Morning story; enjoying the process

She woke up to Beethoven, the soothing yet startling strains of the woodwinds unraveling the edges of her sleep. The violas and cellos continued the unwinding, and suddenly, she was up. She checked in with herself. She knew she wanted pancakes.

Downstairs, she pet her beautiful dog. She put on water to boil for coffee and melted butter for the ‘cakes. She let herself out to pee, as well as her dog, and marveled again at the April warmth and the earliness of the light.

She decided to eat each pancake as it came off the pan, to save time, she thought, but also because she didn’t want to wait. She listened to a story about people wanting to see their loved ones’ bodies after they had died, and then a story about a man whose mother was having a heart attack and how he managed his mentally ill brother. It was time to make a smoothie. She got blueberry juice on her knuckles from the freezer bag, creating a nasty faux bruise.

She got in the car with her dog and her things and drove to the trailhead for a quick walk. The dog needed to get out the wiggles. She thought about being enough, she looked at the different colors in the spruce trees, and she wondered when these trails would inevitably become a swamp, impassable until next winter. She turned around earlier than normal to give herself enough time to get to school.

The drive was a treat; dry roads. She arrived to animal quarters at 7:50 am and learned that her help that morning wasn’t needed.

There is a certain feeling she gets when she has planned a plan and that plan is cancelled. It’s like floating. It’s like a balloon released from a child’s hand.

She goes back to her office, in the quiet, empty building. It’s been a hard couple of days for her. It often feels like her days are hard. Her friend last night told her she wasn’t too much, but she feels like that. Anyone who touches her will eventually hear the stories of feeling lost, feeling afraid, feeling sad.

But, she remembers, this blog is called Positive Affirmations for Women. So, she wants to leave whoever is reading this with a positive idea, one that connects with her little morning story. Keep on trying. Keep on trying to find lasting peace and happiness within your heart. Remember those who love and support you. Find safety in their embraces and in their words. Keep getting outside and be there, really be there. Enjoy the process.

Be Seen

Today is a wonderful day: International Women’s Day. Women all over the world are speaking up, speaking out about where work still needs to be done to foster equal representation and to encourage courage in the face of those who wish to make us small.

The idea that to change the world we must change ourselves rings very true to me. How can we bring peace into the world if we ourselves are not peaceful? How can we encourage loving relations in the world if we are not loving toward ourselves? Initially, this idea of changing ourselves can seem more manageable than changing the world. Physically, of course, the world is enormous, and it is indescribably complex. Yet, as we are with ourselves continuously, there is always an opportunity to change ourselves, any moment. However, women’s inner worlds are also complex. If you are like me, it can be difficult to look inside. It can feel overwhelming to unearth all the emotions, fears, preconceived notions, and anger. I believe that’s why we can spend quite a bit of energy trying to change other people, other situations, other modes of thought. Yet if we have hatred, how can we expect others to release their hatred? If we judge and discriminate against some others, how can we demand others to not judge and discriminate against some other others? It takes courage to change the world, but it might take more courage to change ourselves.

This year’s IWD theme: Be Bold for Change. Be bold for change in the world, be bold for change in yourself.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time this semester feeling small, not wanting to be noticed. I believe this is because I am in a new relationship, and I’m being noticed, and there is an excellent chance this person will notice aspects of my personality or habit patterns that I am not proud of, or that are holding me back, or that are contradictory, or maybe even harmful to myself or others. This is ironic, because I spent a good deal of time last semester desiring that someone would notice me, that someone would see me. What I realize now is that I wanted someone to see my good, but not my not-so-good. So I’ve been slowly shrinking myself in hopes that I just won’t be noticed.

But what an opportunity. There is someone who sees me, who is seeing me more and more deeply. I can show someone who I am, I can share with someone how I think, I can tell someone my fears, I can mess up and be afraid and trip over myself and that person can be a witness to all of that living. Someone seeing me so closely is really, really scary for me. But what can I do but to keep showing up, keep refusing to get small, keep encouraging the courage in myself? It hurts to be seen, it hurts not to be seen. Which do you choose?

Happy International Women’s Day. Remember not to focus only on how far we have yet to go, but also on how far we’ve come. Remember the freedoms that you experience every day in addition to where your freedom is restricted. Remember that you are not alone, and women all over the world experience heartache, jealousy, self-criticism, rage, and fear. Remember that we all want to be seen, we all want to be loved, we all want to feel safe, we all want to feel justified.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

Kill the critic

Late last night, after symphony rehearsal, I was talking to my sweet boyfriend. He was asking me questions about what goes on in my mind, the habits of my mind. I told him about the inner critic, about how my inner world can be completely uncoupled from my outer world. How the outside can be so beautiful and fulfilling, yet my mind can feel so diseased. I had never been asked such pointed questions about my mind in such a curious, kind way.

Jason asked me how long the inner critic has existed, how long I’ve had to manage this voice to stay focused and move through my days. I said since the beginning of college, when I left home at 18.

He paused for a moment, smiled deviously, and said, “kill the critic.”

Ahh! Kill the critic, instead of manage it. Kill it, instead of giving it room to have a say.

He continued: “kill it with confidence.” Confidence in my ability as a student scientist, my violin performance, my physical body, that I’m a good person.

This feels exciting to me. External validation that my critic is unnecessary, and I can feel free to kill it. You can feel free too! I give you permission. It’s a total drag to have an inner critic, but thrillingly, you don’t need it. Imagine the possibilities!

 

lotus

Love

Today is Valentine’s Day. Last Valentine’s Day I was sitting in front of the fire in my Orange Avenue home, butt warm on a sheepskin. I was feeling lonely. I didn’t really care about Valentine’s Day per se, but the day was cultivating a mindset of wanting to be with someone, on the sheepskin, in front of the fire.

I don’t feel lonely today. My life is incredibly full, no time to reflect on feelings of loneliness.

However, I have been reflecting on love. Several years ago, a man named Johnny wrote to Cheryl Strayed when she was still doing Dear Sugar on The Rumpus. He asked what the definition of love was. This was her response:

“It is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea. Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want or keep.

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”

Love…imbued by sorrow, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity. May we all experience all the forms of love and enjoy the ways that life colors our loves. May we learn to listen to our tender, tender hearts. May we remember that we all seek love, deeply.

Chance favors the prepared mind.

Quote from Pasteur.

Also:

This made him understand, he said, that we cannot hope to capture anything in life. It is best just to let go and see what comes to you instead.

From The Sun magazine, although I can’t remember which story or which month. It’s written on a card that sits in my office that I just remembered was there.

Put another way:

Your job is just to observe, and let Dhamma (The Truth, The Path) do the rest.

From SNG.

Since coming home after my most recent 10-day, this idea of letting go, unclenching the fists, dialing down the effort, nurturing faith that life will present to you what exactly you need has been on my mind. Many experiences have been presented to me already in the past two weeks, to hold and turn over and examine and wonder over. Imagine an active passivity, where you are intently interested in life yet you do not direct its flow. The world is too vast to continually pick over. You can succeed and find fulfillment in simple observation of experience.

Love,
Sara

1c17bd337158b341f4a415676134d774

Adiposity

I don’t want this to read as just another woman’s experience with body image. It’s been done already, by myself and many, many others. I want this account to be different. I want this to be a vulnerable, personal portrait of what my journey with body fat has been and how I’m working to free myself and others from that prison.

It’s clear that our American culture has unrealistic ideas of what a woman’s body should look like, especially in terms of where it is appropriate for fat to deposit. Breasts, for instance, are obvious places. Finger pads, maybe selective deposits on the butt and hips. Ear lobes. But I think it’s safe to say that the majority of women walking the streets of our country are trying to get rid of fat somewhere or the other.

Think about that: millions of women going through life hating their bodies. Nearly every woman you see, unhappy with her form in one way or another. Unhappy women, everywhere.

Fat is a type of loose connective tissue called adipose tissue comprised of specialized cells. Adipose cells contain large vacuoles, or little cellular compartments, that are full of fat. If you look at an adipose cell under the microscope, you can see a tiny nucleus and a large, fat-containing vacuole comprising the rest of the space. Adipose cells are simply storage sites of reserve energy, used after our body has burned available glucose. Looking at fat on a larger scale, adipose tissue is used to insulate and protect organs, to insulate our bodies against heat loss, and to protect the nervous system. Our brains are mostly fat.

Fat is energy and fat is protection.

Where our body deposits fat is, I believe, mostly due to genetics. Where our body naturally deposits fat is largely beyond our control. Humans like to be in control. The world is so large and complex and chaotic that we consistently, to varying degrees and under varying levels of consciousness, work to maintain order. This can be exhausting and is fairly useless. We can’t control the world around us, what happens and how others perceive us. Cultural expectations regarding female fat, in a way, are providing women with exactly what they crave: something to control. If I can control my fat, then I’m in control of my life. I can navigate through my life if I can just manage the deposits. So we (many of us) do just this. We smoothie, cardio, and obsess our way to bodies that are five pounds lighter, ten pounds, twenty pounds, something that’s always less than what we are now. And if we ever get there, we expend more precious energy on keeping ourselves there, staying there forever, until we die and our perfect bodies are laid to rest for eternity.

I believe that shame is responsible for fat accumulation on our bodies. Shame of what and how much we eat, shame if we can’t get our run in, the special shame that comes when we are ashamed that we are ashamed of body fat. Since I was 18, I have weighed between 119 and 167 pounds. Nearly fifty pounds of difference. The 119 was during the height of control, the 167 during the height of shame. The journey I’ve been on with numbers and food and exercise and clothes and boyfriends and how they have all influenced my weight and body image over the past ten years is too complex and personal to go into here. However, what I’ve discovered along the way is to stop pretending that this isn’t and hasn’t been a personal struggle for me. That almost every woman alive has stressed about her body’s shape. And the cycle of weight loss celebration and weight gain dejection can be broken. It can be broken by airing out shame, observing our judgements, and altering our means of complimenting the women in our lives.

Notice the shame you feel around your body. Notice how it feels in your body when you’ve realized you’ve gained weight, or when you lose weight. You may feel flushed and your chest may tighten when you realize you’re heavier, and you may feel tingly and energetic when you realize you’re lighter. Talk about it with trusted friends. If a friend talks to you about her struggle with weight, and you’ve had a similar experience, try these two magic words: me too.

Notice how you judge others. Notice the assumptions you make about other women based on their body shape, about their level of physical activity, what they eat, if they have a boyfriend/husband, if they are or should be embarrassed about their fat. Notice how those judgements are likely the same judgements you heap upon yourself.

Notice when you compliment the women in your life. Have you ever told a friend or relative, “you look great since you’ve put on twenty pounds!” Likely not. Have you ever told a friend or relative, “you look great since you’ve lost twenty pounds!” More likely. Think about the messages you’re sending. Nothing against complimenting, just a recommendation to notice. If we are consistently receiving compliments when fat leaves and not when fat comes, what are we to think?

It is healthy to be strong, it is healthy to eat enough nourishing food, it is healthy to know when to stop, and it is healthy to physically exert yourself. With He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (hint: not Voldemort) entering the White House on Saturday, consider resolving to be an advocate for body shame resilience, resolving to become more aware of your judgements, and resolving to support the women in your life regardless of their size, instead of resolving to finally lose those ten pounds.

I now weigh 142 pounds. Who cares?

Obsolete

I was driving northeast in the beginnings of a blizzard to my brother’s wedding. It was 3:30 pm, so the outside was darkening already, and I was alone in the car, save for June Bug. And save for Regina Spektor, and her new album, Remember Us to Life. Everything felt significant, that night, that weekend.

The ninth song on the album is called Obsolete. It’s slow, sad, soft:

This is how I feel right now
Obsolete manuscript
No one reads and no one needs
Pages lost, incomplete
No one knows what it means

I listened to this song over and over, swirls of snow obscuring my vision, Junie curled up to my right, a warm cabin beckoning with two of my favorite people cozied up by the wood stove, hidden from the world in a dark spruce forest, burnt up several summers ago, now blanketed in thick, thick snow.

This song became the constant mind hum of my weekend. Its melody and velvety, pulsing piano rode the waves of my mind as I soaked in the hot springs with my girlfriends, as I witnessed the marriage of my brother and Lilly, as I slept outside in the blowing snow, as I skiied in the empty burnt snowy forest, as I ate Alaskan blueberry pie over a card game right before midnight on New Years Eve.

Minds grow dark, so suddenly
I was lost on your street
Hey I’m talking to myself
I can hear you listening in
To my thoughts, to my dreams
What I want, can’t compete
Obsolete

It’s difficult to say why this song felt so important this weekend, why I was so struck by it. I’ve been turning the lyrics over and over in my mind, searching for connections with what I was experiencing at the cabin.

Take me to the water’s edge
Let me stand in the sand
Let me hear the waves crash-land

Useless part
This useless heart
Useless art
What am I? why am I
Incomplete?
Obsolete

Although I’m still searching for the meaning, I’d like to share my best guess with you. We go through each year with a myriad of yearnings, fears, celebrations, tiny challenges, significant accomplishments, adventures, disappointments. We strive so ardently for happiness and fulfillment. We connect with some and lose touch with others. Endless experience. Yet, in the end, the year ends. The entirety of what we’re left with over the first breath of the new year is exactly where we are at that moment. The old year, in effect, is obsolete.

Standing by the bonfire at midnight, I felt a budding desire to examination myself anew, to look at this idea of “What am I? Why am I incomplete?”, questions that so many of us ponder. This dichotomy of feeling a genuine self-significance while at the same time knowing that our lives are due to end, our time in this body and mind is finite, and that one day, far in the future, we will be completely obsolete.

This is how it feels right now
Obsolete manuscript
No one reads, no one needs
Useless part
This useless heart
Useless art
What am I? why am I
Incomplete?
Obsolete
All I want
Can’t compete
All I want
Is a sleep
All I want
Incomplete
All I want
Obsolete

It may have been the dark and stormy night that I was hurtling through, it may have been the wedding of my baby brother, it may have been the stark beautiful loneliness of that burnt up spruce forest, but I believe all the deep emotions I felt while listening were inspired directly from Regina’s magic. Happy New Year.