Thoughts on moving forward

19 05 2017

“You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” –Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button screenplay

Each of us is on a journey. Some days it feels like an adventure. Other times it feels like a forced march through difficult and trying terrain. How we think of the journey, what emotional baggage we carry with us, directly impacts our perspective.

Weight and body issues have been a major story line in my personal narrative, as they are for so many of us. In this blog, I have chronicled my own process through losing half of my body weight (from just over 350 pounds to a low of 176) and, recently, of regaining a significant portion of that amount. Over these years, I’ve learned so much – one important lesson being not to judge anyone else’s journey.

Early in my weight loss process, I undertook a hunger challenge – raising money for hunger relief as I lost weight myself. When I asked friends to sponsor me for this challenge, one sent me an email saying, “I’ll sponsor you as long as you aren’t having weight-loss surgery.” I assured him that I wasn’t, and his response was to say, “I don’t agree with people having surgery to fix a problem because they don’t have the willpower to fix it themselves.”

At the time, his comment didn’t really bother me – probably because I agreed with him. I had not yet undertaken either the physical work nor the emotionally difficult excavation of my underlying issues that significant weight loss required. When I did do that work, I discovered that coming into a “right relationship” with myself, and my body, is about so much more than the actual weight. When I realized that I had been trying to keep my head above water in a sea of self-loathing and shame, I understood the loving compassion I had often extended toward others needed to be extended toward myself. Once I began doing that, I could see that my judgement about other people’s bodies or weight loss methods, my attitude about other peoples’ life journeys, had simply been a projection of my own nasty insecurities and fears.

Three weeks ago, my sister Gwen had gastric sleeve surgery. I am so PROUD of her! First, I am aware of how much energy it requires to undertake such a major step. There was the better part of a year spent in medical and psychological screenings and preparation. Then there was the surgery itself, not a minor consideration. Finally, there is the life-long behavior change required to make the rest of it worthwhile.

Gwen had to face her inner demons – I don’t know them because they are hers, but I have no doubt they are as powerful as my own! Many people never manage to face theirs, much less stare them down. Many people keep finding reasons for inaction when action feels daunting.

It requires courage to do these hard things.

In fact, it requires courage to move forward in our journeys – whether in bold steps or incremental. Our fears, our shames, our regrets, our guilts are voiced repetitively in our heads. Every day they tell us to avert our eyes, to distract ourselves, to comfort ourselves with things that may feel good but are not nourishing to our souls (food, habits, consumption, competition – whatever). Their real message is “Don’t.” Don’t try. Don’t change. Don’t think you’re special or worthy. Don’t take that next step – stay here where you may not be happy but at least you feel safe.

This is true for everyone – not just those of us with weight concerns. Once you see this clearly for even a brief span, you can’t really go back to judging other peoples’ journeys as if it is your business or as if you actually know their innermost secrets. Once you see this clearly for even a brief span, it is much more difficult to brutally judge yourself.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”                                                                                                  –Brene Brown

 

 

 

 





Ubuntu

11 05 2017

 

Last week, my niece posted a photograph of her new tattoo: hands, holding the Earth, with the word “Ubuntu” inscribed below it.

The next day, I met singer/songwriter Sara Thomsen, and saw her project booklet (from an event combining music, art, poetry), titled Ubuntu.

On the third day, I walked into my brother’s home in Chicago and immediately saw a sign, “I am because we are”. In other words, ubuntu.

Some, perhaps many, people would have me believe this is a great example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (also known as frequency illusion). But that would remove all of the magic and wonder from the experience of such synchronicities – and I believe that magic and wonder are absolutely necessary these days. I refuse to give them up in the name of psychology.

I first heard the word and concept of ubuntu in a televised interview with Desmond Tutu 20 years ago. He roughly translated it as “A person is a person through other people” – I remember it because I immediately wrote it in my journal so I wouldn’t forget. It spoke to me very deeply of what I knew in my heart but always had difficulty articulating: namely, that we are all intimately connected with one another. The concept has a long history, and has been translated in various ways, though maintaining throughout it’s essential character. Ubuntu is about relationships. (See more history here)

Though I haven’t had a chance to ask her yet, my niece Hallie most likely became aware of the concept because of her love for and travels to Africa. Hallie is our social justice warrior, our peacemaker, our world citizen. Ubuntu is a concept she has understood since she was quite young, regardless of when she learned the word that names it. Hallie has a heart for the world and will fight for equality and opportunity and fairness for all. When I saw the beautiful photo of her tattoo I couldn’t help but feel emotional. ‘My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours,” she declares. It is written on her body.

I met Sara Thomsen when she was one of the facilitators for our annual spirituality conference. I had heard several of her songs, and have been especially drawn to this one, “Water is Life”. After the first evening session of the conference, a few of us went out for dinner. That’s where I heard about Sara’s commitment to art as a unifying force in the world. In particular, I learned about her work with the Echoes of Peace community choir, and their “Art of Ubuntu” project. And while our dinner was a serendipitous celebration of Cinco de Mayo with new-found friends, our laughter was underscored by a mutual understanding so beautifully stated in this quote from the “Art of Ubuntu” project materials:

It is like the Beloved Community, the “network of mutuality” of which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke…   “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This is the interrelated structure of all reality. You can never be what you ought to be until I become what I ought to be.”

Immediately after closing our conference on Saturday, I drove to Chicago. The main reason for the trip was to see my niece Zoe in the role of Veruca Salt, in her school production of “Willy Wonka”. (She was awesome!) After the play, I found myself in an Irish pub, surrounded by women I love and admire. Our discussion ranged all over, but eventually found it’s way back to politics every time. It was an incredible experience to, once again, be surrounded by fierce women who are taking action in whatever ways they can to create a world where ubuntu is the dominant paradigm. “I am because we are”, as the sign in my brother’s living room declares.

Ubuntu: I so needed this repetition of the concept. I refuse to chalk it up to a mere mental trick or illusion. When you are parched and thirsty, water is always a miracle, not only a chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen. More than anything, I needed the reminder that there are many others who hold ubuntu in their hearts. It is inspiring and affirming and it offers me energy for whatever this day or the next may bring.

The fire in my heart, my soul flame burning
Is the fire in your heart, your soul flame burning
We are Spirit burning bright, by the light of day, in the dark of night
We are shining like the sun, and like the moon, like the Holy One

By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one

— Sara Thomsen, from “By Breath”





Counting Feathers

4 05 2017

I went to bed angry last night, and I woke up angry today.

I went to bed filled with grief last night, and I woke up today weighed down with my sorrow.

I went to bed last night feeling betrayed and let down, and I woke up this morning feeling crushing disappointment.

Last night I felt despairing and hopeless. I went to bed and the mattress sagged with the sheer weight of my heavy emotions. No pillow could rest my aching head; no moonlight shone its cleansing rays into my room, just a dead orange glow from the streetlight on the corner. My dreams were chaotic and fearful. They left my body feeling tense and sore when I awoke this morning.

How, given all of this, will I face today with the fortitude and grace that today requires?

I will count each reason for gratitude or hope that comes my way, each reason a feather forming the wings that will eventually lift me up out of this depression.

One: My morning coffee is hot and comforting.

Two: The sun is shining.

Three: The red-winged blackbird perches on a branch just inches from me. He looks right at me, opens his beak and sings!

Four: I am surrounded by people who smile and greet me and try to make a difference in this community.

Five: A guest stops by my office to say she is looking for Joanna Macy’s book, Active Hope, but hasn’t found it in the book store – and I have an extra copy to offer her!

Six: Many people are standing up for a culture of compassion and justice, not just a culture of the bottom line. I am able to hear their voices, read their words.

Seven…Eight…Nine…Ten….

I can count all day – each one thing fortifying my emotional resilience.

Each one thing whispering that love is not a lost cause.

Counting my feathers, one at a time: I am trudging under the weight of fears and concerns and dark emotions, until each step is perceptibly lighter, less heavy; until hope and gratitude become air under my feet and I am lifted up.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
       (Emily Dickinson)