Written by Ruby Katz
“What color was your week?”
This wasn’t Color War for kids at camp or school where you compete with a banner, song, and skit to win. There was no competition here. Instead, it was a workshop sharing wisdom and techniques on surviving and thriving during another kind of war – the COVID pandemic – that has shaken the world for the past year.
The color question was the first of many asked by Howard Reznick, social worker and moderator, for Jewish Community Services’ (JCS) week-long virtual program called Calming Our Nerves, Lifting Our Spirits. He followed up by asking, “What color would you like your week to be?” Howard (as he told us to call him) didn’t invite us, the eight or more participants, to share our colors – that was for another day. But in my mind, throughout the week, I thought about the color I wished my week would be, replacing my hectic schedule with calmness.
I cannot recall how I got on JCS’ mailing list, but I’m glad I did. First, I signed up for Finding Calm in the Storm, a virtual group meeting on the third Thursday of each month. Although I had never been in a group session like this, I looked forward to those once-a-month meetings. They calmed me down with suggestions for relaxation, like putting on music and dancing around the room and exercises for mental and physical health, such as yoga. Just as important, it gave me a sense of connection and camaraderie with others, vital during social distancing. So as soon as I received an email about a week-long workshop, I signed up.
Throughout each session in this week-long class, participants voluntarily shared what was on their minds. No pressure here and no judgment, just acceptance of each other’s right to speak. I gained insight from people who joined from here in Baltimore and other cities and countries, even in different time zones, as far away as Israel.
In Calming Our Nerves, Lifting Our Spirits, Howard led us to physically lift ourselves up – feet on the floor, head high as if colorful balloons were attached. At the same time, he demonstrated and encouraged us to loosen up and be flexible like a tree blowing in the wind. I pictured myself like a palm tree with its slender trunk swaying in the breeze. Along with sitting or standing tall, we learned to be more aware of the breaths we take. For relaxation, I learned to “notice the breath of life,” as Howard noted it. At first, we breathed naturally in and out 10 times – so relaxing. By the end of the week, we were breathing in and out 20 times! Our guide called it “self-hypnosis.”
Perhaps self-hypnosis was also involved in choosing a place we would like to be, experiencing our senses there: seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, even tasting … like tasting the saltwater air in the place I chose – the beach. Once we were in that special place, we thought of the color that we wished for, imagining that color covering us and hopefully moving out to cover the world.
Although on Monday I had identified my color of the week as hot pink because it was hectic, by Thursday, the last day of the workshop, the color I wished my week would be, turquoise, was enveloping me.
Did I win my own color war to find peace? I came close, but winning comes from practicing.
I remember once when I felt like I was burning out of my career, my mentor helped me rethink the situation. The next day, I burst into her house and said, “The burn-out is gone! I hope it lasts.” “It won’t,” she said.” You have to work at it.”
That’s true here also. Everything I learned at Calming Our Nerves, Lifting Our Spirits will only last if I practice finding that peaceful color. But another great JCS workshop – like this one – would certainly help!
Ruby Katz is a Jewish Community Services program participant
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.