Mary Tyler Moore

These days, a lot of the people I loved and admired when I was young are dying. Usually, I feel a wistful, nostalgic pang. I enjoy watching a few retrospectives on the news, and then I move on. But when I heard about the death of Mary Tyler Moore, it felt different. I was really sad—all day. I turned from one news channel to another, listening to the tributes of those who knew her, and those who merely remember.

On one channel, there were two women news anchors, too young to have watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show when it was first run, who became tearful as they talked about her influence on them. Then they laughed about not wanting to smear their mascara as they wiped their eyes. But the tears kept coming as they exclaimed, “Now we have to do stories on Vladimir Putin and on the economy! How are we going to go on?” Mary Richards, Moore’s TV character, was part of the inspiration for them to even be where they were. Her example transformed the aspirations of many a young woman.

Well, they did go on, of course. But it confirmed the influence Mary Tyler Moore has had on multiple generations of women. And Mary Richards would’ve loved it. She would not have wanted to smear her mascara, and she would have been embarrassed to cry on the air, to let the news strike her so deeply.

In those days, Mary Richards was a new type of woman. To begin to believe you can do something, you have to see that, not only is it possible, but that it actually exists. Then you can reach for it; then you can imagine how to transform yourself.

In real life, Mary Tyler Moore reached even higher than her TV counterpart. She was a producer, an entrepreneur, and a powerful woman in a business dominated by men. And she did it all with a warm smile and an open heart.

In the days since I heard the news, I’ve spoken to women ranging in age from their thirties into their eighties for whom Mary Richards struck a chord. She was the friend you either wanted to have or to be. She struggled against wage inequality, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the glass ceiling for women. Unfortunately, 47 years after the show first aired, we are still in those struggles. That’s why Mary Richards is still relevant.

When I’m sad, I like to have flowers. The night I heard the news, I stopped at the store to buy a bouquet to celebrate the Marys—the real one as well as the familiar TV friend. I couldn’t decide between the pink tulips and the pink carnations, so I bought them both. When they get old, I’ll add them to the compost bin and celebrate yet another transformation.

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Everything Happens

I spent part of inauguration day listening to podcasts by meditation leaders. It spurred me to ask myself the question of how our current political scene fits into my belief system. By this I mean not just my personal and political beliefs, but my metaphysical beliefs, the Really Big Picture.

I could sum up those beliefs in one simple phrase: “Everything happens.”

I believe that whether we live one life or many, here and now we are each a unique manifestation of humanity through all of time and space. Our purpose is to fully explore that uniqueness. Over the course of history, those countless explorations will add up to the totality of the human experience.

For me, that exploration has developed more along the lines of the personal than the political. I find deep satisfaction in my work as a therapist, not just in helping to relieve suffering, but to assist others on that path to fulfillment, one person at a time.

So my own purpose in this lifetime is not about joining or leading vast movements. In my teens and twenties, I did my share of political activism. I marched against the war in Viet Nam, went to Washington for the “anti-inauguration” of Richard Nixon. I canvassed and leafleted in freezing cold weather on behalf of causes I supported. Yet, as much as I dislike the current situation, I don’t see myself doing that again.

I had trouble reconciling the discrepancy until I remembered this: the rest of the world is not just a backdrop for my own journey. It’s the stage on which all others will seek and find their own purpose. For some, it will mean engaging in mass movements, in political and social action. That will be the arena in which a whole New Wave of people find their defining moments.

In order to practice heroism or miraculous healing there must first be suffering. There must be something to call forth the most sublime manifestations of human capability, a nexus around which to galvanize. Some of my heroes arose around the causes of peace, social equality, and Mother Earth.

What if we’re witnessing a New Wave of caring and connectivity that combines all those movements and more, that will improve our world for all time? Social warriors need a battleground to draw that activism out of them. In the years ahead we’ll come to know the names and deeds of people for whom this is a life changing call to action.

Everything happens.

That means some people’s unique talents lend themselves to creating sweeping social changes. If, like me, you’re not part of the leading edge, you can still be part of the groundswell upon which they rise. You can pay attention and speak out.

Phone calls make a huge impact on your congressional representative. You don’t even have to know their name. All you have to do is call 202-225-3121, give your zip code, and you’ll be connected to the appropriate office. I’m putting it on speed dial—just in case I get upset about something. I know I will, because everything happens.

Yet I do believe there is more good in the world than bad, that human nature tends toward the light, and light will prevail in the end. I take comfort in that, and I now take comfort in knowing that countless people will grow and achieve in ways none of us ever imagined. I trust those capable and caring human beings will create solutions I never could because that is not my calling.

For my part, I will continue to contribute in my quiet way, no longer feeling so helpless, but at peace with my limitations in the grander scheme of things.

Resolution Ceremony

 

Going through my contact list to send holiday cards provides an opportunity to think about the nature of my relationship with each person in my life and where we stand at the moment. This often leads to what I call a Resolution Ceremony, a ritual whose purpose is to reach clarity, bring closure, or to wish them well.

When I first started doing this more than twenty years ago, these ceremonies involved candles, tea, stones, music, and other external artifacts. Nowadays, I just set aside time to sit quietly and reflect on my relationships. I don’t necessarily do it in a single session, on a particular day, or in any special manner. It’s taking time for the internal journey that’s important, not rushing it, being willing to go to the truthful places.

The easy, joyful part is feeling gratitude for all the people I have in my life. I meditate, sending them loving-kindness. I actually do this frequently throughout the year, though writing Christmas cards brings to mind additional old friends to include at this time. Besides family and friends, there are many associates with whom I work or volunteer. We may not be close, but we share common goals, and knowing them enriches my life. Included also may be family of friends, clients, neighbors, people from whom I purchase services.

Sending them all loving-kindness is especially fun to do when I have time for a good long meditation or when I’m having trouble sleeping. If I start including all the people associated with each of them, the tree keeps branching, ever growing, till the number seems endless. This helps me feel a sense of connectedness in the world at large, something I’m a bit prone to losing.

Sometimes there are people who’ve gone silent. Some folks move or leave a workplace and don’t stay in touch. Maybe their life changes: new relationship, new child, and everyone else in their life is demoted, including me. And sometimes they just drop away with no explanation.

I decided years ago that, in order to see if there’s a chance to keep a relationship I still value, I’m willing to be the one to reach out, up to three times. If I’ve done that with no response, then I perform a Resolution Ceremony.

In this case, that means I acknowledge the change and release them from being in relationship to me. I celebrate them for the ways in which they’ve enriched my life, and give them permission to go. Doing this gives me a sense of peace. Instead of feeling abandoned, I face and accept the change. Funny thing is, it’s not unusual for someone I’ve released to contact me soon after.

Sometimes there are people I feel at odds with. Occasionally someone changes and I don’t feel close to them anymore. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. Other times I feel a lot more energy going outward than comes in with a relationship. That might be a time to step back, perhaps see them less, or maybe take a break.

At times there are slights and grudges I hold onto. Perhaps deep old wounds are festering again, brought to life by a similar situation in my current life. A Resolution Ceremony definitely helps here. This time the goal is to give up wanting the other person to change.

Not to be forgotten is my relationship with myself. Where am I being too harsh on myself? Too easy? How am I giving away too much of my time in ways that don’t nourish? When do I let “shyness” be a euphemism for feeling unworthy or less-than, a perennial theme in my life?

Each of these scenarios can merit its own Resolution Ceremony, but I also like to perform one big “General Amnesty.” After gleaning the lessons I can see for now, I offer generalized forgiveness to one and all, by which I mean releasing the desire for things to be different.

Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t, at least not right away. But by offering forgiveness, I feel I earn the right to ask for it in return from anyone I may have offended, whether I realize it or not. Again, it’s not unusual for someone who’s gone silent to contact me after doing this.

I value my friendships deeply, and it can be sad when they erode over time. But I feel I keep the connection going by silently offering them all my best wishes for a happy new year.

 

 

Old Year Resolutions

It’s the season for New Year resolutions, the time when many people form an intention to change, for the better, some aspect of their behavior.

Resolutions are the butt of many jokes, the source of much frustration, and often forgotten by February. But forming an intention is just one meaning of the word “resolve.” I like to adopt an additional sense, which is to clarify, to bring to an agreeable conclusion, to achieve closure.

Once I’m through decking the halls, I want to clear the decks. Christmas creates a natural transition time. It discombobulates my house as we accommodate the tree, decorations, and visitors. It overthrows my schedule as we usually take a stay-at-home vacation at the end of the year. Anytime all the pieces of your life are up in the air is a pretty good time to put them together differently as they come back down.

I feel I invite shiny new things and experiences into my life by releasing some of the stifling old. I create Old Year resolutions, to enter the New Year with more clarity and freedom.

Someone once told me a good organizational slogan is: Do, Dump, or Delegate. It works for me, especially when I add the option to Transform.

In the Do category are a number of what I call “tiny projects.” For example, right now I have half a dozen emails I need to send relaying information to various people. Each one will involve a few minutes of research. There’s no specific deadline for any of them, so they’ve been lingering at the bottom of my to-do list for a couple of months. Since I don’t want to drag them with me into the New Year, and since I know I’m definitely going to do them, I’ll suffer less from the pangs of procrastination if I just knuckle down and get it done. They’re on my calendar today; by tomorrow I’ll be free.

Also lurking around my life are some larger projects I haven’t gotten around to. For instance, I went to a writers’ conference in October. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all my hand-written notes neatly typed and searchable by computer? It would, but let’s face it, it’s not gonna happen. So I’ll Dump that idea and, instead, what I’ll Do is store them in a paper file. This is an example of Transform.

I have a number of other projects I can Transform from a painstaking venture into something that fulfills most of the intent but takes less time. Others can go into the Dump category. If they haven’t been touched in a year or more, it’s time to let go.

Goodwill is the beneficiary of the urge to Dump stuff. All year long, I have one or more bags accumulating donations. At the end of the year, I’ll tear through the closets and cabinets one last time, making the house more commodious.

I also give myself end-of-year media amnesty. I’ll Dump unread periodicals, newsletters, emails. I’ll erase old unwatched programs on my DVR. I’ve finally had to admit that there’s more great information and entertainment than I can possible consume. It weighs me down to let it pile up too much. Some of it’s become too stale to even bother about. Anything that’s had plenty of time to make it to the top of the heap, but hasn’t, is a candidate for resolution.

Do and Dump can be relatively easy. It’s Delegate I often have problems with. I once made a large needlepoint tapestry, but didn’t know how to finish it for hanging. I wound up keeping it around unfinished for so long I finally gave it away so I didn’t have to think about it anymore. I would’ve been better off admitting I didn’t know how to do it, accepting that as OK, and going for help. It’s the acceptance part that’s hard.

I admit I rarely get around to tying up all the loose ends, but I do manage to face the New Year with at least a bit more clarity and freedom, my favorite form of Old Year resolution.

 

In the Darkness

I’m an odd duck. I’m an atheist who believes in angels and reincarnation. I believe we all co-create the universe, and that there is more good at work in the world than evil. I lose sight of that sometimes, but I do believe it. This means the angels are us: we are all angels for each other, alternately seeking and giving comfort and hope.

I enjoy partaking of the holiday season, and I’ve had to find my own way to do it. I like traditions that give me a lift in the dark time of year, that don’t hinge on the events of a single day, and that are available despite the actions or moods of other people. In other words, I want a fail-safe way of not having disappointed expectations.

Thanksgiving is easy. My motto for that holiday is: “It’s a pretty good meal for a Thursday!” And so it is. I add meditation on gratitude for the gifts I enjoy daily but don’t often acknowledge—my husband and friends, heat and running water—as well as gratitude for no particular reason.

Christmas, for me, is more about the season than the day. It’s about looking forward to many small pleasures, remembering to pay attention to them while they’re there, and the willingness to be surprised by new ones. I look through the local listings for craft fairs, concerts, and other activities—the more offbeat, the better.

I love Christmas music—both religious and secular.   I used to wait till Thanksgiving to kick off the listening season. Lately, I’ve extended it to begin on my birthday the week before (as well as one day in July). This year, by special dispensation due to the election, Christmas music season started on November 9th. It’s been a comfort.

We own a dozen Christmas movies. That season still starts at Thanksgiving, and we watch a couple of them each week to stretch it out till New Years Eve.

I write Christmas letters to people I no longer see in person. By that I mean I send cards with hand-written notes composed especially for each recipient. Through this practice, there are relationships I’ve retained for decades. With the growing trend toward form letters and e-cards, I find I receive less personalized communication in return, but I still enjoy the process. I use the cards I receive as decoration around my mantel.

I love the lights. Against the darkness, light a candle. It’s what we humans do. As the days get shorter and, here in Seattle, gloomier, the lights defy the dark. I vary my commuting routes so I can enjoy the surprise of novel displays. We also pick a night to drive to houses and neighborhoods we’ve visited for over twenty-five years. I’m always hopeful the decorations will be there once more, and I’m thankful the people who put them up are still alive and well enough to do it. It’s funny how these angels I don’t even know are such a treasured part of my life.

By far, my favorite Christmas tradition is trimming the tree. Our current one is ten years old. Since it’s alive, it can only be in the house for about ten days. So we put it in the garage to begin its transition on Winter Solstice, then bring it inside and dress it up on the 23rd (with a nod to Festivus Day). I save some favorite music to play as we decorate. Over the years, we’ve accumulated more than 200 tiny ornaments, some of them dating back to before we were married. We each have our favorites to put on the tree, my husband placing a little bird at the very top.

This, I realize, is the gift of tradition. It’s this repetition that puts the meaning into activities that really have no inherent value. They become important because this is what we do. We do it for others and they do it for us. We create it all together, and it’s there equally for each of us to partake.

But, let’s face it, Christmas is also a dark time of year. I don’t want to pretend it’s all tinsel and glitter. I have my share of loss and bitter memories. I’ve learned it’s best to acknowledge them. I put aside time to remember the people who are no longer around to send or receive cards, to admit the pain of illness and suffering among the people I know, to send loving-kindness to all who are suffering beyond the scope of my ability to help.

Some of our tiny decorations are angels and, a few years ago, I started tucking them into the darkest recesses of the Christmas tree, hidden within the branches. It’s a reminder of comfort and hope, a way of finding beauty in unexpected places. As with life, I believe if you’re willing to look beyond the glittery surface, if you’re brave enough to peer into the darkness, you will be met.

So these are my traditions: husband, friends, home, good food, music, lights, and in the darkness, angels.

 

 

 

 

 

Go Where You’re Celebrated

Holidays can be difficult times. Being with family may trigger negative emotions that relate to the past (bad memories and experiences), the present (not currently having the warmth and connectedness you want in your life) or the future (afraid you’ll never have it). The contrast between idealized portrayals of family times and the reality you experience can seem like an eternal and insurmountable gap. The gap can seem ever wider if the rest of your family appears to be having fun.

It’s lonely to feel like an outsider in your own family—like you’re out in the cold peering through a window onto a warm and happy scene. Or maybe you are right in the middle of the festivities, but it’s all a big hot mess. It could be that you’ve never felt understood or valued. Maybe there’s just that one infuriating person who seems to spoil everything, or a bully in your family who thinks it’s funny to “tease” you.

There are many ways in which your family may not meet your needs, particularly if you have high expectations of enjoying a “special” time. Most people behave pretty much the same way under the same circumstances year after year. Families are no different.

If you were not blessed with a family that loved you the way we all deserve to be loved, you can spend the rest of your life beating your head against that wall of unrequited love, settling for tiny crumbs instead of true emotional nourishment. If you think about it, not seeing your family as they are, limitations and all, is a way of you being unaccepting of them. We do that when we think we can’t bear to give up hope of getting what we need.

You do need love.  And it is out there for you.  The one harsh truth I’m sorry to tell you is that any one particular person may not be capable of loving you the way you need to be loved.  You may have been born into a collection of people like that.  It’s not your fault, and you can’t change it. People do what they do for their own reasons, and it probably has precious little to do with you as a person.

If you can accept that cold truth, if you can accept your family for who they are and not try to squeeze more out of them than they are capable of giving, then you will be free to turn your attention to the rest of the world and find the ones who truly will love you — right now, just as you are.  You can learn to accept the connection and nurturing you need from other people and go where you’re celebrated.

Create Your Own “Win”

I was stunned the day after the election. I felt a devastating sense of loss, and great fear about what would happen to the country and the world.

I heard that day from someone who told me she’d started binge eating on election night after not having done so in ten years. The same sort of thing happened after 9/11. There was a sharp uptick in anxiety-related behaviors: drinking, eating, shopping, gambling, sex, etc. The combination of loss, anxiety, and the feeling of helplessness was more than people could immediately process, and they were turning to whatever mood-altering behavior could offer some quick relief.   When we don’t have rational alternatives, we often turn to appetitive behaviors—ones that can alter our body chemistry and give us a shot of feel-good brain chemicals.

How I felt reminded me of when I used to have two puppies that would stalk and chase each other. They had fun, but they also built up enough anxiety that whichever one was being chased would come and hide behind me and start chewing on my pant leg. Under stress, when we desperately want to feel better but we don’t know how, we humans have a way of chewing on our own pant legs.

I needed to do something to feel better, but in a healthy way. I sat with that feeling for a while until I realized I needed to counter a loss with a “win.” I needed to create my own win—turn my attention from sweeping outside forces to something in my own life I had control over that would do me some immediate good. I’ve been in physical therapy for a torn meniscus, unable to walk more than a mile and a half without flaring up my knee. I decided to make that day the one I would increase my distance to two miles. I chose a wooded park with a half-mile loop, so I could opt out if I absolutely needed to. Added bonus: the physical activity would work off some anxiety and the natural setting would be soothing.

Not surprising, since I live in Seattle, it was raining that morning. Sometimes I enjoy walking in the rain, and that sad day I felt I didn’t have to cry because the sky was doing it for me. I powered my way through some discomfort to two miles and felt better—at least for a while.

I’d been paying pretty close attention to the run-up to the election. I decided I would be better served right now to pay closer attention to personal goals and develop a mindset of creating my own win each day. I’d had it in mind for a while to start a blog. If you’re reading this, you will see that I did. I jumped into NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—though I worked on my memoir. I caught up on some scanning, filing, and reading. I reached out to old and new friends. I got rid of enough stuff to make a trip to Goodwill.

My life feels better-ordered and more on-track. I’ve been able to resume tuning into the news, but in smaller doses. I’m keeping worry in check by creating a sense of order and control where I have the power to do that, though I still want to nibble my pant leg.