Tag Archive | acceptance

Stop Body Shaming!

all different bodies 2

“Oh, No! This is the section for Fat People.”
Yesterday, at a large department store sale, I was perusing the racks in Juniors Plus when a mother and daughter entered the area. At first, I hear Mom say, “Check the sale rack first; you’ll be able to get more items that way.” Smart. But, then directly on the heels of this advice, I hear a comment, spoken loudly and dripping with disdain, “Oh, not here! This isn’t your area. These are for Fat People.” Ending with a barely concealed “Ewwwww…”

Equally embarrassed and curious, I risked a glance over my shoulder to see the source. I discover that, yes, the teen in question is slender and fit. But, the mother is not. In fact, she looks like she shops for size 16, the same as me. As found in most plus-size sections.

As much as I felt like hiding my face behind a rack for fear of being seen shopping in the “Fat People’s section,” I found myself even more concerned with those shopping around me. Because I happened to be browsing in the juniors section, filled with impressionable teens. The store was packed with large groups of young women shopping for semi-formal dresses (Homecoming, perhaps?) and they were all shapes and sizes.

Luckily, it seemed I was the only one close enough to be hit with this verbal vomit. And, honestly, my gut reaction was to say something to this woman. But no matter the pithy comment I thought of, all of them seemed as if they would only exacerbate the situation; and give weight to her words. But now I wonder. Should I have said something? So that if, by chance, any young mind had heard, they would know that not all people agree with this statement nor think that it is right.

But, I admit, in that moment I fell victim to Body Shaming. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. Worse, I didn’t feel like I had the “right” to say anything to that woman because “technically” I am a “fat person.” It seemed like it would be better coming from someone with a slimmer silhouette.

In less than 30 seconds, I felt less than.

But, perhaps, I could have calmly said, “I understand this section isn’t right for your daughter. But it is right for lots of young woman and your words were hurtful and inappropriate.” What do you think?

I started to observe the groups shopping. I noticed that groups of peers were generally supportive of each other. Each group contained a wide range of body types but instead of comparing or belittling, they lifted one another up. They suggested flattering outfits, complimented each other, and when in the changing room, if something didn’t fit or look right, they giggled about it instead of making disparaging remarks.

Conversely, I witnessed a different type of reaction between mothers and daughters. Moms were quick to point out things that wouldn’t look good when their daughter excitedly held up an item. Most often with a “Really?!” and a raised eyebrow. One word that can speak (negative) volumes. And the parents who had slim children seemed to flaunt them; many of these parents being less-than-fit themselves. As if their child’s attractiveness was a direct (positive) reflection on themselves.

Yes, I know it was clothes shopping, which directly lends itself to “body talk.” But why can’t it be positive, supportive body talk?

Soon after this, I found myself in the dressing room. As I faced the daunting task of trying on a pile of clothes, knowing that if I found 1 thing that fit well, it would be a success, I was presented with two options. One, to let that woman’s voice seep in and take up court with my mental judges, or, two, to dismiss her as an ill-informed person.

I chose the second, and this is what happened:

  • I actually felt some compassion for her. How? You may wonder. I realized she must feel so uncomfortable in her own skin, she needs to belittle others and take on her daughter’s identity in order to feel better. What a painful way to walk around.
  • I looked myself straight in the mirror and reminded Me that we each have our own story. My weight is from years of physical conditions, surgeries and side-effect laden meds. I used to “pre-emptively” want to explain that to people (strangers, that is!). Even going so far as hoping they would think I was pregnant instead of “abdominally challenged.” Now, I remind myself we are all walking around with our own stories, no matter the exterior appearance. Being overweight comes from a variety of sources, whether it is physical or emotional.
  • I also looked myself square in the eye and made myself stand tall and proud. I committed to trying on clothes with a critical eye; not one of a critic putting myself down but critically, assessing which things compliment me and which aren’t suited to my body type. Period.
  • And a funny thing happened… I ended up finding too many items that fit me well! Wherein I needed to pick and choose and leave half in the store for another time. That rarely happens!
  • I also walked through the store proudly. I didn’t let one person’s shaming shrink me. Depending on the brand, I can wear anywhere from a Lrg to a 2x. That’s a wide range! It also means I shop almost every section of the store. I committed to acting the same way no matter the area; to not feel like a fraud when I’m in the “regular sections” and to not slouch and hide in Women’s or Plus. I am who I am. And I belong here too.
  • Finally, I started to positively pay it forward. I complimented women of all ages and sizes on their outfits or accessories I found flattering. I encouraged someone checking out an item to try it on: “Wow. I think that will look great on you!”

As a society, we need to stop “Body Shaming!” That includes making negative, derogatory comments about people or celebrities wearing (what we think is) an unflattering outfit.  We need to refrain from making comments about what others choose to eat. We need to cease the “non-verbal commentary” of a pointed look, raised eyebrow, smirk, or the good ol’ eye-roll. Or even the sound effect comments: “Hmmm…,” “Eww,” “Ugh,” *sigh*, etc. We all know what I am talking about.

Body shaming isn’t right. Worse, it isn’t supportive. As women, we should constantly be lifting each other up not tearing away at each other so we feel better about our own selves. And this includes people who you do not know… It is ALL wrong.

All that mother needed to say was, “Oh, hon, this section doesn’t have your size. Let’s check over there.” Instead, within her original comment, she not only put down anyone shopping in that section, she also put down herself, and her daughter. Because I was once a slender and fit girl, too. I no longer fit that body type. No one knows where our lives will lead. And we all deserve the unconditional support of our mothers, sisters, and Sisterhood at large.

How can you support a fellow woman today and Stop Body Shaming?

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Feeling Free to Say “I Am Less Than Able Today”

Image by Lori PortkaWhy do I still feel embarrassed to express to my “well-bodied” friends that I am less-than-able on many days? Partly, I struggle to find the right words; the delicate balance between clear explanation and what I fear may sound like whiney complaining.

And then there is the bigger problem: the fact that I look so well. Especially on the days that my friends do see me. Because it is the days that I feel well enough to wash my hair (perhaps!), put on some makeup, get out of my lounge clothes, smile, and be present, that I also am able to keep my plans with them. They’re not seeing me on the days when my arms feel like 20lb. weights, too heavy to lift and brush the bed-tangles out of my hair. Or when I am still wearing what I woke up in, which many times even means what I went to bed in, because I was too exhausted to do anything but take off my bra the night before!

And truth be told, the sound and timber and strength of my voice doesn’t often change that much when my physical body is feeling poorly. And for me, my larynx can be in spasm causing hoarseness when I do feel well. So since that’s such a poor barometer for “feeling well vs. feeling poorly,” why is it then that people seem to think that what they hear over the phone lines is some sort of truth serum?

How many of you have heard those dreaded words, “Oh, but, you sound so good today! I’m glad!”

Unfortunately, they are often spoken before I’ve even had a chance to say how I am truly doing. So, I hesitate. Because it gets tiring saying, “um, thanks. But, actually, I’m not doing so hot today.” And even with my most well-intentioned friends and loved ones, I sometimes hear skepticism creep into their response. Because it just doesn’t make sense: but they sound so good…?

I share this all because I think it is a helpful reminder for anyone: both those of us struggling with day-to-day- fluctuations in our physical (or mental) capabilities and for those who are friends to, family members of, or caregivers for (including professionals) those with these “Invisible Illnesses.”

A quick reminder: Invisible Illnesses encompass a wide range of conditions and diseases. Take the common condition of arthritis, even. Yes, a joint could be swollen or red, but many times it can ache with no outward physical manifestation. So now think of all the conditions that effect our “internal systems,” from brain chemistry, to GI disorders, blood, vein and heart conditions, nervous system pain and disruption, connective tissue deterioration… the list goes on and on. These are the “Invisible Illnesses” that hide behind an external mirage of wellness. Wouldn’t it be handy if when something was ailing or failing on the inside, a bright red “warning spot” would emerge on an external location?! I sure would find this handy! Not only for letting others visibly know something painful is going on, but also to help pin-point for both myself and my doctors, what system is causing the pain.

Since this warning system technology is yet to be invented, we have to trust what people say. To take them at their word. You don’t have to completely understand what someone is describing to give them love, support and empathy. And unconditional trust in their word.

Sometimes I worry (too much so) that the person I am sharing my ills of the day with will think I am only saying it to get out of seeing them. At least for me, this is never the case! In fact, I am one to mask my true feelings of pain and discomfort just to avoid hurting or disappointing another. I know I am not alone in this.

So what can we all do as a collective group who cares for one another, to combat this?

For the “well-bodied” loved one:

  1. Don’t Assume: Don’t assume just because we sound okay, or even because we look okay, that we feel okay. Don’t assume that because we were able to yesterday, we will be able to today. Or even, if we were able 15 minutes ago, that our bodies’ are still feeling as abled in This minute.
  2. Listen: Please ask us how we are really doing. And then give us the space to truthfully answer. Take our answers at face value; please don’t judge or question (or fill in the blank!).
  3. Don’t feel like you need to fix the situation. All we really need is acceptance and acknowledgement: “Wow that sounds hard/painful/frustrating. I am sorry you are feeling so lousy/cruddy/down today.”
  4. It’s okay to ask “Is there any way I can be of support to you/help you right now?” But also know that we may not have an answer for that. It’s not that we don’t want your help (and I always like hearing a sincere offer from a friend), it’s just that: 1. We may not truly know of any way that you can help right now and 2. Many times all we need is space and time to heal. Which leads me to…
  5. Give us space without expectations. We know (believe me!) how hard it is to accept that there is no clear pattern to our symptoms. We may feel better in 1 day, 3 days, maybe even 30 minutes and that can be frustrating. So we just ask for your patience as we navigate the unknown.
  6. Don’t stop asking. This is a big one! And I don’t mean “don’t stop asking how we are doing” (although that’s a good thing, too); I mean don’t stop asking us to do things. Because there still are many days when we are able. And spending time with you, helping you out and supporting you, still means a lot to us. This is what feeds our soul and keeps us striving to be and get well.

Now, onto the “Invisible Illness” group:

  1. It’s Okay. You’re okay. You are whole and complete exactly as you are. That was hard for me to write, because I am not just saying it to you, I am saying it to myself. “I am whole exactly as I am.” You/I/WE do not have to be anything other than what we are capable of being. We did not create these illnesses nor are we using them as a crutch to “get out of things.” They inhibit what we can do on a daily business, but they are not the all of us.
  2. We are not defined by our illness. Our friends like and love us for who we are: the pure essence of us, our true spirit. Not for our physical abilities or dis-abilities. And if that is how someone defines “compatibility” in a relationship, they are not the kind of supportive friend you need, or deserve.
  3. Speak your truth. Don’t sugar-coat the situation. You don’t need to go into great length or detail (unless you need/want to). Just be clear and concise. Remember we are speaking a language only other people with chronic illnesses can understand. A friend of mine with varying daily abilities can say just one word to me, or give me that look, and I get it. It’s not going to be that way with all of our friends and caregivers, so…
  4. Be patient. You may need to explain your daily needs and limitations over and over again. This can feel frustrating or maybe even like the other person is questioning your authenticity. In most cases, this isn’t true. Remember: it’s a foreign language, and people don’t learn to comprehend a foreign tongue overnight! Most times, our loved ones keep asking questions, only because they want to understand.
  5. If someone asks how they can help, and you can think of a way, ASK IT. Don’t be stoic. Don’t hope that they’ll just guess at what you need. (How could they?!). And don’t ever feel embarrassed. This last one happens to me. Because I start to think “But, I should be able to do this.” Trust that if someone offers to help, their offer is sincere and that if what you ask for is too much for them, they will let you know. Think how helpful it would be to have someone cook you a meal, or run an errand/do a household chore, or even help you to color your hair.
  6. Remember that friendship is based on unconditional love. Our friends and lovers chose us for the person we bring out in them, just as we love them for the person they bring out in ourselves. We are all here to be our best selves, but that does not mean trying to be something other than you are. Or can be, physically. There is more to you, there is more to me, than our physicality.

It is up to all of us to spread the word on Invisible Illnesses. To take the stigma and mis-understanding out of them. Because millions and millions of us walk around looking “just like everyone else,” while on the inside of bodies are crumbling.

The first step to undoing all the misconceptions around these illnesses, is to start with a deeper understanding of each other, on a one to one basis. Which includes a deeper understanding of our own needs and abilities, followed by acceptance of same. It’s time to embrace all that we do bring to the world rather than all that we do not!

Healing Through Pain

We have all experienced post-traumatic stress (PTS) from intense life experiences. It can come from a variety of sources: a near-brush with death; the impact of battling intense and painful illness; losing a loved one; a difficult childhood; or breaking off a long term relationship; to name just a few.

The event itself doesn’t matter so much as how it influences us.

This PTS can manifest itself in a number of ways: fear of future life-altering events; free-floating anxiety; newly formed phobias, unrelenting grief; unbidden tears; loss of affect; isolation; and withdrawal from activities. Many times the symptoms are insidious and creep up on us. We don’t even recognize the impact this life event had on us; or we are in denial of it.

We don’t want to admit we are vulnerable.

And, let’s face it, there’s a stigma around the acronym “PTSD.” Oftentimes, we associate it with major catastrophes and/or assume it manifests itself in ways that prevent the sufferer from engaging in life at all.

But once we take away our generalized perceptions of PTSD, there is much that can be gained by recognizing it in our lives, and working through it instead of avoiding it.

Let me give an example…

A dear friend suddenly lost her pet dog last fall. Using the descriptor “pet” seems to diminish the importance of their relationship. She, too, battles with chronic illness and her beloved dog (“L”) had been by her side and been her main partner through some of the toughest years of her life… those days she didn’t think she would ever get out of bed again. But her dog provided love, licking away her tears, and motivation to move, even if just slightly, because eventually she had to be taken outside.

Pets can be important companions to many of us, but I think they hold a special place in the hearts of those with chronic illness. They are the one being in our lives that love us no matter what… unshowered, in pain, grumpy, disheveled, confused, and lonely. They’ve seen the all of us and love us unconditionally.

I witnessed my friend experience months of unrelenting grief. I felt lost and powerless at ways to help her. All I could do was hold the space with her as she traversed this process at her own pace, and in her own way.

Then, one day a couple weeks ago, she had a revelation.

She was walking at the local reservoir, a favorite spot that her and her dog would wander. And she suddenly no longer felt alone.

She reflected on all the times L greeted her with unabandoned adoration, even when she didn’t feel like she deserved it herself. She remembered feeling so down all she could do was lie prone on the couch, too fatigued and depressed to even lift a hand to pet L. But her pup didn’t care, she would climb right up on that sofa and comfort my friend instead. She chuckled as she recalled 10 hour days away from home, rushing in worried because she hadn’t even stopped in to let L out to pee. But, again, her pup didn’t care; she greeted her with enthusiastic excitement just because she was home. No judgement. No shame.

She realized that all these negative thoughts she was having about herself were in direct contrast to what her dog had felt for her. That the best way to honor L’s life was to treat herself with the same unconditional acceptance and love that her pet had.

And then she said the most remarkable thing: “If I could find meaning in her life, I can find meaning in her death, too.”

She went on to say she had fallen into the victim role, angry at her pet for not being here to help her through this grief. Knowing this is an irrational thought, but her heart aching because L had been the one to help her through every difficult emotion over the last decade+. And this was the most painful emotion she had ever faced.
But, another “a-ha moment” had come to her: before L died, she only had her there to help her when they were physically close. Now, she had her with her all the time, and could tap into that unconditional love and understanding whenever, and wherever she needed it.

“To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die.” (Thomas Campbell)

She concluded by realizing that by taking care of herself, she is better able to be there for others. She won’t reach out if she isn’t making life choices that are in her own highest good.

And I have witnessed this transformation… she is now providing support to others that are grieving, because she is authentically speaking from her own experiences.

And by sharing her experience, strength and hope with me, she affected me deeply. It demonstrated the importance of living through the PTS until you can see a purpose in a difficult situation.

I, too, am in the grieving process right now. I am not grieving a specific person or being, but then again, that’s not entirely true. I am grieving someone. I am grieving myself. The person I was pre-illness. And I realize I have been living with the silent stalker of PTS for years, because I haven’t allowed myself to fully open up to this process of grief yet. I thought I was “okay,” that I had moved past it, that I was accepting of my situation. And in many ways I am, but that doesn’t negate the need to grieve what was and what could have been.

I need to look at that “lost Tam” with unconditional love and then give my current self that same gift of love and acceptance.

What experiences in your life have left a residual stain on your soul? An echo of yesterday that you haven’t completely been able to let go of yet?

I realize PTS doesn’t just go away by wishing it so. The passage of time doesn’t necessarily allow it to fully fade into the sunset. And pushing it to the recesses of our minds, tucked away in the box marked “things I’d rather forget” doesn’t work either. The only way to move beyond the experience and the left-over PTS, is to move through it. To dust off that box, open it up, and feel every ugly, painful, sad, angry, resentful, shameful emotion until we are spent. Until there is nothing left except an empty box to start re-filling with healing thoughts of love.

And, remember, this process can be big and scary and overwhelming. But you don’t have to go it alone! In fact, it’s advisable to find people that have traveled this journey before you to light the way. My friend experienced all the stages of grief with the help of support groups, hotlines, and friends. And she is now paying this gift forward by helping others. And I’m reliving my past with the help of a mentor and my friends, no longer holding these feelings in secret.

May today mark the beginning of a new healing journey for us all!

May I Decide For You?

equal heart

Why do we profess to know what’s best for others? Especially loved ones? Is it because we think we know them intimately more than they even know themselves? This is something that often happens with those battling chronic illness and daily limitations.

Our loved ones, out of fear of pushing us too far (IE: making us “sicker”), make decisions based on our well-being without ever consulting us. Many times, these decisions are made behind closed minds, during the pre-conversation/contemplation phase and we never even know different possibilities existed. And because they are never presented to us, we are never given the opportunity to make our own choices (and, yes, even mistakes).

The decision has already been made for us, under the guise of “loving-kindness.” I know that I have been on the receiving end of this kind of decision making multiple times, especially from my husband. My most recent example occurred in an interaction with a dear friend:

Over the last couple years, I have been mentoring this friend. I was, from the beginning, clear and honest about my physical time limitations but committed to communicating in alternative ways; and asked that if our relationship agreement ever stopped working because of these restrictive parameters, she not hesitate to approach me about her changing needs. We went into the partnership with what I thought was an equal agreement. Then, just a few days back, she abruptly let me know that our arrangement was no longer working and she had already found another mentor.

As much as I respect her needs, I was taken aback by the one-sided decision making. When pressed, she explained that she honors the physical place that I am in and would never want to put un-due pressure on me. So she found someone more “well-bodied” and flexible with their schedule. She thought she was coming from a place of loving-kindness.

But, in fact, she took equality right out of our equation. Out of concern for pressuring me, she took away my opportunity to know and express what is right for me. To check in with my own body and decide whether I could do more to meet her needs or not.

What was removed from our relationship was trust in the other person to know themselves, and respect for whatever decision they make. Regardless of our own opinion.

Let me highlight some ways we all do this in relationships:
– Our partner gets anxious in social situations, so we avoid telling them about upcoming engagements until the last minute, so they don’t unduly fret.
– Our parent worries when we travel, so we hide trips from them until we get home, as not to overly stress them.
– We have friends who have chosen to no longer drink, so we don’t invite them to events where there will be a lot of “celebrating,” so they won’t be tempted.
– A co-worker tends to react strongly when asked to do a project, so instead of giving them the chance to process and respond, we just do everything ourselves to avoid a possible conflict.

We tell ourselves “loving-kindness” stories: “I don’t want this (person I care for) to feel bad/sad/disappointed/stressed/worried…” We’ve already analyzed the situation in our heads, come to the conclusion of how the choice will negatively affect the other person, how they will respond, and what we will do to avoid this.

But, remember, when you make a choice for a loved one, you are no longer looking at them as an equal.

Those of us with chronic illness often struggle with feelings of being “less-than” (as many well-bodied folks do, too!). We already have to limit so many facets of our daily lives. But, we can still make conscious, thoughtful decisions for ourselves.

Doesn’t every adult want to be perceived as trustworthy of their own truth?

And the thing is. . .

We very well may make poor decisions! We may over-commit which over-taxes our bodies or minds.

BUT… that’s how we learn. How much is too much. And how much is just right.

If the right to make our own choices is removed, we are never able to find the balance on our own.

One of the worst things, is discovering after the fact that you could have been a participant in the decision making process, and that was taken away from you. It’s way worse to learn later that a group of friends went out dancing but didn’t invite you only because they didn’t want you to feel bad because your body is ill-equipped to dance right now. A much better scenario is to be given that choice and decide whether you want to sit and watch at the club or if it’s better to stay home, but it sure felt nice to be including in the invite!

So, next time you find yourself making a pre-emptive decision for another out of loving-kindness, try for a different approach:
– Tell that person about the choice and kindly express your concerns for their well-being.
– Let them know you trust them to make the right decision for themselves in that moment.
– Remind them that you’ll support whatever choice they make; and will give them the respect of keeping lines of communication and gentle observation open.

In all interactions, remember that a partnership means that each party is on equal ground.

“Give Up All Hope”? Nah.

namaste

“Give up all Hope.” This was the provocative opening to a recent post by my dear friend and burgeoning life coach, Molly Larkin. I was instantly hooked. I found her words insightful and inspiring. But also frightening. I began to question my own dogma. At first, this unnecessarily “worried” me. Have I been wrong? Have I been influenencing others negatively with my words? In large part because I agreed with Molly’s thoughts and at first they seemed to be in contradiction with my own.

But the beautiful thing about debate (even an internal debate!) is it gets the self to think deeper—to think broader.

And I realized: 1. There is definitely more than one way to skin a chicken and 2. Words mean different things to many different people. That’s why even Merriam Webster lists multiple alternate (and sometimes opposing) definitions for an individual word.

So let me back up a bit to the beginning…

Molly’s post that got my mind a’spinning explained that she has had such “hope” for so long that if she only parented differently, her son would be/behave differently. And recently it was brought to her attention that this may just be the way her son is. “What if it’s always this hard?” her friend asked (what a great question!). She realized she was bringing herself unnecessary suffering by always “hoping” that things will change some day.

“And the hardest part, I came to see, was the belief that things should be or were about to be different. And that it was up to ME to figure out some way to fix them.”

Hence the “Give Up All Hope” post-it.

Expounding on this idea, she brought it full-circle to the roots of human suffering… we spend so many moments waiting for the next moment (the “better” moment) to happen that we completely miss out on the life we are given.

And this is where I got turned on my head. Hope has been the cornerstone of my faith (before I even had faith) over the last decade plus as I have faced medical challenge after physical challenge after personal challenge.

BUT  at the same time, and this was my conundrum, I agree 100% with her assessment of suffering.

So, how can both be true?

It all comes down to reaction instead of action.

For me, I realized, it is not the idea of hope that causes me suffering, it is the attachment to a specific outcome of hope that causes suffering. When I start defining what hope should look like or feel like in my future life, that’s when I get into trouble.

Hope for me is truly: Hang On Peace Exists… internal peace.

It’s remembering that “this too shall pass.” It’s actually the process of not forming an attachment to the present situation.

Hope for me is a personal journey. It is knowing that I am powerless over external forces in my life. That includes friends, family, my husband, my illness and the doctors, the freezing cold weather (!) and many, many other things. But I can also have hope that each day I’ll wake with a little more acceptance about what is. A little more grace and gratitude for what I do have.

Instead of trying to change myself to “better fit” into my environment, I hope only to see a little more clearly each day that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be. And that includes myself.

And that when I hope or pray that “this too shall pass,” I am not hoping that the situation will pass or change but that my attachment to it will. When I start to let go of my attachment to outcomes, it frees up an enormous amount of “heart space” to live and just be, in that moment.

I know this to be true. Because I have experienced it. And because I have experienced it before, I can hope that this feeling of true peace with what is will come again.

This is how I came to terms with the dichotomy of feelings I initially had towards Molly’s post.

I won’t give up hope. Because that to me is giving up any chance that each day can be a little bit better. And by that, I mean, I can be at a little bit more peace. Hold On Peace Exists.

To me, just by writing her brave post, Molly showed hope. Hope for acceptance of who she is as a mother and who her son is as a unique person.

Just imagine if we all hope for a little more of that peaceful acceptance in our lives… we would each begin to walk around looking others in the eyes and being able to fully look our own selves in the eyes, with the truest sentiment of “Namaste:”

“I honor the spirit within you as I honor the spirit within myself.”

So, now read the definition of Hope:

1. “To want something to be true and think it could be happen or be true.” And
2. “to expect with confidence”: TRUST

and look at it in a different light. If the thing you want and think could be true is no longer a specific outcome that will change the current situation of your life but rather that you now “trust” that the thing that is true is yourself, doesn’t it change everything? Have hope and trust that the truest thing is who you are, where you are, and what you are already doing. Now the hope lies in the peaceful acceptance of these facts.

For the other part of “Namaste” is the acknowledgment that god/goddess/spirit resides in all of us. It is the humble removal of ego. It is the awareness that we are all one.

And at that center of that oneness is a perfect creation.
I hope that today you can look yourself in the mirror and wish yourself “Namaste.”

namaste1024

I am Imperfectly Perfect- Hurrah!

imperfect perfection

I am jumping off the Self-Improvement Band Wagon!  Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with messages that we are not enough as is.  We need fixing, and should be on a constant quest for self-improvement.

Amongst all this promotional jargon, a very important message is left out:  We are imperfect beings… and that’s okay.

Some believe perfection only lies in God, others in Buddha.  Some believe the Messiah will be re-incarnated one day in a perfect earth-bound being; others believe this perfect being will be the second coming of Christ.  There are the believers that Angels are pure perfection (hence the halo and wings) or if we just try hard enough, we may even be able to achieve a state of Nirvana.  But even that “option” requires life-times of reincarnation and then after achieving this state of perfection, or one-ness, you ascend the earthly physical realm.

Not to mention the airbrushed, primped and primed actors and models that are held up as measures of our short-comings.

So the ideals that are held up for all of us to attain, are truly unattainable.  We are set up for failure from the start!

Any of these options and many others left unmentioned are extremely rare occurrences.  We are talking one in 7.02 billion (!) if we even “get” one perfect being in this century.

So why are we striving so hard for the truly unachievable?  What if we set ourselves up for success instead?  Imagine the societal shift that could occur! We could consciously decide to emulate the characteristics of those we admire but not at the sacrifice of who we are and what we are capable of being.

We often correlate the self-improvement craze with external appearances. But it goes deeper than that; it can eat away at the core of who we are. I think this is what affects me the most.   We constantly question our own intents and purposes… am I good enough Parent? Mate? Employee? Friend? Volunteer? Etc.

I witness friends and family members wage daily wars on themselves… filling their days with self-judgment and self-doubt.  And let’s face it, why wouldn’t we? When we are inundated with messages of perfection, it can be very difficult to counteract that with positive, affirmative self-talk.

But what if we just tried?  What if we turned the mute button on society?  What if we started celebrating all the unique qualities that make each one of us like no other… perfect, one of a kind crystalline snowflakes?

What if we started telling ourselves (and others) how proud we are to be Imperfectly Perfect Beings.

What if we let go of all the “shoulds” and instead of listing our daily defects of character we want to get rid of or change, we started a running tab of all our superior qualities we want to cherish, nurture, expand on, and grow?!

In the book Drop the Rock, the author states: “Self-acceptance is more important than self-abuse.  I cannot abuse myself into spirituality by shaming and ridiculing myself.  I cannot open a flower with a sledgehammer- only God opens flowers.”

By constantly berating ourselves internally for all the ways we feel we come up short, we only keep our eyes and minds focused downward.  We start to stumble over our own road-blocks because the more you focus on something, the more likely it is to propagate.  Do you really want to fertilize the soil of you short comings?

Try looking outward, walking forward proudly as the person you arethe person you are meant to beWe are all created with a unique blueprint that serves ourselves and the Universe.  And once we start to recognize and celebrate all the qualities we already possess, we can help those grow.  Nurture the things you like about yourself, your “Signature Strengths.”

You don’t need to change your characteristics, you only need to change your attitude towards those traits.

There is a process of freeing yourself from self-scrutiny by turning your “character defects” into “principles of daily living.”  For example, if you are feeling fearful, pray for faith; if you are feeling complacent, pray for action; if you are feeling resentful, meditate on forgiveness.

We are all two halves of a coin.  Our light sides and our shadow sides. We spend far too much energy trying to get rid of or hide our “shadow sides,” instead of recognizing and celebrating that these versions of ourselves are all part of our whole selves…. once we integrate both sides, we will feel balance.

And you will be able to look in the mirror with a knowing smile, “I am an Imperfectly Perfect Person and I love the all of me!”

I was inspired in part to write this post by the following blog post:

 Slice of Life

ENJOY!

Cultivate a Garden of Hope

where-flowers-bloom-so-does-hope-beth-buelowWe each possess a ripe environment in which to cultivate our own Garden of Hope; but is up to you to ensure that the soil of your soul is fertile ground for your garden to grow successfully.  Like “acceptance,” “hope” doesn’t just happen. You don’t wake up one day and announce, “I am Hopeful!” It is a daily practice; it takes time. And just like a garden, it needs to be nurtured, fed and cherished.

Life and its circumstances can clog our garden with weeds and debris. All it takes is one solid shake of a tree, rattling our core foundation, to scatter leaves to all corners, disguising the Garden of Hope that lies beneath. In times like these, it is wise to call on external support to clean up your garden, to lift up your spirit. Hope isn’t a solitary pursuit.  Hope is meant to be shared and to be received.

So how do you cultivate this Garden of Hope?  It starts with just one seed, sowing your mind with little daily reminders of Hope.  Overtime, these individual experiences start to reseed the soil, creating clusters of Hopeful memories.  Hope becomes exponential.  The more you practice Hope, the more Hope grows.  And the best fertilizer to help your Hope blossom is a generous dose of Gratitude.

Hope and Gratitude go hand in hand.  Anytime you are feeling overwhelmed, clogged with the weeds of Doubt, Worry, Fear, Anger, and Apathy, think of just one thing that you are grateful for that day. Most often that one thought leads to another thought, and then another… until you picking poppies rather than stinging nettle!

Here are additional ideas for incorporating gratitude into your daily practice:

  • Write an “A-Z Gratitude list” with one grateful reminder to match each letter (ex: A=Asha, my cat; B=Babies, like my awesome nephew; C=Colorful sunsets; D=Dave, my always supportive hubby; E=Enjoying a book in the hammock; etc.)
  • Write a Retro-Gratitude List, travel forward 10 years from now and then look back at your life today and all the things you felt blessed to have had in 2013.  Many times we miss moments of gratitude and grace in our daily living. Remind yourself of all the unexpected gifts you received, friendships formed, risks taken, challenges met, times spent with loved ones, etc. Start with the basics: “I lived in this amazing apartment/house I loved at (location).”
  • Make a list of all the ways “God showed him/herself in your life today.” As you experience moments of grace, gifts of support and friendship, opportunities for hope or growth, or periods of peace, jot them down. Or it may be more symbolic, “signs” that God is working in your life.
  • Create a Gratitude Grab-Jar: As you experience feelings of gratitude, write them down on a small piece of paper and stick them in a jar.  Then you’ll have reminders to pull out during times you are feeling less than grateful!
  • List all the things you can do in your life (regardless of physical, mental, financial or time constraints) that bring you a grateful heart. For me it’s: listening to music, meditating, taking a short walk, sitting in my backyard, petting my cat, reading a book just for pure entertainment purposes, enjoying a dark piece of chocolate. This is another list to resource during times of sadness or stress.
  • Think of all the people in your life you are grateful for; make your own catalog of angels.   List both people in your present circle but also those who are no longer in your life.  For me, some of my biggest supporters and champions have passed away, but I know their spirits still watch over and protect me.  Other people were in my life for short periods but the impact they made is ever-lasting (like a caring nurse).
  • Start a “3 Good Things” daily list: at the end of each day write down “the three things you are grateful for” or “three good things that happened to you that day.”

These exercises will help you cultivate a Hopeful Heart; something you’ll carry inside of you always, like a soothing secret.  Once you have created your own flourishing Garden of Hope, you can then visit it anytime to pick a bouquet of flowers. And, when doesn’t a handful of fresh, bright flowers make any situation seem brighter?!

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in your soul

And sings the tune, without words

And never stops — at all.”

(Emily Dickinson)