence.  It is a gift really, to take that time and appreciate how quiet it can be, even in the heart of New York City.