Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dangerous Beauty

How amazing it is to feel alive! And, yet, many of my breathing hours have been squandered trying to numb how intense and overwhelming that very aliveness can seem. I have definitely developed ways to shut down or distract myself from experiencing the fullness of living.

It wasn't always like that. 

I have a picture of my two-year old self running with reckless abandon across some grass, my pink dress with white ruffles bouncing like my dark brown wavy hair. I can hear the precious giggles escaping that little girl's mouth-wide-open. And all the other pictures of me as a child exude an ebullience that only absolute aliveness can yield. In all those pictures, there is a sense of total fearlessness and trust in life. Now this could just be my romanticizing of myself as a child. Despite what "they" say, hindsight is not always 20/20. But this is to the best of my recollection.

I distinctly remember an experience when I was eight years old that seemed to bring that innocent freedom of pure aliveness to all but a screeching halt for me. It is a moment in my human story where I can see an enormous shift in how I experienced the world around me. I promise that the following disturbing story has a progressive point in my sharing of it.

A little girl the same age as me had just moved into our neighborhood with her family. Shortly after arriving, another one of our neighbors offered to take her fishing with his boys. She never came back.

I recall the urgency of blades slicing through air as a helicopter hovered in a field near our house, the spotlight glancing off my bedroom window, the police knocking on our door, my dad joining a search party to look for her. Although the reality of details and the order in which they happened feel hazy, what is not hazy is knowing how aware I was at the time of the events that followed.

The little girl, eight years old like me, was discovered chained to the bottom of a creek, having been raped and brutally murdered. And I was fully aware of this despite no recollection of hearing my parents discuss it. The man who had taken her fishing, and would end up being convicted for her rape and murder, was actually on the search party until his testimony did not match up with that of his sons.

A few summers ago, during a rough time, memories and dreams of this time in my life came back with ferocity. It felt like reliving those months again. In my work to reconcile this blindsiding internal turbulence, I listened and prayed to see what this might be here to teach me. I also called my dad and asked him what it was like to be the father of 3 young girls in the midst of that whole situation. His response was that it seemed like an isolated case. The man had just been released from prison, was caught and returned to prison. But one of the things I'd had wrong was my age at the time. I remembered being five. Dad set me straight, "No, you were the same age as the little girl. I remember that clearly." (We would later move to East Bay San Francisco and be faced with a rash of kidnappings and murders of beautiful young girls, some that were our playmates and classmates doing things as "normal" as going to our local grocery store - which is when my parents limited our out-of-home time.)

It was in that moment that a new awareness struck me: If this had happened when I was 8, then it occurred in the simultaneity of another childhood memory that had long confounded me. This was the exact same age when I began hoarding, hiding and binging on sugar. Eight year old fingers sneakily snatching bits and pieces from the baking cupboard and tucking them away in my pink Care Bears backpack with Friendship Bear and Sunshine Bear smiling up at me from the flap.

With this connection drawn, a freeing, cleansing compassion washed over me. I had spent years believing that I was inherently flawed, broken, not spiritual enough, too lazy, chubby, lacking in self-control and a million other self-defeating notions that I had entertained over the 24 years since this "habit" had mysteriously taken root in my experience.

But this new information set me free. It freed me to hold in my mind's eye that terrified little eight-year old who had realized a few simple and aggressive human beliefs: children are vulnerable, there is much danger to fear, even adults who are fathers can't be trusted. That is a lot to take on as a kiddo.  But the most impacting belief I carried out of that moment was this: IT IS DANGEROUS TO BE BEAUTIFUL.

And yet, my bubbling, joyful, happy self was the one that everyone loved, including me. So I discovered and adopted a very simple, readily available coping mechanism - binging. When I would eat mass amounts of sugar, a sense of ease would come over me - numbing uncomfortable feelings and nagging fears while at the same time creating a lift in my mood that made me really fun to be around. Brilliant!

The challenge was that over time, I needed more and more for the numbing to take effect. And this required being mentally consumed, always aware of where the next "fix" might be, and assuring that I'd have access to food in order to be okay around others. Talk about distraction and feeling less-than-alive!

In addition, it meant being the "chubby girl" - always feeling unattractive, slow and athletically incompetent.
But some part of me knew that it was dangerous to be pretty, so the padding was protection. And no matter what I did to lose weight, nothing would send me into a tailspin quicker than someone complimenting me on how good I looked or how much weight I'd lost. Right back into the blinding binging and weight-gain - but I did not understand the "why" of this. It was just an undeniable behavior I could not think my way out of.

Living such a socially-driven life did not help. In my mind, it was absolutely essential that I was "up" when around others for fear that I was not otherwise worthy of their friendship or company, in and of myself. I was "always-happy-Heather."

Further on down the line, early in my adulthood, this addiction was no longer enough to keep me okay, and resulted in an excessive need for sexual attention, and some risky behaviors. Oddly enough, this did not surface until adulthood because I had a series of other experiences with boys who crossed boundaries violating my trust and upping my hypersensitivity that no man could be trusted. But when I turned eighteen, something switched inside of me that replaced that fear with an unhealthy drive for sexual validation. It seemed that I could not be okay without the help of things to numb the fear and depression that constantly threatened to consume me. And all this in the midst of being a very spiritually-minded young person; a paradox that took years for me to reconcile the feeling that I was a "fraud."
From this long and winding journey, the capacity I have developed more than any other is a deep sense of compassion for all people, that each of us is doing the best with what we have and what we currently understand. This is not to dismiss or condone any sort of oppressive or violent behavior, but more a call to how we need each other to grow and develop, to learn from and teach, and to hold us accountable when we lose our way and forget who we are.

It is not dangerous to be beautiful. And no amount of padding can truly hide my beauty, or that of anyone else. Nor can it protect me anymore than a thin body can. And it is not better to be numb than to feel the full breadth and intensity of what it is to be expressing Life.

This is the freedom I have been birthed into through the past 7 years of this journey that now finds me here, slowly releasing the 50 pounds of padding consciously amassed over the past nine months. Feeling the aliveness of the sublime sunshine kissing my cheeks as I play in this winter wonderland is something I never want to dim or dull. Or any other more mundane, or even uncomfortable experiences.

As part of this journey, as I return to a lighter body that finds greater ease in doing what it loves, I see how all of the seeming tragedy in my life has been for the learning. Despite that, somewhere deep inside me still cringes when someone tells me how beautiful they think I am, and it often feels threatening to my ego somehow. But I can see when this is operating and am able to tenderly love myself rather than reach for some external numbing agent.

I am still learning to trust in divine Love to be the Source of my absolute safety, Love that continually whispers in my heart that who I am most deeply cannot be touched or destroyed by any one else or their misguided actions. Ever. Period.

As the marbled blue-gray sky outside my window begins to dim, I am drawn away from this story and into the aliveness of icy air and movement of limb and heart. This untouchable beauty, ever safe and never merely "skin deep," is the outcome of our willingness to experience total aliveness - the courage to walk each step of our lives unfettered by numbness, choosing breath and presence, wide open and available to work through, grow through, play through, love through, be loved through and dance through whatever crosses our path.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-jig

My mom used to say this anytime we pulled into our driveway. “Home again, home again jiggity-jig,” she’d say in her sing-song voice. I heard it as usual pulling into my driveway in Colorado.

I am home.

The final stretch of my drive through the Wet Valley, flanked by the towering Sangre de Cristo (pictured in this post) mountains and luminous grasslands textured by enormous rock formations, lit my heart like the warm sunshine illuminated the early evening sky. There is just something about where I live that humbles me to no end, fills my heart with song, brings my soul alive like no other local on the planet ever has, and keeps bringing me back no matter what adventures call me away. It is a feeling of “Ahhhhh, I am home.”

I have been experiencing this feeling simply living in my own body lately too – regardless of location. This has been a freedom I wish for all. But it has been a long, windy, sometimes-dangerous road to this moment.

Back in my own space, I moved my body this morning, warming it up and stretching in a way I have not done in ages (as was the plan for this "research project”). I have done yoga off and on and taken walks, but have been inconsistent in order to create a true-to-life feeling of heft, physical burden and limitation. And it has certainly worked! This body takes so much more energy to move through the world, and there are many moments of sadness that strike my heart that I can’t just hit the trail in my rhythmic moving meditation of running.

Exercising for me is not about forcing physical movement on my body. Movement and fitness to me are about forming the mental models that I wish to manifest in my my physical experience. I move because I desire to express freedom from a place of wholeness and completeness, not because I lack anything or need to fix or change any part of my experience.

I began with some knee, hip and thigh strengthening exercises while holding in thought ideas of foundation, healthy structure, proper tracking. Then I moved into prayer planks breathing strong and bringing to mind notions of core strength, the ability to be centered and upright. Followed by yoga, which is always a moving prayer for me – I stretch my self-imposed ideas of limitation, I open my heart and thought to experiencing more of my limitless nature, I breathe into this moment exactly perfect as it is. 

This is not an easy thing, since I have a verbally hyperactive ego always exercising its voice in my head about how limited I really am, how I would rather just do something more “comfortable,” always working to distract me from what I truly desire.

So this morning was bitter-sweet: burning pain, thoughts of “I can’t believe I can’t even do (insert any task I used to be ‘good’ at)…” raging through my head, all mixed with the sweet peace of gratitude for the body I am experiencing in this moment, and the anticipatory joy of each bit of “work” opening my world back up to the possibilities of the activities I so dearly miss.

I am home, but not because I am back in my mountains. I am home because I have discovered unconditional love for being in my own skin. Now off for a hike in those beautiful Sangres!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Here's to How it Feels to Be Real

I don't care if it hurts,
I wanna have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul.

Radiohead's song, "Creep"

Have you ever had one of those "A-ha!" moments when more than just one idea occurs to you? A flash of knowing that is more like seeing a glitch in an enormous matrix? A profound learning occurred in my life this week when I came across the term "accelerated discontent" in a marketing webinar I attended.

According to what I discovered, “accelerated discontent” is an advertising mechanism for attracting consumers to specific products by making them so unhappy with what they have, they MUST buy your product/service to ever be "happy" again. And, as it is our constitutional right to pursue happiness, more often than not, we take the bait.

Here is an example, everyday you walk through your kitchen. All the appliances work just fine. It's a decade old but you don't really think about it much. Then the New Years sales begin. "HUGE SAVINGS ON KITCHEN REMODELS" start showing up everywhere. Billboards, television, mailers, radio ads. All of a sudden you start to notice how "bored" you actually are with your kitchen. You start to think how fun it would be to have a new breakfast nook here and a new light fixture there and maybe a shiny metal fridge rather than your old school one.

Seems harmless, but pretty soon your kitchen that was perfectly good at Christmas is driving you nuts by Groundhog Day. Yes folks, this affliction has a name: Accelerated Discontent. Look around. Can you see this idea being sold to you everyday?

In the small mountain town I call home, this sort of manipulation is not nearly as present. Our advertising tends to happen more through relationships with each other as interdependent community members and business folks. This is not to romanticize my town, we have a Walmart within driving distance and a Subway. But that is about it. And many of us are so busy working and playing we aren’t bombarded by TV commercials, and we don’t have billboards forced on us either.

What I have come to love so much about my community is how real everyone is. I rarely feel pressured to be anybody but who I naturally am. If I want to wear makeup, I can. And if I don’t, no one notices anyhow. No one cares what kind of car I drive, or clothes I wear, and the feeling is mutual from my end.

However, I cannot say that this was the experience I had growing up. I can still sing commercial jingles from the 80s that I heard while watching Saturday morning cartoons. "I'm gonna wash that gray right outta my hair!" "Calgon, take me away."

As I begin this blog, I am reminded of a moment that occurred the summer after my 6th grade year. We had a family membership to our neighborhood pool. I had a fabulous bright pink ribbed one-piece bathing suit. I recall lying on my back in the sun on my rainbow towel. Kid’s were screaming and splashing in the pool. Sounds of “Marco!” “Polo!” filled the air.

In the midst of all this chaos and joy, I remember staring down the length of my body over my little rounded belly to my sunkissed thighs, thinking, “Please, God, whatever happens, give me beautiful legs. I don’t care if I have a belly. Just give me pretty thighs. Please.”


I would spend a lot of money, waste a great deal of time, mental and emotional energy, and make dangerous personal choices in an effort for airbrushed-perfection legs. Images of Elle Macpherson and countless other supermodels and the products they advertised accelerated my discontent with being in my own skin. I have spent years, trying to get out of this skin – this beautiful, perfectly-me skin.

In fact, an After School Special, aimed at informing kids of the dangers of bulimia, gave me a brilliant idea: I don’t have to stop eating everything I love, I can just throw up after! I theorized that I wouldn’t die, because I would only do it for a little while. Just till I was skinny. Fortunately, I was physically incapable of making myself throw up. I tried and tried, but never succeeded.

In my life I have made friends with so many women that I used to envy, and men I could only dream would ever "want" me, only to hear stories of their lifelong fight against their bodies, and of their struggle with self-loathing. I have discussed these challenges at length with anorexics, bingers, purgers, exercise bulimics (people who over-exercise out of fear of getting fat), and people hypnotized by all sorts of eating disorders and addictions. And everyone is in the same battle, like Don Quixote and the windmills in his head. We are fighting lies about who we are and what really matters. The billion-dollar diet and fitness industry thanks us.

I spent 7 of the past 8 years of my life terrified to ever be as heavy as I was at the end of my marriage. I have under-eaten, over-exercised, run until I injured myself, and stressed about making sure “I (would) never be that Heather again!” I became so blinded by this obsession that at the peak of my physical fitness, I honestly felt as fat as ever, and more discontented than I'd known to be possible. Climbing at my peak, working on and summiting Mt. Rainier, running 10 miles of mountain trails effortlessly, spending 81 days out on a wilderness course - and I would look at my body with disgust if I glimpsed it in a mirror.

This past year, my mission became clear – face this fear and make peace with my body.

Today as I lie on my tummy completely vulnerable in all my glory under the loving hands of an amazing massage therapist (thank you Marcus of Massage Green in Frisco, TX!*), I had the most freeing realization – again. “I am just here. Home in my skin. And it feels so wonderful to be me, right here, right now, free of all judgment.”

I say “again” because I have had this experience of sudden joy at being in my own skin a few times now. But each time it happens, it is like the first time because I have spent nearly 30 years wanting to be in almost any other body but my own. So these moments remind me of how much I have to be grateful for.

After a lot of delicious reflective silence, Marcus and I began talking. We talked about our work. He shared that he is working on getting licensed as a physical trainer, with his goal being to integrating it with massage. We got on the topic of writing somehow and I shared a bit about the "Clan of the Thunder Thighs" project. I shared that a big part of my inspiration to do this has been the many young girls (and boys and adults) I've watched struggle with eating disorders and how I feel that it's time to change that trend.

We spoke about how until someone loves him or herself it does not matter how you manipulate the outside of a person, they will still see what they hold inside. At one point, Marcus jumped in excitedly, "Yes! You HAVE to love yourself first!" Self-loathing is one of the ugliest things in the world. And if you look in the mirror through that filter, you will never see your beautiful self.

It’s really good to be home. It’s feels so good to be real. As I told my sister Amy today, I want this freedom for the whole world. Let’s stop allowing others to think for us. We are being manipulated to spend money, not to get healthy. Being and becoming healthy begin with loving ourselves exactly where we are right now. This kind of love gives us the strength to let go of any harmful beliefs and subsequent unhealthy habits. This kind of love clears the deck of accelerated discontent and makes way for peaceful contentment to ALWAYS be at home in our own skin.

I leave you with the link to a Christine Kane song. This is my new song that replaces the old of wanting a “perfect body” even if it “hurts.” This link takes you to her new album “Wide Awake.” Click on the second track called “How to Be Real.”

Here’s to how it feels to be real.


*Massage Green is all over the country. Be sure to check them out and if you are in the Dallas area, Marcus is worth the drive (to Frisco), so be sure to request him! Or contact me and I can connect you with him as he does independent massage as well.

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Resolutions, or Devotions?

As the very first breath of 2011 approaches, I am reveling in a year filled with grace, growth and grand adventure. I have a queue of at least ten blogs waiting to be written. However, I am finding that this gift of a month with my family, living with FOUR generations under one roof, is joyfully consuming all of my time and energy (whew - my nephew is three years old, need I say more?). What I am trying to say is that my desire to be as present as possible to this experience has unexpectedly moved my writing to the proverbial back burner.

And yet, here I am, at a local coffeeshop, my family back home preparing for our evening of year-end festivities. The truth is, I cannot NOT write right now. All this annual talk of resolutions reminds me of the Soul-driven purpose of this blog.

We are in the danger zone. This is the time of year where self-image attempts to divert much of our attention. Many of us vow to lose weight, gain muscle, accelerate speed, increase activity, decrease caloric intake, achieve goals, make more money, buy more stuff, get rid of stuff, and, in essence, FIX ourselves in some manner.

This is not to say that any of the goals we set are wrong or solely self-centered. And I am not outside of this collective annual renewal of goals to "be a better person." My list of New Years resolutions include: Train to get back into running; drop a lot of weight; eat better; be in better touch with loved ones; launch my wedding biz more actively; start climbing again; do more yoga; dance more; sing more. And the list does not stop there.

But here today, after months of looking at my life and my beliefs about my self-image and self-worth in a new light, this list leaves me wanting. I want a
new way of thinking about the freshness of a new year, the clean slate we are handed at the turn of the calendar. So I do what I love to do, I get to digging deeper into the meaning of words. Today's object of my affection: resolution.

According to my dear friend,
Oxford American Dictionary, "resolution" has many definitions, among them:
1. a firm decision to do or not to do something; the quality of being determined or resolute
2. the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter

This dictionary also lists resolution as one of the many facets of
courage, but explains,
"Resolution also implies firmness of mind rather than fearlessness, but the emphasis is on the determination to achieve a goal in spite of opposition or interference." The word
resolution comes from the Latin root resolvere which means to "loosen, release", and is also the root of the word resolve. Now, I love this idea of loosening the hold of some belief, pattern or habit that we no longer wish to carry around. I also like the notion of releasing something we no longer desire to have as part of our experience. So I can go with this line of reasoning when referring to making New Years resolutions.

But this restlessness I feel inside shows me I am less than satisfied. So I still my thoughts and dive deep inside. What more can I see here? Often, finding a new word that feels truer to where I am in my growth helps. And then it comes,

Again, Mr. Dictionary comes to my rescue defining
devotion as:
1. love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause

I dig a little more, always working down to the root.
Devotion is synonymous with consecration, both from the same Latin root which means "dedicated, devoted as sacred." A warmth spreads in my chest, and I know I've hit it dead-on.

Here is my new approach to a fresh start. Tomorrow, I am going to sit with my heart and listen to what desires bubble up from the pool of knowing I hold inside. And from this place, I will make my New Years DEVOTIONS. From this place, I will choose activities and commitments that honor the sacred quality of my life, and set forth in practice thereof.

Will you join me? What New Years devotions are you willing to honor in 2011? How will you show up to your ever-unfolding journey in a new and more supportive way? How will you love yourself and others even more this year?

I leave you with a quote I heard from Maya Angelou this afternoon (quoted in Oprah's Master's Series preview on the Oprah Winfrey Network website): "Love liberates. It doesn't just hold. That's ego. Love liberates."

Happy New Year to one and all. Here's to a fresh start. May you choose resolutions that are devotional in nature, honoring how sacred every one of us is. May you choose Love and make room for it to set you free. MAY YOU CHOOSE LOVE.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Freedom of Movement, Movement of Freedom

I am lounging at a cafe in Plano, Texas, enjoying my first moments to myself since I arrived here a few days ago. Technically, I am here to pounce on some of my homework that has been piling up (I am enrolled in a course at But part of my catch-up routine includes, of course, a visit to my community on Facebook.

My dear friend Carol Ann has been on my mind, so I pop over to her page to peek in on her life. There are photos posted recently of a mountain-biking trip she took. Miles of rolling rock, and beautiful vistas, plateaus and mesas, desert sand and gnarled pinons, redrock and blue sky. YUM! And even a photo of her friend on top of a rock ledge about to go over the steep face. At the sight of this photo my gut response is, "I WANT THAT!"

Now let me tell you a little-known fact about me: I have never enjoyed mountain biking, ever. In fact, my history shows a record of getting out of mountain biking opportunities more than once or twice. So I am just as surprised by this sudden excitement as anyone!

Now I am not going to dismiss the notion that a new love of mountain biking could be potentially taking root, a sort of setting-myself-free from a longtime fear (I have believed for a long time that I hate falling down - unless I am skydiving!). But, as I sit with this jolt of feeling, I ask myself, What is it I really want? This is what rises inside me: I want movement, soaring freedom, feet that leave land, wind that caresses bare skin, sun warming body, the lightness of flowing quickly over land, physically-embodied engagement with my environment. In short, I want to PLAY! I want the freedom of movement. And I want it more than anything, like Edward wants Bella's blood (ok, well only at the beginning of the Twilight series, but you get what I mean!).

And I hear this ring in my head, I want this. I want this. I want this. I open an album of me on my summer 2005 ascent and summit of Mt. Rainier. The drool begins to build immediately. Such freedoms have graced my experience. Climbing in Joshua Tree, sea kayaking in Baja, canyoneering and whitewater rafting in Utah, daily trailrunning and snowshoe running. But if I am honest with myself, a major reason for being in the midst of this "research" (of gaining 40 pounds and letting go of my physical fitness on purpose), and living inside this heavier body by choice, is that I could not truly feel this freedom even when I wore it as close as the lightness of my own skin back then.

So what is this lust? Because beyond the lust, buried just below its surface, is a desire that burns for progress and growth. What I find just beyond my thoughts of, "It was so easy back then," and "What an idiot - I didn't even know what I had!" Just beyond these thoughts is the reality that freedom of movement is not what I crave. What I long for is the movement of freedom. I am all that stands in the way of my own freedom, right here, right now. No future heaven. No glorious past. Only this moment exactly as it is.

The thoughts I choose to accept as "mine," my choice to believe and identify with ego's constant atrophy-chatter of "not good enough" or limitation - these are my only prison. And I can move out of that darkness into the lightness of this very moment. I take a deeeeep breath. And another, for good measure (can there ever be too many long, luxurious deep breaths - why don't we take more of them, then?).

I remember that right here, right now I can move, and am moving, in the direction of freedom - which is not a destination but a moment-by-moment way of being. As I write this blog, my precious friend, Monica has sent me a picture of her amazing sister Gretchen riding through a forest wrapped in autumn (taken by Nathaniel Wilder - I am struck by the freedom of ease, focus and clear intent expressed - the perfect simplicity of being in that moment and nowhere else.

I close my eyes and I don't need to be in that forest. I don't need to imagine being in some exotic location to be happy. I don't need to picture having more money or a boyfriend, or less flesh or responsibility, I don't need any of these in order to feel peace. Sitting right here, with an empty latte mug and Bing Crosby crooning"White Christmas" from the speakers above me, I can feel the effortlessness of dancing through this moment with the same kind of freedom Gretchen is embodying on the bike. And it strikes me, This is the freedom of being in my own skin.

What do you need to shed in order to be here in this moment, exactly where, and exactly AS you are? Is it those two deep breaths (or maybe twenty)? Is it forgiving yourself for going through your day unconsciously today, or your week, month, year, or entire life? Do you need to make peace with some part of your experience that you have been ruthlessly criticizing lately - like the size of your thighs, or the shape of your nose, or your partner, or the dollar-amount in your bank account, or how you feel like you've been "failing" as a parent)?

Take those breaths, and remember, there is no other place you can be right now but right here. There is no other skin you can be in but your own. There is no other life for you to inhabit (I don't care how tempting "Wife Swap" may appear on TV, or any of those other "reality" shows!). Right here, right now, with this breath, and this breath, we can choose to let go of the thoughts standing between us and ever-present freedom. They are ONLY thoughts, and we don't have to keep as our own the ones which no longer serve us.

This is the movement of freedom - And I know for certain, I want THAT!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Welcome Izabella Rose, 7lbs 15oz, 20 inches

Have you ever noticed that from the get-go we are introduced by our size? To this day I know that I weighed 7lbs 13oz. This eventually gives way to age, then year in school, and then to profession ("So what do you do?"). Yet none of these aspects of our lives say anything truly meaningful about who we are.

This past week, on December 7th at 1:13 am, my niece made her debut 3 weeks before her due date. And I had no idea how much she weighed or how long she was for the first 48 hours. Everyone I would share these glad tidings with would ask, "How big is she?" And I know this is just our training. I ask this too. So this is not to beat up on anyone for asking.

As Westerners (and I do believe this does not apply for all cultures), we are constantly trying to categorize and label so that we know how to relate to others. When we ask about the birthweight of a baby, we plug in the data to discern whether the child is healthy and "normal", and also to get a picture in our head of the child. It is also simply a trained response passed down through generations that we ask how mom and baby are doing, and the stats - it's one of the ways we are socialized to connect with each other.

But when I heard myself saying, "I have no idea," to this usual question regarding baby stature, it got me to thinking about how little this really matters in getting to know a new little person. And then too how little these stats matter about any of us.

As parents and community members in the lives of young people, it is up to us to be very conscientious about how we are training our youth to see themselves and each other. We pass along distorted vision from generation to generation, rarely meaning to emotionally harm or damage our kids and each other. But we do. We dress it up in concern for our children's health, or in our desire for them to feel accepted in school, all the while projecting onto them our own fears about these very things and our own experience with these issues in our past.

My grandfather once said something to me that felt like a bruise on my heart for decades until I forgave him about 5 years ago. I was eight at the time, and surely he did not mean it the way I experienced it. He said, "You are going to get fat if you keep eating candy." A very simple statement, but I would later learn that he had issues and fears about obesity. As an eight-year old, I couldn't separate his words to me from how I believed he saw me. I couldn't see his fear for what it was, so I made his concern my reality and soon thereafter went on my first of many diets.

A couple of weeks ago, while watching a slide show that one of my sisters created for our youngest sister for her wedding, something struck me with ferocity. Picture after picture of me at ages seven to nince flashed on the screen, and for the first time I saw myself as I really was at that time - healthy. I had very skinny cousins and a sister who had small and delicate features. But I looked completely normal! I was running about and playing just like any average eight year old I meet on the street.

So how have I carried this story about being the "chubby girl" for so long? Even my sister Amy (the one who put the slide show together) agreed with me when I told her about my revelation. She said, "Yeah, I kept thinking the same thing as I looked through pictures of you at that age!"

In twenty-four hours, I will be on the road headed from CO to Dallas, TX to meet my new niece. As the excitement builds of holding her in my arms and kissing her beautiful cheeks, I am preparing myself to greet her in a new way. My job as her aunt is to be clear about the thoughts I am thinking of her as well as the words I say to her.

As I wrap this up, what comes to mind is a scene from the film, "Away We Go" (released in 2009). This romantic comedy is about a couple who finds out they are pregnant (unexpectedly) and who set out on a journey to find the perfect place to raise their daughter. After a riotous adventure learning how they DON'T want to be as parents (they visit several of their friends who have families), they come to a scene where they are laying on a trampoline. The entire movie Verona (the expectant mother) has turned down Burt's marriage proposals, she does yet again and he asks her why. She says she promises him that she is committed for life and does not feel she needs to marry him for this to be true.

As the scene unfolds, a sort of impromptu vow exchange begins to take place. They take turns asking, "And do you promise..." followed by saying "I do." It is one of the most beautiful love scenes I have ever witnessed in a romantic comedy. One of the expectant father's requests is that they love their little girl no matter what. I tried to find the movie clip, but was unsuccessful and wouldn't want to spoil the movie for anyone.

But the reason I am sharing this with you at all is because he says something so poignant about how he wants them to love their daughter unconditionally, that it glimmers of a new paradigm for how we can love our children. There is a glint of hope in raising our kids in a completely new way, that is focused on what really matters. Somehow this does not include their physical makeup.

I invite you to explore this new paradigm with me. I encourage all of us to catch ourselves when we are making judgments about others based on what our socialized eyes are trying to tell us. I invite us to go beyond, "How big is she?" and "How much did she weigh?"

©Heather Barron

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Can Dance If You Want To

This past Saturday, I took myself dancing. The evening began with a waltz lesson. Waltzing always makes me think of my dad, his 6'4" frame towering over my little 2-year old self, as we would waltz around the living room, me carried on the toes of his ginormous feet.

Now I am no dancin' queen (well, my private fantasies excluded!), but my elementary understanding of the waltz is as follows: waltzing has a tempo of 1,2,3,4,5,6 with an emphasis on the first and fourth beat. But what I noticed as I would take a turn with different partners, the beginners did not realize that the first beat is always on his left foot and the fourth on his right. And for the ladies, it is the opposite.

But this is what I love about this dance, if I start on the wrong foot, I can always get back on the right foot because the rhythm is so clear to me. Each time I shared this way of keeping ones feet straight, a lightbulb would go off for my partner as well.

During this period in the evening, an old English idiom popped into my head: "We must have gotten off on the wrong foot." If you begin on the wrong foot, inevitably you will kick feet with your partner, or trip, or both. And as I was thinking about this it struck me: I must have gotten off on the wrong foot with my dance partnership with my body.

This statement couldn't be any truer for me. It turns out that the origin of the idiom is actually based on an old superstition that if your left foot was the first to hit the ground in the morning it would supposedly bring bad luck. How many of us have started out on the wrong foot in our relationship with our bodies?

Perhaps we have been co-dependent with our bodies, like a love-hate relationship? How many of us have been involved for years in an awkward dance kicking ourselves in the shin and tripping over our less-than-loving body-concepts? How many of us have no idea how to begin creating a healthy partnership with our body so that this dance is more graceful and fun?

I feel my mind return to the simplicity of waltzing with my dad. How simple it was to just allow myself to be held on his sturdy and trustworthy toes, carried effortlessly. When I think about this newer body-relationship that I am growing into, this is what it feels like: a surrendering of the need to hate my body to be a "normal woman," a truce called on the vicious cycle of warring with my self-concept. It feels like returning home.

It is as though I am back in the dance, but I am no longer trying to lead. A still, small, gentle, loving and clear voice guides each of my steps like the firm hand of a good dance partner. This partner, who I think of as "Soul", tenderly tells me what I need to know to let go of a lifetime of trying to control the dance. I am no longer the leader, the one who needs to control each step and decision. I am not even a dancer, I am the danced.

Stay tuned. This is where we put our foot down (our RIGHT foot) and say, "Enough!" I will no longer settle for having two left feet when it comes to how I treat myself and others. It's time to take back our thinking about body, beauty and self-worth. This is the time to stop giving away our minds to the media, and our money to the multi-billion dollar diet industry, and to start seeing that we are nothing short of sacred.

Come dance with me. If you don't yet know the steps, do not let this keep you away. We will be learning how to hear and heed them together!

©Heather Barron