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an open letter to my body image students on our first day of class

It is it the first day of body image class at my university and, as always, I’ll be ending class with this letter.

 

BY Objects of Motion

Yesterday, you looked in the mirror, and, instead of your inherent greatness, you saw flaws.  You saw things you wanted to change and not everything that made you powerfully, wonderfully, uniquely you.

Last night, in a deep conversation with your friends, you had a powerful thought, the kind of thought that would have changed the whole conversation, maybe would have changed you, but you doubted yourself and so you swallowed it inside of you.  Tucking it away, forcing it out of your mind, so that great big belief would not threaten your status quo in its hunger to get out.

This morning, you walked to class and compared your body to someone else’s.  Your body, a body that has worked so hard for you, that has allowed you to experience every good thing you have known, a body that has kept you going through all the hard stuff, through all the difficulties that have been thrown at you.

And then you walked into our shared space, a space that I hope will become a sanctuary to you, a place that I hope will quiet your inner critic enough so you can see the fabric of which you are made, you can recognize your worth, you can embrace the idea that you are just fine as you physically are right at this moment- not just because that is true, which it is- but because you come to understand that what the world most needs from you is not your trappings but your longings made manifest. 

If you yearn for art to be inspiring or children to feel loved or food to be breathtaking or houses to have souls or communities to have gardens or technology to be accessible or music to have your unique viewpoint or patients to have soulful care or records to be broken or whatever else it might be that speaks to your soul, I want that for you, too, and I want our space and time together, our journey, to be one that supports your recognition of your worth, sparks your awareness that the world needs you and your unique solutions and galvanizes you to embrace what you have to offer.

Today, you will tell me your name, your major, your graduation year, your hometown, the last great book you read, and why you chose to take this class.  You will say you needed Body Image class for your Women’s and Gender Studies minor, for your art major, for your public health concentration, because it fit into your schedule, and, maybe, just maybe, if you can muster the courage to say these words, because you knew when you saw those two words on the course guide that you wanted desperately to have a different relationship with your body and your soul.

And here is what I can promise you.  I will do everything I can to see you, to hear you, to understand you, to help you to understand yourself, to empower you to see your greatness, to inspire you to understand that while you are lovely because you are uniquely you that it is more than just your loveliness we need—that we need your fire, your passion, your purpose.  I will remind you that our bodies are ever changing and so to build a foundation of our worth on what we physically have to offer right this minute is to invite disruption over and over again.  And I will implore you to understand that your soul will always lead you right, will always let you blossom, will always let you shine.

On the day you last walk out of our sanctuary, I hope that you leave this space with your eyes up, ready to recognize and greet those who approach you not just because you know that other souls should be seen but also because you understand that to hide your soul from us is to deny the world of one of its greatest gifts- you.

I hope that you will be able to meet your eyes in the mirror and see purpose and clarity and passion and self-acceptance staring back, that you will treat your body like a guest of honor to your life because it has served you so well so far and you want to continue on that journey, and, ultimately, that you will not hesitate to give the world everything that you uniquely and powerfully have to offer. 

Welcome.  I am so glad you are here.  I am honored to walk alongside you.  I cannot wait to see where we are going.  Let’s get started.

How Yoga and Body Acceptance Could Guide Your New Year

One of my greatest inspirations in the self-acceptance space is Anna Guest-Jelley, the founder of Curvy Yoga.  Anna is not just profound light, a gentle truth teller, and an honest reflector, she’s an inspired teacher– both in yoga class and in life.  With this new year,  I was eager to share some of Anna’s wisdom with you and invited her to share here about her thoughts on yoga and self-acceptance.  I hope you get as much from her wisdom as I always do!

 

Photo Credit: Andrea Scher

Photo Credit: Andrea Scher

Like many people, and maybe even you, I’ve spent many Januarys in the throes of this or that New Year’s resolution related to changing my body in some way. I’d be hell-bent on making a change, last about 2.5 weeks, something would intervene (since the expectations I set were never realistic for my actual life in the first place), and then I’d give up. Defeated.

Once again.

Probably not too surprisingly, once I started to shift from resolutions to choosing a Word of the Year, and from constantly berating my body to learning how to be in an affirming relationship with it, I was much happier.

But one thing kept nagging at me for a long time: how to bring my intention for the year and my body acceptance practice together. This mattered to me because an intention, or word, for the year permeates every area of life, including your body and how you relate to it, and I was interested to see what I could learn — if only I could find a way into it.

What I started to discover is that intentions benefit from embodiment, particularly within an adaptable and unique-to-you container. Here’s what I mean by that: when our intentions stay solely in our heads, they’re easy to forget, philosophize/daydream about but not take action on, keep as a lingering “should” that makes us feel worse and worse about ourselves, etc.

But when you find a way to loop your body into the process, things can start to move from the realm of “sounds like a good idea, but I’ll never get it done” to “I’m doing it.”

Now, how does all of this start (and continue)? Through an ongoing conversation with your body.

The best way I know to reliably begin or grow a conversation with your body is through yoga. And no, that’s not because the farther forward you bend, the more wonderful your life is and the more committed you are to both your intention for the year and your relationship to body acceptance. Not at all.

The reason I see yoga as a key way into body acceptance, which is just another way of saying having an ongoing conversation with your body, is because it asks you to engage with your actual body. By asking you to notice what your foot is doing in a pose, what is happening with your breath, or how a yoga prop might support you, the practice of yoga is a concrete way to learn to connect with your body as it is today. Because as you know if you’ve ever tried any balance pose in yoga, your experience definitely changes from day to day!

It doesn’t matter what style of yoga you practice, or what you can or cannot do. It’s not any individual pose on its own that makes the difference, but rather the overall process of being with your body. And all of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of yoga certainly don’t hurt, either!

While you’re on your yoga mat and in this conversation with your body, it can also be a great time to reconnect with your intention for the year. Here are some ways you might do that:

  • Inhale and repeat your Word of the Year; exhale and let go of anything that doesn’t serve it
  • Ask yourself before your practice what it would be like to bring your intention into your practice. For example, in 2016, my word was Rooted, so I often asked myself this before practice and found ways to get grounded, or rooted, while on my mat.
  • Let the final relaxation at the end of class be a time to first notice how you feel, then ask yourself to notice what it feels like in your body when you connect with your intention, then let yourself rest with that sensation.
  • Anything else that comes to mind for you!

curvy-yoga

 

 

If you want to learn more about a body-affirming approach to yoga, including pose options for bodies of all shapes/sizes that you can use to support your body in any class, you might like to check out my new book, Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day. And if you’re a yoga teacher and would like to share about yoga and self-acceptance with your students, check out whole~hearted, a curriculum that Rosie and I created just for yoga teachers.


Here’s to seeing how your intention unfolds in the new year!

 

A little more about Anna:

Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, an online yoga studio and teacher training center that helps people of all sizes find true acceptance and freedom, both on and off the mat.
Anna is the author of Curvy Yoga: Love Yourself & Your Body a Little More Each Day and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. To learn more about Curvy Yoga, visit www.CurvyYoga.com

 

Claiming 2017

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Happy New Year!  If you are like me, you awoke today with a feeling of possibility (yes, yes, today is the 2nd day of the year but it is the first Monday so the new year feels official to me now).

A whole new year awaits us.  Anything could happen.  And while the year ahead will have surprises for us that we never could have imagined, it is also very malleable and eager for us to fashion it into what we want from it.

Because I believe that intention matters, I like to start every year with three rituals.  In the first ritual, I get clear on what feeling I want to have in the new year because it is that desire, that deep truth, that will guide and inform most everything I do.  The second and third rituals see me defining my vision with a vision board and claiming my care with a wellness prescription.

Today we are focusing on ritual number one:  Choosing a word for the year.

What’s the first step to getting the life you imagine?

Having clarity about who and how you want to be in the world.

The thing that matters most in our growth is not articulating hard goals we have for ourselves- I want to run a marathon– but articulating how we want our lives to feel, how we want to feel, really assessing who and how we want to be in the world.  Because when we know that, we can build a life that allows us that feeling and then every day feels like we are living in our true calling.

Typically, our approach to transformation involves a list.  And if you know anything about me, you know I LOVE a list.  I rely on lists to get everything done.  From my comprehensive and a little bit crazy to do list  to my birthday list, lists are my things.  They are my tool of choice.  I get a lot of mileage out of my lists.  But my lists are not my starting point because here’s the thing:  a to do list is not transcendent.  It is an action plan.  Not a heart center.

So before I can write any list, I have to be in touch with my heart center.  There are many different ways that I do this, and one of those ways is by getting quiet at the beginning of each year so I can get clear on what intention I want to have in the new year– what focus, truth I want to guide my actions.

Intention is about having an internal resolve, a desire to move towards something that will serve you better as you move forward.  It is claiming the desire to live your life in a certain way so that things happen on purpose rather than by accident.  It is making life happen by your choices, energy, and focus rather than having life happen to you.  After setting an intention, you can claim your vision, and then it is after that vision has been formed that you can begin to move into action (and all those to do lists that articulate and motivate the necessary action).

When we really plug into our intention, we become inspired by our vision for our life which makes all of the actions that need to come to make our intention real more enticing and we become less resistant.  We move from all of those I shoulds into I really want to… and that makes all of the difference.

But, really, can one word really capture our intention?  Can it have that much power? As a woman who has loved words her whole life, here is what I can tell you: there may be nothing more powerful than a well chosen word.  Words resonate. They stir us. They attract (or repel) us. They inspire. There are times when I am reading poetry or a prose passage and I will catch on one simple word and it changes everything.  It brightens, expands, makes clear.  One simple word can have that power.

And so, every year, as December yields to January, I sit down and think about what I most want out of the new year. What feeling do I most want to have most regularly?  The first word I ever chose, back in my mid-twenties, was voice.  I wanted to know what I was about and then use my own voice to empower others to use theirs.  And when they couldn’t, I wanted to raise my voice for them.  The year I was a new mother, I chose peace.  I wanted to be still in my heart, to know deep inside that I was doing what was right even when the world beyond my heart was spinning.  The next year, I chose wellbeing as my first year of parenthood had seen me sacrifice my own well-being more than I could sustain much longer.  Another year, I chose wholehearted.  I wanted to get really pure with my actions– to, as much as is possible, only say yes to opportunities and experiences that I could be in with my whole heart.  I wanted everything (well, as much as possible as there are still dishes that have to be washed and I am not into those whole heart) I was doing to be an authentic extension of who I was and how I wanted to be in the world and not things I felt I must do out of obligation or politeness.

And it is amazing what choosing these words did to me.  They made my mind changed.  And when my mind changed, my actions could change, yielding more and more of the life that I wanted.  My intention became manifest.

So, this week, I want you to get quiet so that you can get as clear as possible about what feeling you want in your life and what intention you most need to focus on for that to become real.  Then, I want you to choose your word, your guide.  And as life unfolds, you will be presented with opportunities to either chose to embody your word or turn against it.  In those moments, I encourage you to always chose the route that will take you closer and closer to living your word; let it teach you what it can, let it guide you to where it can, let it make you more aware.  It is as simple as asking “will this make me more ______________ (whatever your word is)?” and listening closely to the answer.

What feeling do you want in 2017?  Given that, what is your word for the year?

As for my word, I am auditioning a few right now. You see, there are a few feelings I want in 2017.  I want a sense of ease, freedom from worries or obstacles that have burdened the last several (too many) years, greater abundance. I want life to be easier.  I want to have less to manage but more of the good stuff to enjoy. I want less resistance and weightiness in my life (and by weightiness I mean the stuff that weighs down one’s spirit). I want to shake up the parts of my life that are stale or overwhelming or overbearing and put things back together in a whole new way that allows for the liberating joy and bright light I seek and crave. I want to revolutionize the way my days look and the work that I do and let the things that aren’t most pure and authentic for me go. So the words I am auditioning right now are ease, freedom, and abudance.  On the surface, those might seem like different very words, very different intentions, but, to me, I see where they catch the same light and can each give me that feeling I most want to have.

~

And a simple note:  If you are a word hoarder like me, you might think that if one word is good then three or four or five might be better.  This is one of those cases where more is not better, I promise you. More confuses, dilutes, and drains focus.  One simple word is all you need.  I am holding myself to that advice and I encourage you to do the same.

 

Decided on your word for the year?  Share it here!

My wishes for us in 2017…

2017-wishes

Summiting 2017

your-coming-year

One of the very last things I do each year is sit down for a personal New Year Summit (this is a great bookend to the End of Year Personal Summit).  Why a personal summit at the New Year?  Because the first step to getting the life we imagine is having clarity about who and how you want to be in the world.  The thing that matters most in our growth is articulating how we want our lives to feel, how we want to feel, really assessing who and how we want to be in the world.  Because when we know that, we can build a life that allows us that feeling and then every day feels like we are living in our true calling.

A New Year Personal Summit is about getting clear about what you want for yourself which may or may not, ultimately, end up having something to do with resolutions or goals.  A New Year Personal Summit gets you quiet at the beginning of each year so you can get clear on what intention you want to have in the new year– what focus, truth you want to guide you actions.

Here are the details of the process in case you want to do the same for yourself.

Step 1.  Figure out what you want to feel in 2017.  

Intention is about having an internal resolve, a desire to move towards something that will serve you better as you move forward.  It is claiming the desire to live your life in a certain way so that things happen on purpose rather than by accident.  After setting an intention, you can claim your vision, and then it is after that vision has been formed that you can begin to move into action.

What feeling do you want to have most regularly in 2017?  What feeling does your life most need right now?

What would feeling like this add to your life?

How would your life change with this feeling?  What would your life look like if you were living with this feeling?

What behaviors are needed to live this feeling?

Get as clear as possible about what feeling you want in your life and what intention you most need to focus on for that to become real.  Then, if the idea speaks to you, you can choose your word for the year- the one word that will be a grounding and inspiration guide to you as you move through the year and embrace your possibilities (I will be sharing more about words for the year next week  if you want more perspective on that).

Step 2.  Figure out your yeses and your nos.  

Now, that you have a sense of your intention, it is time to captures your vision for the year and one way to get started with that is by getting clear about your yeses and nos.

How will your life be different at the end of 2017 if you are able to make the concept from step one more present in your life throughout the year?

What do you want or need your life to feel and look like to live that concept/feeling?

What do you need more of in your life to bring this concept and feeling into clarity?  This is your test list– the things you should be doing more often in your daily life.

What do you need less of in your life to realize this feeling?   What are the experiences, interactions, and responsibilities that strip you of what you need?  This is your no list– the things you should stop doing or do less of in order to realize the life that you imagine.

Compile your yes and no lists for a guide to your new year.

 Step 3  Name your priorities.  Design your action plan.   

I have several areas where I would like to devote some intention and attention this year.  And I could try to do them all starting today but then that is a whole lot of action all at once and is more likely to lead me to feeling overwhelmed..  So I like to look at my intentions and the actions they suggest and then prioritize future success in living my intention and vision

If an all-or-nothing approach to resolutions, goals, and/or intentions has been your downfall, loosen your grips on the absolutes. Instead, give yourself a range. Aim to make the choices you wish to make for 80 or 90 percent of the time, for example. Or aim to do one thing at a time– just for this week, I will go to bed at 10:30 and then next week you can add the sixty ounces of water a day and the next week you can add the fifteen minutes of reading daily (or whatever is on your mind).  Then, you have built grace into your experience of life. Knowing you don’t have to be perfect (and you know how I feel about perfect) can often be the impetus you need to move you closer to the life you desire.  Your resolutions, intentions, dreams, desires do not have to look like anyone else’s.

What first step are you ready to take?

What do you need to begin?

What is the scope and reality of taking that step?

When can you begin and how?

What is your next step?

And, as a gentle and motivating reminder, what do you want to be manifested for yourself because of actions you have taken?

 

A Summit of One

Years Zora

It’s that time of year where the crush of so many things-holiday parties, gift shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, merry making, thank you note writing, end of year donating, etc- begins to feel like too much and your chest is tight and your stomach is kinda floppy and now I am about to add one more thing to your list with this week’s post.

But this exercise, I promise, should be fairly interesting and has the potential to give you some powerful perspective, create for you a blueprint of what works and doesn’t, and allow you to start next year with the most powerful of intentions. So even if you can’t squeeze this one in THIS WEEK, do squeeze it in before the end of this year.

So what is it, exactly? Well, it’s an End of Year Personal Summit, a fancy way to say that I want you to sit down and do some reflecting on this past year and how it went:: the joys and challenges it brought you, what you learned, and what you might do with that learning.

The EYPS is all about ending your year intentionally so that you can start the new year on purpose. Ready to begin? Here is how to hold your summit of one.

Step 1: Schedule it and prepare. Summits don’t happen without some effort.  So schedule some time on your calendar for this one.  Aim for at least 30 minutes. Choose a time of day and a day of the week when you are going to be your sharpest, especially given upcoming travel and celebrations.  Also gather what you need. You might want your calendar from this past year, your vision board (if you made one), your camera or file of photos you took this past year, a journal from this past year (if you keep one), some blank paper and pens. You can also go further and get some soothing music, a delicious drink, or a candle ready.

Step 2: Go radio silent. When the time comes for your summit, turn on the do not disturb feature on your phone, back away from the internet, and hang a literal or figurative Do Not Disturb sign on the door of the space where you are working and on the door of your mind (to warn those superfluous thoughts to go busy themselves for awhile).

Step 3: Go back. The first official step in your summit is just surveying the scene, reviewing the past year. Flip through your photos. Go through your calendar, to do lists, journals. Make notes about things that strike you, what makes you smile, what ideas come to you, what you are reminded of from the year, any inspiration or insight you have.

Step 4: Ask and answer. Now, it is time to ask yourself some questions. Enjoy these questions; don’t stress about them or overthink them. If you are stuck on one, skip it and then come back to it later. One to a few sentence answers are just fine and your first instinct is usually the right track.

1. Describe yourself at the beginning of 2016.

2. What are five words that describe your 2016?

3. Recall 2016. What are three images that pop into your head?

4. How do those images make you feel in retrospect?

5. What did you do this year that you had never done before?

6. What dates/experiences from this year will remain etched in your memory and why?

7. What was your biggest challenge?

8. What was your biggest triumph?

9. What are three to five great things you did in 2016?

10. What are some important things you stopped doing?

11. What are some important things you started doing?

12. Looking back, what was this year’s gift to you?

13. Describe yourself now.

Step 5: Learn Your Lesson. So I am a firm believer that life keeps handing you the lesson that you need to learn until you learn it. Fail to learn the lesson the first time it shows up for you and life will turn up the volume, making things a big more uncomfortable. Ignore it again? More discomfort. On and on until it is just way too uncomfortable not to learn the lesson. But here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be that hard or that uncomfortable. You can learn the lesson earlier and save yourself the later pain and trouble. It’s just a matter of paying attention.

So what were your most valuable lessons this year that you want to take with you moving forward?  Make a list.

Step 6: Store these notes for the new year.  In a couple weeks, I’ll guide you in completing a New Year Personal Summit to get your new year started with powerful intention.

stopping the holiday perfection cycle

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The holiday season can be filled with both internal and external pressures to be perfect. Navigating these pressures can be hard but here’s some perspective as you turn down the racket.

Remember you are not alone. There is an actual name for this constant pressure we find ourselves under. First coined in Duke University’s landmark study by the Women’s Initiative in 2003, the concept of “effortless perfection” has spread since then, powerfully articulating the constant pressure felt by college women to be “smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular,” all without “visible effort. That said, it is not just college women who identify with the term. Effortless perfection is a constant pressure that we feel if we don’t develop defense mechanisms against the messages we receive.

The holidays REALLY ARE overwhelming. The holidays are kinda wired to be wrought with pressure for three different reasons. The first is that there is so much expectation. We want things to be picture book and then our dog eats the Christmas tree, our tween is having a hard time, we buy the wrong thing and don’t realize it until it is time to wrap it 20 minutes before we are giving it. There is also so much going on and so we tend to pack it all in, running from event to event without any time to distill in the experience, recuperate or take care of ourselves. Finally, we are seeing people we haven’t seen in a long time and some old wounds might be exposed or some old ways of being might come up for us. That’s a combination that is ripe for feeling like anything but perfect.

Manage gift expectations. The holidays are a good time to help your kids with their expectations. Just because they want it doesn’t mean you have to get it for them. Ask your kids to rank order their preferences or even ask them to narrow their lists by giving their categories by which to identify gift suggestions. What’s something they need? What’s something they want? What’s something they can wear? What’s something they can read? And what’s something that gives to more than just them? By asking them to put giving into perspective, you help manage their expectations and the pressure that you feel.

Reframe any photo derailments. Cameras are flashing all over your holiday festivities and you just saw a picture of yourself from a party that makes your heart fall. You thought you looked so much better than this picture and now you cannot help but feel embarrassed. First, realize that, sadly, most of us aren’t wired to see the best in ourselves so if you thought you looked good than you most definitely looked good. The picture was just one moment in time and had 10 pictures been taken of that moment, you most definitely would have found some that you were comfortable with or even liked. Either your eyes aren’t being kind now or it wasn’t the best angle at the very moment. Let that picture go knowing that it was literally one second of a whole entire experience and it doesn’t deserve that power.

Quit punishing yourself. You receive an invitation to an event and you’ll see people you haven’t seen since you let your hair go gray, gained a little weight, or something else like that. How do you navigate invitations when you don’t feel great about yourself? We cannot wait our whole lives to do things in a different body because here is what that slides into. We give ourselves permission to go on a cruise when we lose twenty pounds.We either lose the twenty pounds and then give ourselves another goal like—I need ‘better’ skin—because we have bought into this idea that we can punish ourselves into reward or we never go and enjoy life because punishing ourselves into rewards doesn’t work. Punishment or banishment doesn’t work and it is not a way to live. Imagine if one of your children told you that they didn’t want to do something because of the way they looked. You would be devastated and do everything in your power to not allow them to give into that kind of pressure. You have to do everything in your power to not give into that pressure, too.

Remember there is no perfect or imperfect. We all know that perfection is a farce and doesn’t exist but that still doesn’t stop us from doing everything in our power to get as close to perfection as possible. Here’s the other part of the story— if perfect doesn’t exist, it’s opposite cannot exist either. Not only is there no perfect but there is no imperfect. We are each meant to be individual masterpieces, comparable to nothing or no one else. We have to stop the comparisons.

 

 

Lift

the world needs your lightnessY’all, I am having a time (and I know I’m not alone). Weeks ago, I came up with a list of upcoming posts to share here. For today, December 5th, the plan was to share (and to reveal to myself because I learn what I know deep down inside by writing) what my word for 2016 had ended up meaning and revealing to me.

If I had written that post right then, I would have had so much to share. But I didn’t. And then the world tilted and, now, I cannot help but think about the irony of trying to write about my word for the year while I feel what I currently feel given that my word for 2016 is/was

LIFT

lift/

verb

  1. 1. 
raise to a higher position or level.

I am not naïve enough to think we all think the same way or even that we need to think the same way, but I do know that we share a kindredness in some way because we have connected here. And while a month ago, when I thought about sharing what my 2016 intention of lift had offered and taught me, I was thinking about it in a deeply personal way, today, I am thinking about lift as a universal intention.

As I close 2016 with the utmost intention, here is how I plan to practice LIFT:

  • I will remember that we are all here on purpose and let that truth keep me from deep despair.
  • I will offer more love, especially when I am feeling unloving, unlovable, stingy, or a little self-righteous.
  • I will wholeheartedly apologize when necessary, realizing that what the world needs less of is self-righteousness or blind spots.
  • I will embrace the fact that I am a light in this world- every single one of us is- and I will choose to shine.
  • I will work my hardest to go deeper when I don’t understand something or someone’s point of view. Can I ask the right questions that will lead me to see where they are coming from? Can I share with them in a way that allows them to see where I am coming from?
  • I will hug more often and too long.
  • I will believe in myself and know that what I want is accessible to me if I just reach a little bit higher. Sometimes, I may take a break from the reach but if it is still true to me after I rest, I understand that I have a responsibility to lift myself to that reality.
  • I will believe in those around me and practice that belief by asking what it is they dream of and helping them to find a way to realize their vision.
  • I will fuel my bravery, feeding it so much fire that it is bigger than my fear.
  • I will check-in with those I care about to remind them that they are not alone and walk in company with them on their journey.
  • I will take profound care of myself, knowing that a withered spirit cannot sustain a hopeful heart.
  • I will remember that I am a creature of this Earth, every single one of us is, and honor that preciousness with how I show up in the world.

I will lift my spirit and the spirit of others as we collectively walk into the future we share.

Let’s join together.

 

a simple strategy for managing holiday stress

simple strategy for the season

The holidays.  For most of us, those two words bring up a mixed bag of feelings.

Lingering over a fireplace with loved ones while drinking mulled wine.  JOY!

Four party invitations for the same night.  ANXIETY.

Delighting someone with the perfect gift.  JOY!

Not realizing that someone has a food allergy and that ingredient is all over your menu.  ANXIETY!

Well, here’s the good news.  While it is impossible to have complete control over anything, it is possible to have control over your approach to the holidays which might just be the secret to keeping this year’s holiday season under control for you!

DETERMINE WHAT YOU MOST WANT TO FEEL

You know I love a word for the year.   Having one simple word as a touchstone throughout the entire year serves as a powerful clarifier for me. Years ago, when I was looking for more balance, I chose wholehearted.  Whenever an opportunity presented itself, I would ask myself, “Can I do this wholeheartedly from start to finish?”  If there was any hesitation, I knew I had to say no.

Right now, I want you to pose this question to yourself.

How do I most want to feel this holiday season?

Whatever bubbles up most clearly, keep that word or phrase as your central tenet as you plan your holiday season.

EVALUATE WHAT YOU AND YOUR PEOPLE WANT AND CAN HANDLE 

Now, it is time to do some reflecting.  Take a few minutes to answer these questions:

  1. What do you and your love ones most value about the holiday season?
  2. What did you and your loved ones love about last year’s holiday season and why?
  3. What did not work for you or your loved ones and why?
  4. What special considerations do you need to keep in mind this year?
  5. What do you (all) want to be doing more of this holiday season?  What do you (all) want to be doing less of this holiday season?

TAKE INVENTORY 

Now that you have a sense of what’s important to you; it’s important to get a sense of what’s coming at you.  What are the traditional events/experiences that normally take place?  This could include church services, gift exchanges, parties, volunteering, and more.

Given your evaluation process, make some decision about which of those events/ experiences would allow this holiday season to be the embodiment of what you most want.  What seems like a really good fit for your family this year given where everyone is and the feeling you most want to have?   What seems like a bad fit for your family this year?

Next, mark your calendar with everything so that you have a full picture when opportunities present themselves.  And every single time, you are greeted with an opportunity, ask yourself if it will give you what you most desire this holiday season.

DON’T FORGET TO TAKE CARE OF YOU. 

You started strong and intentionally and we don’t want your good will to diminish so much that, by December 7th, you are willing January 2nd here with more fervor than a kid with a wish list.   So, sit down and schedule in plenty of spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental self-care on your calendar (just like an appointment) to sustain you through the month!  And having it on your calendar isn’t enough—you have to hold yourself to it.  Getting in one more round of shopping will not make you feel better than that nap, massage, workout, time with girlfriends that you had scheduled.  Self-care for the holiday win, always.

As with everything, intention can make all the difference when it comes to how we approach the holiday season.  If we are deliberate about getting quiet and noticing what it is we most want to have in our lives, we can create it.  Here’s to creating a holiday season that fills your heart with gladness!

ONE FINAL NOTE:  you can also have your family member consider these questions and share their answers so that all of you can be aware of each other’s needs and desires and incorporate those into planning and decision making.

Your holiday gift to yourself

holiday season

So, here we are.  If you are stateside, we are just hours away from kicking off the most wonderful time of the year… the Thanksgiving to New Year’s time span that is filled to overflowing with togetherness, love, goodness, merriment, joy, happiness, and, well, if we are being real here, anxiety.  Because while, in theory, we all love to get together with those we love, there is also this little underbelly of worry that we can’t help but wonder about as we load the car with suitcases, brown-paper packages, and carefully prepared casseroles.  And the voice of that worry likes to ask these questions:

Is my cousin going to ask why I am still single?

Is my mom going to ask me if I’ve lost weight, gained it, thought about losing some, thought about gaining some, or some other weight iteration nightmare?

Is my  aunt going to say, “you would be so pretty if…”

Basically, in short, is someone, under the auspices of loving me, going to make me feel utterly unlovable with his or her judgments?  And, more importantly, am I going to let them?  Am I going to walk away from that dinner, stuffed from food that couldn’t satisfy the hole that was opened with those words, and think, “I SHOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING!”  Am I going to feel betrayed not just by my loved ones but by me?

And, so, in the midst of all of your other preparations for the big day Thursday and all the other big days that are to come in the next five weeks, I want you to add one more thing to your list of preparations.  I want you to add planning to take care of you to that list.

Now, there are many ways that we can take care of ourselves and those are all important.  But, today, we are focusing on the one thing you must be able to do this holiday season to get through it with your soul safely intact if you have people in your life who like to take care of you by taking you apart.

You have to teach people how to treat you.  

And you do that by setting boundaries. So, sometime today, while the pumpkin bread is baking or the laundry is drying or you are wrapping presents or idling in traffic, I want you to turn your attention to taking care of you.  I want you to think about what you might hear from your family members that might result in a wound for you if you aren’t vigilant.

“Isn’t it time to start dying those grays?”

“That baby is five years old; shouldn’t you be rid of the baby fat?”

“Do you dress this way to work?”

And then, first and foremost, I want you to remember that those comments are never about you.  If someone feels the need to comment to you about your looks, your station in life, anything, really, it is not about you.  Those comments are a mirror into that person’s life and the challenges he or she has with the issue being mentioned.  I promise.

But, next, I want you to take it a step further.  The person who has his or her own wound often looks for a way to pass that wound on.  Think about it.  A wound like that is so hard to carry around, it is so bone-crushing.  And, sometimes, if we can give it away for a moment, if we can just take the edge off of our own misery for a moment, well that feels a little like relief.  It’s only later, with counseling or deliberate insight and personal growth, that we can realize that it wasn’t relief at all.  It was a way to numb ourselves.  We numb in so many ways, don’t we?  With food.  With alcohol.  With substances.  By being snarky and bitchy and mean.  We numb because we think the worst thing possible would be to face ourselves, to be vulnerable, to be real- we think that realness, that admission of imperfection is as bad and painful as it gets.  But I promise you this.  No one who has a healthy relationship with herself has ever looked at another person who stands real in the midst of her vulnerability and said “that looks weak.”  Look carefully.  From where I am sitting, vulnerability, realness, truth?  They all look a lot like courage.  Until we give up the myth that both perfect and imperfect exist, we’ll keep missing the real truth: there is no perfect, there is no imperfect, there is only glimmering, vulnerable, soul-refreshing realness and it’s polar opposite.  And the polar opposite is wounded and wounds others.

And those who wish to wound look for the most vulnerable target- a target they know who will not see their barb for what it is and a target who will quietly accept it- in their desperate desire to pass off their own pain for a moment.  For your empathy and sympathy and politeness (oh, she won’t make a scene!), you are being targeted.

But that doesn’t have to be your role anymore.

Spend some time thinking about what you hear and then come up with two comebacks.

#1  The comeback that would most satisfy you if you could just say whatever you wanted to say which might look a little like this:

Your mom:  ”Honey, don’t you think you would just be so much happier if you just lost 20 pounds?”

You:  ”Mom, don’t you mean that you would be so much happier if I just lost 20 pounds?”  or “I would actually be happier if you didn’t always think my body was up for grabs.”

#2  The comeback that you can legitimately stomach giving– one that will set a boundary, one that will teach the person how to treat you, but one that will not send you to the bathroom for the duration of the get-together because you are so nauseous over delivering it.

Your mom:  ”Honey, don’t you think you would just be so much happier if you lost 20 pounds?”

You:  ”I actually don’t think you have to lose weight in order to be happy” or “This isn’t a productive conversation for us to have.”

Sometimes, comeback #1 and comeback #2 are the same but what I have found is that if you are a person who has spent your life receiving these barbs, it is very hard to go from receiving them and not saying a word to really strongly zinging the person the next time he or she says something.  Moreover, a big zinger isn’t the key difference maker.  Just identifying the boundary for the person you are interacting with and letting he or she know it has been crossed and you won’t be quiet anymore usually goes a very long way.  Very rarely does it take more than just a handful of times of setting that boundary before the person leaves you alone and either chooses to deal with his or her own stuff or moves on to, unfortunately, another victim.

Boundary setting is hard, hard work.  But it is important work.  Not just because it teaches other people how to treat us, but because it also shows us that we can take care of ourselves.  And when we begin to understand that, everything changes.  Maybe that can be this year’s holiday miracle.

Take care of you.  Promise?