Tag Archives: body image

The Wild Woman Within

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I’ve been working with the story of Vasilissa for almost two years now.  I’ve never worked with a story that long before, and its been an amazing journey.  Its one thing to know in my head that every character in a story represents a different aspect of ourselves, its another thing to experience it fully.  Over the past two years, I have been the step-sisters gripped by jealousy and suspicion when I was focusing on others’ work rather than my own.  Lord knows I can identify with the father who ignores what he’s being called to see and instead focuses only on the words that sound so nice.  I have been the scared child wandering in the forest, I have faced fierce, wild, power and held my own.  I worked for Baba Yaga, the Old Wild Mother who lives deep in the forest, by going to the river and examining the patterns of the persona, by sweeping the floors of my psyche to keep them clear of clutter, but it wasn’t until last week that I actually found her inside of me.

I had been reflecting on Baba Yaga.  On her house deep in the woods, far away from the structures and planning of the city, far away from the rules of civilization.  The forest stands for our subconscious world or unconscious world in folk/fairy tales.

Why is she so frightening to us?  Why is she so frightening to me?

I closed my eyes and dove inside of me.  I went swimming looking for the place in me that is far removed from society and its rules.  Appetites emerged as a door.  In the story of Vasilissa, Baba Yaga has a fierce and ravenous appetite.  You wonder if she will eat you up- consume you completely and still want more.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her book Women Who Run with Wolves, attributes Baba Yaga’s appetites with her need for creative activity, her desire for Life, for living fully.  The pot of ideas should always be simmering on the stove to make sure there’s something to feed her when she gets home.

Indeed, many of the appetites that we fear- food, sex, belonging- will become unhealthy when we’re not feeding those creative fires.  When I did the evening program for the Am I Hungry? retreat, I came home with a sign I’d made during the day program for my refrigerator door that reads: “If I’m not hungry, what I *need* isn’t in here.”   It is a call to travel the dusky forest path to Baba Yaga’s hut and see what she’s cooking for her nourishment.

What is it that I *really* need?  Forget what society says I should or shouldn’t need.  Forget what others may say.  Drop the story about what it means that I want this or want that– let alone need.  Just drop in and listen earnestly.  Listen as a witness. Listen to understand.  Listen with compassion.  This is the only way I can find myself.  The only way I can even approach authenticity, let alone live there.

This is what Baba Yaga calls us to do.  This is where she draws her power from.  And it scares us silly.  Especially in women.

I swam deeper inside of me to find her.  To the places in me that I push down and away.  The parts of me that I want to tame.  The parts of me that I’m afraid of.  The parts of me I’m scared will take me over if I even admit that they’re there.  The part of me that yearns, longs, open-mouthed and gutterally. That rages and rattles my cage.  The part of me that won’t scrub out.  That pushes back.

I found her in my hips.

Georgia O’Keefe’s “Pelvis with Moon” has long been one of my favorites, and not only helped me finish my 1/2 marathon training, but be able to stay at my mother’s deathbed. Have I told you that story?

My most womanly part.  The part that won’t fit in “boyfriend jeans”.  That stretches any shirt cut too narrowly.  The part of me that I catch myself clenching a thousand times a day.  The part of me that has been so wretchedly violated.  The part of me that ushered my son into the world.  The part of me that keeps the rhythm.  My seat.  My frame. My physical foundation.

In the story of Vasilissa, Baba Yaga’s house is surrounded by a fence made of bones.  There are skulls atop the bones that light up when the sun goes down, making her yard as bright as day.  The skulls stand for the wisdom of the ancients, of our ancestors.

Lamarck’s theory about parents passing on adaptations through the genes, as well as more recent studies are demonstrating that we really do inherit our ancestors’ wisdom, stories, and even hang-ups.  I am struck with the realization that those that have gone before me live within me.  Their knowledge and stories are in my bones.  The root chakra or tribal chakra, is located at the base of the spine, sheltered by the hips, and connects us to our tribe, to the earth.  When there are imbalances, they often manifest as issues around physical and financial security.  When I’m working with clients that have difficulty connecting with their feelings- particularly uncomfortable ones- I teach them to ground themselves, to breathe into the root chakra and sink in their hips, connect to how the hips support them, then connect to the earth supporting the floor beneath them, and the earth supporting their body in so many ways, which supports their life in so many ways.

Baba Yaga’s house is on chicken-legs, and it dances and twirls around–so full of life, it is.  I see my hips as her bone-surrounded yard, and feel the lightness of my legs and body spinning and twirling around when I’m at my best.  In many tales, Baba Yaga’s house has an elusive door.  Those not invited would walk around and around the house and not find it.  It only appeared when she called it.  What a marvelous metaphor for sexual agency!  It certainly speaks to our ability to close ourselves off to unwelcome visitors.  One thing that I’ve learned in my healing journey is that no matter what the situation is, it impacts us the way we allow it to.  As children, our thinking is so limited, so we’re much more vulnerable, but as adults, we decide who we let in, and who we don’t.  We decide how we are influenced, and what we’ll do with those influences.  The door only appears when we call it.

We deny this agency, then we fear our appetites.  We view ourselves as victims in our own bodies.  Is the prevalence of domestic violence- where we are victims in our own homes- a reflection of this? Recovering from DV certainly requires that we claim our agency over our lives, and that begins with how we view and relate to our bodies, our emotions, our drives and our appetites.

Claiming our purpose and passion in life does the same.  Indeed, in the work I do to help people discover their passion, much of it is following appetites.  What can’t they get enough of?  What have they tried to move away from and can’t?  What things do they love that society or their family has told them they should shew or avoid? What do they love that they’ve pushed away because it rails against societal views of what it means to be a woman?  Or because pursuing it would mean laying down ideas of being “nice” or conforming in other ways?

How does it call them to move away from society and its rules?  To heed the winds that brush through the forest trees deep in their subconscious? To go find Baba Yaga’s house and learn to feed her to satisfaction?

 

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When the Solar Plexus Chakra isn’t functioning as it could, issues with self-esteem, fear of rejection, over sensitivity to criticism, self-image fears, fears of our secrets being found out, indecisiveness are likely to show up.

Shaming, authoritarianism, physical abuse, fear of punishment, dangerous environment, and age inappropriate responsibilities are all traumas that can knock the solar plexus off kilter.

In the Mood Management Monday Chakra Series, we do a plant meditation with an essential oil that supports the chakra, and do a coaching activity that addresses the issues brought up. If you can’t get to us in person, stay tuned for the upcoming web series– you’ll have to have your own oils, but you can benefit from the experience!

My body is not a problem to solve.

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When I was still living in Memphis, there was a woman, Barbara I met through the International Education  department that I bonded with immediately.  Neither of us were stick figures, and often complained to each other about the unsolicited “helpful advice” we got from strangers.  Both of us ate healthily and went to the gym at least 5 times a week, yet people made assumptions and felt compelled to shove metaphorical pamphlets in our hand about eating and exercise like those fundamentalists that stand on the corner on Bourbon Street and tell people the error of their drunken ways.  

One of my friends, T, never got such advice, though she was one of the most unhealthy people I knew.  I parked in the farthest parking lot so I could get at least a mile in just walking to and from my car, while she got several parking tickets a month for trying to park as close as possible to her classes.  She would have driven her car into an elevator if they’d let her.  She smoked 2 packs a day, had double cheeseburgers for dinner regularly and never exercised.  But she was a size 5 or something, so no one ever gave her a lecture about how they were “concerned for her health”… she met the beauty ideal, and that was all that mattered.

 

One night at a party, someone started their health-preaching at Barbara and she replied, “My body is not a topic of conversation.” When they kept on, she walked away.  I was stunned. And in awe.  How did she do that???  As compelled as people were to give me health advice, I was compelled to tell them all that I already did– far more than they suggested.  I did not sit on my butt all day eating twinkies, as they seemed to think.  It is not a simple formula- bodies are complex and far more goes into metabolism than most people care to think about.  

It bothered me deeply that people walked around thinking I was lazy.  That they insisted on holding on to simplistic ideas that don’t really work in the real world.  That they were judging me unfairly– based on a beauty standard that is only attainable with photoshop, rather than the health concern bullshit they claimed was their primary motivation.  It really, really REALLY bothered me.  So I was stunned that Barbara could shut them down that quickly and not set them straight.  That she could take her body off the table completely and not even engage in the topic.

As much as I resented that my body rather than my writing, my painting, my cooking, or my intellect were the focus of so many people’s view of me, I couldn’t drop it any more than they could.  I didn’t know how to take it off the table.  Three years in hijab would teach me how many years later, but that’s another story for another post.

What Barbara understood all those years ago that I’ve just picked up recently is articulated beautifully by Michele Lisenbury Christensen in her work on the elements of Masculine and Feminine Power.  To listen to her speak on the topic, check out the Shero’s School for Revolutionaries.   Regardless of our sex (or gender for that matter) we need a balance of the masculine and feminine to be healthy and truly functional, yet our society is heavily swayed towards the masculine.  

One of the paradigms she discusses is Providing  (masculine) & Nurturing  (feminine).  This pertains to the way we relate to others.  I would add that it also applies to how we relate to ourselves.  In explaining, Michele asked: “Do I hold you as a problem to be fixed, or a person?  

“Are resources needed here?  Or listening? Holding?

She went on to discuss how distorted Providing is that mean voice in our head that provides perpetual commentary, criticism, and “suggestions for improvement”.  I realize that it was my full identification with that mean voice in my head in my 20s that compelled me to engage with people in a topic I didn’t think should be brought up to begin with– my body.  Interesting that for the decade I was in The Netherlands–where its considered incredibly rude to talk about someone’s body or presume about their personal habits– no one talked about my body and weight came off.  I no longer felt fat, I no longer focused on the fat, so the fat went away.  I often wondered- in this land where I was on the short side of average instead of a looming Amazon woman 3 heads taller than most other women– if I’d grown up there if I ever would have developed the body image issues that led to the weight gain.  I thought I was fat, so I eventually became fat.  A little weight gain in my pre-eclampsic pregnancy, and others began to agree with me.  I took that on, and the weight came on even more.  The harder I worked to get rid of it, the more my metabolism slowed and the more stubborn the weight was.  Like the child told they will go nowhere losing all ambition, my body resolved to the fat label put upon it. 

 

We are so trained to do something.  All the time.  With everything.  We have great difficulty just being with something.   It bleeds into every area of our lives, and damages our relationships and erodes our peace of mind. Our Puritan heritage preaches that its not okay to let things just Be.  Its lazy.  Its permissive.  Its the door to chaos.  Anarchy.  Society will totally crumble if we’re not ever-vigilant.  If we don’t judge often and quickly, and condemn accordingly.  The papers are full of it, the news is full of it, and our heads are full of it. 

Thing is, its a lie.  A big fat hairy puss-filled seething boil of a lie.  It doesn’t make us better.  It deepens our shame and makes us worse.  It is the thing that takes us away from what we want directly into what we say we won’t tolerate. Pounding on a treadmill because we think we’re fat will keep us fat.  Loving our body and moving it in ways that bring us joy will bring us to Health.

Its work learning to be with your body.  Learning to be with your emotions.  Not analyze, not fix, not work on or improve, just Be.  Whether or not you were raised in a religion, bad churching has informed every part of our society.  We have this idea that if you’re doing it right, life will be easy.  If your life has difficulty, then you must have done something wrong.  I don’t know how that idea came from a religion with a guy being persecuted by both the fundamentalists of his own religion and the colonialist government in place to the point of dying the death saved only for traitors and terrorists, but it did.   So we pathologize all sorts of things that are perfectly normal, and in fact necessary for our development.  We think if we’re uncomfortable, there must be something wrong.  We numb by analyzing, diverting attention, eating, drinking, -holicism– anything really to avoid just being in our bodies and just feeling our emotions. 

Its caused a deficit of empathy in our society.  We don’t want to feel bad, so we default to distorted Providing instead of Nurturing.  We view everything and everyone– including ourselves and our emotions–as problems to be fixed rather than creatures to be held.  Its backwards.  Maybe there is a problem, maybe resources are needed, but if the connection isn’t made with the Being first, then the solutions applied will be oppressive rather empowering, and they will eventually backfire. 

My body reminded me of this in its latest letter to me.   Its voice is the exact opposite from the voice in my head: its loving and supportive.  There is a gentle strength that is so soothing and enlivening. Though I was raised in an environment where we went to church 5 times a week, my relationship with my body is my first real experience with agape.  At the time of the letter, I’d been focusing too intently on the symbolic meaning of things and it was getting stressful as I strove to figure it all out. “I appreciate your commitment to listening to me and learning my language” she said, ” but I am not a puzzle to be solved.  I am not a problem to be fixed.  Just love me. Listen to me, and we’ll figure it out as we go along.  You’re smart and you’re listening.  Don’t worry that you’ll miss it. I’ll let you know.”

Remember the same in your own walk and development.  As you’re learning to listen and working on the relationship you have with your body and your emotions, release the drive to do something with what comes up– create space where it can just be first.  So often, just allowing it to Be is the solution…

 

It is safe for me to be here.

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The Grounding Tree

“…Come to the root of the root of yourself. Molded of clay, yet kneaded from the substance of certainty, a guard at the Treasury of Holy Light—come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

Once you get hold of selflessness, you’ll be dragged from your ego and freed from many traps. Come, return to the root of the root of your Self…”

Rumi

MY MIND PLAYING TRICKS ON ME

For years, I interpreted the feelings of being grounded as sadness.  Naturally,  I avoided them as much as possible.  I ran from them, chased them away with anything I could get my hands on.

Eventually, I began to see trees spinning around in meditation.  I tried to make myself believe that it was there to teach me a lesson about symmetry and the non-duality of existence, but deep, deep inside, there was a panic.  I knew that a tree couldn’t grow, let alone produce fruit, if it didn’t have soil to sink its roots into.  It must be grounded.

I had a sense of panic because I didn’t know how to fix it.  I couldn’t be in my body. So many many bad things had happened there.  I couldn’t go inside.  Its like there was a band around my throat that kept me in my head and away from the place where I could be hurt so deeply.   Away from the place that made me so particularly vulnerable. I wanted out of my body. Off of this ride. Away from this planet where there was so much pain and suffering.

This thinking took me in to a depression that almost killed me.  Strange how running from groundedness filled my blood with lead…

Its like my body was doing everything in its power to lead me to water and push me to drink.  The more my head tried to find a way to jettison me out of my existence, the heavier my blood became.

Caring for the Inner Child

LIFTING OUT OF THE PIT

The things I used to get myself out of the pit I was in are the things I use with my clients now: inner child work, grounding in daily life, sending small, perpetual messages to my self/body/being that I’m glad I’m here and I’m worth caring for.

Simple things like:

Making my bed when I wake up in the morning.

Getting dressed in the morning, even if I’m not going anywhere.

Keeping my house tidy even when there’s no one coming over.

Cooking healthy meals for myself even if no one is eating with me.

Taking 5 minutes to straighten up before I go to bed at night so that when I come down in the morning the house looks nice.

Using baby oil after my shower to keep my skin soft.

Getting outside every day.

They’re small things.  Physical things.  Many things a mother does for a small child.  They ground me in my body and my world by demonstrating that I care.  Saying I love my self and my body isn’t good enough.  I have to show it. Daily.

In writing this morning to further process what we covered in last night’s Mood Management Monday class on the root chakra, I realized just how important these practices are- how closely aligned they are to the affirmations for the root chakra:

  • It is safe for me to be here.
  • The Earth supports me and meets my needs.
  • I love my body and trust its wisdom.
  • I am interested in abundance.
  • I am here and I am real.
  • I trust my Higher Power fulfills all my needs.
  • My life is full of prosperity.

ROOTING IN THE BODY

Imbalances in the root chakra show up as anxiety and fear, disorganization, financial difficulties, trouble in your career, greed, fear of change, clinging to security, weight issues.   Physical neglect or abuse can cause issues.  It undermines our feeling of safety in the world and our bodies and we disconnect.

Disconnecting is a very natural response to abuse and neglect.   Yet, staying disconnected makes us miserable.  The body, in its wisdom, tries to get us to connect again.  We, in our folly, don’t always recognize the signs.

Eating is a root chakra activity.   Its one of the first ways we bond with our mothers when we’re born.  If that bonding didn’t happen fully, it makes sense that we would turn to eating in an attempt to get the Mother’s Milk we’re craving.  When we convince ourselves that what we need is outside of ourselves, it makes sense that our bodies would hold on to food and metabolize it as slowly as possible to make it last.  Maybe we won’t find anymore for a while! We better make this last!

Clinging to the past, clinging to memories as if we won’t have anymore– it gets in the way of our present relationships.   Likewise, the body clings to calories and gets in the way of being able to do that yoga pose or whatever else it is that we’re beating up our body for when its actually our head fixing the game.

“FEEL THE CHAIR SUPPORTING YOU…”

During last night’s meditation with Tibetan singing bowls to get connected with our root chakras, I felt tension melting away from my jaw area.  Then I felt it dripping away from my shoulders.  Just this weekend, J had remarked about tight my shoulders were.  “I’m worrying a lot about money.” I told him.  I’m just starting the second year of my business.  Stability is not yet the name of my banking game.  At ecstatic dance Sunday morning, Cheri set the intention on forgiveness, and my body took me to surrender over and over again.  Showed me how much I fight gravity– how much I fight What Is.  Sitting in my chair as the sound of the bowls washed over me, I wondered how many of my fears and resentments, worries and frustrations stem from feeling unsupported.   The addictions that occur when the root chakra is imbalanced are all tied to feeling supported: food, gambling, shopping, work.  They’re all ways to try to gain support and security.

I have all these stories about being unsupported.  Stories about why I wasn’t supported.  Stories about why I’m not supported.  Stories about whether I’m worthy of support.  Stories about what support costs.  Stories about what support means.

So there I am, with my body supporting my life, and the chair beneath me supporting my body, and my house supporting the chair, and the earth supporting my house, watching all these stories about being unsupported run through my head.

The problem is not lack of support, the problem is not seeing the support.  The problem is being afraid to receive the support all around.  The problem is the way these stories drip their poison over the soul over the years, and how our eyes, ears, and heart closes as a result.

I’d spent the height of Sunday morning’s dance wave spiritually wretching.  Leaned over heaving with all I had to get out the poison I’d been fed.  I realize now what it was I was purging.  How my body knows before I do what it is I need!

To close out last night’s work with the root chakra, it seemed natural to do a fire ceremony to echo the root’s fire energy.  We tossed our physical and monetary fears into the flames to transform them into the acceptance and abundance that comes when we connect to how our bodies, the Earth, and the Universe are supporting our every need.

How much resistance do you have to the root chakra affirmations listed above?   Why not journal a little bit about each one and see what you discover?

This is my body, this is my home…

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Baubo

This year, the AZ Goddess Conference honored Baubo, a goddess of belly laughs and body wisdom.   Baubo is bawdy and wise, strong and confident, deeply centered in her body, and wherever she shows up, she reconnects women to their power and creativity.  No coincidence that she draws attention to the woman’s belly and speaks through the vulva– the portal of all human life on this planet.

Any supermarket line–or facebook sidebar–screams messages to tame your tummy, bind your belly, suck in your stomach, hold it in, keep it in or face the consequences.  We’re willingly buying things called spanx as an aid (or punishment) in this struggle against our bodies.  In many representations, Baubo’s third eye is a navel.  How does it impact our own connection to our intuition if we’re treating the locus of our intuition as an enemy to be defeated? If it must be spanxed into submission? Tamed? Controlled? Sucked-in?

Anxiety, fear, compulsion, depression, addiction– these are the natural human reactions to feeling disconnected from ourselves and others.  The first step to stopping these reactions is to connect with ourselves.  To connect with our bodies.

Dineta Williams led the workshop before mine in the Sunshine House at the Peaceful Spirit Enrichment Center Saturday morning. She’s been working with the The Woman’s Belly Book and taught us a chant that continued to resonate with me throughout the retreat.  Say it with me.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Put your hands on your belly.  Rub it lovingly like the precious thing it is and let’s do it again-

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

As we continued to repeat the chant, I felt my connection to my body grow.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Feelings of disconnect and floating began to wash away.  Being a deep-thinking progressive raised in an abusive environment in a conservative family in a traditional region, I’ve done a lot of moving around and travelling trying to find the place where I belong.  I’ve studied multiple religions looking for my home.  I’ve gone through multiple relationships searching for the place where I could settle down.  In the past decade, there’s been much more peace, but the search has left its scars.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, home was here all along…

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

And the insanity and tragedy and comedy of all those years of feeling so alone and lost begin to wash over me.  The fears of not being supported and loved revealed for their meaninglessness.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Our homelessness epidemic begins with our own embodiment.  The recession pushing people on to the street while houses stand empty becomes a metaphor for our own state of being.  Perfectly good dwellings stand empty and in disrepair while people drift in sorrow, disconnected from their lives and those they thought they loved and loved them.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.

My body, its voice so loving and supportive, is always here for me.  Even when I can’t bear the pain (psychological or physical) of what is happening in a moment– I leave, but my body stays.  My body bears it for me- feels it all.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Gratitude flows.  Love grows.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

In my workshop, we went deeper into listening to our bodies.  The basis of gratitude and love makes this much easier- after all, do you share much with someone that’s always putting you down?  The body doesn’t withhold the information, but our attitude towards it severs the lines of communication.  Yet its listening to the body that connects us to the intuition– the stuff fairy godmothers and fairies are made of.  Its this connection that helps the sheroes of folk- and fairytales to get impossible loads of work done and achieve immense tasks.

That evening, we had a ceremony to honor our bellies.  Each of us was called to come to the middle of the circle, raise our skirt/shirt like Baubo and show our bellies to the group, then say where our power comes from.  We could also tell a bad joke if we wanted to.  There was a basket of jokes on the table in the center to help those of us that can never remember the punchline.

It was one of the most empowering, fun and funny rituals I’ve ever taken part in.  Everyone looked like little kids to me– raising their shirt to show their bellies to us all.  Rubbing and patting them.  The woman that went before me really inspired me.  “This really scares me, but since my divorce I promised myself to face my fears, so here I go–” she said before she raised her shirt.  It was so beautiful.  With each belly bared, we whooped and cheered and clapped.

I stepped up.  I raised up my dress “Here’s my bell-eh”, I said as I held my dress up with one hand and began to move the pants I wore under down a bit (I’m not very good at being lady-like, so I tend to wear something under dresses).  “But wait, you’ve got to see the whooooole thing–” as I moved the pants down on the sides to show the full expanse of my apron- as I call it “–or you haven’t seen it at all.”

I surprised myself.  I’ve come to accept my paunch, to see my stretchmarks as battlescars rather than evidence of damaged goods, but the side-flaps?  I have trouble with those.  My partner in Holland used to play with them when we were cuddled on the couch watching TV.  I hated it.  “Why?” he would ask.  “They’re so soft and fun!”  I could only see what a great departure they were from the flat belly I’d had as a teenager–he only part of my body I didn’t feel ashamed of… my family regularly called me thunder thighs and bubble butt.  The kids at school made fun of my ski-slope nose.  I wouldn’t wear sandals because of the weird toenail that’d been ripped off when I was a toddler.  My mom told me I had the ankles of a football player.  My wrists were too thick for most women’s jewelry and watches because of our Dutch bones– my height leaving me in the decidedly un-feminine position of being as tall or taller than most boys. To say nothing of having an hourglass figure in an era when androgyny was in fashion…. but my stomach.  My stomach was flat.  My hips poked up when I laid flat.   My stomach was the only part I’d never been ashamed of.  Losing it in child bearing sunk me into a place of complete defensiveness for YEARS.  The coining of the term FUPA hasn’t helped.  Hiding it is my main fashion objective.  And here I was, pulling my pants down on the side so that everyone could see it.

“You have to see the full breadth of it.  You have to see it all to love this belly. ” The group roared with applause.  “This belly of mine that birthed a beautiful baby boy.  Held him so well that he was born well over 9 pounds and walked just after 8 months.  This belly did that.

“And my power?  Where does my power come from?  It comes from the place my laughter comes from.  The place that makes my belly shake HA HA HA” I thundered.  My belly laugh got everyone else laughing too “My power is from the place that gives me a laugh that “shakes the foundations of the buildings” (as one of the academy members in China described me) “may it shake the foundations of the walls and systems that keep us caged so that we can be free!”

What a rush!!!  It was amazing!

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

After we’d all shown our bellies and said where our power comes from, we got rattles and drums and sticks and chanted the mantra

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

We walked to the sanctuary to pick up gifts that were waiting for us on the altar.  As I was walking back, more on my own, I continued to chant

-This is my body-

Looking at the desert plants around me

-This is my home-

I felt the dust against the sides of my sandaled feet

-This is where I live-

and the bigness of this chant really began to resonate through me

-This is my body-

The earth and I are connected- I’d long noticed how the land in a region impacts the people that live on it

-This is my home-

The relationship that people,their culture, and their surroundings have and the ways they influence each other

-This is where I live-

The pride and love and sense of accomplishment that comes when we love something as our own.  The way we identify with it and tend it and devote our resources to looking after it.

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Connecting with and loving our bodies isn’t just the key to our own happiness, health, and fulfillment– it is the foundation of the work of healing the planet and our societies.

So say it with me once again

This is my body.

This is my home.

This is where I live.

Say it till you feel it.  Repeat as necessary.

Start the revolution: Love You Now

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I spent all day yesterday not writing this post.  I twiddled with my website instead.  A grand procrastination tool- do something “productive” instead of doing what you know you must.

It didn’t work very well, though, since tooling around my website just brings the issue back up again.   It left me agitated and unfulfilled.  When J asked how my day had been, my lackluster response got him asking more questions- but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Not really.  Or I wouldn’t.

“I’m having a hard time cutting lose the academic coaching stuff.” is what I told him instead, “I hid it from view, but I didn’t delete it.  I don’t know why I’m having a hard time letting it go.” I said.  But truth be told, I do know. Letting it go means I’m making room to fully move in another direction with my practice.  Its positioning myself to fully commit to working with loving our bodies and healing our distorted images and perceptions of our bodies.  I’m scared to do that.  There are many things that feed my fear:

My story with my body and all the ways it didn’t fit– regardless of how trim and fit and healthy it was or wasn’t–is a long one that I’ll write more about in another post, but the foundational lack of acceptance I felt as a result of that makes things scary.  I do them anyway, but I’m scared while I do it.

I’ve seen people that look totally normal to me get ripped to shreds for daring to speak about the unspoken when they’re supposedly carrying 20 extra pounds.  I’m carrying far more than that.  I’m afraid that speaking up about loving our bodies from the inside instead of judging them from the outside is going to draw this intense judgement and hatred.  How dare I love myself even though I don’t look like a photoshopped image from a magazine?? How dare I take up space for anything other than pubescent sexual fantasies?

Who am I to talk about loving this body I’m in when its so far from the beauty ideal?

How can I say I’m friends with my body when I have all this extra weight to carry and the strain that puts on my knees and hips?

I’m frustrated by the shame and fear I feel at the double-bind that western women are in: that we are only allowed to occupy space– especially public space– if we are adhering to ridiculous and imaginary standards of beauty and desirability.   How often are women’s ideas and work minimized because of looks?  “Aw, why listen to that fat-ass?”  “Who cares what she says- she’s ugly/old.” (as if they are the same thing for a woman)

Yet if a woman is beautiful, the assumption is that she’s stupid, so she’ll have to work equally hard to be taken seriously.  Fatima Mernissi spends quite a bit of time on this western separation of beauty and brains in her book Scheherezade Goes West. Around page 90 she spends time with Kant and his ideas that beauty and intelligence shall never in the same vessel reside. It is a shocking revelation to this Moroccan feminist, since in the Arabic cultural paradigm, a woman cannot truly be becoming unless she is intelligent.

Added on top of that is the danger we’re in if we meet the beauty ideal.  Its a lose-lose-lose for women.  I realized last night that my resistance to this has been passive-aggressive.  I have used weight as a shield to keep me safe.  Since all those that molested me as a child and assaulted me as an adult cited that I was “just so pretty [they] couldn’t resist”, then it makes sense that my body has clung to weight regardless of my exercise and eating habits.  I’ve known this for years.  I hadn’t acknowledged before how passive-aggressive this form of resistance/protection is, though.

What so much of it boils down to is this: I’m afraid of being shamed for loving myself just as I am.  In the realm of the Taliban, a woman with a book threatens the societal order.  In ours, its a woman that truly loves herself– and her body– just as she is.

And the double-bind is itself in a double-bind.  Those that deny women’s continued oppression will be angry at me for speaking of it.  Those that recognize the oppression will be angry at me for feeling shame and fear around it.  Both sides will tell me I am not allowed to feel vulnerable.  My shame and fear, once spoken, is somehow a threat to them.

Yet part of loving myself fully is recognizing the shame and fear and allowing it to be there.  I know that doing this means it is no longer operating the car of my life from the backseat.  Recognizing that its there, allowing it to be there, understanding that its there and having empathy for myself for having it- despite my academic training and all I know about how it shouldn’t be there and how I should be over it and how as a strong woman I shouldn’t let it effect me, it is there and I’m not sure how over it I am, and it does impact me.  I will love and honor myself anyway.  Maybe even because of.

It was a huge relief to speak this out last night, and as I drifted off, I knew I had to write this today.

This morning, I awoke to an email from one of the World Academy members in China.  The WAFW is showing the film Girl Rising on the SIAS campus right now, and she was deeply inspired by the film and wants to visit her old school and encourage students to continue their studies (instead of dropping out to get married or go work in a factory).  Though she finishes by telling me that she feels she needs to improve herself more before she can help others improve themselves.  The “No, no, no, honey, no” that wells up in me is so strong and immediate, there is no mistaking that the words are for me as much as they are for her.

“This idea is a trap.  If you do it right, you’ll be improving yourself your whole life.  Don’t wait until you’re done to start helping others.  That implies that you’re broken and need to be fixed.  You’re not broken.  The issues you’re dealing with will be the ones that will give you the deepest insight to help others. There will always be people ahead of you on the path that can help, there will always be people behind you on the path that need help. Get the help you need, give the help to others that they need.”

Time, again, to follow my own advice.  And in keeping with Mercury in Retrograde and the oil I’m working with this week, time to release– release these fears’ hold over me.  I learned in China that my fears don’t mean much.  Those that came true were insignificant in light of the work that I was doing, and the ones that I was the most afraid of were so ludicrously detached from reality as to be meaningless.  Its time to release them.  To forgive myself for the ways I’ve held on to them.  For the times when I sat still because they told me to instead of rebelling against them and doing what my heart called me to do.  Time for me to release the resentment and forgive those that have fed those fears in me.  Those that have and would punish me for not being ruled by them.

So I’m moving through the fire of my fear, and its burning off my clothes and leaves me standing here naked before you.  Judge me if you will, and people will, but know that that same fire has made me stronger, and hatched some dragons that take my protection–and my blooming– pretty seriously.   

 

Magnificent or Desirable?

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“To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.”  —June Jordan

I completed my first section tonight.  I used an exercise I was first exposed to in dance form via Eugene Hedlund’s Lines in the Sand workshop, called “Yes & No in the Body”  (Eugene will be in Phoenix this weekend doing a workshop on “5 Rhythms: A key, not a cage”.  Powerful stuff. Check it out here.) As Integrity and Authenticity are the legs the World Academy for the Future of Women walks on, I thought it was the perfect foundational exercise to get these young women leaders to become allies with their bodies and listen to the guidance that it offers.  How can you stand in authenticity if you’re ignoring your gut?  How can you have integrity if you’re disconnected from your body? Yet the messages about femininity that women are pummeled with every day via advertising, movies, tv, news, magazines and more encourages just that.  Women more often than not experience their bodies only as objects.  They look at their bodies from the outside rather than experiencing them from the inside.

Of course, this diminishes self-esteem, sense of empowerment, sense of self, even.  How can you stand in Power if you can’t even stand in your own skin? How can you have integrity and authenticity—be Whole and Real—if you’re looking to escape your body? Aren’t allies with that which has been with you every second of day since you were born and will be with you until you die?

These are some of the questions we explored tonight.

Sunday, I got an email from Grace, one of the student office staff for WAFW.  She’s the Ambassador Director, in charge of finding assistants for visiting speakers and facilitators, and making their stay with WAFW at SIAS and Xinzheng comfortable.  She had some questions about my slides and wanted to know if we could meet.  When I arrived at the office, she pulled up this slide:

Relationship to the Body slide

 

“I don’t understand what you mean here” she told me.  I began to explain that I was drawing parallels between our being able to fully embrace our bodies and our ability to fully embrace integrity and authenticity.  Without these, we’re unable to fully express our Power.  She saw the link between Integrity and Authenticity being the foundation for Power, but me connecting that to the body was causing some issues.  “I’ve never thought of that” she said, her brow furrowed. “How can my arms, my hands, my feet, help me build these characteristics?”

“How can you build those characteristics without your arms, your hands and your feet?” I asked. “Do you have integrity and authenticity if you don’t have actions behind your words?  Don’t your arms and hands and feet do that instead of your mind?”

“This I understand,” she replied, “but that’s different from my body guiding me.” Grace is fiercely intelligent.  Her questions are probing and tireless.  She doesn’t let go until she fully understands.  It’s what immediately drew me to her the first moment we met in a staff meeting over the weekend.  “How can the body guide me?  It is important for me to work on my mind, for me to listen to my heart, but how can my body guide me?”

“Isn’t your heart part of your body?  Isn’t your gut?”

Paradigm shift happening in 3…2…1…

There is nothing more beautiful than the radiance that came over her as she began to see through the haze to what I was pointing towards.  We talked about how the body grounds us in the Here and Now.  How it holds all of our memories, yet has no ego.  How much it has to tell us if we’ll just listen to it.  How it’s our best friend–working for us tirelessly every second of every day.  Grace is an International Nursing student with ambitions of becoming a Nurse Practitioner if she can secure the visa to study it, so she knows better than the many just how hard the body is working for us.

Since there’d been some issues with connecting with my assistant, Grace said she would be my assistant.  She arranged for others to escort me to class last night, but tonight she picked me up and even stayed through the class.  I’m glad she was there.  I knew she really understood what I was seeking to get across, so she was the perfect person to translate when needed.

Its amazing how many stories we attach to such simple words: yes, no.  Incredible that so much baggage can be attached to just a handful of letters. How much we heap on them. How afraid of them we are. How much we read into them, even when there’s no context.  The academy members opened themselves up fully to the experience.  We had a great discussion after to process the activity—the sometimes halting English wasn’t an obstacle.

“Why do we say “Yes” when we want to say “No”?  Why do we say “No” when we want to say “Yes”?”

Oftentimes, it’s because we’re worried about what others will think, what others will say.  How much energy we lose worrying about this!  How much drama we have in our lives because of it! More importantly, it sets us up in a place where what’s going on outside of us is more important than what’s happening inside of us. Puts us in a place where being desirable is more important than being magnificent.  What are we really saying yes to?  What are we really saying no to?