Posts tagged: self-care
May 3, 2013

A Body as Full as a Canvas Sail

After my birthday, I spent a sunny weekend at my mom and step-dad’s that felt like a super dose of fun. I held my niece upside down, we buzzed our lips back and forth and played a game where I touched her on the nose and said, “boop!”, all of which made her break into a smile that revealed all seven of her tiny teeth. I had a birthday dinner with my family. My sister decorated the porch with branches of plum, magnolia, and forsythia blossoms cut from the yard. Pink, orange, and yellow tissue paper spheres hung from a string of red wooden beads pilfered from a box of Christmas decorations, and we ate barbecue catered by a charming pit master from the market nearby. It was the best potato salad I’d had in my life, and we sat outside drinking daiquiris until a thunderstorm rolled in long after it had gotten dark. On Saturday there was coffee, a long walk, and digging in the dirt with my mom. We made a new compost pile, and I carried the raised beds to their new home. When I lifted the short black walls out of the dirt, damp soil and worms clung to the sides, and I hoisted them over my shoulder. And while it sounds too convenient to be true, there are wild violets blooming in the yard and between the patio stones, and none of us remember them being there last year. I dug some up with a trowel and patted them down into the wet earth near the entrance of the vegetable garden, hoping they’ll spread. This is not an adventure tale, just the joy-filled details of a nine-month old, the world in bloom, being outside with people you love. But at the end of the weekend, as we rode the bus back into concrete midtown, I felt like sunshine was pouring out of my skin.

Sometimes I bemoan that my life in New York can feel like a Woody Allen movie, everyone sitting in restaurants talking about their feelings. But when I am able to really do––to be active and present in a fun physical process––it’s as replenishing as good night’s sleep or emerging back into the world after a spa afternoon. Moving raised beds, rearranging piles of squirmy worm-filled earth, and tucking demure, winking indigo blooms into a new spot of earth made me feel like my best self again.

What role does doing play in your life? It’s an interesting question for reflective, emotional people, and an especially tough one for anyone who battles the blues. Getting going can be the toughest part of any day. Spring seems to have breathed enough life into my bones so that my body feels full as a canvas sail. Doing feels natural and good, so that whether I’m pedaling my bike uphill, playing peek-a-boo, or sorting through bunches of spinach at the greenmarket, I feel alive, engaged, and happy. It could be considered like flow, possibly, but while flow can happen while writing or painting, mindful doing feels best to me when there’s some kind of movement.

One of my friends has a fear of not doing, and so adopted a challenge as a way to get over it. Every day, she has to do something she’s never done before. You can imagine how difficult this would be. When I last saw her she had a notebook open under the window with a list of numbers running down the left-hand column, one for each day of the month. There were more new daily doings next to numbers than not. It was not only impressive but inspiring.

I prize my usual Monday nights because I have no appointments. It’s my night to go to the gym and make a proper dinner without feeling harried and hurried. But this past Monday, I did something quite goofy and frivolous for the first time. I stepped off the F train at West 4th street after 7pm and it was still light outside. Walking west toward the water, the brightly-lit sex shops and karaoke bars gave way to narrow, leafier streets, with jewelry boutiques and darker, more den-like sex shops. The sidewalks were filled with women in their workout clothes and tiny little dogs, and under the marquee of a theater, people stood in small groups wrapped in dark wool coats and sweaters waiting for a performance. It was a part of New York at a time of day that is not part of my usual daily doings. It felt like village life in all those period BBC dramas I love, filled with characters and daily dramas in one small pocket of the world unlike any other. I felt curious and alive and nervous. I was on my way to my first tap dancing class.

I signed in on the second floor of a windowless studio on Christopher Street, and rifled through a tub of tap shoes marked “7-8 1/2” on the outside. I found a shoe that fit, and then couldn’t find its pair, so resorted to wearing two different shoes. I fit right in. We were a collection of oddballs, overly loud theater kids who had grown up into overly loud middle-aged women, an elderly woman, stooped and nervous, and a young girl in her twenties dressed for her first session of Absolute Beginners Tap like she was auditioning for Flashdance. I rather admired her chutzpah.

Inside our little studio, we stood in front of a mirror and tapped our toes and heels against a scuffed wood floor. Then, in time to the slowest jazz you’ve ever heard, tried for simple combinations of shuffles and ball changes the long way across the room. We wound up against the opposite wall a crowd of exasperation and laughter. It was pure delight.

Is this spring fever, this affection for doing? The longing to get out of our heads and homes and into your bodies? Whatever’s brought it on, it’s a  welcome antidote to the hours our modern life requires spent in front of a computer, typing out characters and numbers and rearranging widgets. This is real movement, and doing, to the time of slow jazz and birdsong on a stage of sun and damp, blooming earth.

What will be your bit of frivolity and delight and doing?

August 21, 2012

The Power of Place

Well. I’m glad we got that out of the way. I don’t have much more to say about any of it now except thank you: for explaing the ways in which you feel the same way, for offering solutions, and for laying the support on thick. I am so grateful for the community here. A few of you have written to ask if I’m quitting. I’m so not quitting. I’m just trying to figure out the new world order that feels right and fun and creative and awesome. That’s why I’m calling them growing pains. But now that the slate’s been wiped clean to some extent, let’s try for it. As cheerleaders say: Ready? OK!

I’ve moved two states north for the last half of August to be near my sister and new niece. It’s an entirely different pace here in a valley of rural Massachusetts. This is the view from my desk.

All day a very busy squirrel hauls crab apples to and fro across the side yard. A neighborhood cat, whose name we learned is Walter, purrs past the french doors in the mornings in hopes of a saucer of cream or a dish of cat food or a kind, unhurried person who will let him lean into your legs and wind his way around you in a figure eight. There is a small ornamental pond on the patio with lily pads and tiny little frogs (trite but true!). The first night we were here, I mistook the loud rhythmic cricket sounds for the alarm on my iPhone (sad but true!). We leave the windows open at night to hear all those summer bugs and birds and wake to an apartment that’s turned cool overnight. In bare feet, I walk yesterday’s coffee grounds out to the compost pile over wet grass. The air, if this makes sense, is humectant but not humid. It smells green, like dirt and thriving plants. I have seen more butterflies in the past week than I’ve seen in the past thirty years.

It’s all quite a departure from Brooklyn life, where trucks and traffic rumble beneath my second floor apartment windows. There, after work, I head to the spin bike at the gym or out for a cocktail with a friend. Here, after work, I head to a bike path.

I like it better in some ways. It’s no easy task to shrug off the work day and connect with who we are outside of emails and conference calls. But when I ride down a side street that dead-ends at a bike path traveling through two little villages under a canopy of trees, it’s easier to see the line between work and all the rest of life. Last night I pumped hard uphill. An older woman with her dog grinned at me, like my-isn’t-she-having-fun. And I was. Am. This evening I plan to ride to the Tuesday farmer’s market where there might be a jug band and will certainly be flowers to replace last week’s wilting bouquets, tomatoes for sandwiches, and basil for everything. Zoom I’m at the farmer’s market. Zoom I’m on the bike path cutting through the woods. Zoom I’m at my sister’s holding my new niece, touching her tiny little feet and burying my nose in her fat belly. It’s easy.

I’ve always been interested in the ways place can inform lifestyle. How much a culture values community, leisure, food, or health seeps into the day-to-day. I feel it here especially, where the shifts in the hours that book-end work feel profound (see: natural world rhapsody above.)

How do you transition from the work day to your evenings? Is there a ritual or routine you especially love? Are those rituals at all dependent on place? Do you ever think about how you might change those routines if you were somewhere else?

February 1, 2012

Winter Wellness Guide

I think a lot about the creative process: how there are sparks of ideas and bursts of activity followed by periods of inaction. That period of inertia is what always drove me mad. What are we doing if not getting better and moving forward? Something important, it turns out. Like a field that’s given up its harvest, we’re lying fallow: rejuvenating, gathering reserves, collecting our energy for the next big burst.

This, I think, is what is so sweet about winter. When the world slows down, as it naturally does this time of year, we can take the time we need to prepare ourselves for our next surge of growth–whatever that may be. And so we stay close to home, write in our journals, practice yoga, linger over our coffee, and take the time we need to reflect. Its not laziness and it’s not inaction; it’s the practice of shoring up, and equipping ourselves with the care, thought, and ideas for whatever comes next.

In Chinese Medicine, winter is associated with the element water. Water is “the stage of energy before structure; it is potential,” writes Lorena Monda. “To access this phase of transformation, we must create space and quiet within us to mindfully look and listen. We direct this deep looking and listening to the world inside and around us. It is here that we begin to know what we want or what is necessary. It is here that we set our intention.” Continue reading “Winter Wellness Guide” »

January 11, 2012

Detox Recipes That Taste Really Good

After my usual holiday over-doing it, It feels good to board the healthy eating bandwagon. And while it’s probably not the best habit to bounce from extremes (steak, bourbon, gravy to kale, green tea, soup), it does make me very eager for the change. I was stuffed with cookies and cheese; it felt good to alter course.

And perhaps a little surprisingly, it tasted delicious. After my brother-in-law sent me a link to My New Roots, I started seeing this vibrant Danish blog mentioned everywhere. She designed the recipes below, and they’re wonderful.

One of the recurring questions among my friends is, “Why is it so hard to do what’s good for you?” Cause lord knows it usually is. But there’s also a kind of snowball effect once you get going with decisions that affect your well-being. When you feel good, you want to keep feeling good. You begin to even crave the habits that make you feel bright, content, and fluid.

Here’s an example: I spent this past weekend in the first part of an Anusara yoga immersion. Going in, I was a bit terrified of what six hours of yoga two days in a row would feel like. I should have been more concerned about returning to my desk Monday morning and sitting in a chair for eight hours. Come evening, I’d usually rather watch another rerun of Roseanne than put on yoga pants right before bed. But on Monday evening a few pre-bedtime twists was the right choice for me.

The ultimate challenge, I think, is getting from feeling bad, mired in habits, depressed, whatever the current stuckness may be, to finding a spark that can spur a new kind of decision. Many of us tend to force ourselves out of it, but a friend of mine takes a more gentle approach. A change can start with the smallest choice, she says, and we’ll bring it on when we’re ready. I find that comforting. We don’t need to strong arm ourselves into new habits or new eras; it’s not a matter of force, it’s a matter of ease. And when we’re ready we’ll know it. I read a section in a book last night on receptivity that seems fitting:

Receptivity is a practice many people find difficult, because we live in a culture that says things are accomplished primarily through doing. This attitude creates a bias toward knowing, planning, taking action, a kind of predatory attitude toward life––where we decide what we want, focus on it, and go for it at all costs. But how many of us have done this only to be dissatisfied with what we get?  ––The Practice of Wholeness

Being receptive seems to fit beautifully with back to basics and leaning into the life we have now: being open to ourselves, our thoughts, our sense of whimsy, being open to the world around us and the people and obstacles we meet each day, and being open to every joy, quirk, and marvel in the moment to moment moment of the everyday. “We may experience a sense of magic or serendipity––wherein events happen which fit our needs perfectly. Seemingly remarkable coincidences […] are the result of our receptivity.”

And so back to feeling good, and specifically these recipes. Please, dear heavens, don’t see these dishes or this post as an admonition. If anything, it’s an invitation to be receptive to where you are, wherever you are, right now. If they recipes appeal to your senses at this moment in time, I promise they’re both really lovely. And no one’s saying you can’t eat a little kale slaw before a nice steak, either.

Continue reading “Detox Recipes That Taste Really Good” »