http://imgur.com/gallery/TWhC7

“Be afraid of the unknown!”, we are constantly told. How did this message seep into so many of our minds? A couple of weeks ago I looked up to see clouds in the shape of two elephants – I saw a mother elephant walking behind her baby elephant. The baby’s face was full of curiosity and wonder as she was running ahead to explore the unknown. The mother’s face was full of fear, mouth open as if calling out to tell her baby stop moving forward into the unknown. The mother elephant was teaching her baby to replace curiosity of the unknown with fear of the unknown. These elephants in the clouds are a beautiful parable for what we are all constantly being taught by our culture.

We live in a culture that controls us by keeping us in a constant state of unease, repeatedly telling us that something scary might happen if we stray away from what we already know. In this toxic culture we are taught to always feel the sense of fear nipping at our toes. Paradoxically, in my experiences it is the people with the most physical safety and financial security who are often the most afraid. Fear is no longer an emotion reserved for occasions like being chased by a bear. Fear is now an emotion associated with things like peering into our own minds, or – even worse! – allowing others to know who we really are. Fear is even an emotion that arises for many when they even consider giving themselves permission to relax. My friends, this is not a natural way to be!

Many of us have lost contact with one of the central features of being human – to be curious, to find happiness in the journey, to grow new possibilities by exploring the unknown (both inside and out). Part of how our culture lures us into feeling a constant background noise of unease is by tricking us into believing that we can find safety in our lives. If we just cross every “t” and dot every “i” then we can finally relax and get to know ourselves, having arrived at the finish line of knowing everything is going to be okay. We lose contact with our drive to be curious each time we believe that the oasis of security exists just beyond the next ridge in our life.

Here is what I can assure to you. Life is indeed not safe. You are definitely not going to make it out alive. Everything is not going to be okay. As a mentor used to say, “We are all pre-diagnosis.” We will all move through times in our lives where we experience grief and loss and uncertainty. That is unavoidable. But if we are protective of our natural drive to be curious, we can also experience awe, gratitude, enoughness, connection, and contentment. We must – at least occasionally – allow our curiosity to lure us into running straight ahead into the unknown (possibly with eyes a bit wider than usual and hands held over our heads to eradicate the last traces of fear in our hearts – at least that is my preferred method). Lucky for us, we are surrounded by examples of how to honor our curiosity over fear. If you don’t have a baby in your life to show you the way then a quick internet search for videos of your favorite baby animal will provide you with an equally wise guide.

alternative to a new year's resolution

New Year’s Resolutions Often Create the Opposite of Change

The tradition of setting New Year’s Resolutions has taken many different forms since it began over 2,000 years ago.  Today’s resolutions seem inevitably to address some perceived personal flaw or imperfection.  The underlying message is often, “Next year I will do better.” Setting a goal to do “better” only continues a cycle of not feeling worthy or good enough in the moment.   It perpetuates the habit of scanning yourself for ways you are failing.   Only two outcomes are possible with this kind of resolution:

  1. You reach your goal and believe in the notion of a temporary feeling of worth for yourself (meaning you believe you are okay now that you reached your goal of becoming “better,” but this worth could be lost as soon as you perceive evidence that you aren’t maintaining the “better” you.)
  2. You don’t reach your goal and continue to feel bad about your perceived “imperfections”

In short, many New Year’s Resolutions only serve to reinforce our habits that keep us feeling lacking in some way.

Rebuilding our Foundation: A New New Year’s Resolution

Such New Year’s Resolutions also perpetuate what I call the Home Improvement Myth.  When we view our bodies and our lives as something that needs constant improvement and upkeep, we miss out on how we humans actually learn and grow.  The truth is much more complicated and beautiful.  Just as a tree is complete in the moment and still continues to grow, so too are you complete and growing at the same time. To see beyond the Home Improvement Myth try this:

Replace “better” with “growth.”

Replace “goal” with “intention.”

These small changes in words can create large changes in how you view yourself and your life.  By swapping “better” for “growth” you can let go of the idea that you aren’t okay in the moment and have somewhere to go, yet still hold your dreams of continuing to develop who you are.  By swapping “goal” with “intention” you can let go of the threat of failure, yet gain a guiding star for more skillfully navigating each present moment.  By swapping these words you gain a kinder more comfortable existence in the moment without giving up any of your ambitions.

Building A Tree House By the Light of Your Guiding Star

For the last couple of years I have celebrated the New Year by choosing an intention rather than a resolution.  The intention acts as a guiding star to move towards rather than a measuring stick for judging myself.  My intention is a word I take with me for the next 365 days.  To keep the word safe and shiny I usually don’t share it with anyone.  Choosing a word has been an interesting and rich experience, leading to a lot more change than I would have expected before I tried this myself.  Here is what has happened when I have carried a word with me for the year:

  • I’ve gained new insights into how the mind works over time.  Deep meaningful change occurs on a different time scale than we usually acknowledge in this culture.  Holding a single word rather than a to-do list of change gave me to a deeper appreciation for how humans grow.  We can’t rush change.  But if we are lucky we can observe it.
  • I’ve gained new insights into how knowledge slowly matures into wisdom.  Reflecting on one word for the year, I can look back and see how the meaning of the word is so much deeper and layered than I ever could have guessed at the beginning.
  • I’ve gained new insights into the power of priming the mind.  We see what we look for.  When looking for evidence that we aren’t good enough, we will always find it.  But this “evidence” is actually just an illusion.  It no more true than saying our skin isn’t green enough. Choosing a word can help us reorient what we look for, and help us see the moments when we are already accessing the wisdom we carry within us.
  • “Fall down nine times, stand up ten” says a Chinese proverb. I’ve deepened my understanding that we can’t fail.  “Failure” is just a judgment.  Saying we have “failed” comes mostly from two bad habits. First, we say we failed when we carry an expectation that things should be different than they are. Second, we say we failed when we have given up.  Having a word as a guiding star can help us create new good habits of always standing up and moving forward, no matter how many times we fall down.

Choosing Your Word

Take a few quiet moments and close your eyes.  Take a few slow deep breaths.  Allow your mind to wander over the past year without judgment.  Some memories may be wonderful.  Some may make you wince.  No need to linger on any one memory.  Just allow thoughts and feelings to arise.  Now gently open to the deep part of who you are (it’s there, even if you’ve never seen it before) and allow it to share a word that could be used as a guiding star for the next part of your journey.  The word may first come as an image or a color.  Stay present, breathing slowly and deeply, for whatever arises.

Now this is your word so chose whatever your heart desires.  But I suggest you push yourself to have a word more substantial than “Fabulous” “Glittery” or “Fierce.”  (Lovely words, of course!  Perhaps just not what is best suited for a New Years Intention.)  My favorite intention words or phrases are descriptors instead of directives, although some directive phrases are also wonderful.  Descriptors create good habits of gently reorienting us to the present moment rather than harshly jerking our mind to the present.  How we do something is as important as what we do.  So for example:

     Directive    Descriptor

     Be Still    Stillness

         Pay attention    Paying attention

Be grateful    Gratitude

Here is what I have seen.  You may have found your word when you think of one and then feel a twinge of dread around it.  I have seen that happen many times, to myself and to others.  I think this happens because there is a part of you that already knows your word – that’s your wisdom and inseparable goodness that lives within you.  And there is another part of you that wants to choose ANYTHING other than your word – that is the part that’s fearful of change and challenge.

So choosing a word may take a bit of bravery.  But remember.  This activity is the opposite of a goal.  You can’t fail.  This activity is creating a guiding star to have with you for the rest of the year.  If you have having trouble finding your word, here are some you may want to consider:

Action

Patience

Stillness

Restraint

Embodied

Openness

Movement

Truthfulness

Deattachment

Impermanence

This too shall pass

There is no right answer

Mind Clear, Heart Open

Back to the present moment

Letting go of what is ready to be let go

Fearlessness means going through the fear

In this moment I have everything I need

Observation without judgment

Interconnectedness

Gratitude

Balance
Wisdom

Courage

Kindness

Curiosity

Gentleness

Acceptance

Compassion

Acceptance

Confidence

Lean into life

Lean into fear

Relax, Relate, Release

Harmony instead of resolution

My body knows things my mind does not

Will this next action expand or shrink my horizons?

Choose one and be done

Be with what is

Connection

Integration

Listening

Enough

Clarity

Breathe

Always move forward

Once you have your word or phrase, just hold it with you.  Consider how it might apply in different situations.  Be curious about it.  Consider how you might act differently depending on whether you are thinking of this word.  There is no right way to use a guiding star.  For one of my words I made a little doodle so I could just draw it in front of me when I was bored or feeling a bit lost.  Just observe how your mind moves when you bring your attention to your word.  The good news is you can’t fail.  But you can grow.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Yep

April 19, 2013

what screws us up

Body of Evidence

We will never find happiness when we are too stuck in our own single story.  We MUST see the world from a perspective larger than just our own eyes to see the full complicated truth that is out there, beyond just our personal story.  Beauty and happiness lie in the bigger picture.

When it comes to how we see our own body and face we forget that our little window into the world is often distorted.  TRULY distorted.  When looking at an image of ourselves – in the mirror or in pictures – we judge, we criticize, we compare, we go on seek and destroy missions about our “flaws”….  all of this non-acceptance is like looking at a reflection in a fun house mirror that is stretching, smashing and skewing the truth of our own unique beauty.

Sing the Body Electric

These lines are from one of my favorite poems – I Sing the Body Electric, by Walt Whitman.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

Walt Whitman writes about the beauty of the human body, and the need to honor it in all it’s forms.  We are born with the ability to see ourselves.  Some of us just lose that ability from years of taking in misinformation from others (often from the media).  It is not our beauty that is lost.  It is our habits of criticizing and “improving” that lead us away from the truth of our beauty.

Watch this video.  What might you have said?  What habit might you need to change to get back to singing your body electric?

 youarebeingliedtoAmazing Photoshopped Images

Do your brain a favor.  Go here now:  Seventeen Mesmerizing Before After Photoshop Gifs.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-14660-1360694322-6

 

The Best is Not Good Enough?  Not a Problem.  Photoshop to the Rescue!

These Photoshopped images are wonderful examples of how far the art of visual deceit has come. These are beautiful women with bodies that are closer to the ideal than most of ever had or will have.  These women have the budget and time for healthy eating and a personal trainer.  These women likely already started “ahead” with what genetics contributed.  And as if these advantages weren’t enough, they are transformed by a team of stylists before a photo shoot.  We never stood a chance of having a picture of ourselves look as amazing as these women.  And yet being one of the most beautiful people in the world is no longer enough.  Celebrities are routinely subjected to a virtual nip and tuck bonanza before their image ever reaches our eyes.

Photoshopping:  Now with More Deceit!

Yes, already ample breasts are often enhanced.  And already slim waists and arms reduced.  But it goes so much farther than that.  Pick any image and watch it flick back and forth between real and unreal several times.  Look for the smallest changes that are being made.

  • See Beyonce’s already slim face gets trimmed ever slightly more.
  • See the lines removed from Megan Fox’s neck to make her skin look younger.
  • See the one eye that is raised on Angelina Jolie to make her look more symmetrical.
  • See Katy Perry’s forehead get reduced on the right side.
  • See Faith Hill’s already slender back get trimmed along with her arm being reduced almost in half.
  • On the second image of Megan Fox, see her already full bottom lip get plumped, and already seemingly perfect eyebrows get reshaped.

“I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford”

It’s important to understand just what “Photoshopped” means.  We aren’t talking about just adding a cup size or two in a bathing suit.  Today’s Photoshopped images are a study of intolerance for human beauty.  Cindy Crawford famously once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”  Even she can’t meet the beauty ideal put forth by her own image. 

You are being lied to.  Your eyes are one of the most important tools you have for taking in the reality of how things are.  When I talk about using distress tolerance skills, I often suggest techniques using the senses, particularly the generally dominant sensory system of vision.  I suggest using vision precisely because our senses are here to detect what is present and true.  Turning our attention to the truth of the present can help pull us out of a looping internal narrative that is causing us pain. And so!  Photoshopping images of bodies is a particularly dangerous way that our understanding of reality is being altered.

Our brains trust that what it sees is true.  It has virtually no defenses to prevent Photoshopped images being uploaded from our eyes to our filing system of “human bodies” in the brain.  The repeated exposure to these images alters the file we have in our head of “human bodies.”  We begin to look around us and notice “flaws.”  But these flaws are only detection of differences between an unrealistic ideal that snuck into your head and the reality of beauty that surrounds us.

Back to Life.  Back to Reality.

So what can we do to keep ourselves from being hurt by these visual lies?  Keeping our eyes shut at all times would certainly be 100% effective, but also probably impact our lives in other ways.  (Move over texting while driving.  Here comes Driving with Eyes Closed!).  But when we see an image in advertising we can remind ourselves that it’s a lie.  We can upload visual information of real bodies by looking at the diversity around us.  Careful – our eyes loves to look for examples only of bodies that are “better” than ours in some ways.  Choose to look around at ALL of the bodies that surround you.  Young ones.  Old ones.  Different skin and hair and teeth and genders.  Each body carrying around a person with hopes and fears and a desire to connect and be loved.  And the same is true for you.   You deserve to be loved, and to love your body for what it does for you in this moment.  It will never be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist.  But your body is here now.  Practice being grateful for what it does for you, and the beauty that exists in the uniqueness of you.

And for goodness sakes, don’t compare your body to a picture!

(If you find that your body image concerns are significant enough to impact your life on a daily basis, I’d recommend checking out this book:  The Body Image Workbook.)

http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/super-soul-sunday.html

Brené Brown on Super Soul Sunday

Okay folks, set your tivos for 11amET/PT this Sunday. Oprah has another great Super Soul Sunday coming up this week.  Brené Brown!  Fist pump!  This episode is not to be missed. (Okay, or to be missed and watched on the internet later.)

What a great way to start National Eating Disorders Awareness Week:  Jennifer Lawrence is so unexpectedly fierce.  She has said a lot of awesome things about loving her body, despite being considered “obese” by Hollywood standards.  I loved watching her in this clip above.  She is just being her goofy, relate-able, human self even when the environment pulls for outward beauty and the illusion of perfection.

Jennifer Lawrence, you can be my wing man anytime.

Find ways you can be involved National Eating Disorders Awareness Week here.

jennifer lawrence

Transitioning Into You

February 20, 2013

Annika Penelope Gives Us A Peak Behind the Curtain

This blog post by Annika Penelope – read it!  She is wonderful at communicating the cultural pressures that we ALL need to get over before we can be happy with who we are. Yes, it’s about her transition.  Trust me – this post is also about something much more universal. It is about the cultural pressures we all face to be someone different than who we really are.  You will be glad you read her writing regardless of your own relationship with your gender.

Eating Disorders and Transitioning Genders:  What We ALL Can Learn From These Experiences

Of course recovering from an eating disorder and transitioning between genders are two completely different experiences.  Completely.  So don’t get me wrong when I talk about the things that I have learned from working with people on these two unrelated topics.

It is precisely because they are such different experiences that I find any similarities in these paths to be remarkable.  We live in a culture that thrives on making us feel bad about ourselves.  We are bombarded with advertisements, airbrushed images, reality TV shows, and so much more, all sending messages that beauty equals happiness, and anything less than a continual quest for physical improvement is akin to sin.  This cultural pressure to focus on our appearances – specifically to focus on continually “improving” our appearance – takes a toll on our self-esteem.

Recovering from an eating disorder and successfully transitioning share this one thing in common:

Success requires finding and then tossing out the pressure our culture can put on us to be someone who we are not, in order to finally love who we are.

The Culture Of Authenticity

The first step in escaping the death grip of our cultural pressures is to recognize that there is no right way to be a male or female.  Each one of us finds a new way to be the gender that we are.  Some gals love flamingos and pink.  Some gals are pilots.  I know one gal who is a pilot AND loves flamingos and pink.  Is she less of a female than me for working in a largely male dominant profession?  Is she more of a female than me because she likes pink flamingos?  Of course not.  As Annika says in her post, “You deserve to live an authentic life.”

  • Living authentically means recognizing that our cultural does a poor job of telling us how to live authentically.
  • Living authentically means recognizing that how someone else chooses to dress or what they choose to do has nothing to do with what is right for you.
  • Living authentically means recognizing that there is no one point that we are all moving towards.
  • Living authentically means recognizing that you choose what is right for you and your body.  Even if it is scary to let go of pressures to be something else.  Especially if it is scary to let go of pressures to be something else.
  • Living authentically means letting go of the idea of life as a destination, and begin to enjoy the journey of becoming.

The Only Way Is Love

February 14, 2013

Lynne Hurdle-Price at TEDx-Women 2012

It seems fitting to share this post on Valentine’s Day, a holiday that can be so distracting from what love really is.  Starting my morning with this talk felt like a serendipitously poetic antidote to the trappings of this holiday.

Lynne Hurdle-Price starts strong and ends stronger.  While this talk is about bodies, it is also about something much bigger and profound. If you happen to be human then this talk is well worth watching through.

I want this woman to be my friend.  And dance partner.