Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fat Cow

Fat cow.
I would say that most of the people I know wouldn't dream of calling someone a fat cow. Saying something mean and hurtful like that just wouldn't happen. While I don't know Oprah Winfrey personally I would hedge a bet that she also wouldn't dream of calling someone a fat cow. She is just too nice and too respectful to do such a thing. She is the type of person who works on helping people feel better about themselves. She sincerely wants people to have better self esteem. This is why she moved years ago to covering all the positive topics on her program.

It is interesting that while many of us wouldn't consider calling someone else something like fat cow, we might easily take a verbal punch at our self and call our self a nasty name.

"I felt like a fat cow." This is a statement Oprah makes in the January 2009 issue of her magazine. This particular remark was made in regards to her feeling she had hit bottom when she wanted to stay home from a show as fun as one with Tina Turner and Cher in Las Vegas. She said she was supposed to stand between them onstage and wanted to disappear. She added that she was thinking to herself, "God help me now. How can I hide myself?"

I went looking for photos of Oprah with Cher and Tina as I hadn't seen the show. In the photo above I see Oprah looking attractive as usual. She is wearing some sassy heels and a gorgeous dress. When I finally found a clip of Tina and Cher performing Proud Mary at the end Oprah joins them on the stage. It was amazing to think that she actually thought she looked like a fat cow. Her dress was very flattering and she looked like she had a nice figure.

Truly I felt a little disturbed by Oprah's comments about herself. When I think of Oprah my thoughts travel first to her amazing life story. I believe that Oprah has the following she does and is loved by thousands because of that life story. People love to see someone rise up from the bottom. She has succeeded in spite of being born to two young people who weren't prepared to have a child. In spite of the poverty. In spite of being female and a minority. In spite of being molested as a young girl. In spite of working in a field that is very competitive. In spite of her weight.

Once my thoughts get past all of that I then think of all the good works she is doing in the world. Her school in South Africa for girls and the Angel Network are just two examples. Oprah is an amazing woman who is extremely hard working and intelligent. It is thinking about these accomplishments that makes it so sad to hear how she could be so reduced to focusing on the physical that she would feel like a fat cow. She also fell into the trap of comparing herself to others and in this case it was none other than Tina Turner and Cher. Oprah shared "As I interviewed them, I was thinking, 'Who's the real older woman here? I am. They didn't just sparkle; they glittered." I believe that MANY women, if put on the same stage with Cher and Tina Turner, would find themselves lacking if they began a comparison game.

Oprah talks about the struggles with some health issues, medications, and letting her life get out of balance, to the point she wasn't making time for herself. She is honest about her frustration and how she began eating whatever she wanted. She says specifically "My drug of choice is food. I use food for the same reasons an addict uses drugs; to comfort, to soothe, to ease stress." I also took note of her sharing a comment made by her friend and author Marianne Williamson. Marianne said "Your overweight self doesn't stand before you craving food. She's craving love." Oprah added to that observation, "Falling off the wagon isn't a food issue; it's a love issue."

Reading Oprah's self disclosing article was also a powerful reminder to me about my own issues with my current weight. I too have felt embarrassed about my weight gain. I too have avoided gatherings, parties, photos, going to my old town with the fear of running into someone who would quickly notice how much weight I had gained. Like Oprah I also thought I had the weight thing all figured out and that the battle of the bulge was finally over once and for all. I worked out six to seven days a week for one to two hours for a good number of years. I watched what I ate all the time. It seemed like I could do that forever. It helped that I didn't have a relationship or children. The two biggest portions of my life consisted of work and working out. I filled in all the other moments with playing on two volleyball teams, riding my bike, gardening, dancing, rollerskating, swimming, doing arts and crafts.

I think that some of us, maybe lots of us, have that tendency towards wanting perfection. I sense that even though Oprah says she wants her new program to be about her health and not about being thin, she also really wants to look like she did in 2005. She wants to look like Tina Turner and Cher. How many of us strive and desire to look like the stars and models who taunt us from the covers of magazines? This focus on how we look can create such dissatisfaction with ourselves. Even when I was a skinny size 10 and looked great in clothes and in workout wear I knew that I wasn't completely satisfied with how I looked naked. I actually had thoughts that the only way I would ever look "perfect" was if I elected to have surgery.

I believe Oprah is right about health being the ultimate goal. Health is truly the golden chalice. If you do not have your health the quality of life can begin a tailspin off a cliff very quickly. I attended a conference where the speaker was a woman who had an impressive career as an endurance athlete. When she stood in front of the audience even I would admit she certainly didn't look the part of an exceptional athlete. She wasn't a model and she didn't have an exceptional figure. In fact she was an older, shorter, slightly overweight woman. The people in that audience were from the local community and I recognized many as top trainers from the local gyms who happened to be impressive athletes in their own right. A number of these trainers happened to be in their 40's and 50's. I also knew some in their 20's and 30's and while some of them might fit the expected look of a gym trainer, that certainly didn't pertain to all.

I ended up sitting next to a young man who introduced himself as a sales rep for body building supplements. He was attractive with muscles bulging. I suspect he was willing to talk to me because I was young, thin and had defined muscles of my own. As he looked around the room he stated that he expected to see more athletes and body builders at this talk. I figured he was looking to make some contacts, do some networking, with the ultimate goal of making some sales of his products. I realized as he spoke that he had no idea who was in that room. I shared with him that some of the top physical trainers from the local gyms were present and that many were impressive athletes. What I left unsaid is that he wasn't recognizing this because these people weren't matching his expectations of what you see in the magazines. Not all athletes or people with great health look like Olympic models. Not all athletes have muscles in all the right places.

It is an adjustment to anyone who has craved to look attractive and beautiful to change their mindset. There may be a certain internal struggle about "settling" and about not striving to be the best. Questions may start to spiral. Can I settle for being healthy? Can I settle for not attaining the type of thinness that the media propagates as ideal? Can I quit beating myself up? Can I quit feeling like I failed? Can I quit thinking that I am a disappointment to my husband? Can I quit fearing that I am an embarrassment to my children?

The deeper and more real questions to start posing are the following: What do I win for being thin? Am I a better person if I wear a size 6, 2 or zero? Will I really have the perfect life if I look perfect? What do I accomplish by beating myself up? What do I gain by pointing out all my flaws and imperfections? What good comes of comparing myself to others, especially women who find it necessary to meet the physical expectations of Hollywood?

The truth is that barraging oneself with negativity leads to lowering self-esteem, greater self loathing, depression, more fear, increasing stress and this can easily cycle into believing we are worthless. The worst case scenario is that it can even steal our desire to live.

We get to make choices about what really matters. Some may make career choices that dictate they need to look a certain way. I for one would never want a career that was based on my appearance. I believe that more people need to set examples about what really matters in this world. It shouldn't be about looking like Tina Turner or Cher.

We are each unique with our own set of genetic DNA that can dictate a whole lot about the size of our behind or how easily we gain and lose weight. It is about time that we begin to truly value and respect diversity and that means not just diversity of skin color or culture. We need to respect that we aren't all meant to be a size 0. We aren't all meant to fit into a size 6 shoe. We aren't all meant to be 6 feet tall with legs that last forever. A woman can be larger and healthy. Just as a woman can be skinny as a rail and completely unhealthy with high cholesterol and a heart condition.

Copyrighted to Himalayan Academy Publications, Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii.
I would love to have a conversation with Oprah and remind her that in some cultures a fat cow is revered, almost like a God. A cow is one of God's creatures. It is almost humorous that the poor cows are getting a bad rap from her again and this time it isn't about their meat. Oprah was once sued by the beef industry and had to appear in court. The beef industry lost its case as it grew apparent she hadn't meant to defame their industry intentionally. Hopefully the Hindus won't take her to task for insulting one of their most sacred animals. They love all cows -fat, skinny, tall, short, young or old. It doesn't matter. They all get the same amount of respect. Isn't that how it should be for us all?

Suggested Reading ~ You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay

"Overweight is another good example of how we can waste a lot of energy trying to correct a problem that is not the real problem. People often spend years fighting fat and are still overweight. They blame all their problems on being overweight. The excess weight is only an outer effect of a deep inner problem. To me, it is always fear and a need for protection. When we feel frightened or insecure or "not good enough" many of us will put on extra weight for protection.

To spend our time berating ourselves for being too heavy, to feel guilty about every bite of food we eat, to do all the numbers we do on ourselves when we gain weight, is just a waste of time. Twenty years later we can still be in the same situation because we have not even begun to deal with the real problem. All that we have done is to make ourselves more frightened and insecure, and then we need more weight for protection.

So I refuse to focus on excess weight or on diets. For diets do not work. The only diet that does work is a mental diet---dieting from negative thoughts. I say to clients, 'Let us just put that issue to one side for the time being while we work on a few other things first.'

They will often tell me they can't love themselves because they are so fat, or as one girl put it, 'too round at the edges.' I explain that they are fat because they don't love themselves. When we begin to love and approve of ourselves, it's amazing how weight just disappears from our bodies.

Sometimes clients even get angry with me as I explain how simple it is to change their live. They may feel I do not understand their problems. One woman became very upset and said, 'I came her to get help with my dissertation, not to learn to love myself.' To me it was so obvious that her main problem was a lot of self-hatred, and this permeated every part of her life, including the writing of her dissertation. She could not succeed at anything as long as she felt so worthless."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Greatest Gifts

(Message and Design by Kathy Davis)

The Greatest Gifts

May we break boundaries, tear down walls,
and build on the foundation of goodness inside each of us.

May we look past differences,
gain understanding, and embrace acceptance.

May we reach out to each other, rather than resist.

May we be better stewards of the earth, protecting,
nurturing and replenishing the beauties of nature.

May we practice gratitude for all we have,
rather than complain about our needs.

May we seek cures for the sick,
help for the hungry, and love for the lonely.

May we share our talents,
give our time, and teach our children.

May we hold hope for the future very tenderly in our hearts
and do all we can to build for bright tomorrows.

And may we LOVE with our whole hearts,
for that's the only way to love.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What We Can Learn from Anger

Anger is an emotion that is often viewed as negative and in some religious circles as sinful even. Yet anger is a human emotion, just like fear, happiness and sadness. Should anger be suppressed or ignored? What do we do with this emotion?

Let us consider a few individuals who are recognized for their contributions to peace. The idea of a person being both peaceful and angry may seem contradictory and incompatible. Yet I believe it is helpful and even encouraging for anyone who struggles with being angry to recognize that even some of the most peaceful people to walk this earth have experienced anger and expressed it.

When Jesus cleared the temple of the moneychangers and animal-sellers, He showed great emotion and anger (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22). Jesus’ emotion was described as "zeal" for God’s house (John 2:17). Another time Jesus showed anger was in the synagogue of Capernaum. When the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ questions, “He . . . looked round about them with anger” (Mark 3:5). This verse goes on to give the reason for His anger: “the hardness of their hearts.”

Mahatma (Great Soul) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)

“I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world. It is not that I do not get angry. I do not give vent to anger. I cultivate the quality of patience as angerlessness, and, generally speaking, I succeed.… It is a habit that everyone must cultivate and must succeed in forming by constant practice.”

Mother Teresa

"When I see waste here, I feel angry on the inside. I don't approve of myself getting angry. But it's something you can't help after seeing Ethiopia." -- Washington 1984.

Daisaku Ikeda (January 2, 1928-)

Ikeda is President of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist association which claims 12 million members in more than 190 countries and territories, and founder of several educational, cultural and research institutions. Ikeda is a peace activist, prolific writer, poet, educator, interpreter of Nichiren Buddhism and environmentalist. He has travelled to more than 60 countries to hold discussions with many political, cultural, and educational figures, as well as to teach. In his book For the Sake of Peace Ikeda writes in the preface “I am against war! I am absolutely opposed to it!” He continues on later with “I am determined to fight against anyone who supports or advocates war. I will fight the dark, demonic forces of destruction. Another book by Ikeda called Fighting for Peace is a collection of his meditations on war and peace. In a description from his own web site the book is described as expressing, from personal experience, his deep loathing of war and his anger at those in positions of authority who would sacrifice ordinary people in pursuit of selfish ends.

In learning to better embrace and accept myself, I have needed to recognize and accept my anger and even my rage. This has been a huge part of growing and becoming more authentic and real. I grew up repressing any anger I felt. Scary feelings like anger were stuffed away and suppressed. My fears of "rocking the boat" and of not being liked felt very overpowering. There is no doubt that I had the people-pleasing disease.

The book Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Wellness by Kathy Freston addresses anger and I had one of those “Aha moments” upon reading this section this summer.

Freston writes, "According to Dr. John Sarno, the emotion we are most averse to is rage, anger that has gathered steam from being kept down and locked away. A lot of people who think of themselves as good people -- Sarno called them "goodists," because they tend to be very much tied to an image of themselves as nice and good people -- do not at all feel comfortable with such a "distasteful" and potentially out-of=control emotion as rage. If something happens in their life that sparks intense anger, these people tend not to deal with it, because they don't like what it brings up in them...

…A goodist might well submerge his true feelings because he doesn't want to rock the boat. He convinces himself that he has "let it go" when, in fact, by not allowing himself to experience his authentic emotions, they have just done unconscious. When we don't think we can handle something in a way that feels safe and manageable -ie., if we speak up, we might lose a relationship or job or, even worse, be thought of as a bad person -- our survival mechanism kicks in and buries the feeling in the recesses of our psyche. Those disowned feeling become part of our shadow."

The book then delves into how suppressing the shadow becomes the goal. "As Dr, Sarno put it, the brain is in cahoots with the body in such a way that when the repulsive emotion starts to come up, the body will quickly conjure an intense localized pain or discomfort that is big enough to make us forget what we were beginning to feel. Basically, the brain says, "Whoa! I can't let myself feel that rage. It threatens my identity as a good and nice person. Good and nice people do not have rage; it is unseemly and out of control." The book points out that the mind and body will work together to save us from disturbing experiences. It also points out that since we prefer to see ourselves in a certain light "we tuck away what we think is repulsive or frightening or disagreeable. But, because or nature is to evolve and become ever more enlightened, the part of us that is dark will constantly try to come to light."

Further on the author explains that "Once we make peace with our demons -- be they rage or fear or shame, and we all have them -- we become more fully integrated human beings...

…When you go about this process of allowing your emotions without judgment, you will be led into your Truth. Ask yourself if there is anger --- rage even -- that you need to connect with and then heal. Allow yourself to drop into deep sadness or grief even if your normal instinct is to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and "get over it."

Ironically I also came across a wonderful section on anger in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Creativity by Julia Cameron. I say “ironically” because here is a book about creativity. Yet really this book is about so much more.

“Anger is fuel. We feel it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into the wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it.

Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we've been and lets us know when we haven't liked it. Anger points the way, not just the finger. In the recovery of a blocked artist, anger is a sign of health.

Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. Anger points the direction. We are meant to use anger as fuel to take the actions we need to move where our anger points us. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us.

‘Blast him! I could make a better film than that!’ (This anger says: you want to make movie. You need to learn how.)

‘I can't believe it! I had this idea for a play three years ago and she's gone and written it.’ (This anger says: stop procrastinating. Ideas don't get opening nights. Finished plays do. Start writing.)

‘That's my strategy he's using. This is incredible! I've been ripped off! I knew I should have pulled that material together and copyrighted it.’ (This anger says: it's time to take your own ideas seriously enough to treat them well.)

When we feel anger, we are often very angry that we feel anger. Damn anger!! It tells us we can't get away with our old life any longer. It tells us that old life is dying. It tells us we are being reborn, and birthing hurts. The hurt makes us angry.

Anger is the firestorm that signals the death of our old life. Anger is the fuel that propels us into our new one. Anger is a tool, not a master. Anger is meant to be tapped into and drawn upon. Used properly, anger is use-full.

Sloth, apathy, and despair are the enemy. Anger is not. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests.”

Anger is not he action itself. It is action's invitation.”

I also found wisdom about anger in Ed and Deb Shapiro’s article entitled “Ducks Don’t Do Anger” which appeared in the October 30, 2008 issue of the Huffington Post. They write “Trying to eradicate anger is like trying to box with our own shadow, it doesn't work. Getting rid of it implies either expressing it and creating emotional damage, or repressing it, which just suppresses it until it erupts at a later time. Getting to know and make friends with anger is essential. To make real change we have to change the way we think and react. This is growing roses out of rotting compost, transforming fire into constructive action, using the passion but without the destruction. We need to see what is beneath the anger, what hurt, longing or fear is trying to make itself heard. There may be feelings of rejection, grief or loneliness, so if we repress anger or pretend it isn't there then all these other feelings get repressed and ignored as well.”

What I have certainly learned from my explorations of facing my own anger and rage is how self destructive this emotion can be if it is suppressed, stuffed and pointed inwards. I am not one to lash out. I have always been one to internalize such feelings. The "goodist" in me was always so afraid of conflict and confrontation. The difficult lesson has been in learning how to constructively communicate my anger in a healthy way. If something upsets me or makes me angry I am learning to make better choices in expressing it. Usually for me it is as simple as speaking up. For example I have learned that telling my husband that I am upset that he didn't help out in the morning is a much healthier approach, than is harboring my anger which doesn't resolve anything. It is only by speaking up respectively and sharing my thoughts and feelings that he understands what I am thinking and how I am feeling. Only then can he respond and perhaps do something differently.

Activity ~ Make a list of things that make you angry. Include anything and everything. Here is an example:

Rude drivers
Toilet seat left up
Slow computer
Kids whining and arguing
Television on too loud
Getting to work late
Being interrupted by your spouse or children
Waiting in line

Next review the list and consider why these things make you angry. Sometimes what we think is making us angry, really isn't the real culprit. Let's consider rude drivers and toilet seats left up. The key here might be that you are angry that people are not considerate of others. Ask yourself if you are wanting and needing more consideration in your life from your family, your friends and perhaps most of all from yourself. The slow computer might really be more of a reflection of your frustration with not having enough time, or rather feeling like you don't have enough time. Perhaps you need more "you" time. More time to just be and relax. How can you schedule back and make that happen? If the anger kicks in due to kids whining and arguing, the television being on too loud, and being interrupted by a spouse and children, this could also be a sign that you are in need of more silence in your life and again more private time.
Suggested Reading ~ The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Here is a long excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 1 entitled The Challenge of Anger

"Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to. Our anger may be a message that we are being hurt, that our rights are being violated, that our needs or wants are not being adequately met, or simply that something is not right. our anger may tell us that we are not addressing an important emotional issue in our lives, or that too much of our self--our beliefs, values, desires, or ambitions--is being compromised in a relationship. Our anger may be a signal that we are doing more and giving more than we can comfortable to or give. Or our anger may warn us that others are doing too much for us, at the expense of our own competence and growth. Just as physical pain tells us to take our hand off the hot stove, the pain of anger preserves the very integrity of our self. our anger can motivate us to say "no" to the ways in which we are defined by others and "yet" to the dictates of our inner self.

Women, however, have long been discouraged from the awareness and forthright expression of anger. Sugar and spice are the ingredients from which we are made. We are the nurturers, the soothers, the peacemakers and the steadiers of rocked boats. It is our job to please, protect and placate the world. We may hold relationships in place as if our lives depended on it.

The taboos against our feeling and expressing anger are so powerful that even knowing when we are angry is not a simple matter. When a woman shows her anger, she is likely to be dismissed as irrational or worse.

Why are angry women so threatening to others? If we are guilty, depressed, or self-doubting, we stay in place. We do not take action except against our own selves and we are unlikely to be agents of personal and social change. In contrast, angry women may change and challenge the lives of us all, as witnessed by the past decade of feminism. And change is anxiety-arousing and difficult business for everyone, including those of us who are actively pushing for it.

Thus, we too learn to fear our own anger, not only because it brings about the disapproval of others, but also because it signals the necessity for change. We may begin to ask ourselves questions that serve to block or invalidate our own experience of anger: 'Is my anger legitimate?' 'Do I have a right to be angry?' 'What good will it do?' These questions can be excellent ways of silencing ourselves and shutting off our anger.

Let us question these questions. Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless. Anger simply is. To ask, 'Is my anger legitimate?' is similar to asking, 'Do I have a right to be thirsty?'"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Dance of Fear

Overnight a light snow had painted a beautiful wintry scene. Driving my daughters to daycare I couldn't help but smile at the snow covered trees and fields. I told the girls several times that it had snowed and to see how pretty everything looked. They oohed and aahed as two year olds will and said several times, "Cold mommy, cold!"

A van coming from the other direction caught my attention. In the passenger side of the front window I saw two brightly colored things shoved up against the windshield. It took my mind a moment to realize that there must have been a passenger riding with her bright colored slippers up on the dashboard. My mind then flashed to a vision of a young woman leaning back in the passenger seat of a car. The windows are down, her long hair is flying and she has her bare feet propped up on the edge of the window. She is laughing and carefree on a gorgeous summer day.

The image felt so warm and perfect.

Yet then the thought that it wasn't safe to prop one's feet up on a dashboard or out a window started to stream into my consciousness. What if they were in a car accident? She would probably lose her feet.

Before these thoughts could grow into a cacophony I realized how this way of thinking is based on fear. Fear of what could happen. Fear of "what if."

That young carefree woman, bare feet hanging out the window, that I had imagined, was living in the moment and enjoying life. She wasn't worrying or living in fear of being in a car accident in the next five minutes. I thought about how this world we live in seems more and more to be in a state of fear.

Consider all of the laws that have come into being in the last forty years. Laws that are meant to keep us safe. Helmet laws for motorcyclists and kids riding bikes. Seat belt laws. Some of these laws are saving lives and keeping people safer. Yet there is also a sad aspect to such mandates. It makes it seem as if such laws just make us more aware of what could happen. People grow more scared and begin to carry the fear around with them. Headlines promote the idea that there are terrorists and creepy child snatchers lurking in every dark corner. There seems to be a more constant reminder of we can get hurt or even worse die.

The truth that we all seem to want to hide from is that we all are going to die some day. We get sick. We grow old. We have accidents. We are human.

What I have begun to question is are we going to live life fully and embrace it with abandon or do we choose to live it fearfully and with trepidation.

Exactly how do we keep from being sucked into living a fearful life? Or if we already are living a fearful life, how do we stop?

"Fear is not something to be conquered or eliminated -- or even tackled, for that matter" writes Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Fear. "Instead, we may need to pay close attention to its message." Another passage that jumps out at me from The Dance of Fear, "We may believe that anxiety and fear don't concern us because we avoid experiencing them. We may keep the scope of our lives narrow and familiar, opting for sameness and safety. We may not even know that we are scared of success, failure, rejection, criticism, conflict, competition, intimacy, or adventure, because we rarely test the limits of our competence and creativity. We avoid anxiety by avoiding risk and change. Our challenge: To be willing to become more anxious, via embracing new situations and stepping more fully into our lives."

The message I take from this passage is that we can't outrun our fears. We can't vacuum them up and throw them away. Fear is part of being human. It is more about what we do with our fears. Do we let them control us? Do we sit in the chair tapping our toes when we really want to cut loose and dance? Do we stay in a daily rut instead of signing up for that class or asking that guy we've been crushing on out on a date?

What if we embrace our fears and do it anyway? What if we say to ourselves every morning "This may be my last day living. What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to do with these precious 24 hours?"

Activity ~ Visualize that you are no longer afraid. Make a list of things the new FEARLESS you would do. Here are a few ideas:

Go to a hot springs with some girlfriends and dive in the water naked.
Take dancing lessons.
Tell the truth to your family about being molested as a child.
Really belt out a song on karaoke night while sober.
Apologize and try to heal a relationship.
Tell the people who mean the most to you that you love them, while staring them in the eyes.
Ride your bike without any hands.
Take a trip by yourself.
Stand up for yourself when someone is rude.
Apply for your dream job.
Go skydiving!
Ride in a car, the windows down, your hair flying and your feet hanging out the passenger window.

Suggested Reading ~ The Dance of Fear: Rising Above Anxiety, Fear and Shame to Be Your Best and Bravest Self by Harriet Lerner, PhD

Here is an excerpt:

Fear is not something to be conquered or eliminated -- or even tackled, for that matter. Instead, we may need to pay close attention to its message. Most of us experience fear as a kind of stop sign or flashing red light that warns: "Danger! Do not enter!" But we may need to decode that signal and consider what it's trying to convey. What is the actual nature of the danger? Is it past or present, real or imagined? Are we feeling anxious because we are boldly charting new territory, or because we're about to do something stupid?

Sometimes we feel a stab of fear or a wave of anxiety because our unconscious is warning us that we're truly off track. Perhaps we shouldn't send that angry e-mail or buy that adorable "fixer-upper" house. Maybe we shouldn't rush into a particular job, conversation, trip, marriage, or divorce. In such cases, fear can operate as a wise protector, one we need to honor and respect.

Yet if fear was always a legitimate warning signal, we might never show up for a doctor's appointment, speak up when we feel passionate about something, or leave a dead-end relationship. There are times when we need to push past our dread and resolve --with our hearts pounding in our chests -- to act.

At still other times, we may need to identify the actual sources of fear ---past or present -- that may be obscured from our view. For example, the anxiety that washes over you when you contemplate confronting your spouse may mask an underlying, ancient terror of speaking up to your father when you were a child. Clarifying these deeper sources of anxiety may help you to talk straightforwardly with your partner. Fear is a message--sometime helpful, sometimes not--but often conveying critical information about our beliefs, our needs, and our relationship to the world around us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Emotional Pits

Yesterday I had a choice to make. I could either choose to just observe my feelings in a situation that triggered old hurts in me and pushed my buttons or I could spiral on down into an emotional pit where I would undoubtedly beat myself up.

Imagine a mosh pit. I've never been in one myself, but I've seen them depicted in movies, where a group of people body slam and pummel one another. In a personal mosh pit it would just be me, slapping myself, kicking myself, throwing a few good strong gut punches. Imagining this scene almost made me start to laugh. I mean, the visual of me kicking my own ass really is quite hysterical. Yet, on the serious side, isn't that really what were doing when the negative self-talk kicks in? We are in essence throwing internal verbal punches that are hurtful and just plain mean.

There is that old child saying "Sticks and stone will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Well those names don't hurt if you don't believe what the person is saying. Truly anyone can say anything to another person and if the person knows in their heart that it isn't true, even the meanest and nastiest statements will roll right off without leaving a trace. Yet words, such as cruel and unkind names, can be incredibly hurtful if you believe in them. If you give the words power they can hurt more than any physical injury.

As one who has broken multiple bones in her life (my right foot in 4th grade, my left foot and left thumb in 6th grade, my pinky in 8th grade, my nose in college) I know what it feels like to have such physical injuries. Yet none of those physical bone-breaking events, even come close to hurting as much as an emotionally painful experience. Losing someone you love in a car accident is brutal, as I know from experience. So is having a self-esteem that is so low, that you feel so bad about yourself that you begin to wish you would just die.

What may seem really odd is that this opportunity to work my way out of falling into the mosh pit, arrived at an upbeat holiday party for work. Tradition is that our organizational parties are for employees only and we hold it during the work day. We also don’t do the same thing every year, so creativity abounds and each year is a fresh new experience. This year we gathered at a beautiful old Victorian hotel.

The large spacious banquet room was impressively decorated with large paned mirrors, impressive round hanging lighting fixtures and even two inset domes in the ceilings that had stunning mosaic designs.

So what could unsettle me and cause all this deep reflection at a party? Two words - fashion show.

The entertainment for this party was a fashion show that featured the designs of one particular designer. The designers staff was present to model and mc the show. Some staff had also been selected to walk the runway as models. One of the gifts to staff was a $70 voucher to use to purchase clothes at the end of the show. I might note that there have never been many men in our company and this year, even though the number of staff has grown, there were no men. I suspect if there had been any male staff the big activity for the day would have been different.

Again what is wrong with a fashion show? There is nothing actually wrong with it per se. Yet a line from Maya Angelou's poem Phenomenal Woman may help to begin to enlighten you. "I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size." The truth is that the clothes being featured would not fit someone my size. After the show when the majority of the women were shopping I initially sat at my table looking at a book a co-worker had brought to show me. The negative feelings started to spiral up. Thoughts of being too fat, of being different, of not fitting in, of feeling less than, of feeling like a failure for having gained weight again, began their attempt to fill my head. I could feel the heaviness and the sadness begin to pull at me. Then the judging thoughts for daring to commence a pity party for myself creeped in too. How could I be so ungrateful to not appreciate this party? How could I be so self-centered?

Rather than sit there and be pulled deeper into the pit I chose to do something. Lunch wasn't going to be served for awhile in order to give all the ladies time to shop, so I headed outside to get some fresh air. It was an exceptionally crisp and beautiful day. Realizing I had my camera with me I went back to grab it. I love to take photographs and so I wandered around the block snapping photos of the gorgeous Victorians, a high-rise just a block down, bright green moss growing on old bricks, stunning red fall leaves, and holiday decorations.

I was so pleased with the images I was capturing. My attention had moved from focusing on those negative thoughts into focusing on my surroundings. Suddenly I was the artist at work capturing beautiful images.

The truth is that my head had begun to clear. I was reminded that I am a creative soul and that some of my happiest and best moments are when I am being artistic. There was a moment when I questioned whether or not it was right to play hooky from the party for a little while. However, it felt really good to honor what I needed in that moment. I needed to step away and take a little time for myself. Being outside, just me and my camera was the best thing for me in that moment. Self honor is a very good thing indeed.

Activity ~ Try observing an emotion in yourself that you would consider negative, such as jealousy, anger or irritation. Think to yourself "My isn't that interesting that I am feeling such and such" and then stop there before you begin to judge yourself. We are not "bad" for feeling emotions like anger, frustration, jealousy, or irritation. Such emotions may ocassionally be a result of simply being tired, hungry, or dehydrated. More often they will be an indicator that there is something deeper going on inside. This is when our emotions are signs and maps about ourselves. Perhaps we are angry because we are not feeling respected. This emotion is an opportunity to stop and think and then recognize what is the real source. We can then make decisions and perhaps different choices and create better and healthier boundaries in our lives.

Suggested Reading ~ Poetry of Maya Angelou

Here is her poem PHENOMENAL WOMAN in its entirety:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care.
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


It feels as if I have been catapulted into a more authentic life within the last few months. Only I know the real truth is that I have slowly been working my way up a winding road, seeking and searching for purpose. One of the big, glaring, flashing neon red signs on the long and winding road was FEAR. So many fears.


of failing
of not being good enough
of not being liked
of being alone
of being rejected
of not being smart enough
of not being pretty enough

See how that word "enough" crops up a lot too in such statements.

I once read that FEAR is just an acronym for False Expectations Appearing Real. I can attest that those false expectations can be quite powerful and paralyzing.

Where I am leading with all of this is that I know that I am not the only woman to have such FEARS. At a women's conference I attended we went around in a circle sharing some thoughts. It was startling how many women, regardless of whether they were young, mature, thin or large, shared how they felt they didn't feel they were enough.

We women need to change these self-defeating patterns and thought processes.

We must begin to make commitments to ourselves.

We will value ourselves.
We will see our worth.
We will embrace our power.

We can't change anyone but our self. Yet practicing self-love, self-care, and self-respect will have a powerful impact on others. It is the ripple effect. How we present and how we choose to be in this world will affect others.

Just one woman, who feels good about herself and embraces her power, will influence those around her. Her children, significant other, family, friends, co-workers and people she interacts with in her community will all benefit.

Activity ~ Say the following statements out loud and preferably in a mirror.

I value myself.
I am worthy.
I am powerful.

Suggested Reading
~ A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson.
Here is a passage from her book that has become very well known in some circles.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.”

Sunday, December 7, 2008