Some Favorite Blog Pictures from 2012

A big part of the fun of this blog has been working with Greg on the images. He’s such a great photographer. I keep thinking I’ll learn to take my own pictures, but then I wonder why?  I can be the director and tell him what I want and voila, I get it! So here are some of my favorite photos he’s taken for my blog this year.

Larry loves to dream, big or small, it doesn't matter

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Hearts Set Free

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Word of the Year

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“Light”
photo by Greg Markway

Did you know there is actually a word of the year? According to Dictionary.com, the word for 2012 is bluster. This is how they define bluster:

1.
to roar and be tumultuous, as wind.
2.
to be loud, noisy, or swaggering; utter loud, empty menaces or protests: He blusters about revenge but does nothing.

They cited the election and the weather as being the two big stories of 2012, and aptly noted that there was a lot of bluster involved in both.

There is also another Word of the Year project that takes place. I first heard about it from reading Brene´ Brown’s blog, Ordinary Courage. She selected a single word that she used as a touch point to guide her through the year. Her word was “light.” Brene´ got the idea from Ali Edwards, who runs an entire e-course on using a word of the year for self-growth.  Ali writes:

A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft and slow. From my own personal experience, it can be a catalyst for enriching your life.

As 2013 approaches, I started to think, “Maybe I need a word for the year.”  I tried talking with Greg about it. After explaining the concept to him, our conversation went something like this:

Barb: I wonder what my word of the year could be? (not getting much of a response, so I prod him.)

Greg:  I don’t know. Maybe your word should be “word.”

Barb: What? Why would my word be “word”? That makes no sense. You’re not taking this seriously.

After bantering back and forth a bit (good-naturedly, off course) , I decided there is a gender difference in what gets written and read on the internet. It’s not that he’s not taking it seriously, he just doesn’t relate. He’s the most caring and sensitive man I know, but he doesn’t read the same kind of blogs I read.  Selecting a word for the year simply isn’t something he’d ever think about doing.

I’m going to pick a word for the year. I’m not yet sure what it will be, and I wonder how I’ll ever keep it to a single word.

Brene´ said she didn’t want the word “light” to be her word (I’m not sure why; it’s a good word). She said that the word picked her. It kept popping up in her mind.

Ali says the word can be practical or fanciful. It can be a feeling word or an action word. It can be a word that represents what you want more of–or less of–in your life.

Later in the day, we were shooting some footage for a new video I’m working on. I was throwing colored tissue paper scraps into the air when Greg exclaimed, “Your word should be color!” At least he was trying.

“Color”
photo by Greg

Protecting the Tender Heart

Photo by Greg Markway

I don’t want to dare greatly*.

I don’t want to speak dangerously*.

I don’t want to tell my story*.

When I wrote my last post, Busy Be Gone, I thought I had turned a corner in my self-compassion project. I was loosening the connection between my self-worth and being productive. But I think I jinxed myself. I soon lapsed into a cynical malaise where I didn’t care about anything (well, I still enjoyed Ben and Jerry’s ice cream). I found pretty pictures and inspirational sayings on Facebook annoying. The usual blogs I read sounded sappy. I couldn’t pick up a pen to write. I worried, maybe I’m doomed to feel “tortured” as I described in my post on January 1st. Maybe that’s just my personality. Is there going to be a tortured personality disorder in the new DSM-V?

I thought to myself tonight, if I don’t write something soon, it will be over. This blog will follow the fate of many blogs before–it will wither away and die. And I really don’t want that to happen. So I picked up my pen and spiral notebook, my Kindle loaded up with my favorite books, a bottle of water, and sat out on the patio with my beloved Bichons, birds, and a few annoying bugs.

After skimming through some things, I found a section of Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, that seemed to describe what I was experiencing. She says it is normal that when we start letting go of our defenses, and when our old ways of coping don’t work anymore, we can get even more neurotic. (Oh my, that does not sound good.) But she reassuringly says that this is okay. This is when we need need to develop “compassionate inquiry” into our moods, our emotions, our thoughts. We need to be curious about our “personal myths” and the way we are “divided against ourselves, always resisting our own energy.” She describes it as an ongoing process that takes years (Okay, so my year-long “project” may not be just a year…Somehow, I already knew this.) And I especially love this part, which jumped right off the page screen: “With precision and gentleness, we surrender our cherished ways of regarding ourselves and others, our cherished ways of holding it all together, our cherished ways of blocking our tender heart.”

Yes! I have been blocking–protecting–my tender heart. I have been afraid. I’m not sure of what, but I sense that fear is behind all this.

That’s all. It’s just fear. It’s not that I’m doomed to be tortured for the rest of my life. It’s not that I’m going to quit writing. It’s not that I’m never going to speak dangerously, dare greatly or tell my story. I’m just letting go of defenses and having a momentary, even predictable lapse, into old patterns of self-protection.

My heart feels so much better now.

***

*Daring Greatly is the title of Brene´ Brown’s forthcoming book, which of course, I’ll buy and love.

*Speaking Dangerously is a reference to Susan Cain’s best-selling book Quiet, and her “Year of Speaking Dangerously”. Susan is an inspiration to me.

*Telling Your Story (or Your Story Matters) is something I see frequently, but I mostly attribute it to Kelly Rae Roberts. If you follow this blog, you know I’m obsessed with her work.

Acupuncture Barbie

photo by Deborah Leigh via Flickr

As I wrote about in a previous post, Befriending the Body, I’ve experienced pain on a daily basis for many years now. I’ve tried all the conventional approaches: physical therapy, steroid injections, and two back surgeries. For the most part, I’ve made peace with the pain and just assumed it would be something I would deal with forever. Yet there was always a nagging voice inside me that said I owed it to myself to explore more options.

I’d read some research on acupuncture, and there seems to be some scientific basis to support its use in chronic pain. Although I live in a fairly small town, I’d heard about a physician here who had trained with Dr. Andrew Weil, a well-known alternative medicine “guru” and best-selling author of many books on wellness. One of my friends had been to Dr. Christopher Link, and had taken her daughter to see him, too.  She gave Dr. Link rave reviews, and I decided it was worth a try. What did I have to lose?

Once I decided to go ahead, I waited four months to get a “new patient appointment.” I figured he must be good as it took so long to get in.  I’ve now seen him three times, and there are many aspects to my treatment plan that I’ll write about in other posts. I had my first acupuncture treatment last week, so that’s the subject for the day.

First of all, I had a mini-breakdown the few days leading up to the treatment. I worried about the financial aspect. This is all going to be an out-of-pocket expense. Am I going to be wasting my money? Mostly I worried it would be just plain weird. I had done some more research and found some people had emotional reactions to acupuncture. I talked to my friend about it and she did say that acupuncture can “release a lot of energy.” That didn’t sound like a good thing. When I hear stuff about “energy work” I get turned off. I also didn’t like thinking about the very real possibility that I’d cry somewhere along the line. Ugh.

I had worked myself up into such a state, I called to cancel the appointment, but the receptionist talked me out of it.

The night before my appointment, I meditated. An image came to mind of a picture I have hanging in my office. It has a quote on it that says: “Sometimes your only form of transportation is a leap of faith.” I don’t readily trust doctors, but I took this as a sign that I should give Dr. Link the benefit of the doubt.

At my appointment, he first came in and asked how I was doing. I offered a brief “okay” before I launched into a list of questions. I think I was mostly trying to prolong things. I thought maybe we’d run out of time. I even suggested that he was probably running late and we could do the acupuncture at my next appointment! Silly me 🙂 Finally, I asked, “Do I have to believe this will work for it to work?” He said definitely not, and then he told me about research studies with animals that proved expectations had nothing to do with acupuncture’s effects.  He shared with me that he had been skeptical about acupuncture at first, too, and he added that he didn’t know for sure whether acupuncture would help me.  I appreciated his honesty.

The actual treatment wasn’t too bad. As always, my anxiety ahead of time is much worse that the actual event. I didn’t want to look at the needles, but I’m pretty sure he put at least two in my ear and I’d say about ten in my arm and hand. Then a TENS unit was hooked up to the needles, and a heat unit was directed to my arm. I felt like I was a ham being baked.

Next a nurse put a call button in my hand. I asked, “What is this for?” She said, “To call if you need anything.” What? I was going to be left? I was doing okay until this point. I guess I had missed the part that the needles are left in you for a period of time. I was going to be in a room all by myself with needles buzzing away in my arm. The nurse asked if  I wanted some music, and I said no (music would be more likely to make me cry). I did ask for a blanket for my feet, which were freezing cold. I was proud of myself for being assertive and asking for the blanket.

During the treatment, I tried to do some breathing meditation. I imagined Sharon Salzberg’s voice from my meditation CDs telling me to simply notice the breath. I didn’t have to change anything–no need to try to breathe slowly or deeply. Just follow the breath in its natural state.  At times my attention was drawn to various points in my arm where the needles were. There was one place close to my armpit that was a little uncomfortable. Otherwise, there was no discomfort–mostly just  strange vibration sensations. I heard a timer go off and the nurse came back in. I imagined I was cooked to perfection. She said I looked flushed. She said Dr. Link had told her that was a good indicator that your nervous system was actually being reached. I didn’t say the room was just hot and stuffy, but that’s what I was thinking. She told me I could get off the table, but I felt a little bit paralyzed or something. She must have noticed an odd look on my face, and she said to take my time, that some people feel a little dizzy afterward. When I was telling Greg about it, he said, You were probably really relaxed.” I informed him that I was definitely not relaxed! (This was serious, scary stuff.)

I made it to the front window, paid for the treatment, and got instructions to drink a lot of water, and take it easy.

I went home and looked at myself in the mirror. Could I see any marks where the needles had been? Did I still look flushed? No, and no.

It was hard not to evaluate whether anything had happened. As pessimistic as I usually am, I actually thought I felt “more space” in my shoulder area. This experience of “more space” extended down my arm into my hand, and lasted all that day and the next day, too. I even forgot to take my Extra Strength Tylenol, which I take religiously.

Now if I could have only ended this blog post here.

A few days after that, the pain was back. I thought to myself, “Well, yeah, the first day I stayed off the computer–one thing I know aggravates my pain. Of course I felt better.” Even the second day, I was still trying to do less on the computer. “Maybe I just need to stop typing so much, then I wouldn’t need this stupid acupuncture!”

I didn’t expect one treatment to magically cure me. I’m going to keep going, at least for a little while. Dr. Link said we’d be able to evaluate after about 4 treatments what kind of response I was having. And I don’t know if it’s related, but I have slept really soundly since the acupuncture treatment.

As I’ve thought about this whole acupuncture thing, it dawned on me that it’s really not relevant whether it “works” or not. The point of this self-compassion project is to learn to be gentle with myself, regardless of the circumstance. Sure, it would be great to not be in pain all the time. But it’s not mandatory for happiness. Just two and a half months into this “project” and I already feel better equipped to deal with whatever life brings. Pain or no pain. It’s all good.

Rain

photo by K. Mohan via Flickr

It’s a beautiful, sunny, atypically warm winter’s day in the Midwest, and I’m thinking about rain. Go figure. I’ve got a few random things to share.

First, this week of Sharon Salzberg’s meditation challenge is about dealing mindfully with emotions.  The acronym she uses is RAIN. Here are the four “steps”:

Recognize: The first step is to recognize the feelings. She writes, “You can’t figure out how to deal with an emotion until you acknowledge that you’re experiencing it.”

Acceptance: The second step is acceptance. “We tend to resist or deny certain feelings, particularly if they’re unpleasant. But in our meditation practice, we’re open to whatever emotion arises.”

Investigate: The third step is to investigate the emotion. “Instead of running away from it, we move closer, observing it with an unbiased interest. In order to do that we need to take a moment, not only to refrain from our usual reaction, but also to unhook from the object of the feeling.”

Nonidentification: The fourth step is not identifying with the emotion. “The embarrassment or disappointment you’re feeling today isn’t your whole résumé, the final word on who you are and who you’re going to be. Instead of confusing a temporary state with your total self, you come to see that your emotions arise, last a while, then disappear. You feel some fear, and then you don’t. You’re resentful, and then you aren’t.

Second, I decided to look up some quotes about rain and here are a few I liked:

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life. -John Updike

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet. -Roger Miller

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life. – John Updike

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. -Langston Hughes

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And finally, here is a beautiful, original sound clip called “Rain Follows.” I hope you’ll listen and enjoy.

 

Coming to My Senses

I see darkness.

Dark as the inside of a coffin,

Or dark as ten feet of dirt.

You say certain things glow in the dark,

Even grow in the dark.

You see light.

I need your eyes.

I hear my words and they sound crazy.

You hear my words and say I’m sane.

I need your ears.

This is a part of a poem I wrote a long time ago for my husband, Greg. I don’t remember what prompted me to write it, but I was probably in one of my weird, moody moments.

Since the day we met, Greg has listened to me, reassured me, and accepted me. He has loved me like I cannot fully love myself.

I wonder, though, what if I saw myself through his eyes?  Maybe if I did, I’d see my beauty. Maybe if I did, I’d speak my truth. Maybe if I did, I’d own my power. What would it be like to live that way for even one day?

Okay, prepare for the tone to switch. Greg just read over my shoulder and said if I saw myself as he did, I’d be insufferable. He also joked that I wouldn’t need this self-compassion project anymore. Maybe I’ll just have to give it a try.


Just Breathe

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I’ve just finished Week One of Sharon Salzberg’s meditation challenge. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always had a difficult time motivating myself to do any kind of formal meditation. Let me give you some background.

My first encounter with meditation was about fifteen years ago. One of the psychologists where I worked gave an informal presentation on meditation and then we had an experiential exercise. I don’t remember the details, except for the part where I started to cry during the experiential part. I was extremely embarrassed and had to leave the room. I’ve had similar experiences  in yoga classes. During the part at the end where it’s more quiet and reflective, I frequently tear up. (I once read in a yoga magazine that this is not unusual, so I guess I’m not too weird.) There’s a huge movement in contemporary psychology to incorporate “mindfulness” into the therapy process, and there’s plenty of research to back up its usefulness. I’ve tried to keep up with all the developments. I took an online course a couple of years ago called Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. I’d never taken an online course–it was actually a lot of work. We had reading to do, assignments, and of course, we were supposed to practice the various mindfulness exercises. Dare I admit that I often skipped the practice part?

I have no idea what I’m afraid of:

  • If I sit still I’ll be consumed with feelings I can’t manage?
  • My inner life will actually bore me to death?
  • I’m incapable of meditating and will be a failure?

So it was with a little trepidation that I committed to this challenge. But I was also excited! There’s a whole website devoted to these 28 days, and there are people blogging about their experiences. Some of the bloggers are experienced meditators, and others are novices. Every day I can peruse the site and see what speaks to me that day.  And there’s a structure to the month (I like structure!) Each week we’re focusing on a different aspect of meditation.

Okay, so back to Week One. Week One was all about the breath. The first aspect of meditation is learning to stabilize  your attention, and the way it’s usually done is by focusing on the breath. The directions are really simple. You take a few deep breaths, and then you just let your breathing settle at its natural pace. She suggests you do this for twenty minutes. When you notice thoughts, you just let them go and bring your attention back to the breath. Easy, right? I’ll include a link at the end of this post to a three-minute video that shows Sharon Salzberg teaching this.

Here are some random realizations I made throughout the week:

  • I can meditate in the middle of a messy room. One day I had the idea to redo the decorations on the fireplace mantle. This led to a lot of other changes–switch out pillows on the couch, bring things in from different rooms… I had stuff everywhere (it looked like a Hobby Lobby clearance sale), and I wasn’t happy with the way it was going. I wanted so badly to finish, or at least clean up and put it back the way it was. Yet time was running out and I needed to get my meditation in.  I was so proud of myself because I sat down, right there in the middle of the mess, and just did it. (I read somewhere that meditation is mostly about sitting down, shutting up, and seeing what happens.)
  • It does not kill me to ignore my phone alerting me of an incoming text, and I will remember to silence it in the future.
  • Sometimes focusing on my breath was relaxing and I felt all warm and tingly. Other times, I felt agitated and wanted to get up before it was time. Both experiences were actually okay.
  • It’s really hard to meditate with dogs around. Lily thinks she needs to be on my lap 24/7! And Larry thinks he’s a cat the way he nuzzles up against me.
  • I got tearful during a few of my sessions, but I was compassionate with myself (yea!) and was able to keep going without it being a huge sob fest (and even that would have been okay).
  • I skipped one day and I didn’t beat myself up about it. I did, however,  rationalize that there are actually 29 days in February this year, so I was still on track for the 28 day challenge.
  • You can’t fail at meditating! Sharon Salzberg talks about “The Magic Moment”–that moment when your attention naturally wanders. It’s in that very moment when you have a choice to act differently. Do you criticize yourself for this lapse in attention? Or do you simply say, “Oh, my mind wandered. Let’s go back to the breath now.” She says the magic moment is the ability to start over.  One day this week I found myself frustrated and getting irritable. It actually crossed my mind to say to myself,  “Hey, this is a magic moment. I can do an attitude adjustment right here and now.” I was amazed that just a few days of meditating was already making a difference.

All in all, Week One was freeing as I realized that every breath is a chance to begin again.

Here’s the link I promised you of Sharon teaching about the breath.

Let It Be Easy

photo by Greg Markway

As I’ve been tuning in to my self-talk over these past few weeks, I keep hearing the word, “pressure.”  I think I need to do things on a certain timetable and with a certain level of quality. And then that pressured feeling turns into procrastination. In talking with the insightful Beth Beulow of The Introvert Entrepreneur, she suggested something along the lines of, maybe if I loosened the screws a little bit that feeling of pressure would morph into inspiration. I’m not sure if those were her exact words, but I definitely heard “Loosen the Screws!” (What? Me a little uptight?)

There’s a certain paradox in this self-compassion “project.” How do I not turn it into one more thing to stress over?

The other night I couldn’t sleep, and instead of getting all worked up like I usually do, a phrase kept running through my mind: “Let it be easy.” As I said in my last post, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, so I don’t know if I’d just read this (I can’t find it anywhere now), or heard it in one of the guided meditations I’ve been listening to, or just maybe, my “unconscious” knew what I needed to hear. “Let it be easy” is not something I’m used to doing. I typically make things more complicated than they probably need to be.

But in the spirit of self-compassion, I’m going to try to hold this project gently and lightly, like you’d hold a butterfly in your hand. What does that mean?

First of all, I’m going to ease up on any expectation of outcome. For example, I’m constantly saying things to myself such as, “Will this post be helpful?” or “Will this resonate with people?” Originally, I’d thought that one of my guiding principles of this blog was going to be, “If I help even one person, the blog is not in vain.” Yeah, I’m a helper through and through. And that’s a good thing for a psychologist. But there are pitfalls, too. In The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, Christopher Germer says that “attachment” is a danger for helpers. I think he means attachment in the sense of wanting things to go a certain way. He gently reminds us helpers that everyone is responsible for their own happiness. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if this blog speaks to someone, great. But if I only help myself through this process of blogging, that’s more than enough.  (After all, he also says “Self-compassion is the foundation of compassion for others.”)

Second, although I had the intention of this being a one-year project, similar to The Happiness Project and The Shyness Project (it’s popular to have a project these days), I’ve noticed I’m already feeling pressure about time. “Oh no! It’s almost February and what have I accomplished? I’m still just laying the groundwork.” Deadlines are definitely good in that they help with accountability, cut down on procrastination (sometimes), and can enhance productivity. But in my case, I think the most compassionate thing to do is the realize that this has been my Issue for almost 50 years. There is no reason to think that in one year, poof, I will be completely self-compassionate and this will be something I can cross off my to-do list. To quote Germer again, “The path to happiness and well-being never ends. Just when we’ve arrived, a new challenge presents itself and we begin again.” So I’m going to quit worrying about time and simply see where this flows.

Speaking of time, it’s a week until my 50th birthday. I’m excited about an easier year ahead!

Self-Compassion Rock Stars

My son took this at a concert. I love how she looks so free.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on self-compassion the past few weeks, and I thought I’d share the major resources I’m using for my project. I already owned all of these books, but I have a habit of buying books with the hope they’ll somehow seep into my system without actually digging in and doing the exercises. So for the most part, these books have just looked pretty on a shelf until now. (And if you read my last post, you know how I like things to be pretty.)

This time around, I’ve got the books scattered on end tables by the couch and on the kitchen table, with paper and pen nearby to take notes and actually do the exercises. I’ve also got my iPod loaded with guided meditations, and have been listening to these. I hope to, in time, phase out the iPod and be able to do the meditations on my own. For now, though, I need the structure of someone’s voice leading me.

These are in no particular order. I hope you have a chance to check some of them out, and let me know what you think.

Christopher Germer, Ph.D., is a leader in the field of self-compassion. He’s a psychologist, writer, and researcher. His site is full of handouts, articles, and free meditation downloads. You can find his website here. I’m also reading and doing the exercises his book, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. It’s very user friendly.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D. is another pioneer in the field. Her website is here and her book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, is an excellent resource. She weaves her personal story throughout the book, which I really appreciate. She has a son with autism and credits her self-compassion skills with getting her through a lot of rough times.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, is quite simply, amazing! She talks about being vulnerable, and she walks the talk. You have to visit her website (which is about the prettiest website I’ve ever seen!) and watch her TED talk.

Sharon Salzberg, author of the classic Lovingkindness, is a true meditation guru and spiritual teacher.  Her newest book, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation offers a 28-day program and comes with a CD of guided meditations. Her site is here.

Tara Brach, Ph.D. is the author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha. I love this book, and I also have some of her guided meditations. Her voice is very soothing. Her site is also loaded with podcasts (called “Tara Talks”), meditation downloads, articles and many other resources. Her new book is True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.

Be sure and like my Facebook page (if you’re so inclined). It’s on the side bar, or you can click here.

Getting Organized

There’s nothing that signifies the start of a new project for me like a trip to Staples to gather needed supplies. I got a cool notebook with all different kinds of pages (project planner pages, to-do list pages, etc.) that you can move around to different sections. I also got some multi-colored pens. Fun! So far, I’m keeping a short, daily diary in one section, and I have a list of possible blog post ideas in another.

I felt elated after I wrote my Just Five Minutes blog post on Day 2. For those of you who didn’t read it, my husband and son challenged me to write the post in five minutes. I tend to obsess about every word and make things harder than they need to be. It was scary to press the publish button, knowing that it wasn’t perfect, but it was freeing, too.

The rest of the week was a little more up-and-down. I felt bogged down with work and just getting my usual things done. I found I put off meditation (one of my goals for the week) until the very end of the day. It seemed I was rushing to get it in, just so I could cross it off my to-do list. Probably not the best way to approach it. I took my short walking breaks (another goal) more days than not. I do a lot of sitting at my job and have chronic neck and back pain (despite two surgeries and countless hours of PT). The walk breaks are important self-care activites. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for me it’s an accomplishment to make myself take a break rather than keep plowing through my day despite pain.

The scientist part of me decided I should have some baseline data to work with–to know where I’m starting in terms of my level of self-compassion. I took this self-compassion test on Dr. Kristin Neff’s site (she’s the author of Self-Compassion, which I’ve been devouring.) I don’t know why I was surprised, but I didn’t score too well. I also tried one of the techniques from her book, which turned out to be pretty powerful. That will be a separate blog post, coming soon!

I realize I’m not sharing anything super inspiring in this post. But I will try to be self-compassionate and tell myself that every blog post does not have to be a literary masterpiece.