This morning dawned chilly and shiny. The chickens were out running in their pen as usual, and new cows are behind us, enjoying a nice, full pond. I’m drinking New Year’s coffee and plan to read a while before cooking my black-eyed peas, so no photos of any of this.
This morning, my friend and insurance agent, Carolyn, posted this:
I like the idea of making a wish for the new year. Hope is something I can muster up right now. I can wish for enough, the word for my year, and not feel let down if 2021 is more of the same.
Probably my best lesson from last year is that life can be okay with lower expectations. Getting through another day with my family all right, the pets beside me, and relatively good health is enough. No need to save the world. Suddenly, this smarmy over-used sentiment works for me:
Might as well enjoy being alive, find humor when you can, and focus on love over hate and divisiveness. Simple and mostly manageable, I hope. I’m still a little worried about the next few weeks from a civility viewpoint, but I’ll be positive. Why not?
There. I’ve set reasonable expectations, won’t forget my resolutions, but won’t be hard on myself or others if we just muddle through and slog through the next few months as best we can. That feels like enough.
I’m talking about mentally lighter, here. True fact is that I have been feeling much lighter while I’m on my sojourn in the mountains. I have finally given myself space to breathe and permission to do nothing I “should” be doing for a few weeks. I’ve been able to read, knit, watch silly television movies with the family, and eat whatever I want to, whenever I want to. Nice.
It turns out, though, that I’m not the only one. In my casual reading of email, Facebook, and news sites this morning, I have run across a surprisingly (to me) large number of folks expressing that they feel lighter, better, more free, or less stressed. It’s not everyone. But it’s a lot of people.
I’ll address the elephant in the room.*
Lots of people are feeling more free and less vigilant because of the US election results. Some of us are relieved at the Presidential election stuff; others are happy that their party did much better than expected in state and local elections. Still others are just glad for a break from all those ads and such. But, I don’t think it’s all about that.
There are still lots of things in 2020 that can keep us blanketed with concerns. The COVID stuff weighs on everyone’s minds, for sure. There have been exposures in my family, and that worries me, of course. And I keep trying to think of ways to have fun in Utah and avoid crowds of strangers (so far, I’ve done pretty well, though one store I went in last week made me uncomfortable, so I left). Being able to figure out ways to enjoy life, even with restrictions, though, has helped me a lot, and I am thinking others are figuring out ways to be comfortable with their “new normal” (a phrase I’m growing to dislike).
Maybe, just maybe, the way we’ve all been forced to do a lot of introspection and many of us have been spending more time in nature and noticing how we’re all interconnected, maybe that’s helped. I want that to be true. And it has really helped a lot of us focus on the here and now, not what just happened or what might happen. When we realize we are a part of everything, even pandemics fall into place. We just deal with what comes up, every day.
I keep mentioning that finding the good in whatever you’re doing seems to work. Attitude seems matter, lots. I think more and more of us are finding this focus, whether intentionally or not. I know it’s how I’ve gotten through previous politically tough times and times when people I love are ill. I think back to when my mom was sick, when my dad was in his horrible accident and the aftermath of that, the loss of my son’s love, and all the hard times I’ve faced, and I realize that all these times I’ve focused on the current moment, realizing there’s nothing that worrying or brooding can do. We all have these kinds of times, and 2020 seems to have brought more than its share to so many people.
Let’s enjoy feeling a little lighter, even for a short while. Hold these times in our hearts as we figure out what to do with all the upcoming holidays and other challenges. Keep those negative thoughts in their proper place (there is still plenty to challenge us, and there’s no denying it). With the support of our inner circles and a focus on the good around us, I think we can make it.
*Another elephant (symbolically) is that maybe a lot of the people who are angsty and upset are hanging out in their Parler now, so I’m left interacting with people who are coping with life right now.
At this very moment, I’m not in a negativity spiral; in fact I’m feeling as normal as a person getting ready for a reorg and dealing with sick people all around me can feel. But, from what I hear and from my own experience, the negativity can jump out and make its presence known quite suddenly and quickly. I think even the most resilient among us is finding it challenging to keep looking to the bright side these days.
The shift from negativity that Kogan refers to is what intrigues me. It seems like there may be lots of ways to accomplish this, and I’d be interested in knowing how some of you do it.
A couple of my strategies are:
Get going with the supportive self talk. Remind yourself that you are doing your best and your best is good enough, in fact, great!
If it’s someone’s actions or words that send you toward negativity, see if you can come up with a possible motivation or intent that is positive; remembering things don’t always come across the way people intend them to.
If you’re overcome with a mood out of nowhere, quickly engage in your favorite mood-changing activities: take a walk, do deep breathing, sing, visit your favorite funny meme or video site. The sooner you do it, the less chance that a mood can grip you for long.
Being good to ourselves really helps us be more resilient and optimistic (okay, some of us are aiming for neutral, I know). Nataly Kogan also gave out these ideas today, so I’ll share them, too:
While I’m at it, I’m going to reach out to a couple of people I know are not feeling well, which always helps me feel more positive, myself.
As I was reading my morning news/opinion pieces, I was reminded by the Rev. Jim Rigby that it’s important to remember that there’s good stuff going on today. Go to his Facebook page to see his ten reasons to be grateful today. What struck me was this:
What a shame it would be if we forgot to celebrate the fact we are alive, that we are all connected to each other, or that underneath all our problems we are still expressions of a cosmic process. What a shame if, in the middle of this terrible storm we did not pause to appreciate the courage and nobility of those who struggle on our behalf.
Jim Rigby, Facebook, July 27, 2020
To that I want to add that we continue to celebrate that life and death go on, regardless. While I heard of the death of an old colleague this morning, I also saw beaming baby photos from three other friends.
And last night, when I went out with Lee to look at the frogs, he asked me what a particular plant growing up out of the disturbed earth was. Usually what we see are the plants that typically come up in disturbed soil, but this one looked familiar.
It was not a hackberry or a cedar elm, even if the leaves have serrated edges. It looked like, hmm, what is that tree in the field on the other side of the woods? Thank goodness I have iNaturalist!
Sure enough, it’s a cottonwood, which is also a native tree, but we only have ONE on our property. We had just been talking about how we REALLY need some trees. And boom, we have one! New life to be happy about.
We may or may not move it. It might look nice next to the little pond. I know their seeds are a big messy, but I love the way the leaves shimmer in the wind and the seeds fly around like snow. We only have the one tree, because cattle eat up any saplings in the pasture. Now we have one with a chance to become a nice shade tree, eventually.
Now I just have to mark it so no one will weed-eat it or pull it up! I’ll just stay optimistic about this, and carry it into the rest of life today. Back to work on the ole kanban cards.
Some people say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and I am definitely an old[er]…person. I’ve always thought of myself as a realist, in that I see the beauty and good in the world, but I don’t deny the sadness, sorrow, injustice and pain that’s around me, either. Life is suffering, after all, says the Buddha.
Top that off with a healthy dose of empathy and sensitivity to the moods of others around me, and I end up not being the biggest little ray of sunshine in Central Texas. I have even railed about “toxic positivity” and “non-toxic positivity” right here in this blog, not that long ago.
However, in the last few months, life has been conspiring to teach me new ways of walking through life, thanks to some people who just sorta showed up, or I just started paying closer attention to them. And it’s not just reading all those Buddhist articles that help you see that living in the moment is key.
You see, I used to avoid the relentlessly optimistic if at all possible. Always seeing the bright side of things, ugh. “Oh, no, I have the flu.” “That’s great! You can catch up on your reading!” I also got tired of the relentlessly negative, too. I know people who can suck the life out of any conversation by pointing out the negative consequences of anything: “It’s such a pretty day!” “Yeah, but you’ll get skin cancer if you stand in the sun.”
I probably have mentioned before that I loathe being told to smile when I am, at the moment, not actually happy. Sure, I’ve read that forcing yourself to smile can make you happier, but sometimes there’s good reason to be unhappy, at least temporarily. Okay, fine.
I’ve been watching the positive people in my life more closely, though. Here’s one you can watch yourself: go follow Emma G on Facebook. That is one positive woman. I happen to know that she’s faced some challenges in the year I’ve been reading her posts, but she never fails to find something good, some way a challenge has helped her grow, or a way something she’s learned can help others. I look forward to that smiling face every day, as she shares how she’s working on her musical career while minimizing danger from COVID-19.
Living with Kathleen the past few months has also been a lesson at looking on the positive side of things. I have never seen anyone post so many cheerful memes in my entire life. Sometimes I’m like, geez, you have insomnia and are sick to your stomach, but you’re still posting “everything’s GREAT” all over Facebook. I see, though, that she’s trying to draw in the good stuff by sharing it (guessing it’s the power of attraction or something). Whatever it is, even when it irritates me a little, I can’t HELP but be reminded to look at what’s good in my own life, which is leading me toward a more positive outlook. She’s another person who’s had some real challenges to deal with in the past year but is finding ways to see the good. She’s never afraid to go talk to someone about our business and get some sort of positive outcome, too. Also, she’s one amazing idea generator. Now she wants me to have a donkey ranch.
Another beacon of positivity is my friend Pam B. from the Breakfast Club here in Cameron. She’s another person who just radiates happiness and works hard to cultivate good in the world. Every time I talk to her, she says something about wanting to “elevate the good” or find joy or something to that effect. She is amazing at bringing people together for the betterment of this small but quite vital community (and is really fun to watch in community theater). Seeing how she works so hard to bring happiness to her friends, neighbors, and families is a real inspiration.
A final source of positive vibes is my coworker, Eva. I’ve known her since I started working at Planview, so I’ve had plenty of time to soak in her attitude. Especially in the past few years, she has provided a great example of how to take feedback that might upset someone or get them down, and turn it into an opportunity to learn more, find a new way to present information, or create a better product. She’s confident in the skills she has, and doesn’t take it personally when I mess with her grammar, because she knows perfectly well that the actual ideas are great. But it’s not just about work, but all aspects of her life that she brings along a sunny attitude and a lot of gratitude. It’s rubbing off, slowly but surely.
People like this have been in my life before, some for many years, but I must be in a position to be more open to their input and to learning from them (thanks to those Enneagram books, I guess). I’ve been told that people come into your life for a reason, which is hard for someone like me, who has mostly been convinced that life is random. But, maybe there’s something to it, and something to the idea that if you surround yourself with positive people, you’ll be more positive, even if there’s a pandemic going on.
Do you know a relentlessly positive person? If you do, THANK them, and see if you can let a bit of that attitude rub off on you. Things in the world won’t change, but you may be better able to cope with it. I am, thanks to Emma, Kathleen, Pam, and Eva (and all you others I didn’t mention).
One of the things that has been making life easier for me the past few months has been keeping in touch with people I care about. I’ve been writing letters back and forth to my unofficial daughter-in-law, Rollie, which has been a great way to talk about things we don’t put on social media. I’ve been writing lots of letters (for me) to other people, too, just to remind them that I care and value my relationship with them.
One funny thing that’s resulted from the letter writing is that I get a lot of return phone calls rather than letters. I know I can count on my stepmom to call after a letter arrives, for example. That’s fine, too. I really am AWFUL about making phone calls (probably wore out my ear as a teenager), so people need to call ME. I will talk once people call! (That also explains why I blog a lot and post so much on social media; my preferred communication mode is writing.)
Trying Something New
Last night, I was reading my current book (oh boy, another book report to come) and I started thinking about how I’d just love to hear from more people in my life. Well, I thought, maybe I should do something to make that happen that could get people talking, and maybe even help them feel better.
So, I just posted a simple question on Facebook:
“Have you done anything fun today?”
The idea was to help people remember that most days have a little bit of fun in them. That’s the non-toxic positivity part. Also, I wanted to let them feel encouraged by reading what others are doing. That’s the community building part.
Did It Work?
Yes, and it has been so much fun to read about everyone else’s fun! I’ve gotten to read about gardening, walking dogs, trips to get supplies (exciting right now), talking to family members, creating art and craft projects, and installing an alternator in a car TWICE. People have been interacting with each other, too, which is an added bonus.
Of course, no one has a fun day every day. I was gratified to learn that a few of my Facebook friends were brave enough to admit that they didn’t really have any fun yesterday. Some of us are having some hard days right now, and sometimes it’s just hard to find ANY fun in your day. That is just fine with me. I’ve had a couple of days like that myself. If I had fun, I didn’t see it, because the other stuff overwhelmed it. My intent wasn’t to pressure people to have fun, just to encourage friends to relish and share any fun they did have.
What I hope for all of us is that we still keep plugging away and do our best to see even the little things that are fun, like seeing a rare bird at your feeder, soaking in a bathtub, or spending a few minutes relaxing in a hammock during a busy day.
Look, I realize that those of us who are able to find fun in this time of huge unemployment, concern about health and safety, and frustration at our in abilities to do what we want to when we want to are privileged. I feel extra privileged, because I still have work and a supportive community.
Our privilege and ability to find fun in our lives provides an opportunity, though. What can we do to make the lives of people who are truly struggling right now a little better? Can it be fun and rewarding? I think so.
Even small things like the letters I’m writing can let people know someone cares. Letters don’t have to be long. Or you can send a personal email. Those are rare these days, too.
Those of you making masks can find fun in the creativity in your fabrics and help people who desperately need personal protection equipment.
I heard of someone who got a surprise grocery delivery. Putting one of those together for someone you know who’s having financial trouble could be a lot of fun.
Parents of young children are a group who are struggling. Wouldn’t it be fun to volunteer to read to kids, work on a project with them, teach a new skill, or otherwise occupy them and give their worn-out parents a little break. There’s a lot you can do on video!
That’s just a few ideas. Do you have more? I can share them with others here and on Facebook. By choosing to do things that are both fun to us AND help bring some positive energy to others, we can build our communities and help each other navigate the world we find ourselves in today.
This topic did not come from me; rather it came from a very enjoyable email newsletter I read every day, which you might also like. It’s called The Well-Tended Life, and it’s by Kerri Wilt, a motivational speaker-type person.
Kerri talks about how much the current times have been weighing everyone down, herself included. I know my friends and family are weighed down.
For example, my Cameron Breakfast Club friends, who now meet on Zoom, spent a lot of time today trying to figure out some way to see each other in person without it making any of us uncomfortable. We all have slightly different levels of comfort with social distancing and staying safe, it became clear. After talking about what the library will do, what restaurants may do, and where germs lurk in public spaces, the best we could come up with is sitting around a fire circle on private land, with our chairs at least 10 feet apart. I guess some yelling might be involved?
Now, this came from a pretty darned positive bunch of intelligent women who are lucky enough to be able to shelter in place and stay safe that way. I can only imagine the frustrations of people who don’t have the options to isolate (large families, cramped houses, people who work in essential places like groceries and drug stores, health-care workers)…the negativity seems pretty justified.
These ARE hard times and we DO all have a variety of responses and a variety of feelings about the best way forward. It is simply a complicated issue from a an practically unimaginable number of totally legitimate perspectives.
Nonetheless, I firmly believe that it can help us deal with our own stress and frustration by some positive reframing. Rather than rephrase, I’d like to share what Kerri Wilt said in her email (here’s a link to the whole message).
Some Ideas To Combat the Negative Narrative Virus:
-Challenge yourself to begin ALL conversations with a positive statement. Chat first about the good things that are happening all around you.
-Try to curb your use of words like: crazy, hate, sucks, and ridiculous. Having trouble breaking the habit? Then take it a step further and create a “corona curse” jar that collects a dollar from anyone who uses these negative words.
-Consider even renaming this time we are in, by calling it a time of high adventure, excitement, exploration, reflection, or reinvention. Or begin referring to it instead as an awesome opportunity for community, for family, for fresh starts, and even for fun.
-And for goodness sakes…SMILE when you come in contact with people. Your face may be the only positive thing they see all day, so make it count!
And on that last one, you CAN tell people are smiling when they are wearing masks, so don’t let that stop you!
My favorite idea is to call this a time for reinvention. It certainly IS that. Finding creative solutions to meet our needs, like the Breakfast Club friends did today, is one kind of reinvention. Our newfound drive to tell people we love how we feel NOW, as my friend Nancy did with me on the phone earlier today, that’s another “awesome opportunity” we can all engage in. My letters I’ve been writing to random friends and family (slowly but surely) are another way to build community that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Take your mind off your worries, even for a little while, and think of things and people you love. Do something for someone or make your environment a little better. This way, we absolutely WILL have some fond memories of this time, along with the other stuff, which we can’t deny or make go away through forced perkiness. I’m not recommending forced perkiness, just noticing the opportunities as well as the challenges.
One more thing, read inspiring content, not just doom, gloom, name-calling and arguing. Here’s where to sign up for Kerri’s newsletter, by the way. And don’t forget Nataly of Happier Now! Her emails have helped me, too.
Let me know what’s been uplifting for you, what’s helped you reframe this time to be something with both positive and negative aspects, or any other news you’d like to share. Staying in touch with our virtual friends counts as community building, doesn’t it?
Honestly: Today I felt like I finally turned the corner that was supposed to come ten days ago. It may or may not be true that it has something to do with the autumnal equinox, when we celebrate harvesting what we’ve sown.
I had some wonderful conversations in real life and messaging today. All were with people I’ve listened to and supported in the past, but now they are supporting me. That’s a great harvest of kindness!
Still, I drew a tarot card today, and it was the same one I’ve been doodling lately: the three of swords.
First off, let me admit that I’m in a more fragile and sensitive state than usual, so things I might usually brush off as, “Oh, that’s just Person X being person X,” are hitting a raw nerve today. And as we noted with Vlassic last week, hitting a nerve can cause pain and involuntary reactions. Ow!
At first I was thinking that I was just bugged by stuff on Facebook, but then I spot the annoyances popping up in LinkedIn articles, Tweets (naturally, and why am I reading Twitter when I’m feeling overwhelmed?), and even in face-to-face interactions.
It happens all the time, and is one of those habits I started noticing when I had small children and was practicing very hard to adhere to the directive to:
Give information, not advice
La Leche League
The idea was that people don’t react well when told what to do and what to think about any topic (breastfeeding being a great example). My training also reminded me over and over again not to give out advice if I wasn’t asked for it. In other words, if someone parents differently from me, that’s their right, and it may well be working out just fine for them.
I have a Facebook friend (I’ll call her MR, since those are her initials) whose wisdom I admire very much. I’d like to share some of her thoughts and add my own. She recently posted:
As I scroll the feed and see endless perfection and happiness, I reflect on my childhood, youth, teens, to adulthood and reaffirm to myself how unrealistic and unhealthy social media can be if taken literally. This is molding our children[;] many false beliefs and visuals are creating a society stricken with major depression, high anxiety and extremely low self esteem.
Faccebook post, March 11, 2019
This friend has recently experienced the loss of a young adult child, and has shared her grief experience and thoughts about her son very openly and honestly. I really appreciate this, because I’ve learned a lot, and her perspective has helped me with my own young adult children and their issues (that’s right; my children have issues). She continues:
As I continue to walk through my life, experiencing the rolling hills, twists, turns and storms, I’m realizing and confirming it’s through my imperfections and dysfunction that helps define who I am.
MR, on Facebook
Any of you who know me personally will recognize that sentiment as something I’ve conveyed many times in one way or another. I firmly believe that if you never screw up, your path to wisdom and inner peace will be long and hard. We grow through our mistakes, learn to forgive and accept forgiveness through them, and gain a sense of community by sharing what we learn.