The Paradox Of Our Bigness And Smallness

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.

xoxo Rachel

Easing Back Into Society

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.

xoxo Rachel

Practicing Letting Go

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.

xoxo Rachel

Expect The Unexpected During Times Of Change

I had a lovely and helpful Zoom meeting yesterday with a group of my women friends. We had gathered virtually for our usual in-person twice a month meeting. Our focus was on checking in with how everyone was coping with the coronavirus situation. I was fascinated by the variety of reactions expressed about being isolated at home while social or physical distancing. Some of my friends were really struggling with being alone while others were fine to be on their own. Some found they were experiencing less everyday anxiety because there were fewer expectations for having to accomplish anything. Others had increased anxiety. There were a few people who, like me, already work from home in a solitary endeavor so they are used to being isolated. Some really missed their social engagements, others not so much. Many were taking advantage of nice weather to go outside for walks in nature. Some were grateful for Zoom and other ways to engage with each other virtually. Too many Zoom sessions in a day exhausts me, so I am setting limits on my virtual social interaction. Gratitude came up frequently.

Although there were some similarities and themes for how we are handling our day-to-day, I was struck by how differently we were all managing this change in lifestyle. There is no one right way to get through an experience that you have never had before. And that is truly what makes this an unusual time. Most of us have never been through a pandemic and we don’t have any foundational understanding of what to do and how we will react. One of my friends was being hard on herself because she feels like she is overacting and not behaving calmly and leaderly like she usually does in times of upheaval. Be kind to yourself if you are reacting very differently from how you have in the past to unusual circumstances. And allow that how you react may be very different from your family, friends and loved ones. Now is a chance to talk to each other to make sure that you understand each other’s fears and needs and desires. As I have been personally experiencing, those fears and needs and desires can change rapidly so check in with each other often.

I find that simple questions to start the conversation are really helpful. “How are you feeling?” “What do you need right now?” “What’s going on for you today?” “How are you managing having the kids at home?” Allow the other person to feel safe about describing their experience by quietly listening to what they have to say. And it might be helpful to set ground rules, like, “I really want to talk about the corona virus and how it’s being handled,” or “I really need a break from talking about it.” Be flexible and open to what the other person needs. And of course let them know what you need. And keep in mind that people have rhythms through the day for how they process information. I do not want to go into too much depth in the evening—I am just not at my best at that time and get overwhelmed easily. I am a morning and day person. Others need to percolate on issues and want to talk later in the day. That isn’t always easy to coordinate between two people, but do your best.

My husband asked me yesterday to think about what I want to take away from my experience during the coronavirus pandemic. What a great area to explore! What do you want to remember about these weeks? What are you learning about yourself, about your loved ones, about life during these times? Ponder these questions with love and kindness and see what you discover. We have a tremendous opportunity to be present for each other right now, so take advantage of opening your heart to one another, share your experiences and show your gratitude.

xoxo Rachel

Searching For What Enlivens You

In my last blog I wrote about finding personal values to help get more of what you want in life. I got to thinking about this topic because lately I have been feeling a bit dissatisfied about what I am doing. Clarifying values helps you to discover activities that you might enjoy more fully. Because when you align your activities with your values, you will feel more in tune with your true wants and desires.

However, the process is more nuanced than just generating a list of values then matching them to activities. For me, passion needs to play a role. I want to feel passionate and enlivened about what I am doing and I need the right mix of solitary and social activities to accomplish this. Frankly, I am always searching for passion and life-giving experiences. Perhaps that explains my career shifts from psychology professor to media executive to life coach to wedding celebrant back to life coach.

Most of my working years were in corporate where I was on the work treadmill. I was ambitious and excited about the next level up, always searching for more and more, even if it was more and more of something I didn’t really want. Not that I dismiss all my work. I did enjoy much of it, but did it really matter to me? Yes and no. The enjoyment of the work itself was lifted by the experience of being recognized as good at my work. The promotions helped me financially, sure, but equally important they helped me to feel respected, needed and contributing to the world. And I enjoyed working with others. Many of my core values were being met. But something was missing. I was always doing.

I see now that my “helping others” value got short-changed in my media career. Although I was certainly in a service role and could be seen as helping others, helping others for me has as its core a connection to social causes. I grew up surrounded by social activists. And though I enjoyed being part of the media industry, the work I did had no connection to making social changes in the world. I did have a positive impact on various individuals and companies just as they had a personal impact on me, but I wasn’t part of a larger cause. My value of helping others was never fully satisfied. And I had little time to think about the big-picture of my life.

I have a tendency to try many things because I enjoy variety and I am always on the search for more. That’s my learning and growing value. I love writing, coaching, psychology, philosophy, meditating, painting, dancing and beading to name a few. Although I have loved these endeavors most of my life, which one I have in focus shifts rather quickly. I am quite fickle. Yet when I think about causes that I am passionate about the list is constant and crystal clear: equality for all—no exclusions. I am starting to realize that helping others needs to be tied to that passion for me to fully realize my value.

I am passionate about feminism, racial equality, gay rights, animal rights and body love for all sizes and shapes and abilities. I am working to explore my own biases and sensitivities with the goal to be a more compassionate and helpful person in the world. Yet the question always stays with me: am I doing enough to promote these causes? Am I using my talents in the world to help leave a better world behind? Am I active enough? Or is it okay to simply live my vegan feminist life quietly having a smaller impact on the world? Is not my existence enough? Can’t I just be?

Being versus doing—that question of balance comes up all the time. In our society most of us are busy doers. Yet, being shouldn’t be dismissed because it is the basis for how you live your life and what you stand for, regardless of how much you do. I doubt that I will ever fully resolve the push and pull between being and doing. And that is alright because questioning and exploring what is true for me is clearly part of my DNA—part of what I value. It is my search for meaning. What’s yours?

xoxo Rachel