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- Starting Over
- Something More
- Starting Over
- Something More
Welcome to You
Undoubtedly, we become
what we envisage.
CLAUDE M. BRISTOL
You are beautiful. Right now. Today. Just as you are, just the way you look as you read those three words: You. Are. Beautiful. Say it slowly aloud, as if the phrase were a foreign language, for it probably is.
You are beautiful. Now say it in the first person singular.
I am beautiful.
Do you know that? If so, remind yourself of this glorious fact every day. If not, it is time to become beautiful in your own eyes. This will require a makeover of sorts, but not the kind you think. Learning to love the way you look has nothing to do with starting a diet or reshaping your eyebrows. Accepting and embracing your authentic beauty means seeing yourself from the inside out. I love me, I love me not-I love me.
Beauty may only be skin deep, but there is nothing superficial about the complicated relationship that a woman has with her appearance. How you see yourself and how you think other people see you-your body image-is deeply connected to how you feel about yourself.
The effects of a negative body image can be devastating. If you don't like the way you look, you probably don't like the woman you are. And those feelings of worthlessness, self-consciousness, and inadequacy will insinuate their way into nearly every area of your life-into your friendships, your career, your romances, and, most importantly, your relationship with yourself.
A positive body image is equally powerful. It is not an instant solution to all of life's problems, but a starting point, a spark that can set off a fabulous chain reaction. Loving how you look when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror or store window paves the path of self-love, and with that acceptance comes self-esteem, confidence, and authentic beauty, a radiance that glows from within. A beauty that is more than skin deep.
Sowing the Seeds of Self
Self-admiration giveth much consolation.
Looking in the mirror is a startling subjective experience. When facing her reflection, one woman may say to herself, "I wish my hips were smaller," or "My fat hips make me ugly." Or she could say, "My curves make me sexy." In each example, the hips are the same-it's how a woman feels about them that's different. But where do these feelings come from? Whether or not you realize it, you've spent your entire life developing them, honing them, cloning them. Transforming the messages communicated by society, your family, your friends, your rivals, and your enemies into cellular memory.
"As preschoolers, boys and girls have already learned the lessons about physical appearance that our society teaches," explains psychologist Thomas Cash, author of What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror? "They know that lovely Cinderella gets the prince; her ugly and mean stepsisters do not. From childhood on . . . we judge our self-worth by the physical standards we've absorbed." The world's standards-to be extraordinarily thin, conventionally attractive, and forever young-are uncompromising and unrealistic, yet so pervasive in the media that women who do not conform (and who does?) feel flawed, inferior, unsuccessful, unlovable.
Society's ideals are reinforced in children by parents who overemphasize the importance of appearance, consciously or unconsciously. Their messages, be they subtle or painfully obvious, are expressed in dozens of ways: Were you put on a diet as a child or compared unfavorably to a sibling? Or were you praised for your prettiness, made to feel that it was your looks that made you lovable? Did your father disparage your mother for the way she looked? Or did she obsess about her own appearance? Don't discount the influence of friends and classmates: Being teased as a child or ostracized as a teenager can undermine the efforts of the most accepting parents.
Do you have memories of experiences that might have contributed to the way you see yourself today? As an adult, you may be able to "understand" them, to understand that your parents' criticisms did not mean they didn't love you, or that the bullies at school were acting purely out of their own insecurities. But this doesn't make the memories any less hurtful or their hold on you any less powerful. However, facing them, before you face yourself in the mirror, is the crucial first step in reshaping your body image.
A lifetime pattern of self-denigration is not going to disappear overnight. You're going to have to learn how to replace your automatic criticisms with praise. Self-admiration takes many forms. It can and should include the new compliments you pay to yourself everyday. But the most powerful self-compliment of all is honoring the promises you make to your own soul.
For where does one run to when [s]he's already in the promised land?
During the early seventies I worked in London as a fledgling freelance writer and earned in a flush week about $75. Of necessity, I inhabited a dreary, cheerless cell euphemistically known as a "bed-sitter." It had a hot plate to cook on, a sink, a two-shelf "fridge," and about ten feet of space. The bathroom was down the hall, and every time I wanted to take a hot bath I had to put a shilling into a meter to fire up the furnace for five minutes. But my cell was located off the fashionable Kings Road in Chelsea just around the corner from the studio of an amazing young shoe designer named Manolo Blahnik. Almost every day I would walk by his little mews house, stop and gaze longingly and lovingly at his sophisticated cobbler's confections. But since the price of one pair of his shoes then cost more than a month's rent, my gossamer visions of Old Hollywood glamour precariously perched on three-inch heels were consigned to the vast void of "someday."
I had arrived in England with little more than that glorious unshakable certainty one possesses only between the ages of eighteen and twenty-seven that I could make all my dreams of fame and fortune come true within one year-the window of opportunity ordained by my round-trip excursion fare ticket. When I didn't and only a few days separated me from having to make an excruciating decision-return home or remain abroad-I learned a priceless lesson about the magical, mysterious, and mystical power of promises to reconfigure our future in Divine ways.
In my pocket was the check from my last assignment. If I stayed it would have to take care of the bare necessities-room, board, and ransoming my typewriter from the pawnshop. If truth be told, I was barely surviving; most of the time I was cold and hungry, not to mention psychically and physically exhausted from constant worry about money. (I shudder at the thought of my daughter in a similar situation.) But going home meant not just giving up and giving in, it also meant withering forever under the suffocating smugness of "we told you so"s. Staying meant toughing it out until I got some visible sign that Heaven appreciated my mettle and applauded my moxie.
On the other hand, if I returned home, I could splurge on a pair of Manolo's shoes. But one pair? Just one pair? There were so many beautiful possibilities, I couldn't make up my mind. How could I make such a choice? As absurd as this sounds, the fact that I couldn't choose between the hot pink pumps and the leopardskin stilettos altered the trajectory of my life. Now I realize that wanting something more out of life than just one pair of shoes was Spirit's way of urging me not to sell myself short, limit my dreams or my flamboyant, passionate, extravagant faith. Stay, Sarah, and I promise that one day you'll come back here and walk out with as many pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes as you want. I stayed.
It took me twenty-five years to be reunited with my sole-mate, but true love withstands the test of time. Those shoes were far more than coveted fashion accessories. They were a symbol of my ultimate commitment to myself. I am blessed to be living most of my dreams but honoring that self-promise was one of the most soul-satisfying things I've ever done. Women are great at delivering on their word when it's someone else counting on us, but when no one else is looking or listening we renege on ourselves with a ruthlessness that's heartbreaking. At least I know I have.
Promises predict a woman's future better than any crystal ball ever could. That's because the promises we make decide how we shall spend, invest, or squander our Life's currency: time, creative energy, and emotion. We tend to think through the implications of promises we've made well after we've already committed to them. Just ask any woman who has mysteriously found herself chauffeuring a carload of kids to the mall on a Saturday afternoon instead of getting a badly needed haircut, meeting a friend for lunch, or showing up for that yoga class she's wanted to attend for the last six months.
There are two kinds of promises-Outer and Inner. Outer promises are those we make to our family, friends, colleagues, church, the PTA bake sale coordinator. Outer promises are often unconscious. Think about the absent-minded nod of assent when you're distracted-when you're on the phone, perusing papers, or concentrating on something else. We also tend to promise more than we can reasonably deliver when we're feeling uncomfortable-when we're coming down with the flu, tired, worried, depressed, or anxious. Make a rule for yourself: When your defenses are down, don't promise anything more than a "maybe."
Outer promises often come disguised as peacemakers because they keep children quiet, get our significant others to stop nagging, reassure the boss. But promises offered only to be cooperative or amiable are deceptive and disruptive. If you dread it, don't agree to do it. If you do end up doing it despite your dread, you'll despise the whole deal and everyone connected to it, including yourself.
Inner promises are those we make to our minds, bodies, and spirits. Join a book club. Start an exercise program. Find an uninterrupted hour a day to call your own. Although self-promises tend to be pleasurable and positive rather than punitive, we rarely keep them. Why? Because without accountability, visibility, pressure, shame, or guilt as our personal prompts we don't think they really matter. We don't believe that our happiness, well-being, or contentment counts for much. If we did we would be considered self-centered. When we break self-promises we are under the illusion that there are no repercussions-after all, we reason, who else knows, cares, or is keeping track of the fact that you can't be counted on?
Our inner promises represent authentic needs and come wrapped up in wishes of "want." Outer promises are gifts we give to others and often are wrapped up in "should." Desire versus Demand. This does not mean that you genuinely don't want to manage the bazaar craft booth, take your elderly aunt to the doctor, or write a glowing recommendation for your friend's daughter. But if you find yourself doing all three in one week it's time you became aware of your personal pattern of promise making.
Can you recall the last five promises you made? (If you can't you've just discovered what I mean by unconscious ones.) Just as there are personal patterns in how we spend money, avoid confrontation, and deal with depression, we've each got a promise pattern based on our need to please. Did you offer or were you asked? If you were asked, did you even register what was requested of you at the time? See if you can recall what prompted you to say yes. We can't change our behavior until we know how we're acting.
A woman I know who is a successful judge recently recalled her graduate school days when she was studying music. She was so poor that she and her roommate would share an opera ticket-one would see the first act, the other the second. She promised herself that someday she'd become so successful she'd sit in the best seat in the house and never even ask what the price was. She confessed proudly that she still feels a small shiver of self-pleasure in continuing to honor her thirty-year-old promise. But not just of her accomplishments in the legal profession. A fourth-row orchestra seat is a powerful reminder that she is the best kind of promise keeper-not only in the eyes of the world but in the eyes of her own soul.
What long-overdue promises to yourself are in your past? This would be a great year to make good on them. A promise is a solemn, sacred prayer and you are a woman worthy of your word.
Catching up with the Dream
Dreams grow holy, put in action.
ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTOR
A dream is a promise you make to Spirit and yourself. Sometimes it takes literally years to keep that promise, whether it's a home, a family, a career, or a lifestyle. Dreams cost sweat, frustration, tears, courage, choices, money, perseverance, and patience. But birthing a dream requires one more thing: Love as the midwife.
There is a dream that only you can bring into the world. Do you know what it is? Or has it been buried under layers of naïveté, good intentions, relinquishment, bitter failures, detours, disappointments, rejections, wrong choices, bad timing, bungled efforts, stupid mistakes, unforeseen circumstances, whims of fate, and missed opportunities? In other words, the rubble of an unconscious life.
But how can you resurrect that dream, when you weren't able to realize it the first time? The difference is that now you know how to make choices, whereas maybe twenty-five years ago you didn't.
So set yourself a realistic deadline in which to bring your dream into reality. If you give yourself a deadline that is feasible-say, four years from now, not four months-by next year you will have taken the first concrete steps toward realizing it. It might be breaking ground for a new house. It might be renting a storefront. It might be finishing the first draft of a book. I don't know what it is for you but you do. And if you've not discovered it yet, continue doing this process and you should discover it by the end of the year.
Dreams need doing as much as they need being, or they remain wishes. Be quiet and call forth one or two of your fondest wishes when you were a girl. What was it? Were you going to be a physician? Have six children? Be wealthy? Be different from your mother? Win an Oscar?
Is that ember still glowing in your soul? The way you give expression to it today will no doubt be different from what you yearned for years ago, but think about how you might channel that energy now, and turn your wish into a dream. As the writer Cheryl Grossman reminds us, "I dream, therefore I become."
The Intuitive Sense
Intuition is a spiritual faculty, and does not explain,
but simply points the way.
FLORENCE SCOVEL SHINN
If we are to realize our dreams, it is essential that we use every resource available to us-and intuition is one of the most important tools we've got. Intuition is the capacity to know something without rational evidence that proves it to be so. It is known as the "sixth sense" and is often an ability ascribed to women. The English writer D. H. Lawrence believed that the intelligence that "arises out of sex and beauty is intuition," while anthropologist Margaret Mead concluded that feminine intuition was a result of our "age long training in human relations."
Do you use your intuition? Have you learned how to fine-tune the inner instinct that is constantly transmitting signals to you? Think of yourself as a radio. Is your dial clearly set on the intuitive station so that you can receive its message when you need it, or are you just picking up static?
Intuition is the subliminal sense that Spirit endowed us with to maneuver safely through the maze that is real life. Wild animals rely on their intuition to stay alive; we should rely on ours to thrive. "It is only by following your deepest instinct that you can lead a rich life and if you let your fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct then your life will be safe, expedient and thin," Katharine Butler Hathaway wrote in 1946.
Intuition tries to communicate with us in inventive ways. One way is through what my friend the script consultant Dona Cooper calls "the educated gut," which frequently slaps us to pay attention by triggering a visceral, physical reaction in our bodies. One such intuitive signal is the emotional trembling that accompanies creative discovery or warns us not to take a certain action. Another intuitive message breaks through when we suddenly grasp that to try something new might be delightful; we do so and are surprised by joy. A third intuitive nudge occurs through revelation, the inner knowing that helps us arrive at the right place at the right time so that we can be swept away by the benevolent flow of synchronicity that gets us where we're meant to be as easily as the Universe can arrange it.
"I believe that we are always attracted to what we need most, an instinct leading us towards the persons who are to open new vistas in our life and fill them with new knowledge," the writer Helen Iswolsky confided in her book Light before Dusk, written in 1942. But we've got to be able to follow our intuitive instinct on faith or the new vistas will become voids of despair.
Chapter 1 - Moodlings
Welcome to You
16. Each one of us makes silent promises to ourselves-to lose ten pounds, begin an exercise program, stop smoking, or some other promise we swear we'll keep. Can you think of some promises you've made to yourself and not kept?
2. Does the list above look like you've promised yourself with a "have to" or "should do" scolding in mind? Let's try to promise ourselves love. You are dearly loved and deserve to promise yourself joy. How about a ride on the Orient Express, a facial, attending a fashion show of your favorite designer, an aromatherapy massage? What are some promises you can reward yourself with?
3. How many promises have you made to others and kept at the cost of your own desires? I'll drive the kids to the pool, I'll make snacks for the soccer team, I'll call you back in a minute. Think back to yesterday (or last week, or any day that stands out vividly in your mind) and record the promises you made.
4. Now go back and look at the list of promises above. Which are the ones you're proud of, and which are the ones you feel in retrospect should never have been made? If you allow yourself this kind of analysis every once in a while, I hope you'll find yourself becoming more selective about granting your time to others. The time you do grant will count more now, and you'll feel better about it, and the time you reserve for yourself will feel all the more deserved.
5. Select one personal promise that you have wanted to keep. When can you keep it? By the end of the month, three months, six months, a year? Record the time frame in the space below. Remember to be realistic-if you are, you're halfway to keeping that promise already.
6. Let's get cracking at excavating your buried dream. Think about the dreams you've had and abandoned. Now quickly match each dream to the cause of its demise, listed below. This is how we retrace our personal pattern of discouragement.
Naïveté (lack of experience)
Whims of Fate
7. Now think about a dream that you did bring into the world. What action or choice did you do that made this one succeed? If writing down your excavation process feels limiting, work with collage in your Illustrated Discovery Journal. This time look for "concept" pictures-ones that evoke a mood or tell a story. Always remember that your Illustrated Discovery Journal is your Authentic Self's visual autobiography.
8. Intuition is often described as a "sixth sense," an inner instinct that gives one an instant clarity. You just know. What kinds of things do you use your sixth sense for? Can you sense if something is wrong with a loved one? Do you somehow know ahead of time when someone is going to phone you? Write down some experiences of intuition at work in your life.
Can you think of an instance when your intuition protected you from harm?
9. Can you think of a time when your intuition nudged you to take a step in a new direction and it enhanced your life in some meaningful way?
10. How about a time when you didn't listen and an opportunity passed you by?
11. Make it a priority to hone your intuition. This can easily be achieved through a little practice. The next time you feel a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, pay attention. Write it down as soon as you get a chance. How did it turn out? Was the feeling justified? When you get a little feeling of giddiness when faced with another decision, pay attention to that too. If you listened to your instinct, did it pay off?
12. How does it feel when you honor your intuition, especially if it is uncharacteristic behavior for you? Write down five hunches you have followed in the last week. Look at that list every time you hold back from listening to your own personal cues and remember that a connection with our intuition is a connection to our Authentic Selves.
Write Your Way into Wholeness
You Cannot Fail If You Have Done Your Best, Only If You Have Not Done What You Were Born to Do
They wish to dissuade me
From all that the forces of Love urge me to.
They do not understand it, and I cannot explain it to them.
I must then live out what I am;
What Love counsels my spirit,
In this is my being: for this reason I will do my best.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Sarah Ban Breathnach"