In January I made a decision to get myself out of the house more often this year. Even though most people I know have already re-integrated themselves in this COVID world, I needed to take my time until I felt ready. I like solitude so the past several years weren’t as painfully lonely to me as it was for many others. But by the beginning of this year I could sense that my body wanted to be around others more regularly. So I sought out various opportunities for creativity with small groups.
In February I joined a small memoir writing group that met each week for two six-week sessions. The six of us wrote in silence from various short prompts like, “What’s your favorite photo of you and why?” Then we read aloud what we each had written which often prompted someone to share a similarly themed remembrance. What a lovely group to spend time writing life stories. Some of my mini-memoirs will show up here or in my other blog LoveBeautyPeace.
My need for creativity has always been a part of me and I do enjoy creating in solitude. Mostly I write alone in the quiet, sometimes with a cat on my lap. I started oil painting several years ago and again work by myself though I always turn on classical music as my background. It feels like the right thing to do, almost as if I am channeling my Dad. He always had a radio in his attic studio tuned to a classical station. The radio was connected to the studio light switch so that as soon as he turned on the light to go upstairs, the radio went on. I almost feel like I can’t paint without the soothing music.
But given my recent desire to connect with others over creativity I have been trying a few new things. Well not entirely new. In the 90s in New York City I went to a pottery studio each week for a number of years and made various cups, bowls, candlesticks and other figurines. Our group of about five or six women chatted while we hand built our creations. A few people threw on the wheel but I preferred the free form of sculpting. So when my friend Alicia who lives down the street from me decided this year to open her pottery studio to others, I signed up. And my friend Alice joined me. We go every few weeks for a couple of hours of clay play as Alicia calls it. At most there are four of us in the studio and I am enjoying the company as we each muddy our hands.
Alicia works in town at Art Supplies for Creative Living and some of the lovely and creative women who work there come to Alicia’s studio as well. So I have been meeting artists of many media and getting further creative sparks. In my continued search for putting myself out there, I have now taken two different workshops at Art Supplies for Creative Living. Alicia led a clay figure group of about a half-dozen folx where we sculpted from a live art model. And I just took an intro to watercolor class with Grace, the owner of the store and workshop. The combination of creativity and community is expanding my comfort with art as well as my comfort being around other people. And this exploration is feeding my soul and bringing me joy.
I have never been a big fan of the color red, particularly when it comes to clothing. Though I don’t know if I chose to wear it as a child. My mom tells me that I always wanted to dress myself when I was a little girl and apparently wore the craziest outfits. I do have a few pics of me in red as a girl though I doubt I picked the bathing suit and I did love the red flowered dress that mom made for me. I think as I got older I always felt that the color was too loud, too bold and I wanted to feel soft and loving in my presentation of self.
I’ll never forget when I bought what I considered a power suit. It was red, of course. On the day that I first wore it to work I felt calm and bold and ready to do anything. The head of communications walked by my office and stopped in his tracks and asked me to go to an important awards luncheon. So I felt so beautiful and seen that day. I can’t find a picture of that suit though I know I have one because I wore it for my official head shot at the time.
Still the color doesn’t come into my clothes life much. That one suit was wonderful and made me happy. And I do have a red dress that looks like it is covered with the logo from Target that is fun. However there is something about the color that feels too cool to me. In some ways it makes no sense. Love and hearts are so meaningful to me so what is my reluctance? And I love our car and it is red too.
I guess there is something about confidence that comes to me from the color. And I do love shades of it in flowers, particularly if they are fragrant. Peonies and rose are my faves. I also enjoy fruits in any shade of this tone and find them sweet and not too cloying. And I love my birthstone ruby in the many pieces of jewelry that I have received as gifts over the years from my parents and my husband Andy. Perhaps I’ve convinced myself to be warmer towards the color red.
How do you relate to the color red or any other color?
I have been playing with the concept that I matter and yet I don’t matter. That absolutely every single human being, no exception, matters and yet doesn’t matter. What I mean by that is seen from the perspective of the cosmos, we inhabit a single planet and are such a small part of the universe. And yet each one of us and our very existence has meaning and collective contribution to our experience on our planet.
Though it seems important to me to find personal meaning in my life, my meaning of life is only important to me. However my path for finding meaning, and every person’s path, contributes something even if it is just a spec in the universe. I love the paradox that opposites can hold true at the same time. We are both very big and very small.
So what do you do with that knowledge? You can get hamstrung and give up trying to do anything. Or you can decide to embrace the understanding that you are a small yet important cog in the wheel of humanity and try to be your best you. What makes the best you is individual but also communal. Because what you do, no matter how much you are separate from others does impact everyone.
Collectively we have the opportunity to evolve our way of being. We can choose to wake up to how we oppress others and learn and practice how to have open hearts for everyone. We can choose to be have respect and regard for everyone, no exceptions. Race, color, shape, size, species, gender, neurodiversity, disability, education, marital status, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, national origin, region, health, age, culture, family structure and more. We all must be liberated to experience true bigness and it begins with the small decisions we make in each moment. I wish for you to find inner freedom and share that with everyone and everything.
At the beginning of the pandemic I wrote Expect The Unexpected During Times Of Change where I explored how people were dealing with the new way of life brought on by the coronavirus disease. Although the number of cases has lessened in the US, new variants are unfortunately on the rise in some areas including New York City. How an individual deals with the reality that COVID-19 is still here differs quite dramatically from person to person. I was somewhat surprised to find that right from the start I was very anxious about getting sick. Throughout the pandemic I have been very cautious about my potential exposure. I am fully vaccinated and boosted, keep my distance from others and wear a mask. Yet I remain uneasy.
I live in a small town about an hour from New York City in a house with a large yard so I have been very fortunate to be isolated from daily exposure to other people. I am pretty much a home body anyway so there wasn’t that much that I needed to change when the pandemic began other than doing my few weekly meetings by zoom instead of in person. However there are some activities that have stopped completely for me that I miss: eating at restaurants, traveling and going to the theater to name a few.
Many people in my life have resumed much of their regular daily activities and also have taken vacations or traveled to visit family. I am not there yet and I am working on being kind to myself for taking longer than others. I realize that I need a plan for easing back into society. Perhaps you do too. The approach I am taking is one step at a time.
We never stopped grocery shopping fully masked, though we make fewer trips now. I am always masked—even when outdoors around other people. That is the first area that I am going to work on: outdoors unmasked. I already don’t wear a mask when I walk on my road, but I only encounter one or two neighbors. I am practicing being outdoors without a mask in situations where there are more people as long as they aren’t too close. I watched a golf tournament on TV this weekend and cringed at how close all the unmasked people were. I imagine that will never be me until the pandemic is long gone. A trip to Storm King Art Center (an outdoor park) will make a fun practice location of being around other unmasked people but with some distancing.
The next activity I will attempt is eating outside at a restaurant. That one feels important and yet still scary to me. I am vegan so in addition to finding a place with plenty of outdoor distanced seating, it has to be vegan friendly. The thought of the waiter coming up to me is still somewhat daunting but practice I will!
One outcome of the pandemic for me is that I am much clearer about what I want to ease back into. Taking this multi-year time out has given me greater perspective on what matters to me most. This is a common theme that I hear from others and has garnered much press. Re-evaluating what is important is not unusual after some kind of disruption or transition in your life. I want more outdoor activities. I want fewer shopping outings and less purchasing in general. My first choice for socializing is just one-on-one (and snuggling with my kitties). I do enjoy occasion small group gatherings of 4-6 people but really don’t like anything larger. I am grateful for this refinement of what I want and need in my life. I hope that you have a clearer understanding of what matters to you most and that you are able to ease back into those activities soon.
I have written about letting go before. Although the phrase has many implications, my focus has often been on relaxing concern with the outcome of things. You don’t have much control over results even though you think you do and try so hard to take control. But when you let go before the outcome happens or after the result is in and it’s not what you expected, you will feel so much better. While I was thinking about my intentions for this new year, the phrase letting go kept coming to the forefront of my mind. I realized my attitude towards letting go has shifted to be more expansive and I think more helpful for me. Perhaps this perspective will be freeing to you as well. And as always, it is a practice.
Letting go…of what? That is where the juice is in this phrase. There are different realms with which you can practice letting go. I like to start with the physical realm. Letting go of tension is my first line of offense against stress and anxiety and probably why I like the phrase letting go so much. If my body is tight and holding onto tension, releasing really helps to calm me. Letting go of tension in the face and jaw is not easy for me. At night I clench my jaw as do many others. I’ve read that the number of people who are getting mouth guards to help alleviate jaw clenching while sleeping has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. I practice relaxing my eyes, face and jaw regularly during the day in hopes that at night my practice will pay off and I will clench less.
I am a big fan of progressive relaxation which is essentially moving from your toes to your head or, my preferred route, from your head to your toes slowly relaxing each body part. I like to say softly to myself the words letting go as I exhale and release a different area in my body. Let go of shoulder tension. Let my belly soften and let go. If I am walking let go of my breath and take a deep exhale as I release my shoulders back and open my heart. If I am sitting release and let my hands rest gently on my thighs. Feel my butt and thighs let go against the cushion or chair. Feel my feet planted on the ground and let go of leg tension. Always relax and let go of the breath.
Moving through the body to regularly relax and let go provides the opening to expand your letting go beyond the body. This is where I have been finding so much more deep serenity. I must first let go physically and then I notice what unhelpful thoughts I am holding onto in my mind. These thoughts are a form of suffering. Then I can practice letting go of my thoughts. Sometimes after physically letting go and being in a calm and peaceful state it doesn’t feel like a practice of letting go of thoughts but rather an arrival of a softening towards the world. A softening towards my suffering and the suffering of others.
But it is still a practice. I am constantly practicing the physical letting go so that I can move to the next level for myself of letting go of mental clinging and suffering. This morning as I was walking and relaxing into my body I felt such a lightness of not caring while so completely caring and loving the world. In a moment, although fleeting, I felt as if I could do anything I want and it didn’t matter and also it mattered so much. I felt soft and light on my feet, floating through the sunny cold morning. It was kind of like “think globally, act locally” landed in my body. I knew in that moment that as long as I am being true to my personal values of giving and receiving “Love, Beauty and Peace” I have no more I must do. I will write if I want to. I will paint if I want to. And I will give and receive love. What a relief. My body softens even more with this realization. So it’s a spiral of starting with physical letting go that leads to letting go of thoughts that leads to greater letting go of the body. And that enables me to move forward in the world with a greater opening of the heart to all creatures great and small. That is the wonder of the practice of letting go.