December Full Moon Reflections

I learned that full moons are great times for releasing ie letting go and surrendering (*see note below). For the Full Moon happening in the dead of winter, the darkest time of the year, in a season where messages of Peace are often shared with each other, maybe just let yourself go with that flow. Let yourself mirror what’s happening around you.

Some things to think about:

What part of you could you let die? Is there a piece of your identity you’ve been hanging on to that it’s time to say goodbye to?

How can you embody the season of winter? Is it slowing down the pace of your work or social schedule? Going to bed early and hibernating with a book? 

How can you get comfortable with the dark? Is it enjoying your morning or evening by candlelight instead of lights blaring? Truly accepting a situation as it is without having the final answer? 

What is keeping you from experiencing Peace?

Use the next couple of weeks to let what needs to, fade away.

*Note on moon cycles: This didn’t make sense to me at first. I knew full moons as the time when all the crazies come out, or in my own cycle, the time I’m most happy and expressive. How does letting go, which I associate with a quieter energy, fit in? If your mind needs to understand this, here’s how I explain it to myself: Follow the light of the moon. When it is a Full Moon and its light is the brightest, what comes next? It starts to fade. So while the light of the moon is fading, so too does the thing you’re letting go of.  Then when the moon is at its darkest (New Moon), you have new found space to set an intention for what you DO want in your life. You let that grow as the light of the moon grows too. I’m finding it to be such a simple and profound way to consistently clear out the junk in my spiritual closet and make room for the desires, hopes, and prayers of my heart.)

Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash

Embodying the Nature in You

I never thought I’d be writing about moon cycles. I thought it was all a bit to woo-woo and new agey for me. I’ve come to love them now though. These cycles helped me find a natural rhythm that balances of structure and flow, and keeps me out of the all-or-nothing patterns that drove my disordered eating and burned me out in business.

I was first introduced to moon cycles 5.5 years ago in the context of tracking my monthly bleed. This was a real edge, since my conservative churching shamed any homage to nature as sacrilege.

I’ve come to a different understanding that rings much more true for me: that nature works in cycles; very rarely straight lines. When you start to include yourself in the picture of nature, it goes without saying that you also work in cycles; very rarely straight lines.

I know this totally goes against the ‘shortest difference between two points’ way of living and working, but think about it. When you look at how you got to where you are today, did it actually play out as simple as, straight shot from A to B? Or were there some twists, turns, and what felt like starting over a few times?

Try as I might to make the straight line happen, because it’s so quick and simple and sure, I’ve definitely lived the twisty circular version of life.

Instead of fighting that truth, I’m now surrendering to it. 

We are a part of nature. We can’t change that. And if seasons, phases, and cycles work for nature, than I guess we could try that too.

I’m not here to teach you all about this. There’s lots of people with more knowledge and experience than me. Google it and see what hits home. (Or here’s a novel idea, talk to a friend or too about it and see where that conversation takes you. Maybe you already intuitively know how this works.)

What I want to challenge you with today, is to think about how you might be able to embody this piece of yourself just a little bit more.

How could you surrender to your own human nature, that is a part of the whole of nature? 

How could you love, respect, and honor that part of you that craves to synch in with the rest of nature around you?

How would surrendering to nature, let you be more you?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Food, Faith & the Feminine Part 3

I’ve been trying to nail down what it is about the feminine that has strengthened my faith. It’s not straightforward, but here goes. (Note: I’m using the word feminine until a better one comes around, not to shame or discount the masculine, or perpetuate a binary view. For now though, it’s simpler to start off with this label.)

I left off with the first time the more feminine wisdom came to me, ‘It’s OK to let go’. Why was this so profound?

I think because for the first time it actually gave me a taste of faith. Prior to that, faith and belief system were intertwined. For me to say I had faith meant that I subscribed to a very specific view of God that was accessed through a conservative Christian lens, which made Faith and Christian synonomous. The idea that someone Jewish, or Muslim, or even atheist could also have faith was really left-field, and was immediately qualified with a ‘yeah, but’. Yeah they have faith, but in the wrong God.

This never felt good, but hearing those words, ‘It’s OK to let Go’, my soul instinctively relaxed, knowing this was truth beyond religion. Those words are not owned by a theology, and are not a subscription to a specific dogma or set of beliefs.

They give permission; spacious, spacious, permission that will either freak you out, or relieve all the pressure you’ve been under.

Just think for a minute, It’s OK to let Go of….

Fitting into a specific size jeans, making all the money, being right, raising the perfect kids, your marriage working, your business succeeding, the job offer coming through… keep adding whatever you want to the list (especially if it gives you some sort of safety net or security blanket).

For some of those scenarios, it’s like, “WHAT!? How could that be possible? How could it be OK for that specific outcome not to happen?”

For some scenarios, it might be like, “Thank God!!! I was working so friggin hard to ensure this didn’t fall apart, and now I don’t have to worry about that anymore!”

That first reaction is a good sign you’re holding onto something as if life itself depended on it. Well, that’s just it. A lot of time these situations feel like life or death, the ultimate safety we’re trying to secure, and so we do everything in our power to make sure we stay alive, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Second reaction, whew! You relinquish control. You no longer watch out for your safety every second of the day. You’re no longer in charge of whether you live or die. Which, when you think about, is how your life started. One day you just arrived, without planning, manipulating, or controlling the situation.

This second reaction takes a lot of balls, to trust that it’s ok to step into the unknown, without the guarantee of a specific outcome, and risk physical, emotional, or egoic death. It takes balls, and yet it’s the feminine that teaches us this.

In the first reaction, your attention is on the finish line, the goal. In the second reaction, there is permission for your attention to move away from the end game, which frees up a lot of space to turn your attention to right here and now; each step of way, aka the process. Or here’s one for you, maybe not even to have your focus be anywhere. Maybe you’re just closing your eyes, and allowing yourself to be in this moment. The cool breeze on your skin, the wind in the trees, the exhaust fumes from the bus that just rolled by, the sound of honking horns as you sit in traffic.

Whether or not each moment is ideal, you are not trying to change or influence the situation. That’s usually called surrender. You step back a bit and allow things to unfold, and receive each moment as it is.

That’s where the masculine and feminine difference comes into play. Goal oriented vs process oriented. Focused on hunting down the one animal for dinner, or gathering the berries as they appear right in front of you.

Neither is right or wrong, both are necessary, and when it comes to faith, there is room for it in both. You go out on a hunt believing there are animals out there that you can’t see and that there’s a possibility you can catch one for dinner. You go berry picking assuming there will be berries on the bushes waiting for you.

The difference in my mind how much you personally are influencing the outcome.

I’ve never gone hunting, but I have gone fishing. The version of fishing I’ve done puts a lot of onus is on you, the fisher-person, to catch the fish. The fish doesn’t come to you. You have to have the right rod, bait, and select the right environmental conditions to catch the darn fish. There’s a lot of choices you could or couldn’t make, plus a number of technical skills to learn that will drastically influence whether or not you catch the fish. When your ego catches on to this, it’s easy to think that you are heavily in control of the situation. Catch a fish? “I’m good at this.” Don’t catch a fish? “I am useless at this.”

When you are out berry picking, there are fewer choices you can make to influence the outcome. It boils down to what was the weather like this season, did the birds get to them before you, is your eyesight good enough to spot the berries, and do you have the stamina to keep going even when the sun is beating on your neck, your arms are covered in scratches from reaching into the thicket, and your hands are all sticky from the juices.

If you don’t gather as many as you wanted, it’s unlikely you’re going to internalize this as failure, or ‘I’m useless at berry picking’. There’s an awareness that there are other forces at play, mostly nature, that influence the outcome. And so you show up ready to do your (somewhat minimal) part in order to take home a stash of berries.

From my limited experience of fishing, the reality is you are also at the mercy of the elements. A good fisher person studies the tides and currents in the rivers and lakes, and follows their instincts as much as a good berry picker follows their intuition to find good spots and stays ‘in the know’. It’s just that the fishing requires a lot more ‘doing’ and action along with an attuned presence, where as berry picking is more like receiving a gift from nature and her bounty.

To bring this back to faith, it’s the difference of having to earn your worth by making sure your actions are lined up with a specific rule set, versus sitting back and receiving the gift of your own inherent worth that doesn’t require you to do anything other than accept it and go harvest what is already right there in front of you.

I was schooled in the former and it had me running circles around myself trying to prove I was doing enough, was good enough, and believing the right things. Thirty nine years into this life and I am starting to get the hang of the receiving thing.

Just for the record, my track record is awful. I used to get mad when people paid me compliments. There’s been times money has been offered to me and I’ve point blank rejected it. And even though, when I finally let go of needing to fit into a certain size pair of jeans, and received the gift of my body regardless of its shape or size (which was a good 5 year process by the way), I hadn’t quite fully embodied, ‘It’s OK to let go’.

Even though I could apply that lesson to my body, I hadn’t accepted the part of myself that was required in order to really embody it; my feminine. I still valued to-do lists, achieving goals, acquiring knowledge, and honing skills, over the part of me that just knows how to be with people.

To give you an example, I have tried my damndest to be a successful entrepreneur. I failed. And I’ve let that failure hang over my head, even though I have willingly walked into a prison to dance with women, and as my dad pointed out, will walk up to a homeless person on the street not knowing if they’re dangerous or not and start talking to them.

I am still conditioned to value the energetically masculine version of success which focuses on external achievements: building and making tangible things (that we are usually willing to exchange money for).

It is a challenge to equally value energetically feminine successes which are harder to measure because they happen in our internal world and are often things we can’t see: quality of relationships, ease of communication, expression of self (sometimes into something physical and tangible but not always). In other words: feminine success looks like an experience of connection.

Again, bringing this back to faith…. Is your faith and ability to trust, based on something external that you can see or touch? Or is it based on an internal experience of connection?

The version of faith I was taught was a mix of the two; a belief in a God that I couldn’t see, but the success of my faith was measured by my ‘doing; a highly masculine energy way of living out a faith in the unseen.

I had to let go of this version of faith and let go of the ‘doing’. I stopped reading the Bible, going to church, and leading or volunteering in different ministries. Instead, I started staying much more present to myself.

What do I feel like doing this Sunday? Go for a walk in the hills. Great. Dance on my own in my living room. Awesome. Journal and clear out my head until I can hear my own heart. Sweet.

All these things and more. Sure, they required action. I had to move my legs, my body, and my hand over paper; but it wasn’t with the masculine version of action: action with a purpose to achieve. It was action so that I could go inward and connect with my Self. I had to move my body, even if just holding and moving a pen, and from there, I started to actually meet with God.

It was from these experiences that I finally started to have actual faith. Trust that I was OK. That I was safe. For no other reason than ‘just because’.

I began to open up and receive my own worth. Not because I was told this was true, or read about it. I finally could feel it and experience it when I was meeting with God.

How did I get here? I let go of the old way.

Instead of filling my days and schedule with lots of ‘busy’, I allowed myself to be really present to what was right in front of me in the moment. Desires, longings, and a range of emotions from raging anger to ecstatic pleasure and joy. Berries that were plentiful if I let myself see them, and, oh my goodness, I even let myself taste them.

I received those berries. Accepted them as my deepest truth.

And where did I find these seeds of truth? Not out there, in church, or the wilderness.

Nope, right here. At home. In my body.

My very feminine, curvy, soft, and cellulitey body.

The same body I had tried so hard to perfect, control, and change.

She became my gateway to God.

Photo by Aliata Karbaschi on Unsplash

An Embodiment Practice for Winter: Embracing the Dark

We are 19 days from the shortest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere). The darkness is literally growing day by day, a sign that winter is here.  

Yet when you think of December, darkness is rarely the first thing that comes to mind. It’s parties, and gatherings, and many festivities, sprinkled with beautifully colored lights.

It’s almost as if the religious holidays and cultural festivals of the season have taught us to bypass the dark.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the tree lights reflecting in the nighttime window, and feel the romance as I walk through the beauty of winter wonderlands.

I’m also aware that the comfort I feel from these things, is the same thing I crave whenever faced with the dark times of life. The uncertain and the unknown rarely feel good.

We’ve grown up avoiding the dark. Scared of the monsters that might creep out from under the bed, and avoid bumping into things we can’t see that might bruise us.

Winter is a time to strengthen our ability to face the darkness. Instead of running away from it, or bypassing it with light, it’s a time to learn how to stay centered and navigate, even when we can’t see the whole picture or don’t have all the information.

It’s an invitation to love the place of unknown, and let it be a fertile ground for strengthening your ability to trust the process, lean into the mystery, listen with your whole self, and let life unfold before you.

Reflection

1. What part of life feels uncertain right now? Where am I wanting answers, or it all figured out, before moving forward?

My Personal Answer: It’s in my work. I want to have all clients for 2020 in place, the content and timing of newsletters neatly laid out in a grid, all key dates set.

2. If you had all the answers and the certainty right now, what would that give you?

My Personal Answer: Peace. And permission to not work so hard.

Embodiment Practices to Play with:

Greeting the Day in the Dark

  • When you first wake up, before turning the light on, take ‘child’s pose’. (Kneel on the ground and fold forward so your forehead meets the ground. Arms can extend out in front of you or along your side.)
  • (Alternatively, light a candle if that feels better for you.)
  • Take 5 minutes to stay in stillness, silence, and darkness.
  • Notice where your mind wanders to at first.
  • Notice after some time how you feel after just being in the dark.
  • If it feels right, bring the uncertainty and darkness of life to your awareness, and be with it for a few moments.
  • When you feel complete, move on with your day.

Moving in the Dark (adapted from The Moon Deck http://www.themoondeck.com)

This ritual will help you face your fears, awaken trust, and build confidence in moving through the unknown. You can do this in silence, or to music that brings you inward. Try this for 11 minutes or more.

  • Either in the dark, or blindfolded, let yourself move around your room.
  • Notice what happens to your senses of sound, smell, touch and taste, as you are no longer relying on sight to guide you.
  • Notice what part of your body leads your movement.
  • Return to your breath if you start to feel shaky, have the urge to turn on the light or remove the blindfold. 
  • After 11 minutes, take some time to reflect on your experience.
  • If after reflection you feel inspired to try this a second time, do so. Notice what might feel different this time.

Photo by Liset Verhaar on Unsplash

Food, Faith & the Feminine Part 2

I couldn’t do that version of Faith anymore. I remember the exact moment. I was sitting in church on a Sunday morning. The week before, a woman in the congregation gave a beautiful talk about fear and Love, and how to lean into Love. Amen Sister.

This week another member of the congregation stood in the same place and was preaching a bucket load of shame. I don’t even remember their exact point, or what belief or population they were adamantly against. All I know is, I left there with a sadness in my heart, a pit in my stomach, and an ‘I can’t do this anymore’, on my lips.

This was right around the time I was dissecting my disordered history with food, poor body image, and low self-esteem. I was starting to connect some dots. I kept bumping up the same things in myself and in clients that were all pointing to ingredients that, when mixed together create a recipe for disaster.

A recipe that looks like this: Should + Shame + Fear = Disorder. As in:

  1. I Should be thin, so I can be fast and win.
  2. Fear: If I’m not thin or fast or don’t win, everyone is going to laugh, punish, or reject me.
  3. Reality check: I’m not thin, fast, or winning. At least not enough to guarantee Number 2 doesn’t happen. Assuming Number 1 is true, then the only logical conclusion as to why I’m not thin, winning, accepted = there’s something is wrong with me = Shame.
  4. Response: Fix the situation. Try to change my body into a slim, fast, winning machine. Stampede over the voice inside that is trying to tell you #1 is a lie. Do this for long enough and you have a very broken body and self.

I’m hypersensitive to the presence of any one of the above. When they are all hanging out together, it doesn’t feel safe, and I want out.

That Sunday, what unfolded was a familiar recipe:

  1. Everyone Should do xyz in order to be a good person.
  2. Fear: If you or they don’t, they’re wrong. They’re going to hell.
  3. Reality Check: Chances are millions if not billions of people could hear this message and find their life looking very different from the picture painted in #1 and land in a bucket of shame. Because if you can’t live up to those expectations when clearly your maker, God, thinks you should be able to, you must be a flawed model of human. There is your existential shame.
  4. The fix: Believe that Jesus is the Son of God and ask him into your heart.

I had grown out of that storyline. A message of guilt, fear, and of inherent separation; from each other, from our true nature, from God, from other life that apparently God also created.  Which creates even more separation; a wedge banged in between Christianity and the rest of the world. And then instead of offering some form of healing balm of Love, sticking a fear-fed band-aid on top of the wound; believe in Jesus or else.

This version of Christianity is like giving a diet book to a bulimic and expecting it to make everything better. ‘All you have to do is follow the meal plan. Then you won’t binge anymore. Then you’ll be fine again.’

If you’ve ever tried this approach you know the drill. Trying to stick to the diet doesn’t solve the problem of feelings of unworthiness, fear of rejection, and shattered sense of self that drive the disordered eating. And then when you mess up for one day and don’t stick to the plan, all it does it reinforce that original belief: I am worthless and there is something inherently wrong with me.

Preaching, ‘accept Jesus into your heart’, is pretty much the same thing. The miracle-diet-pill version of Christianity. It is a quick fix that doesn’t go deep enough to solve the problem of separation. A cognitive belief doesn’t heal the feelings of unworthiness, fear of rejection, and shattered sense of self. Which means that if even for one hot minute you question the story of Jesus, or you slip up and fall off the Jesus wagon, you’ve just confirmed the separation from God you were trying so hard to resolve.

This is what I couldn’t do anymore. It’s what broke me. It’s what breaks us. This recipe of should, shame, fear; wherever it infiltrates, there you will find disorder. Whether in our media, politics, religion, economics, or just the far corners of our own mind; this faulty reasoning that reinforces a storyline that we are lacking, and must do something to make up for the lack, is like a motor that runs us into the ground.

The attraction of this story line is that it puts you in the driver’s seat. It makes you think there is something you can do to fix the situation. Run more, eat less, pray more, sin less, do more, rest less.

It sells you the promise of Control. A warped sense of power from staying in the ‘right’.

Which at first feels totally logical. Of course there is a right and wrong, justice and injustice. It’s even proven by science. I learned this as a 13 year old in accelerated summer school getting a head start on my high school electronics curriculum. Everything boils down to a zero or one. Off or on. Dark or light.

What you don’t see at first when you peer down these seemingly benign and parallel roads, is that over time, they end up worlds apart. You end up seeing everything through a very specific binary lens. Each road holds a very polarized view, supported by divisive wedges. It’s how the story of Separate is perpetuated.

In this storyline there isn’t an option for the possibility of wholeness.

That perhaps I am already whole.

And if I am whole, then perhaps you are whole. Perhaps each of us individuals, is actually a whole person. Equals. Different, sure. And also equal.

If that’s the case, then I can drop the stance of right and wrong.

Which means I can also let go of the agenda to fix or control.

Instead of trying to convert the other, we can learn from each other. Instead of trying to capture the other, we try to share with each other. Instead of trying to earn my worth, I can get on with life and love what already is.

I didn’t stumble upon that alternative storyline in the mainstream. It just came one day. In a rare still moment as I stared into the mirror on yet another Saturday night chagrining the body I was looking at.

‘It’s OK to Let Go.’

This rather cryptic message made its way into the room.

My rational mind didn’t have to understand. My heart knew. I had to let go of the jeans lying in a crumpled heap next to my bed. I had outgrown them years ago, yet each week I attempted to slip into them, because there was a magic number printed on the label that held all my power. If my body could be defined by that number, then I was good to go. Permission to like myself and exist as a human being.

Of course week after week, my reality was quite different to what those jeans required of me, and my self-esteem would plummet, making me the perfect candidate for a counterproductive midnight binge.

‘Just get rid of them.’

Oh I wanted to hold onto them so tight. They were the first pair of brand-name jeans I bought. They were a signal to the world that I was trendy and cool. And proof I had some right to exist because at one point, I actually did fit into them.

‘Just let them go.’

Eventually I did.

Which made room in my closet for a new pair that my body slid into effortlessly. I didn’t like the number on the tag, but this time I didn’t give that number my power. It didn’t throw my self-worth into the gutter.

What I was actually making room for by saying goodbye to those jeans, was wholeness; a melding of the zero and one, into just 1. That my body, and I, were neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, large nor small. It existed, as it was. And that was enough.

And that’s how it began.

A somewhat silent revolution that was fuelled by a part of me I had never really listened to before. In contrast to the more developed part of me that knew how to mastermind it all out, this was the part of me that was inviting me to wade through the unknown together.

Labelling these parts of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is probably the easiest way to describe the difference here, and it doesn’t feel quite right to keep defining that divide. For now I will think of it as Relying on the Logical, or Trusting the Mystery. At times we need one or the other to lead the way, sometimes we need both together. In this instance Trusting the Mystery paved the way.

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

A letter to the women in prison

To the women in prison,

I don’t know you. I don’t know your story or how you got here. And yet a part of me feels I know you already.

My sense is it went down something like this:

Something was taken from you. Violated, controlled, pushed into a corner, neglected, and/or abused, your sense of self, the worth of who you are as a human, the value of your life was stolen.

As was the innocence. The trust. The faith that this life could offer safety, security, care.

With those quickly eroded, what else is there?

There you were, alone, in the dark, not sure where to go or what to turn to.

Then something or someone came along that felt like this could be ‘it’. This could be your savior. Somebody promising you the world. An opportunity that felt like a winning lotto ticket. A substance that could take away the pain and make you feel normal again.

Part of you knew the promise wasn’t 100% true, the relief was only temporary, and the lotto ticket came with risks that could open up doors with even more darkness hidden behind them.

But anything to survive; to get out of from under the grips of the shame and despair; even if it meant selling your soul. Anything to have a taste of self-respect again, even if it came with a ridiculous price.

You try it. Agree to the terms. Say Yes. Just once.

It’s not so bad. A small amount of relief trickles in. Not enough to undo everything, but just enough to make you want more.

You say Yes again. You think you’ve got it under control. You can stop when you want to. Say No next time.

But why would you? I mean, this is starting to become an easier solution to the problem than you thought. No one’s really noticing. Your life hasn’t turned upside down like disclaimer said it might. Plus, life was already an out of control rollercoaster, how could it get any worse.

Then one day you wake up, and it’s all fallen apart. You are a living a life that is no longer yours. Sure, you’re the one breathing, but you’re just drifting along, not really sure what’s real anymore.

What was it that was so bad that I was trying to escape from? Why was it that I thought this was the golden ticket? I can’t stop now, I’m too far in, but where do I go? I can’t go back to where I came from, but if I stay here, I’ll end up dead.

And then the doorbell rings, the sirens blare, the handcuffs slide on.

Your worst nightmare comes true. Guilty. Convicted. Your freedom taken away.

But can I ask you? Did you ever really feel free?

I never did.

The cyclone of self-doubt, the hurricane of shame. The fear that chased me in my dreams, that I tried to run away from every moment I was awake.

My drug was food. My cover up was exercise. My crime was harming my body with both. Stealing from others so I could get my fix when my own stock and supply was low. Living a lie to cover my tracks.

That life was a prison. I was not free to be me.

Yes, I had freedoms. I had choice of where to live, what job to do, who to date, what to wear. I could come and go as I pleased in this world.

I couldn’t escape from me though. Everywhere I went, no matter what I did, there I was.

Saying Yes to things I didn’t actually want to do because I thought they would keep me safe. Saying No to things that I longed for because I didn’t think I was worthy or deserving. Choice after choice, I put up bar after bar around me, and soon my life felt like a cage.

What do caged animals do?

At first you fight. Hard. You pace, you roar, you thrash against the bars trying to get the hell out of there. Sometimes the fight ends up hurting yourself or others.

And then you find yourself in a different kind of cage.

Cage surrounding cage, surrounding cage, surrounding cage.

Then what?

When you reach bottom, there are two choices; stay where you are and harden in a pool of bitterness, or surrender to the brokenness.

Sometimes the breakdown is the biggest blessing. Life presses the Pause button for you so you can’t keep hurting yourself. It gives you a different set of circumstances; a practice ground to start making a new choices from.

A second chance. It doesn’t erase the past. It doesn’t make the pain go away. If anything, in the silence and stillness the pain gets worse. It’s also in that same place where you can start to hear yourself. The real you at the core of all those cages.

The part of you that wants to say Yes to what you know is good for you. Is dying to let out a raging NO! to what you know harms you. The part of you that actually does know how to keep yourself safe.

This is the part of you to pay attention to. Fight however you must to give it a voice. Anything that has a familiar yet forgotten scent, or gives you a taste of who you know yourself to be; keep chewing on that. You feed that part of you like you would a crying baby.

You love up on that baby girl like there is no tomorrow.

You let her cry her eyes out. And then, pray to God, you let her sing.

Dear women in prison; I see you, I hear you, I am you.

Let us dance. Let us sing.

Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

Redefining Success and Failure (And breaking my own rules)

28 days ago I made a commitment to myself that I would write for 40 days straight; the next phase of this cyclical living that I’m experimenting with. The icing on the cake was to publish; have some accountability to the world.

Day 28 and I’ve stuck with this for 19 days. That’s 67% if I’m grading myself. I can’t remember if 55 or 65 was the passing score growing up. Either way I’m just scraping by.

One week in, and it was a Sunday, and I realized that trying to cram in writing on that day was actually not in the best interest of me or anyone else, so I made a new rule and new commitment. No writing on Sunday, and reserve Sunday’s for actual rest.

(I’d like to point out that means I’m off the hook for 4 of the 28 days, which increased my grade to 79%. That’s a solid B 🙂 )

Well, today is a Sunday and I’m writing. This was a premeditated breaking of my own rule. I didn’t write for the past two days and as I was laying in bed last night I knew I wanted to write today. It was an actual battle in my mind… do I honor my in-the-moment instinct to write (and scratch the itch that formed after two days off), or do I stick to the rule, for the rules sake, and wait until Monday.

I obviously opted to break the rule, and it’s made me want to talk about this more.

I have to be honest, I really struggle with getting the balance right here; of honoring the original intention or rule, and staying present to myself in the moment. My ego mind wants to know which is better? Which can I trust? Which one should I listen to?

In the past, I was swung waaaay to far onto the rule side of things. This started in highschool. I joined the cross-country and track teams and running daily was not only seen as the sure-fire way to be the best athlete you could be, it was also applauded and revered. If you could run 365 days a year without skipping a day, you joined some elite global club.

I wanted to be that good. I wanted to be that cool. I wanted the accolades and attention. So running everyday became my mission.

18 inches of snow? I had my mom drive me to the service roads along the highway where the city plowed, and I’d run 3 miles in one direction and then turned around and ran back. Two day drive to Florida for a family vacation? I made the whole family make a pitstop so I could get a 5 miler in. 8 day cruise to Bermuda? I ran laps around that friggin cruise ship like it was my job. Full day of travel visiting colleges in the autumn when it gets dark by 5pm? Dad to the rescue. He actually tailgated me around Syracuse so I get back safe.

Sticking to this plan, trying to achieve this goal, and following my rule was not just a sacrifice on my part; my whole family bended over backwards so I could run.

I ended up missing a day, even days. I don’t remember why. I do remember that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I failed. I was worthless and no good. I felt fat.

I’d run myself into a tizzy if I missed a day, silently berating myself because I wasn’t strong, fast, or slim enough. Then I’d run twice as hard the next day.

It turned into a slight addiction. I’m not using the world loosely either. I’d track my mileage and that would be EVERYTHING to me. At first it was just the miles I counted. Then it was situps and pushups. Then calories. Then the number on the scale.

All these numbers to keep track of, targets to hit, grades to pass. I did not identify as a failure, nor know how to fail, and so the high of hitting the mark became intrinsically linked with my self-worth.

That was the addiction. I needed to achieve in order to feel good about myself. Miss any of the targets, and I was spiralling into a deep black hole of shame and self-loathing.

So you can imagine that after I got off that hamster wheel of self-destruction, I never wanted to get back on it again. Whether it was running, or weight, or money in the bank, or any other way I could easily fall into a trap of measuring myself, I did not want to become addicted again.

Which has made going anywhere near goal setting, achieving targets, and taking consistent action, really really scary. These things in and of themselves are not bad or dangerous, but knowing myself, I’ve kept them at arms length for fear I’d slip down a slippery slope; relying on them for my self-worth and my ultimate safety. I didn’t know how to embrace the healthy version where they can help support the outward expression of an already intact sense of self.

In some ways, I swung too far in the other direction; living in the moment, doing whatever feels good right here and now because, hey, I’m just going with the flow.

Balance, my friends, balance.

The latter has helped me massively. It’s introduced me to a more feminine energy that I was massively disconnected from and yet thrives within me. I like it. It’s comfy and cozy. I’m calmer. It reminds me of my bed at 7am on a cold winter’s morning. It’s safe and keeps me warm, and I relax as I linger and stare out the window.

It’s also way too easy to stay there and day dream the day away.

There’s been times over the years I’ve attempted to swing back to the more rigid structure, rule following, planning and on-target execution. I’m good for about 25% of the way there, and then I start to fizzle. It’s been hard to find a way to push past the proverbial ‘mile 20’ (although that would mean I got 76% of the way there), without pushing myself to the point of punishment.

Which means the past 6 years or so have been filled with a lot of false starts. Jumping into things because they felt right in the moment, but then I couldn’t harness that more masculine energy that is needed to see it through to fruition.

This past year I finally realized that as much as I love this new found feminine side to me, I also want to love (and do love) the part of me that can show up for myself day in and day out no matter what the weather. While my desire is no longer to go for a run come rain, sleet, or snow, I do want to make sure I am moving towards the desires of my heart regardless of what my internal (and even external) landscape is looking like.

These past 28 days have become a kind of reclamation of the beautiful dance that can happen between the masculine and feminine.

The feminine part of me felt the nudge: Honor yourself by writing every day. This is your next right move, as revealed by what I will call Wisdom. (ie it was not a logical decision with a clear reason as to why this was a good idea.)

The masculine part of me created space and continues to hold space: Set aside up to an hour each day. It’s the part of me that makes sure I choose writing over TV, even if it’s 10pm and I haven’t started yet. It’s the part of me that keeps one eye on Day 40, and how awesome it will be to look back at how everything unfolded.

The feminine part of me continues to tune in and check for the green light each day. Yes, write. It’s the best way of loving yourself today. No, not today. You need a break so you don’t crash and burn tomorrow. Yes, if you don’t it’s totally on you getting in your own way. No, wait. You’re exhausted and you have nothing but gibberish to say.

Here’s the clincher: On the days of the No, the masculine part of me loved me anyway. Even when I broke my own rule. I didn’t give myself a spanking. I didn’t beat myself up by letting my thoughts turn into a destructive tornado, or send myself out into the wind and rain to pound the pavement to pay for my sins. And I didn’t try to make up for ‘missed words’ and write more the next day, as if I was on a writing diet.

Instead, one part of me held onto the vision, the overarching intention for these 40 days, and another part of me trusted the wisdom of each moment, knowing that tomorrow there would be more wisdom to guide us through to the end.

Don’t get me wrong, there is also this less evolved part of me that wants to justify the days I’ve missed, or prove to you that writing today is OK even though its Sunday.

What a friggin waste of time. I mean if you really want to know I can tell you, but really how is that going to help you? All that will do is give you permission to skip a day of your own ‘rule’ the next time you find yourself in my exact same situation.

AND WISDOM MAY HAVE A DIFFERENT ANSWER FOR YOU THEN.

Your one and only job is to let wisdom speak to you and to listen to its guidance.

I’ll do the same for me.

Which means that we both may end up cycling through 40 days of the year or not. We both may end up committing to creating the same new habit or dropping a shared old habit at the same time, and how we execute that may look very different.

It’s not something you can measure. Those percentages I shared at the beginning of this writing? Totally to stroke my own ego and let it know that I hadn’t royally screwed up.

Which is really just a sign that this less evolved part of me is more like the little girl version of me still needs to know I’m doing a good job. Needs reassurance. Needs help in redefining success and failure.

I can love her too.

So let’s try this for now.

Success = When you are mastering the balance of structure and flow; masculine and feminine; consistency and presence, the doing and the being, holding the higher vision and letting go of how it manifests at the same time. Embodying all the parts of you.

Failure = when you are defined by the rule, whether or not you make it, follow it, or break it. When you lose yourself, and replace your worth with something outside of you.

When you put it that way, success seems so much more Possible. Permissible. Loveable. Even Sustainable.

Photo by AZGAN MjESHTRI on Unsplash

The Collision of Food, Faith, and the Feminine

I am a woman, 39 years old, from very white ancestry, who inherited a level of educational and economical privilege.

Twenty years ago I faced the first major challenge and failure in my life. My body was not performing the way I wanted it to. It did not look good enough and would not run fast enough. My response was to control it. Force it to do what I wanted it and needed it to do. I did that by over-exercising and restricting my calorie intake.

Maybe 10% off me at the time knew this wasn’t a great idea. The other 90% of me thought this was the best idea ever. I had a solution to a problem. I would be making things ‘right’. I would be guaranteeing my success and my safety.

You may read this and think, ‘wo-man, you were nuts.’ There might be some truth to that. And also understand that it made complete sense to me.

Not only because I had aced my AP Calculus classes and the logical theorem of Eat Less + Run More = Less Body Mass = Less Weight to Carry = Faster Performance.

But also because, in a way, I was carrying out the version of faith I was schooled in, just instead of applying it to my spiritual life, I projected it onto my physical body too.

The belief that my body was not performing good enough? A complete parallel to the mantra, “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God .” My body not only proved that statement to be true, it was the perfect scapegoat for the alternative that was too painful to accept.

I could handle the idea that my body was falling short; I mean, I saw the cellulite too. And as much as I was disgusted with those bumpy divots on my thighs, making my thighs and my body the culprit of my imperfection was an easier pill to swallow than the one that said I, ME, my whole being, including my soul, had fallen short and was rotten to its core. I mean, where do you go from there?

The response? Control. Exert force onto this faulty machine. Punish the body with exercise. Deprive its nourishment and experience of pleasure by restricting food.

This approach was way too familiar. My church culture was a big fan of spankings when kids screwed up. When you were too old for spankings, your sin made its way onto the grapevine aka prayer chain, so that everyone could gossip/pray about how you were backsliding.

And deprivation? So many cultural norms of the day were classified as secular, and therefore evil. No listening to the radio (unless it was Christian radio). No movies rated PG-13 or worse. Dancing or wine at weddings? Forget it, you shouldn’t even get married if you thought this was OK. Sports were questionable. Even excelling at academics somehow seemed wrong, because schools were secular too, especially if they taught evolution or sex-ed. And for sure, there was no sex.

This version of faith is not really faith at all. I know that now. At the time though, it was all I knew; a very clear and stringent path to solving the problem of sin, making myself right with God, and guaranteeing a place in heaven. The Christian version of success and safety.

My response to my body, was the spitting image of how I was taught to respond to the world. It’s just than instead of the world being the enemy, this time the enemy was a rather critical part of me.

And then there’s this.

I was a female. Which meant my body was somehow a representation of sin. Forget the cellulite and the extra weight that slowed me down on the track. My body was sexual. Feminine. Sacrilege.

I had curves that tempted men, legs that could seduce. I was a walking, living, breathing temptress.

AND if I fucked up, had sex, and got pregnant, there was no way to hide that most shameful sin.

So what now? Apply the default version of faith.

Attempt to control my urges. Punish myself if I gave in. Deprive myself of anything that might bring sexual nourishment or pleasure.

And because when you are coming of age, your sexuality and your gender are so closely linked, as I learned to fear my sexuality, I also learned to fear my femininity.

I thought it was better to be a man. Men could run faster. They were muscular and didn’t have cellulite. They couldn’t get pregnant. And they were the ones who made the rules. They decided if what you were doing was right or wrong. They dished out the spankings. They stood in front of the pulpit declaring if this movie was clean-enough to watch or if that politician was Christian-enough to vote for. They were the ones that sat with you once your hormones started raging and offered you a chastity ring. They were the ones who reminded you that if you signed your sexuality over to God and then broke that covenant, you were fucked.

I did my best to be ‘the man’. Get my body as ripped as possible. Get a job where I could wear the suit. Excel at Excel spreadsheets. Analyze the answers. Rely on the logic.

While the suits were sexy, and I donned them along with kitten heels to work for a rather femininely branded luxury jewellery company, I was more often than not embodying the masculine, just with a vagina and breasts.

I never identified as male or a man, but the things that I valued were what are typically categorized as ‘masculine’ energy. I idolized physical strength over emotional strength, straight edges over curves, sweat over sweet, ‘with it’ over wild, functional over form (except when it came to my body; then they were both critical), and doing, building, achieving, over any kind of being.

I had both male and female bosses. The male ones I could trust. The female ones I kept at arm’s length; too much risk of emotional craziness, cliques, and irrational thinking. Even though growing up it was the male presence that exerted its control onto and around me, by adopting the very thing I learned from them, I figured I could become them. That would keep me safe, and then one day, maybe I could even be in charge.

Fast-forward the story and here’s the deal. It wasn’t mastering the masculine that saved me. It was falling in love with the feminine. The very part of me I had disowned; including my feminine body.

I am not here to make men, male, or the masculine wrong, or women, female and the feminine right. I do not want to perpetuate the binary, polarizing, black and white thinking that I was taught under the guise of ‘faith’.

What feels most important here to say is, I have a strong feminine essence; not only in my body but also in my soul. This part of me was never nurtured. I thought it was wrong. I tried to disconnect from it. That did me very little favours. And until I was able to reclaim this part of me, my life wasn’t close to where I knew it could be.

Maybe it’s the same for you.

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

The version of God that reminds me of spilt milk

There is another version of God that I’ve gotten to know. This God does not have a form. It is not a he or a she. It’s just there, like a wave of music as it swims around the room. A vibration that exists because it can’t not.

This version of God is like a web. A series of intersecting moments and places and times that hold everything together.

This God is present even when you forget to be. It seeps into the spaces inbetween. To the spaces that sometimes feel like huge crevices, but then somehow there is a bridge, a way out, through or over, that you hadn’t seen at first.

This God is a shapeshifter. One day it’s a baby’s gurgle, another day the bass line of some really good beats. A leaf floating in the wind. The smile on a stranger’s face. Uncontained, you can find this God anywhere.

This God doesn’t fit in a box. Try to name it and it finds another name. Try to describe it and it takes on a new sensation. It’s like air. You can’t capture it; only breathe it.

This God is color, sound, scent, and texture. It’s what you feel, what you see. It’s the thing that helps you make sense of this world; understand the ‘same same but different’ of you and me.

It is all around. Even when you can’t see it, It is there. Sometimes you forget to look, you forget to notice. And then the bird flies into your house. The friend calls. The youtube video that changes the trajectory of your life finds itself into your ‘watch next’ feed.

It moves in places we never thought was possible. It is beyond neuroscience, astrophysics, and even quantum physics. For sure it has Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and DC beat. It is beyond our understanding, and it thinks it’s hysterical we think we’ve nailed it.

And so it laughs, it chuckles, and smiles at our tenacity, determination, and fortitude to figure this all out. “We got it!”, we shout out. And then, whoosh, curve ball coming right your way.

This God knows how to have a good time. It parties like it’s still 1999. It reminds us to keep life light. It spills the milk.

This God, It is the spilt milk.

 

The version of God that got shoved down my throat

There was a version of god that got shoved down my throat. He was a he. A very big he. Strong, muscular, like one of those super heroes that can wreak havoc with one gust of his breath. He carried those pitch-fork like three-pronged spears on the end of a long stick. He could point down from heaven and strike lightning with just the flex of his finger. His eyes were dark black pools of nothingness that reflected a roaring fire within. He wore a crown of thorns on his head. He was half robed, like a Greek or Roman emperor; the robe stopping above the knee, revealing the might and power of his thighs and calves. He wore sandals, strapped onto feet that created earthquakes when he walked.

He spoke, we trembled.

He took a step, we froze.

He breathed, we disintegrated into nothingness.

This god you did not mess with. Not even a little bit.

You bowed, you submitted, you emptied your pockets. Your keys, your cell phone, your money, even the tiny balls of lint. You came clean because if he found out and you hadn’t told him first, all hell broke loose.

You handed everything over. Your emotions, your body, your thoughts, especially your ability to think for yourself. You gave it all away, because he supposedly owned it anyway.

You begged. You crawled on your hands and knees, clawing at the dust, pulling out your hair, wailing with remorse for all the ways you fucked it up. Crying out for forgiveness, mercy, a pardon, to let you off the hook just this one more time.

You held your hands high above your head, wrists overlapping, your chin dropping to your chest, gaze lowered, the quintessential posture of guilt and shame. Pre-empting the verdict that you are nothing. You screwed it up. You failed. You backslid. You looked in the wrong direction. Thought an unclean thought. Smiled at the devil.

Your crime? Being you. The verdict? Eternal condemnation to hell.

There was nothing you could do to change this.

Except one thing.

Believe.

Believe the unbelievable.

It didn’t matter if it made sense or not. Don’t forget, faith is believing in that which can’t be seen.

It’s called blind faith on purpose.

Just say Yes, without really knowing what you’re saying Yes to.

Say No to drugs and Yes to Jesus.

It was really that simple.

Drink the kool-aid and ye shall be saved.

Swallow the pill whole, and thou shalt be whole.

It was as if my head was held back, my hair tied in a tight gasp around the wrists of the deacons and pastors. My body frozen by the onlooking gaze of the women wearing ankle length skirts, covering their slips, covering their white cotton undergarments, protecting their purity.

They thought I was the witch, yet their condescending trance-like stares kept me firmly in place.

As I was fed.

God.

Poured and shoved down my throat.

Like medicine. It was supposed to be good for me, but tasted so god-damn awful.

I swallowed.

Because that’s what you do. Because, ‘maybe it’s me that’s the crazy one here’. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to breathe.

My dutiful act of accepting Jesus into my heart complete, I am released. Free to carry on waving the flag, convert the masses, pretend that this is all OK.

This version of god dissolves into my bloodstream. Like a fluorescent dye, a marker so I will be known in the kingdom. And so the night patrol can find me and reign me back in if I try to escape after curfew.

It runs through my veins, and then settles in in my core, pooling in my gut, hardening into a lump of lead.

Like a sucker punch. Except I’ve been hit from the inside out.

And that’s when I want to vomit. Get this thing out of me. It is not of me. It is not me. And yet it lives inside me.

This poison that I have been forced to swallow, consuming my being.

Help! How do I cleanse myself now? What do I do when the very thing that is supposed to wash me white as snow has colored me black.

How do I go back? How do I return to a place of choice? How do I remember how to use my voice?

They tried to control me with the brute force of god. Guess what? I can control even harder.

I can swallow this god, just as you like, and then throw him back up.

You thought you had me wrapped around your little finger. And yet there I was, a rebel disguised as you. A wolf clothed in sheep’s clothing. I needed you to accept me, let me break bread with you. I needed you to guarantee I had a ticket to heaven, until I could get there on my own.

If you really knew me, saw me as I am, you would run, scared, frightened. But you knew that. So you frightened me instead.

I drunk what you offered, and became drunk.

I can see clearly now.

You don’t own God. You can’t force god on me. I’m not swallowing what doesn’t taste good anymore.

Photo by Samuel Dixon on Unsplash