may i be blessed, may i feel safe (thoughts for 2017)

I’ve written about positivity before.

I’ve written about positivity lot, actually. A quick search of this blog for the topic brings up about twenty entries in one form or another, from the happiness project I did last year (to moderate success?) to assorted musings on self-care, acting with kindness, self-care, making transitions–etc, etc, etc.

Being positive doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s always been something that I’ve had to work at–left to its own devices, my brain trends towards assuming the worst possible outcome in any given situation, or to self-deprecation, or to all sorts of other unpleasant things that I’ll skip over here for the sake of space, time, and a lack of trigger warnings. The point being, positivity, to me, is work.

(Sometimes, because humor is my very favorite coping mechanism, I make a game out of it. Which mental illness is acting up today? Anxiety? Depression? Some super-fun combination of both? Whee!)

(My husband does not find this game as amusing as I do.)

But I like to work at it, because honestly, the alternative sucks. My dad likes to say I’m an idealist, which is a nice way to phrase it, but I think it’s more that if I don’t work at it, then there I am, just kind of sitting in this swirling pool of negativity that might start out as a reflection of reality but will, thanks to my brain chemistry, very quickly devolve into something much darker.

So we work on positivity instead.

You may have noticed that we started a new year recently–2017, woo! (And none for 2016, you absolute shitshow, oh my god.) Last year, I spent some time setting actual resolutions, which I never do, and for a pretty good reason: they stress me out, and then I get overwhelmed when I don’t keep them. Amazingly enough, I managed to not get super anxious about not keeping all of the resolutions I set last year–and I actually probably ended up keeping about half of them in one way or another. Which, for me, is pretty good.

But it’s a new year. And it’s going to be a rough one.

We’re coming into a new political administration in the US, one that’s heightening anxiety for just about everyone I know. It doesn’t feel like a safe time to be a queer person, a Jewish person, a woman, a disabled person. I have the benefit of being white and financially stable, but so many people don’t. My sense of safety is shaken.

It’s hard to think about positivity right now–and even harder to think honestly about self-care when it kind of seems like the world is collapsing around us.

At a recent retreat for work, I participated in a meditation based around Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing. In Jewish communities, this blessing is recited on a number of holy days, as well as on Shabbat, when parents recite it over their children. The prayer goes as follows:

May the Eternal bless you and keep you
May the Eternal’s light shine upon you, and may the Eternal be gracious to you
May the Eternal’s presence be with you, and give you peace.

As we sat together, we focused on the sensations of feeling blessed, and feeling kept. They were warm feelings, I thought: warm like climbing into bed after a long day, warm like an embrace, warm like a guiding hand. And they were cool, too: cool like the dip of your toes into the ocean on the first day of summer, cool like the breeze that comes after a rainstorm, cool like fresh, clean sheets. Focusing on those sensations, we repeated the phrases: May I feel blessed. May I feel safe. 

Tonight I lit Shabbat candles while my social media feeds exploded about Donald Trump’s inauguration. I kept my notifications off.

My blessing practice for this terrifying new world is to surround myself with a resistance that is working to keep justice and safety alive. I’m going to begin with a march for women, alongside some of my closest family members and most loving role models. People who make me feel held, and kept, and safe. I’m going to wrap myself in sensations of warmth. Of coolness. Of calm.

I don’t know if this will be a year of positivity. That might be too much to ask. But it can be a year of practicing blessing.

A year of repeating:

May I be blessed. May I feel safe.

 

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a grateful letter to my body

Dear Body,

So, the last few days have been pretty rough on all of us. After we went on our Super Fun Big City Adventure last week, you basically crashed. Friday to Sunday was a non-stop disaster of exhaustion, poor sleep at night and constant inability to stay awake during the day, bone-deep physical weariness, emotional and mental fog, and delirious stumbling around the house unable to really think, hold things, eat real food, or drink more than water. It was a pretty miserable experience all around.

I guess I should probably apologize. I put you through a hell of a ringer last week–we did a lot of travel in a seriously short amount of time, and you don’t tend to do super well with travel, late nights, lots of walking, and huge amounts of physical/mental engagement and stimuli happening all at once. That’s my bad, and you were a champ for putting up with all that craziness. I knew your limits, and I pushed you past them. I’m sorry for that.

We’re on the mend now, or getting there. We had another rough night’s sleep last night, but I think we broke five hours, which is pretty great. And we even managed to get a cup of coffee into our system today, and had the mental energy to see our clients and even do some writing when we got home. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for decent sleep tonight!

Body, I want to express some gratitude to you. I don’t do that very often because I’m often so frustrated with you. We’re in our mid-twenties, what feels like it’s supposed to be the healthiest time of our life, and instead I often feel overwhelmed with irritation and frustration at my inability to travel, to run, to keep plans with friends, to tolerate certain fabrics and temperatures. But you are my body, the only one that I have, and even though you are often exhausted and in pain, I owe you my thanks.

Thank you, body, for the ability you give me to experience the world. You are the gateway of my senses, and without you I would not be able to see the smiles of my friends and family, to hear music or laughter, to touch my dog’s soft fur, to smell freshly brewed coffee in the morning, to taste cool, sweet water. Thank you for being the conduit through which I feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.

Thank you, body, for carrying me through my life. Sometimes our steps are slow, sometimes they are halting, sometimes we feel like we are not moving at all, but nonetheless we are taking steps. Thank you for the press of my feet to the ground, holding me to the earth and keeping me moving.

Thank you, body, for helping me to learn my limits. Your warnings let me know when I am pushing myself too hard, and you tell me, clearly, when I have crossed a line. I don’t listen to you like I should, and I owe you better.

Thank you, body, for being my ally in this adventure of health and illness. We have changed so very much together, and have sometimes fought against one another, angry and frustrated and sad and frightened, but I think that we are learning, slowly, to find a peace. Thank you for continuing to teach me and guide me, even when I don’t listen to your lessons.

Thank you, body, for holding my heart, that has received so much love. Thank you for my hands, for helping me to write stories into existence from nothing more than dreams, for allowing me to craft the narrative of my life in pen and ink. Thank you for my toes, which have wiggled in sand and mud and grass and water. Thank you for my arms, which for all their aches have nonetheless held so many embraces. Thank you for my back, which for all its pain allows me to carry my head and my mind. Thank you for my head, where my migraines and fogs and confusions still make room for thoughts and dreams and questions and goals.

Thank you, body, for growing with me. Thank you for your ability to change and heal and endure.

Thank you for being mine.

Love,

Shelly

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#readingwednesday: black girl dangerous

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The third and last full book I picked up for my Black History Month challenge of only reading books published by Black authors was Mia McKenzie’s Black Girl Dangerous, a collection of posts originally published on blackgirldangerous.org, a (seriously amazing) collective writing project that works to “amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans people of color.” The book itself features posts that are no longer available on the site, and are presented, to some extent, with the context of their publication and some follow-up notes about how the posts were originally received and if McKenzie’s thoughts or positions had changed since the original post went up.

I downloaded the eBook of Black Girl Dangerous to read on a trip to New York to participate in a two-day staff meeting with my new job, and I think this ended up being a perfect time to read this book. I ended up reading the majority of the book on my train ride home, after participating in two days’ worth of strategic planning, organizing, and discussion around mindfully Jewish spiritual practice. This wasn’t just mindful in theory, but in practice–we engaged in mindfulness meditation, constant check-ins about what was happening with our feelings and bodies, and an intentional focus on creating a safe space for everyone in the room to be heard and to reflect on their on thoughts and processes.

Coming off two days of this sort of meeting, I was extremely conscious of my responses, both physical and emotional, as I read through this book. I started my reading already acknowledging that I was in a place of physical and mental weariness (as well as fairly substantial physical pain), which I do have the presence of mind to recognize is probably not the best frame of mind and body to approach a text that is insightful but entirely (and rightfully!) unapologetic in its approach to exploring intersectional issues of race, gender, queerness, and class. But coming from that mindful place, I was able–more than I usually am–to listen to the responses of my body and mind as I moved through the text. I recognized the times that I felt defensive (“‘Whack Jobs’ Are Not The Problem. You Are.”, certain sections of “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege”, “Hey, White Liberals”), the times I felt moved but wondered if I was co-opting feelings that don’t belong to me (“You Mad Yet? On the Murder of Trayvon Martin and the Question of Tipping Points”, “Resistance Is The Secret Of Queer Joy”, “To The Queer Black Kids”).

It would, I think, be very easy to read this book, get defensive, and put it away. And the reactions that McKenzie discusses that she received to the initial publication of these posts speaks to that–people who could not acknowledge their role in perpetuating these harmful systems and instead pushed back against McKenzie for her tone, her (intentional) word choice, her anger. Even as someone who likes to think that she tries her best to be open to being called out and told to check my shit at the door if I’m welcome in the room at all, I found myself responding to some of the book with a knee-jerk “wait, but–” and had to call myself back to a more mindful, receptive state of being. Once I re-centered myself, I could look at those reactions and try to examine why I was responding in those ways, and in what ways those responses were in and of themselves a reflection of my privilege.

If I’d had the time this month, there are so many other texts I wish I could have read: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, Paradise by Toni Morrison, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander–the list goes on, and I have all of these and more on my bookshelf and can’t wait to tackle them. But as I reflect, I think that Black Girl Dangerous was the perfect closing text for this month. It reminded me, more explicitly than Bad Feminist or Between the World and Me, that it is part of my ongoing work as a person who (regardless of my own marginalized identities) benefits from the tremendous privilege of whiteness to intentionally and mindfully direct my energies to dismantling these systems of white supremacy.

Pirkei avot, the words of the fathers, tell us that it is not for us to complete the work, but neither are we free to ignore it, and the call-outs of Black Girl Dangerous reflect this. I don’t believe that Mia McKenzie is telling me that it is my job as a white person to single-handedly take apart systems of institutional white heteropatriarchy, because she’s a damn smart woman and knows that’s not how it works. But I sure as hell believe that she’s telling me that if I claim at all to fight for racial justice, I am not free to ignore the ways that I benefit from my privilege, and to fight back against the systems that give it to me.

Black Girl Dangerous began as a response to a trauma that was both personal and political, as so many such things do, and became a transformative movement, dedicated to raising up silenced voices and building up black queer communities. In her final essay, “How To Be Black In America,” McKenzie ends her book with this reminder: “Don’t forget about love.”

Put defensiveness away, fellow white people, because that shit is not helpful. Acknowledge it if it comes up, and then move past it. Move forward. Build up this movement, and quiet the inner voices that tell you to speak over others when it is their time (because it has always been their time, but we have never listened) to be heard.

Love.

to support Black Girl Dangerous, donate here.

2016 resolutions (happiness project, part 4)

I’m not actually a fan of New Year’s resolutions, which probably sounds a bit weird coming from someone who enticed you into a post promising a list of mine. But confession time: I really don’t like them. I don’t like the culture of them, I don’t like that corporations capitalize off people’s hopes to sell products and gym memberships, and I especially don’t like that so many of us buy into this shit every year even though, statistically, only about 8% of people actually keep their resolutions.

 

I spent a long time trying to decide if I wanted to make resolutions this year. I did know, immediately, what resolutions I didn’t want to make: I wasn’t touching “lose weight” or “exercise more” with a ten-foot pole (sorry, fitness bloggers, but more power to you folks!), and while I know that specificity and measurability are the keys to a good resolution, I personally tend to do better with broader categories that I can turn into measurable objectives as I adapt and figure out how to they’re going to work (aka, give myself as much wiggle room as humanly possible, because I’m a slippery eel who loves a good loophole). That said, I do like a good positively-worded goal, and as this year (or at least, 2015) became the year of my happiness project, I figured I might as well keep the momentum going by figuring out some resolutions I might actually keep.

 

So, without further ado, I present:

 

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Now with 100% more of my handwriting! And stickers!

 

  1. Walk 1 Mile Every Day

 

Confession: this one’s a bit of a freebie. I made this one “walk one mile” as opposed to “go for a walk” or “take a mile-long walk” very intentionally, because I know very, very well that as nicely intentioned as I am, there’s no way in hell I’m going to go for a walk every day (sorry, Sammi, but sometimes you don’t want to go for walks, either). That said, I do wear my Fitbit just about every day, and one mile comes out to about 2,000 steps, which even on a pretty sedentary day is pretty doable.

 

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Note: Not an average day.

 

My Fitbit step goal is currently set at the default 10,000 steps per day, though I don’t usually hit that unless I take Sammi on more than one walk (walking Sammi is usually Husband’s job). I tend to average about 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day, which gets me well over my one-mile goal. Eventually I’d like to be hitting 10,000 steps everyday, which would put me at the step goal that the American Heart Association recommends to help maintain a low risk of cardiovascular disease. But for now, walking one mile–or about 2,500 steps–every day is a goal I can hit with relative ease even on awful pain days, and seeing the distance on my tracker at more than one mile will give me an emotional boost. Which brings me to…

 

  1. Smile More Often

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since my teens, and since getting into a field where I’m regularly confronted with heavy emotional pain I’ve had a lot of my own issues brought right to the front of my brain. After a day of seeing back to back clients and helping them peel back layer upon layer of trauma and sadness and grief and fear and abandonment and etcetera, I often come home feeling like there’s not all that much to smile about in the world. But I’ve also started to understand over the past months that days like that are the days when I most need to look for something to smile about.

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That’s what this face is for.

 

In my last happiness project post, I wrote about rediscovering gratitude, and it’s been an ongoing project for me to sit down with my journal each night and write down a few things about the day that made me smile. In 2016, I want to take this a step further and start to seek out experiences that will give me joy. Not necessarily huge experiences, but ones that will allow happiness to settle onto me like a blanket: letting myself savor a cup of coffee over breakfast, buying nice wine and tea, reading books that make me smile even if they’re not literary masterpieces. 2016 is about smiling more, and finding time to appreciate the things that make those smiles happen.

 

  1. Watch 1 TED Talk Each Month

 

So I’m a huge nerd, which I suspect surprises absolutely none of you. One of the many things I’m a huge nerd about is learning itself, and TED Talks are a great way to spend fifteen or twenty minutes learning about something new in an interesting way. The TED website is fairly easy to use, but more often I end up getting recommendations of talks to watch from friends, old professors, or professional contacts.

 

My goal in watching TED Talks isn’t to become an expert on anything, but rather to try and explore topics I’ve been interested in but maybe haven’t found a way to learn about, and to find new ways of thinking about topics I may have dismissed or become bored by. I’ll be starting my TED adventure with this playlist later this month. Anyone feel like joining in?

 

  1. Send More “Snail Mail”

 

Guys, getting mail is awesome. I LOVE getting mail. I mean, not bills and random credit card offers, screw those, but mail mail? Real mail that someone put together for you and wrote your address on and licked and stamped and put into a mailbox for you? Guys, that is just the greatest thing in the world? WHO DOESN’T LOVE MAIL?

 

I mean. Hardcore environmentalists, probably. But other than that.

 

Getting paper mail is nothing like getting an email. When I spent my summers at camp, we would all sit on our beds and wait like puppies with wagging tails for our counselors to hand out mail at rest hour, and my reaction to the mail coming to my house has changed exactly zero percent over the years. So knowing how much I adore getting mail, and figuring that other people probably feel about the same, I decided to make mailing real letters and cards one of my 2016 goals. I went through my contacts and put birthdays into my planner, and I’ve already sent out six birthday cards–and even already received one response. From my mother-in-law, no less! 😀

 

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I’m pretty sure this now makes me That Person in the friend group who sends out the birthday cards and asks everyone to be their pen pal. Whatever, y’all, I’m cool as hell.

 

  1. Be More Mindful

 

I spend a lot of time with my clients teaching them about mindfulness, a concept that has its roots in Buddhism and got into the American mainstream through therapeutic approaches such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. There are as many ways of practicing mindfulness as there are therapists who teach it, but at its core, mindfulness is a state of open attention on the present, actively living in the moment and being aware of your experiences as you have them.

 

Practicing mindfulness is clinically shown to have benefits for mind and body, and as someone who tends to have problems in both, I figure it’s about time I got onto the train. As I’ve learned more about mindfulness over my time teaching it to clients, I’m always surprised to find how many things I do are already mindful: savoring the first cup of coffee each morning rather than chugging it down, scanning my body at the beginning of the day while I’m still in bed to become aware of what is hurting or sore, practicing daily acts of kindness and compassion.

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My plan for this resolution is to start with these exercises from Pocket Mindfulness, and to work on incorporating them into my daily life, especially mindful breathing, which I often do with my clients every day. As my therapist often reminds me, if I recommend it to my clients, why not try it myself?

 

  1. Read 25 Books in 2016

 

Over the past few years, I’ve set myself a goal of reading fifty books over the course of the year. I tend to do really well for January and February, taper off in the spring, power-read all through the summer, and then crash in the fall again. I still managed to hit my Goodreads goal in 2014 (by the skin of my teeth), and wasn’t too far off for 2015, but by November, I was more stressed about pushing myself to read fifty books than I was about enjoying the stories I was reading.

 

For 2016, I decided to set a lower goal, with the hope of being able to incorporate my mindfulness by improving my attention to what the books I read rather than powering through them to get to a certain number of books read by December 31st. I already have a pretty substantial reading list of books I’m totally excited to tackle in 2016, as well as a shiny library card to play with, so I’ve got to say, I’m pretty excited. And speaking of books and excitement…

 

  1. Write Every Day

 

In all honesty, this one really should be “write something creative every day”, since I definitely won’t count myself as having written something if all I wrote in a day was progress notes at work. That said, I’m excited about this. I wrote a bit in my Passion Planner reflection about how important I’ve found it to block out time in my day to write, and setting writing goals for myself has also been super helpful. Journalling has been a big part of me feeling happier over the past months–I notice a distinct difference in my sleep quality and how settled my mind is as I try to fall asleep on nights when I’ve journaled versus nights when I haven’t.

 

Writing has always been a huge passion of mine, and I am always, always happier when I’m writing as often as I can. As long as I’m writing creatively, it doesn’t matter what I’m writing: original stories, fanfiction (judge away, y’all, I don’t need your sass), blog posts, creative essays, media analysis, geeky meta, it all settles onto me like a warm, fuzzy literary blanket and lights up my whole being. This is probably going going to be the easiest resolution to keep.

 

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My favorite view.

 

Like I said at the top of the post: I don’t like New Year’s resolutions, though I find myself getting into them year after year. I haven’t had much luck keeping them in the past. But I’m hoping that picking resolutions that are positive, send good energy into myself and the world, and give me enough wiggle room to compromise might finally be the equation that helps me reach my goals this year.

 

Did you make resolutions for 2016? What are your plans to reach them? Drop me a line in the comments!