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Who I say I am: Living with Imagination

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I’ve been in the habit of surrounding myself with people who have this drive– this knack for defying systems and norms that have placed restrictions and limitations on their being.  I find these folks both in my personal and professional circles and I can’t think of a better habit to get caught up in.

The lessons I learn and the courage I experience from these revolutionary folks who face odds that are stacked to topple them astound and inspire me.

In my research, I meet domestic violence survivors daily who refuse to settle for the standard of worth that their abusers and society place on them.

In therapy, gender non-binary people who defy the system by being visible despite a world that seeks and attempts to erase them.

In my personal relationships, women who push back on beauty norms that claim that to be lovable you must be this; look like that; attain a heteronormative kind of love.

Brothers and sisters of color digging in and fighting a system that denies them basic human rights of equality and dignity.

This is a bold kind of living.  To boldly live one must have an imagination that reaches beyond the bounds that are placed on one’s existence.  Some of us have others show us the way of boldness and some of us have to carve out a bold space for ourselves and sometimes it’s a combination of both.  This is all grounded in an imagination of possibilities and opportunities– even when met with closed doors.

I’ve been reading Trevor Noah’s book and the following segment resonated with me.  In one of  the most brutal systems in the world, apartheid, Noah describes living beyond the limitations of the system– living beyond the limitations people placed on him… living beyond how people saw him– living beyond what they said he could do and who he could be…

“My mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.  When I look back I realize she raised me like a white kid– not white culturally, but in the sense of believing that the world was my oyster, that I should speak up for myself, that my ideas and thoughts and decisions mattered.  We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited… Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that my mother started her little project, me, at a time when she could not have known that apartheid would end.  There was no reason to think it would end; it had seen generations come and go..  People thought my mom was crazy… So many black people internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own… Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom, “Why do all this?  Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?”  “Because, ” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world.  If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough”.  

Damn.

Bold living is not just having an expansive imagination, but it is the courage to allow oneself to live with an imagination.

And to live boldly with an imagination– an imagination that reaches beyond and defies cultural and systemic limitations and oppression is hard ass work.  It is a deconstructive to reconstructive kind of all encompassing work that can leave us exhausted, disoriented, confused and lonely.

And because this an all encompassing kind of work it usually requires us to remember some things regarding the process and our self-care.

When you are exhausted:

Yup– you’re going to get exhausted, weary, worn-down and tired.  It is not because you are flawed or incapable or weak.  You get exhausted because 1) this is hard work.  It takes a great deal of emotional, mental and physical energy to navigate the world while essentially liberating yourself from stereotypes and norms that are in place to force you to conform.  And 2) you are a human with a finite amount of energy and capacity.  Everyone eventually drains that well… It’s part of our human cycle and as we grow in self-awareness and insight we can do more to preserve that well or reserve before it runs bare.

But we have to be aware… we have to be listening to our bodies and our hearts and respond to our exhaustion with kindness, grace and compassion.

I think we all can do a better job of establishing a foundation of self-care.  What’s your eating look like?  Are you feeling nourished?  How are you sleeping?  Do you have a sleep routine that supports what you’ll need from one day to the next?  What’s play look like for you?  What activities energize you?  Who are your people?  I’m talking about the people where you find mutuality, equality, respect and reciprocity.

When you hit that point where you may be depleted it is okay to unplug.  It’s okay to sleep.  It’s okay to turn the off or pause button on and take a retreat for yourself.

When you are confused/disoriented:

When you defy norms, you essentially are acknowledging your authentic self while also building yourself from scratch outside of the system.  The thing is there are no blueprints to follow and show how one should go about the building process.  There may be some folks, some ancestors that have modeled this kind of work that have gone before us…  I think of people like Rosa Parks or James Baldwin or bell hooks or Ellen DeGeneres or George Takaki.  These folks, among others, provide a picture of resistence and reclamation, which we can draw from.  Even still, a blueprint is not provided and so in the process one may feel confused, lose sight of the big picture and feel lost.

Usually when we are confused we try to equilibrize– we try to get balance and typically while trying to gain balance we look outside ourselves to calibrate.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  What becomes problematic is when we compare ourselves to others, because typically we are not able to objectively compare and contrast our situation to someone else in this state.

When one is confused it is important to ground oneself.  Grounding can mean incorporating objective voices in our experience.  It can also mean quieting onself and taking a break from all the noise.  For some, this can mean meditation or taking a walk in nature or turning off one’s phone and internet accessibility or listening to music.  It looks different for all of us.  Ultimately, grounding allows us to get back in touch with ourselves– helps us to see ourselves and our path again.

When you experience loneliness: 

This can be lonely work.  There are moments, days and weeks that feel isolating and lonely.  Our stories and situations are unique and diverse from others.  Sometimes we feel misunderstood or alone in our unique process– left to wonder does anyone understand?  I just want to say this experience is legit.  Be incredibly tender with yourself in these moments.  These moments pass.  Sometimes we are completely surprised by how someone does show understanding or compassion to our circumstance.  We also surprise ourselves in these moments because we can see our own personal strength and the incredible ways we are able to show up for ourselves.  This is resiliency and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.

Additionally, find the humor in it all.  Wherever you find a space to laugh– take it!  Today I met with my 83 year old mentor who has seen it all and who has carved her own path despite being raised in a time when women were programmed to live in a particularly restrictive way…  She could not emphasize enough how we need to be able to laugh; to laugh at ourselves; to laugh at our humanity– ya know the places where we stumble about and yet, we are trying so hard– these can be kind and endearing moments to chuckle over and it can lighten our load– if only for a moment may we have lightness.

 

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Stay.Right.Here.

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Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master.  In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew.  Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.

These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.  

And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control.  Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…

I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me.  I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically.  Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow.  Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.

And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought.  In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up.  I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.

When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over.  I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.

I mean…

I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.

I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death.  (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)

I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.

And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now.  I have today.

A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff.  I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth.  I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.

In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace.  It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes.  And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You have today.  You have this moment.  Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment.  Don’t let it slip away.  Bask in it.  Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.

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Sisters, go ahead embrace your too muchness

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I recently saw this blog post that a friend shared on FaceBook called: I am A “Too Much” Woman .  It is a fantastic follow up to the blog post I posted the other day Hard Ball for Women.  Ev’Yan Whitney elevates the conversation of embracing the feminine voice, standing firm in our womanly expressions and being confident in our sensuality  to a whole other level.  Complete liberation in our voice requires women to do the self-exploratory work on a holistic level– spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and sexually.  Whitney gives a model for the process of embracing ourselves as whole and beloved people on her blog Sex Love Liberation.   Check it out.  For now here are a few thoughts:

Too Much Women are Women who

 “A hedonist, feminist, pleasure seeker, empath. I want a lot—justice, sincerity, spaciousness, ease, intimacy, actualization, respect, to be seen, to be understood, your undivided attention, and all of your promises to be kept”. By Ev’Yan Whitney

1. We need not fear people’s judgments of our too muchness.

The way we take space emotionally, intellectually, physically, sexually and relationally is not a threat to other people’s right to take their space.  Taking space is a natural extension of living in an unapologetic, authentic way.  We just do what we do and we celebrate others freedom to spread out and take their own space.

2. Remember that the shaming responses to you embracing your gifts are not based on truth, but rather insecurity and the desire to control.

When you live authentically know that when you receive messages like, “You’re too loud”, “You’re too intense”, “You’re too difficult”, “You’re too wild”, “You’re too needy”, “You’re too sensitive”— these are shaming messages.  Shame that is imposed on an individual by outside observers are meant to diminish, encourage you to shrink back and essentially control you so that you remain someone that is palatable and conforming to cultural rules.

3. All the parts of your identity are good and enough.

The one thing that is wonderful about getting to a place of embracing our whole selves is that it takes so much pressure off of us to work for outside approval and validation.  We know what we bring and we know we’re not perfect, but that doesn’t scare us.  It doesn’t scare us because we are dedicated to being life learners.  The freedom from this bondage of fear liberates us to put energy in people/places that are important to us.

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Loving every imperfect and blemished inch

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(Me first thing in the morning without make up or getting done up)

Most would never know that I’ve struggled with weight and self-image my whole life.  I don’t tend to come off that way to most people.  In fact, the other day while teaching a class with my mentor she said, “DeAnza, is always so well put together”. This is the first time I’ve talked about this in public.

Growing up in a mixed race family with a poor Filipina mother who always navigated the world like a force to be reckoned with and a white grandmother who adored high- end fashion from Nordstrom I definitely acquired identity confusion.

Let me give you the backdrop:

In Filipino culture there is a strong matriarchal presence.  Although, there is an adherence to traditional gender roles (males=bread winner, females=home maker) the underlying power and leadership is on the matriarchal side of the family.  Women are the driving force.  Women are the ones that keep their families going.  They are the leaders behind the scene.

We were poor so we shopped at Goodwill and Kmart for our clothing.  I usually was made fun of at school and excluded from the ‘cool’ circle of girls.

On the other hand, my grandmother (my father’s mother) who helped raise me had a taste for quality.  Upon arriving at her house, she would arrange for me to go to Nordstrom to pick out a wardrobe that was acceptable to her qualifications and most of my peers’ standards.

I very much enjoyed these shopping excursions—who wouldn’t?

But growing up I continued to feel conflicted about myself.

An addition to this confliction is the fact that I have always been slender and petite.  This seemed to bring quite a bit of attention to me (still does).  People were either very complimentary or completely concerned about it.

In high school I had a group of women tell me that they were praying for me—in hopes that I did not have anorexia or ‘get’ anorexia.

Upon arriving home, I’d hear my own mother discuss her concern with weight.  This seems to be a preoccupation of Filipino culture—the idea of weight is very much tied to worth.

All of these (and many more) experiences in conjunction with our Western standards of beauty that are practically intravenously fed to us from the time we are born created an inner conflict.

In the sandwich of these messages I developed some real anxiety and concern over my presentation.  This tends to escalate over the holidays.  As we enter into this season I feel the ramp up of the eating-restricting dance that so many of us women know.  It goes something like this:

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Soon we will take pleasure in delightful, mouth- watering tastes that we swear off all year round and now make glorious exceptions.  We eat and we feel round.  We may even feel glory.

We participate in one holiday meal after the next.  And for a short time it feels good, warm and filling.  The buzz of tryptophan rocks us mellow and sedated.

The following day when we wake from our coma we swear ourselves off for the previous night’s binge on mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies.  We are feeling our roundness as regret when we say, “we are bloated—something must be done”.  We take to a quickie resolution plan—only water and salad for the next five days.

We convince ourselves that to get back on track is to restrict, i.e. starve ourselves back into acceptability.

Sound familiar?

The trouble with the food hangover and then the food starvation plan is the self-loathing and self-hatred that we find ourselves entwined in.

We mistake this feeling of restlessness for a lack of peace with food, but really what it is a lack of peace with ourselves.

We are doing our damndest to mold ourselves into an acceptable configuration of beauty, which may not be our norm but someone else’s.

We stop listening to ourselves.

We lose sight of who we are.

We place everyone else’s standard before our own.

We reject our voices and our needs.

Is there hope for change?

Here are a couple of ideas to consider:

1)   Change the Narrative

2)   Face Reality

3)   Radically Accept

Change the Narrative:

The holiday season is a time of celebration—no matter what you believe this time of year brings us together with friends and family for a time of celebrating life, the year’s triumph’s, successes and victories, blessing and relationships.

Across all traditions and cultures food is a primary platform for celebration.  Food gathers and unites people.  Food ushers us into the season with its smells and textures.  It prepares us for the season at hand.

Changing the narrative is saying, “I deserve a time to be celebrated and to celebrate”.  It’s changing the dialogue that has previously said you are unworthy and unwelcome.  Instead it is embracing the idea that you are a part of this community and, as is the case for every-single-person in community—there is space for you to partake in this celebration feast.

You may decide that there are still boundaries or parameters that you wish to employ in celebration, but you walk yourself through that process by asking:

How do I want to celebrate?

What does that look like practically?  Where do I want to eat?  With whom do I want to eat?  What do I want to eat?

What foods will be nourishing to my celebration process?

How will my soul be filled, as well as my belly?

Face Reality:

You are imperfect.  You are imperfect in body, soul, heart and mind.  The enticing dance of binging and restriction is a dynamic that seeks to control the chaos of imperfection and the fear that other’s will find out just how imperfect you really are.  It is a rage against your body’s futility and inability to invoke any real change.

I think we all have to get a little honest with ourselves here.  I can hear folks saying, “I know… I know… I’m not perfect, duh”!

But the thing is you desire perfection.  You may desire perfection more then you desire authenticity.  If you’ve said anything even remotely close to this then you know the perfection dance:

  • Last night at the Christmas party I couldn’t stop eating!  There goes last year’s resolution!!  No more carbs.   No more alcohol.  No more sweets for me!
  • Ugh!  I looked in the mirror and what happened?!?!  I couldn’t even button up my favorite jeans.  I am so bloated—it’s disgusting!

Your path has been one of either 1) attaining perfection or 2) hiding the imperfect.

It is slowly killing you—your passions, your joy, your delight in life.

The first step to breaking the cycle is to be honest with yourself.

Radical Acceptance:

Marsha Linehan developed the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for people who suffer with self-harm tendencies.  A component of this model is the technique and term: Radical Acceptance.

It makes all the more sense when you hear Dr. Linehan’s story.  When she was in her teenage years she was hospitalized for suicidal ideation and self-harm tendencies.  Every therapy model used, including electroshock therapy, did nothing to improve her condition.  She spiraled into deeper despair.  It wasn’t until a pivotal moment when she recognized that the only way that she could heal was if she looked honestly at herself and then take the incremental steps to accept herself radically.  The radical nature of this is that not only did she learn to accept her strengths, but she also learned to accept her weaknesses.  All of these aspects made her uniquely who she was.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy step.  There are no magic pills or formula to make this happen—much of it has to do with will and choice.  It’s a willful embrace on the individual’s part.

When I talk to people about the idea of self- love—it happens so often that people confuse self- love to be a feeling rather then an active embrace.

Becoming loving and accepting of oneself is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling that washes over us and makes us think that we’re just swell, rather loving self is active.

So…  a loving thing to do for yourself is to check in with yourself regularly to ask what you need.

You don’t have to wait for the emotion… No, instead you create space to assess your needs and then respond to the need.  This is a loving act.

It’s what we do for people we love…  So why not do it for ourselves?

What do you need? –> What can you do to meet that need? –> Choose not to reprimand yourself for your needs –> Make the space to nourish that need

This is an active way of loving yourself.  It’s not based on emotion instead it’s a way to lovingly treat yourself and nourish your body, mind, heart and soul.  Taking the steps to act in loving ways toward ourselves allows us to shift our perceptions of ourselves, which lead to an opportunity to feel genuine love toward self.