On New Year’s Day I was working out in the gym. Rocking along to some 80’s music when out of nowhere, Stevie Wonder’s smooth music slid into my ears:
“When we believe in things we don’t understand, we suffer.”
Truer words were never spoken.
I thought about the previous year and all the complexity held within the politics, fires, protests, movements, lies, deceit, and misunderstandings we were collectively and individually a part of. The suffering all this created became very clear.
In a muddy kind of way.
So like usual, it started me thinking, over thinking and ruminating…
What does suffering mean? Do I suffer like everyone else? Is suffering different for each of us?
That’s very simplistic and doesn’t really clear things up. My dog could have written that and that definition leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Is it clear for you?
Buddhists believe we all suffer, and the cause of this mental suffering is unmet desires from trying to hold on to fleeting pleasure, and ignorance around our own mortality.
But understanding we all suffer and knowing what suffering actually FEELS like aren’t the same thing.
What does suffering feel like? Is it the same for all of us?
Is suffering physical, mental, or both?
When someone suffers at the hands of someone else who suffers the most?
Does the one perpetrating the suffering know what they are doing? Is making someone else suffer intentional?
If suffering is different for each of us, do we really know that we cause suffering to others?
When you can’t control the outcome of an event, do you suffer?
How does suffering manifest physically? Does it manifest physically?
This makes my head spin.
What I’ve learned in my almost 6 decades of living is that definitions can’t always be defined. Many words contain subtleties, nuance and complexities dictionaries can’t possibly cover. Often, definitions are emotional, which are feelings that can’t always be explained.
To complicate matters, as we move in to a more technologically “advanced” world, our form of communication (texting, email and written/photographic word) lacks the finesse to understand the nuance person to person conversations once held.
So maybe we need to go back to defining what we mean when we say certain words. Because in reality, your suffering may not be like my suffering. And should we understand that in order to better love one another and/or get along with each other?
One thing is certain, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world.
The people who will survive and thrive through these changes, are the people who understand a simple, yet complicated reality:
The only things in life that are guaranteed, are death and change.
I live in a city where under these current circumstances, uncertainty is swirling around in the air. I can feel it. I live in a city because I like the noise, the diverse crowds, access to amazing food, culture, and theatre. But recently, during my morning walk, I was awakened to an uncertainty I didn’t think I’d ever see in a busy city.
The city was quiet – almost silent.
I walked over to one of my favorite gardens and was met with isolation. In what was once a bustling green space full of people chatting and the sound of fountains creating a soothing environment, it was now mostly empty. The only people there were the ones standing in the food line. Something else I’ve never seen in this public park.
In some ways it was very peaceful. In others it was disquieting.
The uncertainty of not knowing if the city will ever wake up, made me look at the rest of my walk differently.
I enjoyed crossing streets without the fear of being flattened, but missed the hustle and bustle of moving cars navigating confusing city streets.
I walked past a beautiful historic church, its doors closed and steps empty on a day that should have been full of rejoicing.
I noticed the museums, also shuttered from the unseen devastation, uncertain of their future vitality, their viability brought down by something smaller than our brains could understand and our eyes could see.
I walked through a park once full of small voices happily screeching for parents to push them higher. Wondering if the parks new inhabitants would be human, plant material or rodents.
My morning walk made me think about the theme of my yoga class.
Yoga teaches there are choices when faced with uncertainty.
One thing glorious about human beings, is their ability to adapt. When hanging upside down in Downward Dog, our perspective literally changes. To add complexity, you have no idea what the teacher is going to ask you to do next. So you have to literally go with the flow.
There’s a lot of literally in yoga. Living in a literal state insists that you stay in the literal present moment. You have to pay attention to NOW. Right NOW. Because in the exact moment you are practicing yoga, on the mat is the only moment that matters. If your head leaves the game, you fall, you lose track of where you are, you get distracted. You ruminate.
One of the big lessons of yoga is paying attention – or being present to what is. Not what you want it to be. It’s not about what’s going to happen when you leave, you have no control over that other than knowing the directions home.
You have to be.
Right where you are.
As a yoga teacher, I like to ask my students to stand on one foot and balance. While balancing, I then ask them to think about a worry they have, or look around the room to distract themselves. Without fail, they wobble and usually fall. The only ones left standing are the ones who know my trick.
Worrying creates instability. Mentally and physically. It’s a physical and mental lesson.
Uncertainty is a given in life. We all face it.
There are plenty of things to worry about. Why do we go looking for more things that give us anxiety? We will all face struggle as we progress through life’s maze.
But we each get to choose how to wander the path. Do you do it ruminating and worrying about things that might not happen? Do you project failure and walls you will need to climb that aren’t really there? Or can you project an image of a future you want to see? Which image feels better to you?
Even with all the uncertainty my walk exposed me to, I know the future will be what it is. I only hope I can adapt and change to make it what I want.
I’ve been teaching yoga for over a decade. I currently teach online. If you are interested in learning skills to help you navigate uncertainty and change, send me an email.
Maybe together we can create a balance between what was, and the quiet of what can be.
A few years ago I was coming home from a trip and my sister picked me up at the airport. It was a late night flight and we were the only car on the highway.
We were deep in conversation when out of nowhere a dark shadow came up out of the corner of my eye and “BAM”, the car rock and rolled as whatever it was got hit by the front, then back tire.
There was an awful moment of silence when our brains were working faster than our mouths; Do we turn around? What was that? What should we do?
“Fu*k!! Crap!! What the hell was that?” I screamed, looking back hoping whatever it was got up and walked away and the car shuddering was an engine problem.
“It was a raccoon, I saw it come off the shoulder. There wasn’t anything I could do so I kept going” my sister lamented. “I feel sick.”
“This sucks, that poor raccoon.” I agreed.
My sister stared straight ahead. I thought she might cry. The sad demise of this raccoon started a conversation about empathy. My sister is often too empathetic, from my point of view. She literally FEELS when someone or something is hurting. She feltthe loss of the raccoon almost as if it was someone she knew.
Her emotions react strongly to the suffering of others. My sister is what’s known as an empath.
She can’t control it. It’s what makes her who she is.
But being an empath often dictates certain behaviors. She avoids confrontation at all cost, saying no, or disagreeing when she thinks that someone else’s feelings may get hurt. Her empathy lives on overdrive, driving her life decisions. Making her go out of her way, often at her own expense, to make sure SHE doesn’t have to live in the emotionally uncomfortable feeling of what might happen if she stands up for herself, or sets boundaries around other people’s behavior. She wants to be “nice”, often allowing her niceness to affect her life.
She is a people pleaser.
This isn’t bad, for the most part. I’m only explaining to educate others that empathy is what people SHOULD feel when something bad happens, and there are all levels of empathy.
My empathy level isn’t on overdrive. I don’t know what “normal” empathy is, but I can temper my feelings and adapt when emotions take over my senses. Okay, sometimes I can’t. I too have thrown a few temper tantrums in my day…
So yes, I felt sad for the raccoon, but I didn’t stay in that sadness and think about it for as long as my sister did. I couldn’t go back and save the raccoon. I was sorry we hit it but I could rationalize that it was an accident and not done intentionally. She could too, but the feelings of empathy that came up created an uncomfortable feeling in her body, her emotions overriding her ability to find her center, her emotional balance.
In the world today there seems to be a disconnect, or a suppression of empathic understanding. In general (which means there are always exceptions) truly empathic beings are non-violent. Those who FEEL for others can’t be violent. Literally. It goes without saying, even though I just said it. It seems obvious but if you aren’t someone who FEELS empathy, you can’t understand it.
Again, this isn’t bad. It just is. Unless a war is started from lacking empathy. But that’s for another post.
I look at all the disagreements our culture and other cultures have and I believe most of it goes back to empathy, or lacking empathy. Those who FEEL it, and over FEEL it. And those who have less or no FEELINGS of empathy.
Let’s look at homeless people. If you live in a place where there aren’t any, you don’t really have to feel anything, because you don’t and can’t see the problem. Sure, we all watch the news, or what we like to call news. It’s usually not news, it’s entertainment. News could be a chance to educate viewers, giving them some options to get involved in the process we all have to live with. Our news doesn’t do that.
I digressed, back to the issue at hand. If you hear about people who live on the street through the television or internet, you might momentarily feel bad but what do you do with that feeling? Nothing? That’s normal. We can’t react to every feeling, or emotion we have. Can we?
But what if you walk by a homeless person and say something like “they deserve to be homeless and they’re all drug addicts” Does that mean you aren’t empathic or FEEL for the person?
I don’t have an answer to that but I doubt it. I have heard more than one person say that. And frankly, it’s said from either a place of ignorance (not knowing) or yes – an inability to feel or acknowledge the other persons plight – which is a lack of empathy. A place where the person is only seen as a body, not a complete human being with a back story and life that got them to where they are. It could also be that you are uncomfortable with human feelings so you place blame to push those feelings away. That’s common too.
I often wonder how many wars, elections, political decisions, etc are made from a place where other peoples lives and conditions are not acknowledged or considered. Instead of looking at the whole, we only think of ourselves. Is that service to the greater good? When does the greater good matter more than self?
When does empathy matter?
I don’t know if there is an empathy pill. There should be. I’ve known a sociopath (a person who cannot feel empathy) in my life and it was a soul crushing relationship, literally. I know I don’t want sociopath’s ruling society. But I know that often, to get to the top of the pile, you have to step on some hands and cause pain.
What if the next time we find ourselves reacting to something we don’t like, whether it’s a comment, an article we don’t agree with, an action someone does to us, or anything that gets our dander ruffled, we pause. That’s all – pause.
In that moment of pause take a breath.
Relax your shoulders.
Is my response necessary? Will my response show empathy and understanding? Am I a total ass or can I be kind, even if I don’t agree? Then reply.
Or don’t. Because really, does it matter?
People who are highly empathic focus on listening, rather than speaking because they want to put themselves in the other person’s situation. In order to truly understand the difficulties or triumphs that the other person is feeling, they want to know all the details about what is happening in the other person’s life. They feel emotions more than think, or suppress.
Ignoring a feeling is not an option for an empath.
Here are eight ways to strengthen your own empathy:
Challenge yourself. Take some time to volunteer or read about peoples life experiences who may not live the life you’ve lived.
Get out of your usual environment. Volunteer. If you live in the country or suburbs, visit a city and vice versa. Make eye contact, even if it feels uncomfortable, and see what happens. Challenge what you usually think. Just because we think it, doesn’t make it true or real.
Get feedback. Ask questions, be curious.
Explore the heart not just the head. How do you feel when you see others struggle? Guilt is often a feeling of pressure that we don’t want to change or see things any way other than how we think they should be.
Walk in others’ shoes. If you can’t take this literally, imagine what it’s like. Ask yourself “how did this person get in this situation?” My guess is, you may not have an answer to that.
Examine your biases. I used to think homeless people were lazy and it was a choice. When I got out of my element and used the first 5 ideas here, I learned I was wrong. I changed my bias.
Cultivate your sense of curiosity. Instead of making assumptions, get the facts.
Ask better questions.
In these trying times, we can all check our empathy levels. If we have too much, maybe we need to question that. If we have too little, maybe the change needs to come from within.
When I was young, my mother used to say she was going to go live on the street to show her children how privileged we were. I never understood her point but we used to beg her to keep that promise. She never did.
When I moved to the city I didn’t give people who lived on the street, or homeless people, too much thought. My first city apartment was on the fringe section of the city where there was a drug problem and therefore, lots of homelessness. Or vice versa, I’m not sure which. My naive assumption from my seat of privilege was, if I gave the homeless person a buck or two, I would help them solve their problem. Or at least make them feel better about me and help me ease my conscience.
However, I didn’t notice the homeless population decrease by my interpretation of kindness. And my brother aptly pointed out that in many ways, I might be perpetuating the problem.
My perception of their desperation broke my heart. I guess I’m one of those bleeding heart types, or an empath. I’ll take that as a compliment. The alternative is to be a rock. Rocks are cold…
So I changed my tactics and began to buy meals, drinks and food for the homeless when I could. During these interactions I would frequently talk to them. Many of them said they didn’t have family, had no place to go, they weren’t allowed to stay in shelters during the day so they had no choice but to hang on street corners, and many of them were just desperate and had no option. The desperate people, or newly homeless, were easy to spot. They looked physically put together but were usually crying or had the look of despair.
There’s another kind of homeless person I see in the city. They seem a little, or a lot, – off. They are unkept, smell bad, look awful, and are often talking to themselves or someone I can’t see. I try to steer clear of them.
Until one day I didn’t. Because why? They are suffering, not dangerous, right?
Standing on the street corner, waiting to cross I hear, “Ma’am, do you got some change to spare?”
I turned and saw a lady dressed well, but messy and replied: “No, I don’t. But I’m willing to buy you a meal if you’re hungry.”
Leaning on one hip she asked slowly, “Okay” and paused. “But I just ate so what I really need is some money to get home.”
I paused, contemplating how much energy I wanted to put into this transaction. “I can help you with that. I’ll buy you a train ticket or if you can get there on the subway, that’s where I’m headed so I will get you on the subway. Where do you live?”
“I live in Northeast. Can I get there on the subway?” I wondered how she got down here to begin with.
The conversation continued and I let her know I wasn’t sure but we worked out a plan and began to cross the street.
Not even to the other side of the street with her lagging behind me, I hear “Lady!! Why you walkin’ so fast? Slow down, I can’t keep up!”
Okay, I’m getting yelled at by someone I’m trying to help. But I persist.
“You’re going to need to walk a little faster. I would like to get on the train and if you want to get on too, you’ll need to catch up.” I wasn’t even 2 yards in front of her.
“Okay, okay” she says as she continues at her slow pace. Granted, she may have a physical difficulty I am not aware of.
I can only be aware of what I’m aware of.
The crowd increases as we head down the stairs. Turning the corner I hear coming from behind me, “Lady!! You tryin’ to kill me?! I can’t walk this fast! You gotta slow down!” followed by some expletives I won’t mention.
I’m getting flustered and just want to get away. This will teach me to be nice. Did I mention it’s New Year’s Eve?
I was arguing with myself what to do next. My kindness being pushed to its limit. “I’m not going to help you if you yell at me. The turnstiles are right up here if you want to get on the train please hurry.”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming” as I wait at the turnstile.
“Now how do I get to where I’m going?” she asks.
My patience is worn. I’m a little nervous because I’m heading in the opposite direction and though I’m kind, I’m not so kind as to go on the train with her. My kindness limit has been reached.
I gave her basic directions. There are only two subway tracks in this city and there is a person in a kiosk right in front of us who’s job is to help people.
I leave her there as I head off for my evening plans. Heading down the stairs to the tracks I hear her yelling; “Hey lady! You gotta slow down! I’m not following you, you know. I just want to get on the train!”
Her voice fades away as I call my friend to allow a safety net to her yelling and a means to look like it wasn’t me who let her in the station.
The longer I live in the city and pay attention to the homeless population, I am beginning to understand that many homeless people are mentally and physically challenged and have no where to go. Homelessness isn’t an option for many, it’s their only choice because they can’t maintain what most of us consider a “normal” existence.
Ugh. The repercussions of that fateful decision are obvious in our major cities. It’s not cool, and I can’t solve the problem, and I don’t even know how. It’s frustrating that the richest nation in the world makes it acceptable for people to freeze on the street. Again, call me a bleeding heart. Is it okay with you that there are people living, literally, on the sidewalk?
Another night while coming home from a show, my friend and I passed a man in a wheelchair in the subway station. It was one of those frigid nights where walking fast was necessary to maintain body heat.
He was sitting at the top of the steps, bent over, wailing. I got choked up, looked around but had no idea what to do to help this man. My empathy was kicking in to overdrive, I couldn’t leave this man here to freeze.
As luck would have it, and I admit that I am often lucky, another man came up, patted him on the back and asked how he could help. My friend and I continued on our way home, feeling relief that the guilt of not helping was eased by another good samaritan.
When I sat down in my warm apartment, I got online and looked up how I could help the homeless. I found this site. They listed a phone number to call when you see a homeless person who needs help and they would come get them. I immediately put the number in my phone. I have used it a few times since.
If you want to help, Google how to help the homeless in your city. There are answers.
I occasionally volunteer at a food service company that feeds homebound people who can’t get out to get their own food. You can volunteer here. This is how we keep people off the street by supporting them when they have a home.
As a society, we need to be concerned about the entire life of a human being. We can’t expect to fight for their birth while we let their life become one of misery when “they” don’t, or can’t live up to “our” standards.
Aren’t they and our, us?
I’ve learned through my years that my ignorance of the real problem made it easy for me to ignore it and look away. I didn’t have to feel empathy when I didn’t see the suffering. So I looked away, or lived in a place full of rich white people. Now it’s right in my face, and it’s hard to ignore.
Not seeing it didn’t mean it wasn’t there, it gave me an excuse to ignore it, allowing it to be someone else’s problem.
You are someone else…
When the beauty of life is mired in the ugliness of human suffering we are all culpable. I can’t solve the homeless problem myself. But I can, at the very least, spread the word, help where I can, and try to create an atmosphere where other humans aren’t ignored.
I started weaving in the early 1980’s. It wasn’t a direct route to the process. Life, like weaving, is an intersection of events that make a seemingly simple thread- or path – part of an entire cloth, or life. So my path to weaving was just like life.
My parents made me go to college. That was the only direction I had after graduating high school.
When I got there, I had to pick a major so I decided on Psychology.
I thought it would be easy.
Psychology 101 was on a Wednesday night. The biggest party night of the week.
That didn’t go well. I ended up re-taking that class and was forced to find a new major…
So one day after my abysmal failure, I wandered into one of the oldest, dilapidated buildings on campus. Immediately, my nose was hit with the combined smell of oil paint, musty wood, linseed oil and torched solder. As I inhaled those representations of creativity, I continued to meander through the large two story foyer, the old wood floor creaking below my feet giving notice of my arrival. In a sunny corner room the late afternoon sunlight cast its beauty on the light oak floors.
The room was filled with weaving looms of all shapes and sizes. I never knew anything like this existed!
I continued wandering the foyer and the next room was a very large closet, filled from floor to ceiling with shelves of colorful cones of yarn. All types, sizes and textures. My heart skipped a beat. All I wanted to do was touch the yarn, unroll the spools, feel the texture in my hands and play.
I had to learn how to do this. So the next semester I signed up to be an artist.
My Dad wasn’t happy…
All I remember of those years are the late nights weaving. Sitting at the loom, inhaling my surroundings and enjoying my dinner of popcorn drenched in butter, Brewer’s yeast and dill. The perfect evening. All these years later, it still is.
Four years as an art major left me experienced enough to know that I could solve any life problem – except how to get a good paying job as an artist.
So I went back to college. This time for a business degree. My weaving and art degree wasn’t to be heard from again for 25 years as I pursued life in many different jobs. And every job was filled with problems to solve, so my art degree came in handy.
Eventually I found myself a divorced empty nester and the first thing I did was buy a loom. My time was finally mine to do with what I wanted. I wanted to weave and I had to re-learn what information had been lost to me, which was most of it.
So my design process became untraditional. It’s more like a clusterfu*k. Here’s how it goes…
First, while in the middle of a weaving project, (because frankly, the actual weaving is sometimes boring) I begin to design in my head the next project. This process is often interrupted by self imposed distractions like baking cookies, going for a walk or to happy hour. But eventually, the weaving design I want to explore next, becomes a vague idea in my mind.
Second – and the rest of this isn’t in any particular order – I pull some yarn from my stash and set it on a shelf so I can look at it and decide if it will work for whatever it is I’m going to do. I have a small stash by most weavers ideas of stash. I live in a small condo and too much gives me too many choices. I like less choice…
Eventually I put that yarn back and pick up another, then another. This could last for weeks. Even though my stash is small I like to take a while to decide.
Next I spend copious amounts of time looking through Handwoven Magazine, handweaving.net, all my weaving books and Pinterest to find a draft that might interest me.
Often I get on Fiberworks, the weaving software, and throw a few drafts up and start to play with color. I usually don’t use the colors I’ve picked. That would make too much sense. The vague idea in my mind stays vague until I start to wind my warp. Because who knows what might happen at the warping reel.
Anyway, after playing in Fiberworks for a while, changing the draft many times, I decide on something. Well – not really something – it’s more like I make a decision and just fly with it because there are too many options and I know something will work out and I better stop overthinking it or it will go on forever.
So I start to wind my warp. Really, I just go with whatever general color I have enough of. The design process up until this point is basically thrown out the window. I pick a yarn with a threading order in my head, a general knowledge of the width of the finished product and the idea that I will make it work, no matter what.
Serendipity at its best. Or worst, depending on how you look at it.
I wind part of the warp because my math is usually wrong no matter what I do, I put what I’ve wound on the loom in the pattern I decided on. I have to stop many times because I usually get the heddle count wrong and have to add more. Then I go wind more warp in a new color, go back to the loom and finish warping.
I like it this way. I get to see what is going on the loom and make adjustments if I want.
Cutting the tedium to get to the point, what I spent weeks planning usually never ends up being what I planned. It becomes something else.
And somehow it works.
Plans can change. And when they do and the process gets interrupted, there’s a choice. Throw it out and start over, and trust me, I’ve done that. Or adjust and adapt.
My years of weaving have taught how to make a viable fabric. My personality and skillset is the type that no matter what comes off the loom, I’ll figure out what it will become. That’s the way I roll.
Maybe a towel, maybe an apron. I’ve covered chairs with my fabric, made a few rugs, purses, and jackets. Now I’m experimenting with wall hangings.
My unconventional design technique rarely turns out to be a disaster. It’s all in how you look at it.
So for all you budding artists out there – don’t worry about the process. The process is only one tool in the end product. Learn how you learn, not how someone tells you to do it. Take direction from others, then turn that direction in a direction that is your own.
Some of my family and friends worry that I live in the city during the world’s worst pandemic. For them, it’s the perfect storm for a disaster.
I look at it very differently.
First, I live in a building that is locked down. No one other than immediate family is allowed in. I have a grocery store in my building so I don’t have to go out for food and toilet paper. With so many people in the building, everyone knows someone so as a group, we often order from local restaurants and grocers, negating more reason to go out.
But I still have to get out. Insanity would descend very quickly if I didn’t pursue my love of the outdoors. So my daughter and I have figured out how to make that work.
My daughter and I babysit occasionally for a few families in the city. We’ve been doing it for years.
So when the Corona pandemic rose over the horizon, crashing into our lives, we were called into action. Our periodic babysitting turned into a daily habit for 1 & 3 year old boys. The closing of their daycare made us “essential”. I never felt so important!
But the boys’ physician parents had a few rules. No screens and no food.
No problem, right?
It wasn’t a problem at first. The city was our oyster, open for exploration. Libraries, museums, playgrounds and public restrooms for help in potty training the 3 year old. This was gonna be fun!!
Until it wasn’t, and everything in the city closed down. I mean everything, even the bathrooms and playgrounds were taped off. Have you ever thought about potty training a kid when there’s no literal bathroom? In a city? I hadn’t, until I had to.
All that was available was open space.
After their 15 second attention span made the provincial activities like coloring, dancing, toy cars and online sources obsolete, we were forced to get creative. We needed something else to fill the time.
Google Maps became our friend. Philadelphia has one of the largest urban parks in the country. Fairmount Park, with over 2000 acres afforded us access to social distancing while staying in the city. We made it our goal to explore every acre we could while practicing social distancing.
When other humans figured out the park system and the trails got a little more crowded, we were forced to get creative again.
So here’s a list of how we used our daily time to explore the city while social distancing. If you need to get outside and stay away from others, maybe you can adapt this to your location.
We found nature trails that are wide, giving the wandering children berth to stay away from others and give the 4 of us and our dogs room to roam. The popular city trails, though wide, were filled with runners, dog walkers and other city dwellers. We had to get out into the deserted area of Fairmount Park. The kids learned how to hike. For them, this was a new adventure!
While National Park buildings, like the Constitution Center, were closed, the surrounding grounds were open for our exploration. We could look in windows, through fences and play ball on the once crowded lawns.
Most cities have large cemeteries. Small children don’t know they’re cemeteries so they became “Statue Parks” and our go to outdoor adventure as the weather got warmer and the streets more crowded with masked faces. There was literally no living beings on these grounds and we, along with the dogs, had free rein of the vast open acreage.
Philadelphia also has 5 world class museums within walking distance. The streets joining these museums are filled with empty fountains, spring blooming gardens and deserted streets. Every day became an adventure of naming and smelling the awakening fauna. Small kids walk slow and our exploration of the various gardens and paths surrounding these buildings quickly filled our time.
Rain didn’t stop us. City living requires good rain coats and umbrellas so out we went, taking cover when the rain got steady. Nothing like a little kid jumping in a puddle to make you smile on a dreary day!
Zoom and Facetime came in handy on rainy days for childish chats with the boys cousins. There was phone hugging since physical hugging wasn’t allowed and many “I love you more” squeals of delight from one home to the other:)
Exhausted after our morning walks, we’d put the kids in the car and head over to our favorite coffee shop for a well deserved caffeine injection. Our favorite coffee shop engineered their take out window specifically for pandemic use.
What I’ve learned from these adventures is that small kids think small. I didn’t need an elaborate set up or fancy coloring books. There’s nothing better to a small kid than a stick race on the river. All babysitting took was a little creativity and an afternoon nap for me.
What have you been up to during this pandemic to maintain your sanity while distancing socially?
I have a rule, be on the subway by 10:30 pm or take a Lyft. But it’s New Year’s Eve so I’m safe. There will be plenty of people on the subway. I can do this.
My confidence, driven by Champagne and wine, makes the subway accessible.
Walking Market Street, I navigate the crowds like my Mini on a country road. No worries, I can get to the subway in a flash. I’m on the right side of the street, headed west. I hope…
Yep. I swipe through the turnstile and wait – for only a minute as the train pulls up. The crowd isn’t the family driven crowd from 6pm making their way to the fireworks. It’s a different crowd, More Philly – diverse, scrappy. A little drunk.
I love this.
I grab a seat at the front of a car. Safe, next to a couple heading west. Who know’s where they’re really headed.
I put in my headphone as Cheryl Crow starts in with Leaving Las Vegas. The perfect tune for a subway ride.
I pass 5th, 8th, and I watch as the Trolley stops of 19th and 22nd light the way to 30th Street Station.
It’s past my time rule. But I’m invisible in my grey hair and slightly wrinkling skin of my late 50’s as I exit the train at my home stop. I know this station. At least I know the way out and in. I feel okay here as long as I stay alert, only keeping one headphone in, the other ear open to the sounds around me.
There aren’t any. It’s quiet tonight.
The cool air hits my face as I climb the steps out of the subway, passing the only homeless person I see setting up their “tent” in the stairwell. The empathic reminder that I am human.
I see the city, in all it’s glory, rise in the lights ahead of me as I come from underground.
I know better than to walk the north side of JFK on my way home. So I hang on the south side. The beggars and homeless set up their lives on the northern side of the boulevard where monetary handouts are negated by the speed of the cars running the lights.
I cross where lights guarantee my safety in their false pretense of safe. I descend the steps, knowing once I reach the bottom the safety of my financial investment awaits my presence. Yes, my neighborhood, in its gentility, guarantees my perceived safety by its sheer existence of concierges, garages and high value in a city where life’s value is based on the covering of your home. Concrete? Mylar? Cardboard?
1a: the usually underground part of a seed plant body…
A few months ago, my apartment was packed for another move. Hopefully the last in a long time.
Whatever “long time” means…
Moving is hard work, but it’s also exciting. It’s taken me 3 years to decide to make my adventure in the city permanent.
I grew up in the suburbs. Well, really I grew up all over the place. My Dad worked as a plant specialist for the government and every time he moved up the government scale, we moved across the country.
Our family never really planted roots.
It never occurred to me moving wasn’t a normal family activity until my early 40’s when an acquaintance mentioned how hard it must have been to move every few years. I remember looking at her quizzically. Moving was our way of life. It was my normal, so no, it wasn’t hard. My mom did most the work anyway.
My Dad worked on a team that is responsible for Cape American Beach Grass, the grass you see growing on the dunes on the eastern seaboard of the United States.
This grass was planted along the coastline because it has deep roots and helps stop erosion of our dune system, a system of constantly moving sand that when left to its own devices, or the devices of men and construction, would change the terrain and roots of our towns, homes and familial landscapes.
In one sense, my Dad’s life was spent planting roots.
In another sense, the life of our family was spent digging up those roots and replanting them every time we moved.
Roots are what trees and plants need to grow deep into the soil, collecting nutrients and water so they can grow. Creating a strong foundation to keep them from falling over or blowing down.
Humans also need roots to be emotionally and physically planted in life. These invisible roots create a connection to the human experience and grounding into who we are.
When we humans aren’t grounded, we are lost – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Just like plants, only metaphorically we fall over. We only stay upright to give the illusion we have our emotional/spiritual acts together.
But humans can adapt. When trees lose their root system they die. When our roots are disturbed by life, either our own making, or interference from something we can’t control, we can find another way to plant new roots. Trees don’t get that option.
Without that grounding, we are like leaves, being blown around by a leaf blower. Never knowing where we might land. We feel disjointed, stuck in our homes without connection to others. We feel lost, or just off, like we took the “wrong” path and don’t know how to get back on the right one.
Sometimes we don’t even know we are lost because physically we know exactly where we are.
My life was filled with up-rooting and re-rooting our family. I found my roots in the relationships I built with family and friends. My roots weren’t in the homes where I lived, but in the memories and stories my family and friends created as my journey through life moved forward.
So what roots you? Your family, your job, friends, where you live, your pets, hobbies? One of these? None of these? All of these?
If you don’t feel rooted, why not? What can you change in yourself to help you find your roots?
In my past life I wasn’t a good listener. I would be in a conversation with someone and when they said something I wanted to reply to, I would start gathering my thoughts in my head. Then, when there was a pause, and sometimes there wasn’t a pause, I would interrupt them verbally with my thoughts.
The entire time I was gathering those thoughts, I wasn’t listening to a word they said.
It wasn’t until I was in therapy and going to a Yoga Teacher Training that I began to learn that listening is an art and like any good art, it takes practice.
So I began to practice listening. It was really hard. I so wanted to jump in and interrupt with my thoughts. I was sure my words and opinions were far more important than the words of who ever I was talking to.
So I had to bite my tongue a few times.
It hurt, and sometimes there was blood. But over time and with practice, I got better at listening, and really hearing what the other person was saying.
As my listening got easier, I began to honor my own curiosity by asking questions. Not because I was nosy but because I wanted to learn what made the relationship I was gaining tick. What I learned from others and how the conversations began to morph and shift was eye opening. Instead of one person talking over the other, each person was allowed space to hear, then speak. The conversations went back and forth, each respecting the opinion of the other. Not always agreeing, but honoring the words that created the story of how each of our beliefs are formed.
This was a new way of living for me. I began to feel like I was really getting to know and understand my friends through hearing their stories, thoughts and learning about their lives and how they became who they are.
Hearing what they had to say and learning new perspectives created a feeling of intimacy I never knew could exist in new relationships. New experiences began to open as I started to live in a world seen through the eyes of the people I heard.
As time went on, I noticed some changes in the relationships that surrounded me. They began to shift and morph…
Friends who had been like the old me, always competing for air space in conversations, began to fade away. I no longer had the energy or desire to stay in my head thinking of what to say or being interrupted by the words they deemed so important. This freedom cleared my mind, slowed me down and left me open and free to be more engaged in the present conversation. Friends who never asked my thoughts began to fade. I no longer wanted to hang out with people who only wanted to fill the air with inane gossip, judgements of others, and stories of their dogs poop.
I didn’t really know who these people were. I was only presented with the outward appearance they wanted me to see.
These weren’t relationships. They felt like relay races.
Life got more interesting. My friend base changed. I got asked out more, invited to more events and evenings with friends. My relationships grew in meaning.
Listening gave me time. Time to pause, slowing down so I could learn. Slowing down often created what I once considered to be awkward silence. Instead, this became space for thoughtful communication.
More importantly, as I quieted down so I could hear, the more I learned from others. The more I learned, the more my self confidence grew. This new found confidence gave me the courage to step out into the world, knowing I could hold my own space where life evolved around me. I didn’t feel the need to control conversation and fill the air with wasted vowels. Instead, I let conversations shift and move only when there was the need for worthwhile words.
Talking all the time only told others what I already knew. Listening allowed me the ability to learn more and converse more effectively. When an opinion was different than mine, I got to ask them to explain, and often I learned a completely different perspective. A perspective I wouldn’t have known had I kept talking over people. It didn’t mean I had to agree with them, but it gave me pause to consider how the lives of others are different than mine and were formed from different circumstances.
Now when I choose to talk, I will be speaking from a place of wisdom instead of filling empty space with careless syllables.