Yesterday was my birthday, and once again I was astonished at how fast this past year went. Zip! It flew by! Again I’ve had the dreaded thought that my remaining birthdays may be limited, as I’m now officially tripping off the top of the”middle age” peak. Ugh! Not a good way to think about the passage of time. So, I’m on a mission to reframe aging, so I don’t spend the rest of my days playing “Beat the Clock.” (If you are gloriously young, you probably have no clue about that reference, as you wouldn’t have been born when that show was on TV. Well, hooray for you).
So far, I’ve decided that one clear antidote to aging with dread is to stop focusing on the outside of things and more on the inside – to not be seduced by appearances, but more cognizant of substance. That way, wrinkles and gravity’s effect on bodies, including my own, will be less central, (and horrifying!). So, who cares if your butt is two inches lower now than when you were 25? It’s the quality of your mind and heart that protrudes with significance!
One other antidote seems to be less focus on the endlessly undone things in life – the “bucket list” of amazing, challenging, creative, fun or obligatory things remaining untapped or unfinished, and more focus on one’s achievements. What accomplishments do you feel proud of? What will you be remembered for? What relationships and experiences have you had that you cherish right now? It’s a “glass half full” frame, much less melancholy, more grateful!
While I’m working on my list of antidotes to aging with dread, I did see one affirmation on a birthday card which says it all perfectly: “At this moment in time you are the youngest you will ever be for the rest of your life.” Ah, youth……
I’m writing this in the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attack in multiple locations of Paris, apparently the 289th attack of 2015. There’s no apt way to describe this scourge of hatred and violence perpetrated against innocent people all over the world. What stands out after each horrific incident however, is the heroism and altruism of first responders, and the humanity of people identifying with the trauma of violation and loss. The victor is love. What survivors of these attacks recount, is how, in the midst of the violence, when they didn’t think they’d survive, they focused on the enormity of love they had experienced in their lives, thinking they were saying goodbye to all the people who were precious to them.
I think the lesson in all this mayhem needs to be love – not only for your family and friends, but for all the people who have helped you, been kind to you, given you inspiration and support, or just made you laugh. If we could all give more energy each day to feeling and showing appreciation and love to the people around us we’d not only be physically healthier, but emotionally more robust, and spiritually more at peace and in harmony with all of life. If we didn’t wait for a catastrophic moment but instead made a daily habit of focusing on this gratitude and our common humanity, we’d be happier, more connected, and more loving as a species.
If you live in the Northeast and your landscape looked anything like this on Thanksgiving, chances are the experience of gratitude took on a whole new meaning this year! When was the last time you felt extremely thankful for having the prerogative to wash your hands with warm running water, or to flush a toilet after doing your business? Or, have you felt thankful for the ability to roast a turkey in the oven properly and not heat up a measly chicken on the grill, after mushing through a foot of snow to get there? Do you routinely want to marry the generator repairman just because he shows up in a timely way? (This time, in the middle of Thanksgiving day!) Are you very grateful when your quirky family shows up, alive? How about feeling thankful for having lights and heat on, simultaneously? Well, I sure was this holiday!
Maybe the universe laughed at us, delivering a big message in an inconvenient but timely way, wacking us with a N’oreaster right in the middle of a holiday geared toward being more thankful. Message understood, thank you….
As the seasons change, many people I know are bemoaning the loss of “time off” they’ve had in the summer. There’s an obvious feeling of ambivalence about the upcoming season of busyness and social obligations dovetailing with work and family responsibilities. People tend to dread being over scheduled and deprived of personal time to self-nurture or play. The myth we seem to have bought into in the American culture is that one needs to be on vacation to fully experience joy, spontaneity, discovery and meaningful connection.
I invite you instead, to explore the experience of what I call “time on,” or living your everyday life with more wonder, appreciation and joy. Start by regularly taking a “snapshot” of the present moment – notice your breathing, the air on your skin, the color of the sky, the sound of the wind in the leaves. Notice the quality of the conversation and connection with the person facing you. Take a “snapshot” of this sharing as it is unfolding. Savor it. Drive more slowly and take in the tones of the changing season. Take a “snapshot” of that field of hay, or the person trying to get somewhere in the car next to you. Take a risk and smile at them and your common circumstance. Be more playful with yourself and those around you. Laugh at yourself more often. Be physical – dance, walk, run, move! Appreciate the daily work your body does for you, and treat it with kindness and compassion. Stop, and pet your dog or your cat if you have one. It will be good for both of you. Pick a wildflower and stick it in your hair. Write a poem, play an instrument. Turn off your automatic TV watching, and read a good book or listen to a symphony.
Just be present for your life each day, not just for one or two weeks of vacation in the summer. Use your “time on,” your everyday life, to be cognizant of, and grateful for your blessings. You’ll be a much happier person…….
PS. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and eloquent writer, is a terrific resource for the issues of happiness, staying present and in the “now.” You can get any of his wonderful books on these subjects at my Amazon store by going to: http://astore.amazon.com/wwwsusanlagec-20
Here it is October 1st, the leaves are falling, the temperature has dropped radically, and most noticeably, it’s getting dark at about 5:30 PM. No doubt about it, the summer of 2014 has come and gone. Before we know it, we’ll be bundled up in winter coats, shoveling or snow-blowing our driveways, freezing our butts getting into frigid cars, sliding around on icy walkways, looking at a grey and white landscape and hiding out indoors. I love it!
When I admit that, everyone I know, (except for one sleepy client today), looks at me like I have two heads. They freely complain about all the above developments, expecting me to commiserate, and when instead I get all warm and fuzzy about the upcoming six-month winter, they probably begin to wonder if they’re sitting with a sane person. Some never come back for another session…
I’m convinced that I have the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) – the condition in which some people’s brain chemistry shifts into depressive mode around the lowered level and duration of light in the colder months. For me, I get happier as the skies get grayer and the weather gets murkier. I call it “sultry” weather – nice and cloudy and real chilly. It reminds me of happy adventures in Ireland and England. It may also be some nostalgic fragment of genetic memory from my slavic ancestry, harkening me back to the cold, dark weather in Russia and Poland where my grandparents grew up. Or, maybe I really am psychotic. But whatever the origin, I’ll share some reasons why you too might look forward to the six month “winter” we’re famous for here in Maine, instead of getting all bummed out about it:
- If it was warm and sunny all the time you’d lose the excitement about seasonal changes
- When it’s murky and cold out there’s no pressure to do fabulous things outdoors
- Grey, cold days give you space to be still and contemplative, less busy and frenetic
- There’s no need for air conditioners, fans, and other costly energy hogs
- You don’t have to tend to your garden or your lawn when there’s 2 feet of snow outside
- Without the chill of winter you’d never have an excuse to wear all those groovy boots
- Baths and hot tubs are much more delectable when you’re freezing your ass
- You have much more reason to tuck in with a good movie, book or instrument
- How would you ever experience the joy of skiing or snowshoeing without the snow?
- Without winter there would be no savoring of good soups, stews or comfort food
- There’s no earthly joy like climbing under a cozy down quilt when it’s frigid outside
- Monotone landscapes rest your eyes and brain from all those vibrant summer colors
- You pet your thankful dog, cat or hamster more when you’re hanging out indoors
- You have more time to read deep, thought-provoking blogs like this one
What more can I say?
So, if you have S.A.D. and are starting to get depressed facing the arctic blast, get one of those special lights to reset your brain chemistry, sit back and relax!
As you may be aware from my last post, “Zippy Goes Down,” I had an accident several weeks ago, resulting in a broken ankle. It’s required me to be hobbling around on an aircast when I have to move about, and to be mindful of each step, mindful of how much I rest, and to pay attention to the effects of all of this on, not only my foot, but my whole body. Aside from the lessons I’ve been learning about letting go, relaxing, and resilience, the experience has been teaching me something unexpected – to be more compassionate toward my body as it heals. This is something almost foreign for many women in America, who chronically complain about the size of their thighs, breasts, hips, etc., and compulsively beat their bodies into submission through crazy diets and brutal exercise regimens.
As I’ve watched my ankle grow stronger and seen the x-rays showing the healing bone, I’ve been amazed at the capacity of the human body, my body to bounce back with some TLC. It’s made me think back to the amazement and respect I felt for my body after giving birth to our son without incident. (I did that?!) It’s also made me much more appreciative of all the other things my loyal body does for me, usually without complaint every single day. So, I’ve made it my mission to befriend my body, as I think we all should, by being mindful of treating it with respect every day, appreciating it the way I would a trusted friend, and listening to it and the messages it gives me daily.
For a terrific little exercise about how to do this well, get Rick Hanson’s book “Just One Thing” for all the details. You can find it through the “Store” page of my website, then go to “My Amazon Store” and click on the link to Amazon. You don’t have to wait to break an ankle or an arm to do it. Cultivate compassion for your body (and yourself!) and your body will thank you back for a lifetime.
Unbelievably, we’ve already arrived at the last week before Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer. Here in New Hampshire, parents are sending their kids off to school this week! Mercifully, in Maine, where I live, nobody goes back to school until after Labor Day, but even then, everyone groans about letting go of the long, langorous days of summer. (Except parents who are sick of their kids).
I’ve had a terrific summer with boating, hiking (light), swimming in the ocean and lakes, barbecues, reading, friends, family, and some wonderful long weekends away at lovely new places. I’ve also taken somewhat of a break from the internet to be outside more, doing active things. So, I can’t complain about it all coming to an end soon, as we in New England enter the Arctic Freeze Winter for the next seven or so months.
If you’re feeling blue about the transition, I’d encourage you to think of it this way: Would summer be as special to you if it were all year round? If you think “Yes!” then you should move to Florida or the Carribbean! If you thought “No way!” then savor what you’ve experienced this past summer. If you didn’t experience much, then begin making a list of the things you will commit to doing next summer, so you don’t continue the “regret cycle.” (You might also need some new friends who get you out more).
Another thing you can do is to anticipate all the delightful things about the Fall and Winter. Look forward to more “tuck in” time with more opportunities for indoor activities and more reflection. Won’t it be nice to not feel pressure to be outside so much doing fabulous things? If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression related to lower levels of light), do the therapeutic “light therapy.” Anticipate the beauty of the changed color palette outdoors with all the invigorating things you can do outside if you’re dressed properly. Look forward to Fall and Winter rituals and holidays. And of course, you can also look forward to next summer. It will be here before you know it….
I’m just returning from a whirlwind weekend in NYC with my little sister, Laura. We went to galleries, an amazing museum, tooled all around the city window shopping, people watching, eating ethnic food, and yakked till 5 AM each night the way only sisters who love each other can. Of course, I couldn’t resist the urge to coach her on ways to improve her life, and her relationship with herself. She in return nurtured me with 5 star hotel type service and thoughtfulness. What a joy it is for me to have sisters (I have two) whom I love and enjoy!
If you’re lucky enough to have a sister or two of your own, remember they’ll always be there with and for you, if you allow them to, so count your blessings and treasure them!
At this writing, I’m on a C & J express bus to my old stomping ground, New York City, for a weekend with my little sister. I’m a strong believer in short getaways as a way of refueling, particularly if the getaway gets you away from your spouse for awhile. That may sound cold, but sometimes a little space has a big positive impact on a marriage. How, you ask?
1. You reconnect with separate friends and relatives on your own without worrying about the mix with a spouse who may not share your enthusiasm for jewelry shopping, lattes, and schmoozing.
2. You re-experience your individual selves which brought you two together. My husband will probably be doing yard work till midnight, watching the news for hours each morning, eating no vegetables except for vodka (made from potatoes), puttering around his workshop, answering no calls, and fondling his new camera he’s afraid of using. He’ll be in Introvert Heaven. I’ll be tooling around the city with my baby sister, bossing her around, buying makeup and doodads, going to museums if it rains, people watching, yakking with strangers, and eating every ethnic thing in sight. I’ll be in Extrovert Heaven.
3. You break up the sometimes oppressive routine of your life with more consciousness. In my case, I was amazed to see how many vitamins and creams and solutions and meds I take on any given day just to go on living! I could barely fit it all in my suitcase! I like to think of myself as robust and traveling lightly on this Earth. Apparently, not so….
4. You appreciate all the comforts of home in a renewed way. I don’t usually get excited about having a level, stable surface to type on, but today, with the bus jiggling and swaying, I’m realizing how special it is to have tables and desks to put my laptop on, and not worry it will go flying off into the yonder. Small things…..
5. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Because I’m a bit morbid and fatalistic, I don’t presume I’ll make a safe return from ANYWHERE, so I kissed my husband goodbye four times, and hugged him as though I was leaving for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. And now that the bus is approaching the slums of the city limits, I miss him already….. 😐
PS. Get a still early copy of my new book, now newly anointed with the Couplespeak™ trademark! If you live long enough, it may be considered an important 21st century artifact! On Amazon:
“Become Relationship Smart Without A Lifetime Of Therapy”
So far, about ten inches of fluffy white snow, lots of wind, freezing temperature, but the power is still on! Life in New England is never boring. Here we all sit, tucked in, waiting for at least another 1 1/2 feet of snow during the blizzard of 2013 as Spring is supposedly around the corner.
My brother-in-law Joe says, “Move to Florida and have other things to talk about except the unpredictable weather! Enjoy 80 degree sunshine almost every day!”
I say, “How boring! We love our tumultuous weather, and our ritual hand-wringing about shoveling, freezing our butts, losing our power, and cherishing our generators! Besides, if I moved to Florida, I’d be surrounded by traffic, people and buildings everywhere! We’re New Englanders! We love our mountains, our forests, our ocean, our countryside, our changing seasons, our history, our lobster, our accents, our fireplaces, our N’oreasters, and even our “almost Spring blizzards”!
(Now, this weekend as my family heads up to Sunday River to tackle the slopes covered with a fresh two feet of snow, hopefully my adventurous spirit will prevail, I won’t have heart failure being back on skis for the first time in ten years since my knee gave out, and I’ll remember my own speech about how lovely it is to be wild in New England)……
Here’s to the white stuff,
PS. Don’t forget to get an early copy of my new book, “Become Relationship Smart Without A Lifetime of Therapy.” I think you’ll really like it! It’s available on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/WBK83q