Not to disappoint, I ended the year with a round of coronavirus. I started feeling ill and had a low fever on the 29th of December, accompanied by aches and waves of fatigue. The fever went away, and I wasn’t sure even that it was COVID, until everything came back with a vengeance the following Sunday, just after the start of the New Year, and I went to get tested. The test came back positive.
I’m one of the lucky ones, to be sure. I only had a mild case, with nothing affecting my lungs. Still, the fatigue, and the unrelenting achiness, and the massive headache – even a mild case is something I would not wish on anyone. Sadly, I have lost friends to much more severe cases, and many others who have family that have succumbed, as well. To those who lost family or friends to this virus, my hearts are with you. Let’s all continue to be safe! The end is in sight!
But I’d had a whole “Yule + New Year” themed post planned for that week, with musings on the transition brought on by the Solstice and how the newly extending light of the Sun impacts (for me) the intentions I like to set for the New Year…
But, here we are!
And, the importance of shifts, of changes, of growth… it’s all still happening!!
Tonight is the first new moon of the New Year, and it’s a New Moon in Capricorn! If you don’t know what that means, this is the PERFECT time to take stock of our intentions for the new year. New Moons are all about rebirth, and Capricorn is a practical sign, a determined sign, so now is the best time to approach our to-do lists [and our hopes & dreams for 2021] in a rational, responsible way!
Take a thought to how things may be changing or shifting around you. What do you want to get done this week? Maybe it’s something you’ve been putting off, or a project you can’t wait to start. Maybe there have been internal shifts, meaning you need to pause and sit with yourself, and see where you’re growing, and where you may need to do some weeding!
I invite you to take the time you need to show yourself some loving-kindness and compassion (not that you need anyone’s permission but your own). Listen to what is changing or shifting, and let go of what is no longer serving you. We got this! … or, we will!
I’m starting back into my guided meditations this week – just dipping my toe back in – and welcome you to join me!
And thank you to all who joined me on this journey and donated to my cause – we raised $150 for the American Nurses Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses, and motivated others to donate to other charities of their choice, or reach out to those they knew who were struggling. However we could pay it forward, we ended the year doing a lot of good!
I want to invite you all to a special meditation tomorrow evening (Friday, December 18), in collaboration with Reiki master Autumn Mirassou, of Autumn Reiki.
I’ll be leading the “loving-kindness” (or “metta”) meditation tomorrow at 5:30 PM (EST), and Autumn will be directing Reiki energy to all of us on the call. (Questions about Reiki? See below or leave me a comment and I can connect you with Autumn!)
Many refer to Reiki energy as Universal Life Force Energy, and the practice of Reiki healing is Japanese in origin, first brought to our awareness by Mikao Usui in the 1920s. Healers transmit this life force energy into their clients, most often through the hands – but Reiki operates outside the confines of time and space. In fact, I received Reiki from Autumn virtually during the pandemic, and it was just as thrilling an experience as meeting her in person!
You’ll actually find Reiki healers at many hospitals employed to help induce relaxation and reduce stress, with an end goal of helping to heal the body, mind, or spirit. Studies are continually providing evidence of Reiki’s effects on the human body and psyche.
I hope you’ll consider joining us on this journey, and perhaps joining me for future meditations. I’ll start providing a schedule of them, here!
It began after a weekend meditation module of my 300 hour yoga teacher training recently, at Sonic Yoga, when I was offered the opportunity to lead the class in meditation. I chose one of my favorites, a variation of the Buddhist “Metta” or “Loving-Kindness” meditation, as it had been taught to me by Lauren Hanna.
My teacher, Sarah Ireland, encouraged me to continue this practice, and share this with more people. We agreed it was so important right now.
With people going back to periods of isolation, a time of shutting down and shutting in during a time when most families want to be together – a time when, statistically, people already struggle emotionally – a meditation of compassion would be so important. And I’d shared it before, during a similar time.
When NYC first announced that it would be shutting everything down, back in March… back when people were beginning to be sent home to work remotely, businesses, gyms, restaurants, all were closing, I shared this exact message in a video I sent to YouTube.
The variation I learned starts out like this:
May I be filled with Loving-Kindness.
May I be Well.
May I be Peaceful, and at Ease.
May I be Happy.
"May I enjoy happiness and the root of all happiness."
Repeating this phrase, or these phrases, over and over, you bring that feeling of comfort into your self, showing yourself compassion, wishing yourself well. It’s often a very difficult practice on its own, but it doesn’t stop there.
Once you feel saturated with loving-kindness, it’s time to turn that feeling outward. This outward focus is exactly why I felt the meditation was so useful for these uncertain times. The mantra (as it was taught me) then becomes as follows:
May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.
Pema Chödrön similarly replaces the “I” of the phrase with “you,” or with the name of a specific person… because there’s a process!!
Direct the meditation toward yourself
Direct the meditation toward a loved one
Direct the meditation toward friends and/or acquaintances
Direct the meditation toward strangers, or people to whom you feel indifferent
Direct the meditation toward someone with whom you are in conflict
Direct the meditation to all of the above
Direct the meditation out to “All Beings”
It sounds like a long process, and it can be, especially when often you feel you can’t get past #1. And that’s 100% okay. There is no rule that says you need to feel so full of loving-kindness all the time that you can always send it out to other people. We must take care of ourselves, first and foremost.
Which brings me back to why I feel it is so important for this time.
We need to show this loving-kindness to our Self. I capitalize Self because I equate it with the Soul – the spark of the divine in each of us (spoiler: it’s the same spark… but that’s for another post). We need to be able to show love and comfort to our Self, and allow our Self to be happy.
And then we need to share that message – to practice empathy. To understand how we’re all connected.
I suppose people have seen some of the memes floating around about COVID and the roots of Thanksgiving.
Oddly enough, the tragedy of 2020 has given us a perspective on this holiday that many have not before considered. And I think it’s time we do!
Thanksgiving as a holiday is rife with complications for our relationship with indigenous people. How many know that the first time “Thanksgiving Day” became a recognized holiday (for the Massachusetts colony) in the 1600s, it was to celebrate the previous day’s massacre of indigenous people?
And how many of us consider that what we brought to the indigenous people as “settlers” was not recipes for turkey and stuffing, but guns and smallpox? The COVID parallel is an opportunity, I think, to examine our relationships with thankfulness and responsibility.
“… Great Responsibility”
I’ve long felt that thankfulness, and gratitude, require a large amount of responsibility, especially for those in places of power and privilege.
I’m sure you’ve heard.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
(If you’re from a certain generation, you probably heard it from Spiderman.)
But I think today we should rewrite it:
“With thankfulness comes great responsibility.”
For example, we’re thankful for our family, and our friends, and so we know we have a responsibility to keep them safe and healthy by not traveling and meeting in large groups… because of COVID.
The Indigenous Solidarity Network, which grew partly out of the group Standing Up for Racial Justice, recently put out a “Rethinking ‘Thanksgiving’ Toolkit” with resources to help us understand the responsibility we have not only to ourselves, but to those on whose land our opportunities were built – something we can’t allow ourselves to forget. They put it very well in the toolkit (which you can access here):
There are many different experiences we will have over Thanksgiving – some of us will have lots of food, some of us will struggle to have enough. Some will be surrounded by people and some will be alone or with just one other person. For many, it’s an important time of coming together with family. This day also gives us a chance to look at and change stories we have about our families and ourselves. Thanksgiving is based on myths that hide and erase the genocide that the United States is founded upon. What would it mean to tell a different story; an honest story?
Being thankful means being mindful – being aware – in this instance, of the truth behind Thanksgiving. Being grateful means acknowledging those who came before who paved the way (or were literally killed) for what we now call our home, our food, our lives… and understanding how to do the work and give back. How to show empathy.
For some, Thanksgiving Day is a Day of Mourning – mourning the loss of their ancestors, and continuing to mourn the loss indigenous people still face, with threats of climate change, with the continuous retaking of land, and other threats to their culture and ways of life. And we have a responsibility to acknowledge that, to be aware of it, and to respect that this celebration originally comes from a dark place. By doing the work, learning our history, and acknowledging the lived experiences of those different from us, our practice of thankfulness becomes a practice of empathy – and that’s how we heal the world, and ourselves.
If you’d like more information about the Indigenous Solidarity Network, the work that still needs to be done, and to stay informed, you can join their listserv, by clicking here.
Starting with Mindfulness
In my last post, I started writing about mindfulness – of being aware of what is going on around you. While that does include the history of the people and traditions around you, it still applies to the here and now.
When I stumbled across a tiny book by Thich Nhat Hanh, Be Free Where You Are, at Full Circle Bookstore, back when I lived in Oklahoma City, I immediately sat down and devoured it in less than an hour… and still bought it. I knew it held wise words, even for being so small. Every year, around Thanksgiving, I go fishing for the section on mindful eating, to read what in the Buddhist tradition are called the 5 Contemplations. I think these are a wonderful way to remind ourselves to be mindful while we eat our Thanksgiving meals – or any meal!
And if you’re not sure where to start in your practice of responsible thankfulness, this is a great place to dive in.
Here they are:
This food is a gift of the whole universe, the Earth, and much hard work. May we eat in such a way as to be worthy to receive it. May we transform our unskillful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation. May we take only food that nourishes us and prevents illness. We accept this food in order to realize the path of understanding and love.
I love being reminded of the “much hard work” that goes into the food I so often take for granted, and to be mindful and aware of what I put into my body.
Since I bought that book, the 5 Contemplations have been updated. In fact, the updated contemplations seem very much to parallel what I wrote earlier, about being mindful of one’s history and one’s place in the world, and goes hand in hand with the indigenous people’s concerns about climate change (concerns that many of us already share, or should).
Take a look at the updated 5 Contemplations, from the blog of Plum Village, which is coincidentally the first Western monastery founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Perhaps these contemplations will become a prayer of sorts for you, as they are for me, when you sit and are determined to eat mindfully, while understanding and being mindful of the journey it takes your food to reach you.
This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food. May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet. We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
“New Contemplations Before Eating” PlumVillage .org,
Happy Thanksgiving, to those who practice it. And may justice and peace be done for those who mourn.
My husband rearranges the apartment furniture every six to nine months. Sometimes, in the past (pre-COVID), if he were working from home a particular day, when I wasn’t, or if I had a yoga class or teacher training one weekend, I might come home to a completely different living room or bedroom set-up. (I often joked that the only place we haven’t moved our bedroom is in the kitchen or the bathroom, and I’m waiting for the day I come home to one of those scenarios).
But why we often do that to our living spaces, or to our lives (our hair, our faces, etc)?
“I got restless”; “I got bored”; “I got tired of seeing it the same way for so long”
That last one… that one hits home to me in many ways.
We recently sat down and watched a movie – typical comedy with a poignant message (no, it wasn’t on Hallmark) where one leading character is being told by their friends to “wake up,” start being honest with themselves and appreciate what they have, and we all see it coming… the tragedy that snaps them “back to reality.”
“Maybe that needed to happen”; “I’ve learned not to take life for granted”; “I’ll treasure what I have from now on”
But as we were watching this play out, I realize that way too often a tragedy is what snaps us back to reality. We can be going along, living our lives, thinking we’re living to our fullest… then a family member dies. Or we lose a furry friend. Or we get sick, or an accident of some magnitude befalls us.
And we suddenly think “Oh, yeah. I need to pay more attention to what I have.”
I don’t want to harp on the old adage of “We never know what we had until we’ve lost it,” although I’m sure that’s mostly true.
I remember the next morning, on our daily walk, telling my husband that I want to make sure that we give our senior dogs more focused attention – I don’t want to feel, when they pass away, that I didn’t spend enough time with them, or took them for granted.
But it’s not all about tragedy. Because I wonder if that sense of wanting to “be aware” of what we have is why we sometimes make changes, too. We feel stuck, we can’t “see” where we are, or don’t feel present or awake in our own lives. So we change something.
Come to think of it, I was feeling stuck about our apartment recently, myself. Not the furniture, just the sense of having a home and making sure I appreciated it. The walls we painted, the beautiful 12-foot pre-war tin ceiling in our living room. And so, I was thinking the exact same way about our apartment lately, and we decided to decorate early for the holidays. And you know what? Suddenly our apartment feels new again. I feel like I can really pay better attention to it – and it feels refreshing!
I’m curious about how we can have that feeling, that alertness, that “being awake” to what we have feeling, without tragedy striking, or without having to make a massive overhaul of our lives – those can be necessary, but shouldn’t be the only way we feel alive!
I think this is what “mindfulness” is all about.
Being mindful is all about being as present as possible – being aware of what you are seeing, what you are hearing, what you are sensing – at all times. Feeling your feet on the ground beneath you. Your eyes as they take in this information (the weight of your glasses on the bridge of your nose and on your ears – if you wear them). The weight of your arms on your lap or on your desk or table – the feel of the mouse under your hand or fingers. The light overhead. The light outside the window. The tree you pass on your daily walk. The warmth of the sun. The warmth of your coffee.
What are you doing right now? How do you feel? Where do you feel expansion when you inhale? Where do you sense your exhale the most? The chest? The belly? The nostrils?
What color are your walls? Your floor? Are you sitting comfortably? If not, where do you feel discomfort? What are you doing today to interact with your home, or to move your body?
Sometimes change is the easiest way to recognize what we’ve had all along. Sometimes it’s negative change… sometimes it’s not. But maybe we can work toward keeping ourselves awake to what we have, and to the present moment, more often. Maybe then, we won’t carry so many regrets with us if tragedy ever does strike.
Have you ever started a project and gotten so overwhelmed you never finished it?
Have you ever had an idea that you thought was fantastic, but turned out in some way to be unsustainable?
Or maybe it just felt unsustainable?
Have you, like so many, had high aspirations for your time “sheltered indoors” during a global pandemic, assuming you’d have more time to “better” yourself – learn a language, a musical instrument, read through that stack of books, or finally write that short story, novel, or collection of poetry?
I assume I’m not alone. But I’ve learned that the first step in no longer kicking myself over what I haven’t accomplished… is to stop kicking myself.
You are where you are. You are in no other place. The only air you are breathing is the air in front of you. Allow yourself to be where you are, without judgment. And breathe.
We’ll get through this – and what you end up taking with you alone will be accomplishment, enough. And every breath can be a celebration.
(Psst… scroll down for a virtual tour of Manhattan in the year 1609!)
Before we can start our “walk,” I want to introduce you to Mannahatta.
Back in 2014, when my husband and I still lived in Oklahoma City, I was lucky enough to direct a new play during the Native American Playwright Festival, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta. (It has since been produced all over the country!)
Here’s a beautiful description of the play from the Public Theatre, which produced the play in NYC for the first time in 2014 (the page appears to be gone, but the quote was borrowed from Tanis Parenteau’s blog post relating her experience in the production, playing the double role of Jane Snake and Le-Le-Wa-You):
“A gripping journey from the fur trade of the 1600s to the stock trade of today, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA tells the story of Jane Snake, a brilliant young Native American woman with a Stanford MBA. Jane reconnects with her ancestral homeland, known as Manahatta, when she moves from her home with the Delaware Nation in Anadarko, Oklahoma to New York for a job at a major investment bank just before the financial crisis of 2008. Jane’s struggle to reconcile her new life with the expectations and traditions of the family she left behind is powerfully interwoven with the heartbreaking history of how the Lenape were forced from their land. Both old and new Manahatta converge in a brutal lesson about the dangers of living in a society where there’s no such thing as enough. Written in the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA is a stunning new play about the discovery that the only thing you can truly own is who you are and where you come from.”
The word “Mannahatta” comes from the Lenni Lenape, or “The People,” that lived here well before the Dutch colonizers arrived in the 1600s. Mannahatta means
The Spring I directed Nagle’s play, Sam and I visited NYC, in part to plan our future move, that year, and in part to research much of the play’s historical representation of those first encounters, and what the island was like, then.
For instance, did you know Pearl Street in the Financial District was so named because of the pearls that the Dutch found on the path that lined the Southeastern shore of the island – leftover from the oysters that were harvested there?
Or that Broadway, one of the only main streets in Manhattan that runs “crooked,” follows The Broad Way, an old trading path that the Lenape used?
Or that Wall Street is named for the Wall that was built by the Dutch settlers, in part to keep Native people out of New Amsterdam?
(And I bet you can guess what used to be where Canal Street is, now!)
All in all, New York City looked much, much different in the past, before Henry Hudson first arrived, and there is one incredible source I’ve turned to again and again – and still do, just to marvel at what New York City once was.
Created in part by the author of an incredible book, Mannahatta by Dr. Eric Sanderson, the Welikia Project has painstakingly researched what each area in Manhattan might very well have looked like in 1609, and created digital representations! Have a look! If you know someone or something’s address, type it in and find out what it looked like.
Having established the big picture of the island – and my fascination with it – I’d like to start our “walk” (via my blog!) where Sam and I spent most of our time exploring, back in 2014. It’s where we always begin our annual island walks, and it boasts the most “untouched” area of the entire island…
Check back soon for our first stop, here on my blog…
Every 4th of July, for the past 5 years, my husband and I would take ourselves (and any friends who wanted to join) on the 13 mile trek along the length of Manhattan.
Honestly, I’ve no idea. The first year we did it, we were a bit boozed up from some Bloody Marys at Harlem Tavern, decided to walk over to Riverside Park and down along the Hudson… and then just kept going!
This year, we had planned to be away for the 4th for the first time (though we doubt that’s even an option… thanks, Covid-19), and were sad that we weren’t going to be able to take anyone on the walk with us.
But then I realized… why not take everybody with us?
One of my favorite parts of the walk is taking in new sights, researching historic areas and buildings, and sharing my passion for the city with others. These are all things I can do from home – and you can join me!
Are you ready to get started and see parts of NYC you might have never seen, or get to see?
A museum built like a medieval monastery? The oldest wooden homes still standing in Manhattan? The 6th largest cathedral in the world? The largest mausoleum in the United States? (And that’s all still North of Central Park!)
I’ll be sure to add in places in each area that could provide you with one full day’s experience, should you get a chance to visit after the shutdown is lifted (or if you live nearby and have a face mask)!
So, yes, I expect this to be quite a long series – and I may sprinkle in some other “stuff” just to break it up… but we’ve got plenty of time right??? (… thanks, Covid-19!)
Back then, the Babylonians (whose year began in what we’d consider mid-March, when crops were planted) made promises to the gods, expecting good fortune if their promises were kept throughout the year.
The Romans adopted this idea, as well, and the very month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the two-faced god who faces both into the past and into the future, perhaps symbolizing both the reflection on the past year and the hope and promise of what the next year might bring.
Janus, god of beginnings and passages
The 1700s found Christianity adopting the practice of keeping night vigils of prayer and reflection, lasting all night into the morning on New Year’s Day – A practice that is still found in many communities, today.
We’re hardwired, it seems, to see beginnings of any kind – such as the start of a new calendar year – with mixtures of awe, hope, apprehension, and reflection. And, though now a secular tradition, we still strive to make promises to ourselves. Only about 8% of people keep their resolutions, apparently, but it’s striking that after all this time, we’re still making them, even if we know many will fall by the wayside.
The marked passage of time must affect us on a deep level, to spark the desire to make such promises.
This brings me to a poem by a favorite poet of mine, Billy Collins. In his brilliant way, he captures the universal with the mundane, and questions this new year’s day, and what it means to us all.
Is it a second birthday? Is it a day to dread, or to look forward to?
To me, it’s a time I know I can meditate on and re-dedicate myself to living wildly, blooming where I’m planted, showing gratitude and love to the Universe and to those around me, and keeping fresh and new the love I share with my husband.
What about you?
May you have the happiest of years, starting today. Happy New Year!
New Year’s Day by Billy Collins Everyone has two birthdays according to the English essayist Charles Lamb, the day you were born and New Year’s Day—
a droll observation to mull over as I wait for the tea water to boil in a kitchen that is being transformed by the morning light into one of those brilliant rooms of Matisse.
“No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference,” writes Lamb, for unlike Groundhog Day or the feast of the Annunciation,
New Year’s marks nothing but the pure passage of time, I realized, as I lowered a tin diving bell of tea leaves into a little ocean of roiling water.
I like to regard my own birthday as the joyous anniversary of my existence, probably because I was, and remain to this day in late December, an only child.
And as an only child— a tea-sipping, toast-nibbling only child in a bright, colorful room— I would welcome an extra birthday, one more opportunity to stop what we are doing for a moment and celebrate my presence here on earth.
And would it not also be a small consolation to us all for having to face a death-day, too, an X drawn through a number in a square on some kitchen calendar of the future,
the day when each of us is thrown off the train of time by a burly, heartless conductor as it roars through the months and years,
party hats, candles, confetti, and horoscopes billowing up in the turbulent storm of its wake.
To me, this means not knowing enough – not knowing the best way to proceed – not knowing how to do things correctly, so that you don’t look or sound or seem like a complete fool.
It might also be the reason I obsessively learned German before visiting Austria for the first time (a little bit different than learning Gaelic for fun before visiting Ireland, ha ha…). I just did not want to look foolish or be caught like a deer in headlights simply because I didn’t know what to do or what to say.
If you don’t know enough German, here’s a word that encapsulates what I’m talking about:
What does it mean?
Literally, it’s closest to saying “Excuse me,” or “Sorry.”
Of course, I found I didn’t need to excuse myself as much as I had expected I would – partly because more people at least understand English than expected (though it’s best not to have the highest of expectations in this regard), and partly because, well, things are always so much easier than expected when you’re in the thick of it… and if they’re not easy, then you at least know that those excruciating bits have an ending point, and you always end up learning something to make your next experience less awful.
Like two nights ago when a cashier’s register broke down and she couldn’t see how much I owed her, and I didn’t know how to tell her the numbers, in German, to help her. So I went back to the apartment where we’re staying and memorized the patterns of German numbers… my husband caught me counting feverishly to one hundred under my breath before getting out of bed the next morning.
… Did I mention the fear of not knowing?
Honestly, the fear of not knowing is the reason it took so long for me to finally write another blog entry, earlier today. I was afraid of not knowing how to start again. Afraid of not knowing what to write about. Surely I’d look foolish if I simply picked up where I left off, right?
But I’ve learned a few things since I last wrote here. Things that helped me shut that voice up – the one that tells me not to bother, since I’m so afraid.
But… there is more to it, right? I mean, those of us who battle depression or anxiety know that it isn’t just as simple as “do it anyway.” And I know Carrie Fisher would probably agree, that this little soundbyte isn’t enough to jump start our minds when they’re frozen in fear.
It’s not as simple as “Just do it.” If it were that simple, we would all have everything we want. There’s something really foundational that has to happen before we can take action, and that is that we must learn to conquer our own feelings.
Wow. This really hits the nail on the head, right? Mel Robbins created the 5 Second Rule for this exact reason – pushing yourself to do something, with a simple action that can actually make it possible.
“When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action.“
There is a wealth of information about this rule, which you can find here, but suffice to say this really, truly works! It’s all about acting on the few seconds before an idea turns into inaction, and the physical actual countdown kicks your mind and body into gear!
Today, I left my journal behind before a 2 and a half hour train ride. I thought, “Well, now I can’t write. Sad face.” But then, I remembered my blog, and my fear of picking it back up… and that fear reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s words, and thanks to Mel Robbins, I knew what to do.
And I’ve applied it to my German-speaking experiences, too, here in Austria. I might not know what to say, or whether or not they speak English, but I just take a deep breath and…