April 2, 2016

Just Be Real.


When I was a child, I had a large mirror attached to my closet door in my bedroom. Since I spent a lot of time in my bedroom (obvious introvert), I apparently spent a lot of time looking at myself. Well, that is what I was told anyway. My parents decided to take the mirror out of my room, stating that they didn’t want me to be vain about my appearance. I have considered this my whole life…was I vain? Was my reflection an object of curiosity? Was I trying to develop a self-image? Since I was very small, the questions remain. Self-image is an interesting thing. For myself, the image I see in my mind’s eye seems to stay at right about age 20 – energetic, rather fearless, and ready to take on the world. I most certainly am not that person, but somehow that is who I expect to see in selfies.

In my view, how we see ourselves is directly related to the reflection we see through others. How people react to me, or how they might describe me, becomes my reality and identity. Besides the mirror, how else would we know ourselves? And perhaps that is why we crave social interaction – we truly seek to know who we truly are. How do others see us? What kind of impressions do we make? And further, do those impressions match my desires for myself and who I want to be perceived? If we lived as hermits with no interaction at all, how would we perceive ourselves? If the only voice we heard was our own, what type of identity would we develop?

As I continue to study and deeply consider the influence of religion, I have come to the conclusion that Christianity, most especially evangelicalism and Calvinist-inspired doctrine, has convinced followers to develop behaviors and thought patterns that match the image of a Christian. On the surface, that sounds alright – a moral, grateful, generous person. I think the longer the person works at ‘putting on the garment of praise’ and ‘putting on the armor of God’ the more the person, the real person, gets pushed to the shadows. Christians are told how to think, how to act, how to speak, and how to socialize. Women are told they are subordinate, while men are pushed into leadership and protective roles. Week after week they are exhorted to be that ‘new man,’ not like those others who don’t follow Jesus. They are told what to avoid, lest it cause less-than-holy influence, or worse – attention from the devil. They are told what to read, what movies to watch, and what places to avoid. They are told what kind of ‘identity’ to develop; it is this behavior and appearance that determines whether they are saved from fiery hell or not. Moreover, this identity, as a child of God, is much preferable to the human nature, that one that is full of original sin.

My point is not to bash Christianity, or any religion, but to highlight this pushing of the real self to the background. The real person is hidden, obscured by the effort to be the Christian they perceive is what God and Jesus is desiring. Understandably so – you must be a good believer in order to garner the reward of afterlife bliss. But, didn’t God make humans in the first place? And didn’t he say his creation was ‘good’?  I guess I am questioning a much larger theological issue here (the human condition), and I am fully aware that there are no satisfactory answers. However, how can one have a relationship – a true, honest relationship – with one whose identity is Jesus? I don’t mean to be crass, but I would prefer a relationship with a real person, not someone who has adopted the Christian behaviors and speech patterns of a preacher. And no, I don’t think you are a good person just because of your religious beliefs, and I don’t choose friends because of their assumed identities or church affiliation, but because they are real and honest with themselves and others.

From my vantage point, Christianity has been getting a lot of bad press lately – hateful speech, discrimination, judgement, exclusion, elitism – none of this is in keeping with the message of Jesus, much less God.(at least the God I have been familiar with my whole life). I had a friend once tell me that they never wanted to judge anyone because the bible said that if one judges, they, too, will be judged. However, I say that religion teaches and reinforces a comparison of the ‘saved’ and the ‘lost,’ the churched and unchurched…no escaping judgement there. It is impossible. The saved will always want to change the status of the so-called lost, as it is seen as a lesser state – just not as good, righteous, or acceptable. In all actuality, that friend was very wise in their statement; however, I believe for a Christian, especially an evangelical, to be non-judgmental may be a challenge (at best) and impossible task (at worst).

In my household we read a lot of religious texts, from all the world’s religious and philosophical thought. I find this one particularly useful, especially in light of this discussion. Try not to focus on the source as much as the message, as I think this could have been said by any wise thinker from any tradition.

“So tantra (technique) is not concerned with your so-called morality. Really, to emphasize morality is mean, degrading; it is inhuman. If someone comes to me and I say, “Leave anger first, leave sex first, leave this and that,” then I am inhuman. What I am saying is impossible. And that impossibility will make that man feel inwardly mean. He will begin to feel inferior; he will be degraded inside in his own eyes. If he tries the impossible, he is going to be a failure. And when he is a failure he will be convinced he is a sinner. 
The preachers have convinced the whole world that “you are sinners.” This is good for them, because unless you are convinced, their profession cannot continue. You must be sinners; only then can churches, temples, and mosques continue to prosper. Your being in sin is their success. Your guilt is the base of all the highest churches. The more guilty you are, the more churches will go on rising higher and higher. They are built on your guilt, on your sin, on your inferiority complex. Thus they have created an inferior humanity.”
(Osho. The Book of the Secrets: Discourses on "Vigyana Bhairava Tantra" New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Print., 13)

I am not saying one shouldn’t be Christian, or any other religion, for that matter. What I am saying is that in order to have real relationships one must be willing to be their real self, not an assumed identity. Be real, be vulnerable, be available…but most of all, be ready to admit that relationship is not all about you and what you want or need. Relationship is about giving and receiving honestly. And I believe that when you give honestly of yourself, the very things you want and need will be given unto you.

Y’know, I told my kids when they were young that if they were always concerned with themselves and what they wanted, no one else needed to. I think this is a valuable lesson for a lot of adults, as well.

April 1, 2016

A Deep Think

What is good?
…that which has merit, is desirable, or pleasing?

Who wants to be good, to have value?
As a mostly-perfectionist, I want to be good. I am not sure why, I just have a drive to be good – good as this elusive, nebulous judgment that just cannot be nailed down.
I want to be a good student. And by good, I mean to get the best marks every time – not just because, but because I put forth the effort required for high marks.
I want to be a good friend. The type of friend that gives comfort, refreshment, and support.
I want to be a good daughter, and always make my parents proud.
I want to be a good mother, loving and supporting my children as they strive for value.
I want to be good partner, meshing into the mythical oneness that is the pinnacle of human experience.

I am constantly striving for good…for the good. In my appearance, I want to look as good as I possibly can. In my home, I want it to be as good as we can afford – as comfortable, tidy, and welcoming – as good as possible. Even in my hobbies, I want to be good.
I have to ask myself where this desire for good comes from, because it is glaringly obvious that a lot of people don’t feel this same drive for goodness. Sometimes I wonder if it is even considered.


Religion can perhaps relieve this striving. Check off a list of religious obligations – pray, read the sacred texts, believe a certain way, act according to the social boundaries – and then you can consider yourself good. You can even be so good that you can look around and judge others who are not good – such as those who love differently than you, or need differently. Self-righteousness or self-goodness can feel good, I guess. But is that really good?

Social hierarchy can lead one to believe they are good. The privilege of not being in the oppressed class can lead some to feel that it is actually a good thing to be mean or cruel to those not privileged. Sure, even hating others because they are different can feel good, or at least it would appear. But is this really good?

Money can trick people into feeling good. Having enough is one thing, but having so much that you can do whatever you like, say whatever you like, or act however you like because you are able to buy your way out of situations probably feels good, but that is definitely not good, in my view.

And does being good, being considered good, even have value? And if so, why?
What good is it to be honest when telling half-truths and affirming myths seems to be the norm?
What good is it to treat others with respect when none is reciprocated or even expected?
What good is it to support those who sound good, but behave in selfish ways that hurt others?
What good is it to strive for cleanliness, modesty, or attractiveness if it is only used against the one striving? The more a person tries to look good, the more they make themselves into an object for the eyes of others. How can that be good?

What good is it to be compassionate toward others, to care about their life situation and experience, if those intentions are twisted and convoluted by others due to jealously, resentment, or competition?
I want to believe that there is value in being good, and that by being good, I have value. By adding goodness to my surroundings and community through my actions, I add goodness to humanity. But is that selfish? Or am I just talking in circles?

I guess I want everyone to be good, to have good intentions toward others, to be able to see what is good and what is only making the appearance of good for selfish purposes.


So, how about this…
if you are hurting people with your self-righteousness, that is not good.
Or, if you hurt people or lie in order to get your way, that is not good.
Or, if you consider yourself good but use people, mistreat people, or ignore the needs of others in deference to yourself, that is not good.

And what happens when we all act selfishly? Or ignorantly? Or with apathy? Is that good? Does it result in good? Does it spread goodness? Does it add value?

I struggle to find value, purpose, and the good in life.
I sought for value in religion, but all I found was self-righteousness disguised as value.
I sought for value in academics, but all I found was criticism disguised as value.
I sought for value in producing nice things, but all it left me with was a lot of stuff, but not value.
I sought for value in employment, but I quickly discovered that I was just a number easily forgotten.

So what gives value? What is good?

And that is a good question.



February 1, 2016

Subject Set of One

I am an HSP, a highly sensitive person. I am also what is called an empath. This is my experience. I take on these labels readily because it helps me understand my self and explains why I react in certain ways. I don't expect other sensitives or empaths to share my experience, and I don't consider myself an expert, other than through my own experience - this is the story of a subject-set of one. This is also my response to the many online articles and self-tests that may or may not determine whether one is highly sensitive or empathic. It has become rather vogue or faddish, it would seem, to label oneself these things. I understand - we are all in search of self-identity and self-awareness. You may see yourself in my description and experiences, perhaps not. It is my hope that my personal experience of 50 years will shed some light on the life of a sensitive-empath.

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, nor a scholar on this subject matter. I encourage all to do their own research and come to educated conclusions. I will give some suggestions at the end of this post. (The Wiki link below has more scholarly reading than online sources, if you are so inclined.)

First of all, I want to clarify the difference between the two terms sensitive and empath. 

HSP is the term (popularized in the mid-1990s) describing a person who is aware of the subtleties in their environment and can be easily overwhelmed or overstimulated in certain situations, such as crowds, emotionally charged situations, or have a extraordinary sensitivity to sounds, smells, touch or textures, or tastes. This is not to be confused with a sensory disorder - HSPs are simply extremely aware and regularly deal with over-stimulation through avoidance or adaptation. They also can do what has been termed 'sponging' of the emotional state of those close-by, even strangers. This is where it can get tricky, because Empaths are those who intuitively know the emotional state of those close-by, and in some cases, those far from them. I like the succinct wiki definition: "being an empath is when you are affected by other people's energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. Your life is unconsciously influenced by others' desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it is not just limited to emotions." 

Exactly.

I do believe that sensitivity is passed from parent to child, I have observed that all three of my children exhibit sensitivity, albeit different in all three, and in varying degrees. I also believe that my own mother was a sensitive in the above definition.



As you can see from above, there is definitely some overlap, which can make it quite confusing. In my opinion, the major difference would be the level of compassion. An empath is definitely compelled to feel, and even take on, the burdens, pains, and drama/trauma of others, where as an sensitive mostly aware and may sponge those feelings of others, but may not feel quite so compelled to action. This is not a measurement of the goodness or righteousness of a person, it just is what it is. The focus of the sensitive is the awareness of the feelings around them (or stimulation), while the empath's focus is on where is it and what needs to be done to alleviate the suffering.

I was not aware of my own situation in such terms for the majority of my life, however, I have always lived by my intuition. I not only feel my own feelings, and those around me, but I know things.

Kind of like the old term ESP (extra-sensory perception) from back in the day - I 'see' people. I see their heart, I feel their spirit. I know immediately if they are lying, or being manipulative. 

I oftentimes know when someone is thinking about me, or is about to send me a message. I also can predict what a person will say within a conversation, or how they will react to certain things.

I can always see all sides of an argument, and the motivations of those involved - and further, I have compassion for all sides, too.

I am hyper-sensitive of all the details of a space, whether it be at home, a restaurant, or classroom  - and I know what needs to be done to make everyone the most comfortable. A sensitive will insist on straightening the crooked picture hanging on the wall; an empath will feel all the people in the room and understand the nature of relationships.

I instantly know if someone is being confrontational with me, even if just for sport, and it sends me in a spin. When I am angry at someone, I cannot say things that will hurt their spirit, as I don't want to implant 'recordings' in their psyche that will repeat later. I am only confrontational if I absolutely have to be, and it makes me pretty angry if I have to go there. (That is not to say that I haven't hurt people - I know I have. It is just that I live with their hurt every day - their hurt is my hurt, too. And worse, I caused it. This is exactly why I don't try to hurt anyone.)

I believe people of all ages are ageless inside of themselves, thus deal equally and respectfully with all ages. Babies are attracted to me, and I to them - we 'see' into each other. Children feel the protector in me, and I will have complete strangers share intimate things about themselves or their lives with me. 

I feel love and compassion for people, especially those who I have had close relationship with; they are forever with me, even if the relationships has been long extinguished. The exception would only be those who have decided to be hurtful to others due to greed or selfishness, especially repeatedly. And even then, I cannot hate them. I strongly believe that everyone has a right to their opinion and I will defend that right even when I don't agree.

As far as my sensitive side, I hear everything. A pencil of the students around me rasping on their notepads, the clock ticking, and the person walking down the hall. I hear the cars go by on the street and the conversations or television shows of the neighbors. Other people can hear these things, too, but for them it is not a distraction or even noted. I can hear the chewing of the people in the next restaurant booth, or the conversations happening back in the kitchen. Yeah, they are all acknowledged in some way in my crazy brain. Just recently, I was glad a couple of sweet ladies decided to leave the restaurant because one of them kept playing with her car keys in her pocket. They were sitting three booths away from us.

This is the life of this sensitive-empath. Yes, one can be both. I am highly sensitive, but not to the same extent that I am an empath. Frankly, I think both work together, and placed inside the personality of an INFJ, that is some kind of powerful intuition. And a lot of input to sort through constantly.

This ability to know makes people uncomfortable. So, I spend my life pretending I don't know things. I let them tell me. Often they don't, and for the bulk of my life, this caused quite a bit of problems. People don't often want to be 'seen.' I can understand that. I don't have any idea what it would feel like to have someone 'see' me in that way. I have never been in the presence of another empath. But, if I was, we would both know it! 

Dr. Aron has spent many years now researching sensitives, and has written this wonderful book about the subject. It actually was our first exposure to this understanding of sensitive people, and it was a huge help in the journey to understanding. I am extremely fortunate to have a partner who is completely committed to helping me navigate through my world without over-stimulation. For a sensitive, much less an empath, this is extremely important. However, even before I knew anything about sensitives, I had adopted some adaptations to help cope. I eliminated television watching, especially the news, I started being very choosy about the movies and entertainment I would watch, and I attempted to protect myself in a religious context. Some of those things were beneficial, some not so much. Sensitives often adopt behaviors, such as that of introverts, in order to cope with over-stimulation. That is not to say that they don't like to socialize or be in stimulating situations, but that they need to allow time before and after the stimulation to not only debrief, but recharge and ground themselves again (somewhat similar to introverts). Enduring over-stimulation on a constant basis causes fatigue, illness, or melancholy/depression in body and mind, somewhat like a two-year that has just had enough. 

A couple of things that Dr. Aron uses as indicators are difficulty in decision-making and the tendency towards addiction. I don't seem to have those two tendencies, however I can see where she is deriving those conclusions. When one has so much informational input, it may be difficult in deciding the best course or choice. Similarly, unconsciously seeking comfort could lead one down a road of addiction, especially alcohol or other sedative-type drugs. While I am not technically addicted, I spent many years using sleep aids in order to make the world go away. Perhaps my upbringing contributed to my awareness of both of those issues - my parents were excellent decision-makers and modeled the behavior clearly and often, however there was alcoholism in my family, as well. I knew that I never wanted to go down that path, hence a stubborn moderation of my own use of recreational drugs. Thankfully, I have been pretty successful in both those areas as I am efficient with decision-making and am not an alcoholic! 

So, how does this play out in my life on a daily basis? Well, I have very few close friends, but the ones I have are very aware and used to dealing with my 'knowing' and 'feeling.' I have lost a good many friends over the years, and it is usually due to their discomfort or misunderstanding (I don't think I am an easy friend to have - I expect so much of them because I expect so much of myself.) Sometimes I feel compelled to confront concerning dishonesty - that never goes over well, and is such a bummer. Or if a friend is stubbornly holds an identity of themselves that differs from how I 'see' them. That kind of naked honesty is always difficult, and typically the relationship just goes away, or it is easier to just not be close friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, and that is OK, too.

I have to be careful with facebook or other social media, because my sensitive self can get pretty bruised up if I am on there too much. I tend to post things about social issues close to my heart like gender equality and charity/compassion for the underprivileged. I often hide those posts or people who post a lot of manipulative religious or political messages because I see the motivation behind them, and it is not always healthy or true (to my way of thinking). All this is a way to protect myself from over-stimulation and emotional battering.

I am a student, which can be quite a challenge (as noted above) - I sense everything! I sense the self-doubt of myself and other students, or worse the over-confidence that sometimes doesn't go well. I have deep compassion for struggling students, and often end up with those in my study groups. I hold myself to a very high standard, and often develop respectful and interesting relationships with my profs (since they are closer to my age than the rest of the students). Yes, I sense and 'see' the profs, too. The classroom is a cacophony of input for me, and is usually a real challenge.

Actually, life itself is a challenge for a sensitive/empath person in ways that others don't seem to have to deal with. Just having a conversation with someone can be an exercise of juggling what they are saying, what you feel they are 'feeling,' and how you 'know' they are perceiving what you are saying. But, if you have a sensitive/empath in your life, you can feel comforted that they may know and understand you in ways others just can't.  It has been called a gift, and oftentimes I feel like it is a curse, but mostly I call it my superpower. Just like any superhero, their powers are both within and outside their control. I often wonder what it would feel like not to feel, but then I realize how awful it would be if I suddenly couldn't feel others around me. It would be like a Jedi suddenly stripped of force-sensitivity, or Superman in the presence of kryptonite. I rely on my ability to feel in order to move through life, as I know it.

I hope this has helped clarify things a bit, even if it is only my lay-person perspective. I am open to comments and discourse concerning these things, if you so choose. As promised, below are a few links you may find helpful if you are looking for more information.









January 31, 2016

My Turn.


J-Term finished for junior year - check. And, what did I learn from 4 weeks of immersion-style study of the Tudor period of England's history? Well, that Henry VII is by far my favorite monarch of that period, and that Elizabeth I had many similarities to her great-grandfather. I actually enjoyed learning about England in that most pivotal time that bridges the medieval ages and the early modern period leading into the industrial age. Fascinating. Oh, and reading Hamlet (again) wasn't too shabby, either.

So now I am on break - a week to relax at the beach house - prior to crankin' it up again for spring term. Unfortunately, I have never fully figured out how to do that relax-thing. I guess what I need most is solitude and a time to reflect on what I have learned and try to sort out what I see happening around me. And good music. I always need good music.

This year I have learned that there are natural hazards that are eventually gonna happen, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides, and that there is probably not a lot I can do about it. I also learned how unstable air masses equate to storms. Cool, huh? I have crawled inside the head and life of Martin Luther with one of the best professors ever. Not only can I describe in quite a bit of detail justification by grace, but also the fine nuances of Luther's relationship with his wife, and that he 'ate like a Bohemian, and drank like a German'! How 'bout that? Finally, I marched through the history of feminist and womanist theologies and wrote, for me, the longest paper to date - a whopping 15 pages of research. Phew! I loved the conclusions I discovered in that endeavor and will not soon forget some of the real reasons more women sit in the pews than men. So much to think about.

Time to file it all and get ready for the next adventure - a couple of basic religion courses (Religion and Culture, and History of the US Church), another upper division history course (this time the history of the US Woman), and then, just for fun, Anthro 101. Yep...back to Lucy and all her hominid friends. I actually took this course, or a diluted version, at community college and really enjoyed it. Time to pull those notes out, for sure! I have not taken 16 credits in a term prior, so this should be interesting.

But beyond all that, there are other matters attracting my attention, such as the presidential candidates jockeying for position - which is actually a complete and total joke. The country is divided, but to what extent? The US media never gives the full story. Who can make an educated decision when there is so much misinformation and garbage floating around? I feel for the staunch Republicans - what the heck are they gonna do? There is just not a candidate with integrity for them to rally behind. And, due to the intertwining of religion and conservative politics, so many will feel like they are sinning against God to vote other than Republican. What a mess. I understand that religion and politics have always been bosom-buddies, but it should not be so. Pulpits should not preach politics, and politicians should not pander to the religious in hopes of votes. It is a disservice to the voting public, and takes advantage of the laity. Seriously. It is not right. And it divides people along lines of belief - again, shameful. We should be working toward unity and compromise, as Queen Elizabeth I did during the Tudor period. We can do so much more, and be so much stronger, if we unite instead of divide into armed camps.

Jizo, protector of women,
children, and travelers
And then there is the continued struggle of women to hang onto reproductive rights. Women have been the oppressed group in a sexual caste for as long as all can remember - can it just be done now? Truly. Women have every right to determine what happens to their bodies - not politicians, not preachers, not the judge-y women at the Wednesday morning bible study. Women need equal pay for equal work, they need to be respected equally in society without objectification, and they need adequate access to reproductive health and medicine. I don't really give a crap if you don't 'believe' in abortion or birth control - unless it is you deciding for yourself, it is none of your damn business. I wish everyone would just get their self-righteous, religious nose out of other people's affairs.

I feel the same about those who continue to persecute those of the LGBT community. If a LGBT person makes you uncomfortable, it is your problem, not theirs. As a human and part of this post-modern society, for the life of me I cannot fathom oppressing certain groups of humans just because some think 'God said so.' First of all, I don't believe God said anything of the sort,* and I am wholeheartedly dismayed that those who claim to be the agents of a loving God on earth can justify denying the the well-being and acceptance of others. Misguided, for sure. It is my deepest desire for everyone to believe what they wish, and further, for those who are religious not to feel compelled to impose their beliefs on others. I really don't think that is too much to ask. Unfortunately, I think it is a case of misinformed, even manipulated, laity that causes the most harm to everyone. And I don't have a clue how to fix it. This keeps me up at night, truly. I just read that 30-something LGBT Mormon teens have committed suicide since the proclamations of the leadership in recent months. This is a most grievous transgression of the very edicts of Christianity, and they most certainly have blood on their hands. Shameful, to be sure, but also calls the whole denomination into question. Revelation...really? Oh, they are not the only religious institution that has blood on their hands, to be sure - throughout history many have been killed, maimed, tortured, and harmed either physically or mentally by those who deem themselves the righteous of God. I question their motives, and those of all who oppress, persecute, belittle, proselytize, and condemn those who don't ascribe to their narrow interpretation of the Bible. No one has the corner on the market of religious righteousness, and judging others to the point of harm or oppression is evil. Period.
Yeah, this is heavy on my mind.

With all these things floating around in my head, and in my facebook feed, how can I relax? My smart daughter has suggested deleting her facebook account...not a bad idea. It is always an option, I suppose. For now, I think I'll put that in the hopper, along with all the rest of this junk, and go read a book.




*Don't believe me? Get yourself some scholarly, non-religious exegesis on the subject, then we'll talk.

January 10, 2016

Breathe


Indulge in a deep breath in.

Then, let it out.

Think before you speak. Breathe in the wisdom of the ages, the life-giving compassion from the deep well of oneness.  Breathe out your pride, anger and selfishness.

Breathe.

Breathe in beauty and peace. Breathe in the relationships of love and care. Breathe out gossip and malicious judgement.

Breathe in all that is good, right and lovely – that which protects and provides. Breathe out greed, jealousy and hatred.

Breathe in the rich heritage of life and history. Breathe out violence, hurt and fear. Yes, you can do it...just breathe.

Breathe in contentedness. Let go of the desire for things and unhealthy attachment. Breathe it away in a sigh.

Breathe in the calm presence of the moment, and let go of meaningless agendas, expectations, and motives.

Breathe in the life energy that flows in and around you – fill every cell with gratitude, awareness, and acceptance.

Just breathe.


January 5, 2016

Impossible

All my life I have struggled with my appearance.

When I was a child, my mother dressed me the best she knew how, however, it was not me. She was in charge of my hair, oftentimes sitting me on the stool in front of her chair and winding my hair up in those over-used pink sponge rollers that were not comfortable to sleep on (by the way). With my hair back-combed and sprayed, and in a sweet dress she sewed herself, off I would go to elementary school picture day. I felt awful. I was told not to smile 'too big' for the picture, Elizabeth. I tried.

The gawky stage didn't improve, and I was in an economic class that didn't allow for special clothing or styles some of the others could have. I wasn't in the popular group, although with my quick wit and loud mouth, you'd think so. I still felt awful about my appearance, as I just couldn't meet the perceived standard I saw in the magazines. I did manage to learn how to smile less, however.

As I progressed toward womanhood, I was fully entrenched, sold-out victim of the beauty industry and the impossible standard put before me. I ate it up with beauty magazines, fashion books, and talk shows featuring makeovers. Most, if not all, of these makeovers included weight loss. New diets, eating plans, diet gurus and their books, ad infinitum. My mom tried them. I tried them. We tried them together. And we both rode the emotional roller coaster that is, and will forever be, dieting.

Weight has always been an issue for me. Not because I am obese, or have even been overweight (although I always thought I was), but because my mother was. My beloved mother, who had medical and other issues that fostered an out of control weight gain, was honest but pained about her weight. Through watching the treatment she received socially for being overweight, I learned very quickly that I didn't want to carry extra weight, nor should anyone else. Fighting genetics, I worked out constantly - always dancing, attending and teaching aerobics classes, and weight training. I learned to control my eating through restrictive diets - fasting, calorie-counting, shake replacement meals, supplements, and vegetarianism/veganism. My whole life was consumed with wearing the right clothing, makeup, and hairstyle, and being the lowest weight I could manage. My whole life.


I am now 51 years old. And, frankly, I'm worn out and cynical about the whole affair. All my efforts got me absolutely nowhere.

One area of study for me has been that of gender - including patriarchy, and the expectations of the genders in society and culture. This has been quite eye-opening, and to be completely honest, it just plain ole pisses me off. Women are held to to this impossible standard of looking twenty-something their entire life. Thin, long hair, fresh-faced, put-together, and independent. They are expected to be the perfect daughter and mothers. They are expected to be smart but not intimidating. They are expected to be dressed in the latest fashion, but frugal at the same time. Perfectly messy hair, perfectly done nails, lookin' hot in those skinny jeans, walk with grace in heels, and overflowing with confidence. Quick, freeze the moment with a selfie that you can look back on and marvel that it all worked...for that moment, anyway.

For me, it was most unfortunate that I had to have an uniquely feminine surgery a few years ago. My doctor told me that I could expect to gain 20 extra pounds in the year following the procedure. 20 lbs?? That definitely meant one, possibly two, sizes up. I immediately discounted her words - surely that wouldn't happen to me.

It did happen to me. As I watched my weight creep up, I started to panic. I still do. I wake up at night in a panic, promising myself that I will start the next morning killing myself with exercise and stop eating until the weight starts to go back down. And then there are the whispers that it is so much harder to lose weight when you are older...

Then there is Oprah. She just bought 10 percent of Weight Watchers and broadcasts a commercial saying that inside every overweight woman is a thinner woman who wants to be more, be better, be everything...be the impossible standard. And women nod their heads in unison. However, Carrie Fisher, after losing weight to be in the Star Wars movie, is still not pleasing anyone. She is getting hounded about her appearance, while no one says anything about her aged co-stars' appearance, weight, or wrinkles. Shoot, I think Mark Hamill put on weight for the role! I think Oprah is pedaling a lie - losing weight does not make us better or allows us to become the woman we always wanted to be - it is all a lie! Moreover, I have girlfriends who are currently struggling, virtually killing themselves to be thinner with meal plans and faddish workouts all under the guise to be more healthy, but they cannot fool me. They want to meet the impossible standard, too. Because we all feel BETTER when we are closer to the standard. Better = more valuable.

But, more valuable to whom? To our partners? To our friends? Don't they love us for who we are not what we look like? Aren't they supposed to?

I want to just be happy in my own skin, regardless of size. I don't want to meet the impossible standard put before us...I don't want my worth to be determined by the cultural patriarchy that says that for a woman to have value she must be an attractive and sexual object. I don't want to have to apologize for taking up space in society anymore. I want my worth to be determined by my grey matter and how I love others, not by what my butt looks like in a pair of over-lycra'd skinny jeans. When can I just be happy being a 51-year-old woman who has lived and has so much more to contribute regardless of my weight? If Oprah can't even be happy because she is overweight, despite all her accomplishments, then what? If Carrie Fisher cannot 'be,' even after losing for the film, then what does that mean for the rest of us?

Take a look around you. How many women do you see that meet the impossible standard? I actually see them all the time, and do you know what? They are twenty-somethings. And not all of them meet the standard, either. Because it is impossible for everyone to meet the standard - genetically, financially, emotionally. Very few can meet the standard - those of us who are 30-ish, 40-ish, or 50-ish are constantly struggling, and our confidence and self-esteem suffers greatly. Even the AARP magazine tries to tell us that you can look like a twenty-something at 60-ish or 70-ish! Seriously?

What is it going to take for all women to refuse to meet the impossible standard? It doesn't help us, only hurts. When will women stopping policing other women, judging and comparing, in order to feel that at least we are better...at least we are not like those who are fatter or don't have everything put together. Not that I don't want to be healthy, but I don't even know what that looks like. Healthy has been painted by the media to look just like the impossible standard. Go figure.

So, who benefits when we kill ourselves to meet the standard? The diet industry. The plastic surgeons. The fashion industry. The department stores. The makeup counter. The hairdressers. The gym. And do they care about us? Hell no. They just keep telling us that we are supposed to look like the mannequins with blank stares in the mall store displays.

My partner repeated tells me that I am beautiful, that he loves me the way I am, that he wouldn't be happy if I was 'the standard.' I just wish I could relax in that and I wish I could be happy with me because I am me, not because I am 'pleasing' to someone else. Desperately, I ask him to keep telling me in hopes that someday his sweet voice and endless love will drown out the myriad of voices telling me otherwise, while I continue to strive to just be.



December 31, 2015

A Meandering Ramble about Nothing...and Everything 2015

It is the end of December, and my life is, well, being lived. Change is a good thing. Truly living is, too.

When I asked my sweet man how long we have been together now, I was shocked when he replied nearly four years. Four years? Really? I guess I have been living life so hard that the time has flown by. It feels just like yesterday when I made the move that changed everything for everyone who was close to me. Sometimes change is so hard, but so necessary.

In retrospect, the words at the right sum up things quite nicely. Every year that passes results in me knowing and understanding myself more. My journey of study has brought about changes of thought that I could have never foreseen. Jimmy Carter isn't the only one 'losing his religion' - with each passing term, I move farther and farther away from the devout and faithful person I was when I resigned my formal religious obligation back in 2010. For myself, once I 'see' something, it is impossible to 'unsee.' This is definitely a truism for me, and have I seen some things. Once confronted with knowledge, we all have to decide what to do with it. My choice was to question everything I had ever been told. I just could not live any longer without finding the answers to questions I had been asking all along - those ignored but pesky inappropriate questions.

Faith is just that - faith. You either decide to believe what you are told or not. Whether it is true or not. Whether you have all the information or not. Whether it is rational or not. Your decision is dependent upon how you want to be accepted, perceived, or identified. It is dependent upon how you feel...dependent upon the attitudes and opinions of others. Faith is not truth nor a miracle. Faith is not proof, nor provable. Faith is a...

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome;
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.
~Ecclesiastes

Everyone suffers, regardless of faith in...whatever you want to have faith in. That sounds so bleak, but yet, it is not. It is freeing; knowing that no one has it all right, and that everyone carries a human burden, fosters compassion and love for all. We are all in this together, and  no one is getting out unscathed. That realization alone kills self-righteousness.

The result of my toil, and the defining summary for this year, is that I have now investigated far enough to understand enough about mythology, why and how it functions within society and humanity, and frankly, I don't need to pick one to live by. I don't need to prove to anyone what deity I serve, nor convince them it is the right one in a myriad of choices. Further, I don't need anyone to tell me how to live 'right' or to determine my worth as a representative of any given deity - no one has the authority to do that. My beliefs are my beliefs for my own personal edification - I no longer need to gather with others 'of like mind' to bolster my 'faith'...in my experience and observation it always results in the same old dynamics of politics, competition, and coercion. With all due respect, I'll pass on the group-mind experience, (even though it can be quite comforting and mystical in the moment). I don't require acceptance and approval, at least regarding my beliefs, from anyone, much less a group of mostly strangers gathered to hear a worship band for an hour once a week.

Specifically, I don't believe that the human condition is innately bad or sinful, I don't believe in original sin (or for that matter the so-called creation story or characters in Genesis), nor do I much care for the stories in the Bible touted as direct from the mouth of a deity - especially those that dictate societal harm, such as perceived authority/hierarchy or sexual caste. These are all my own discoveries and not a judgement of the beliefs of others, even if they sound such. I guess that makes me agnostic - I don't know if there is an all-knowing Creator-God, and I don't believe anyone else does, either. I really like how George Lucas put it, "I believe something is out there, I just don't know what it is...but I know religions aren't based on it. (Religions are based on) human psychological needs that have been put together mostly to create society..." Like Mr. Lucas, I believe that there is a creative source or force (if you will) that exists beyond human cognizance and the human religious institutions are certainly not based upon that 'mind beyond the mind' - if they were they would look completely different (I don't have to explain the dissonance between religious dogma and justified practice, right?). Religious institutions (Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam) are not based upon love but purity laws and how to judge who is in or not. Interestingly, my original determinations that the purpose of religion is control of the masses and that the main product of religion is self-righteousness has come to complete fruition in my mind. Full stop.


Now, dear reader, if you are still with me, I would like to say that at the start of this new year I am full of hope. Not hope in that which is not seen and all that, but hope that there is so much potential that I have not even begun to imagine. I believe we limit ourselves and our choices with restrictions, laws, and expectations. And for what? With so many possibilities that lie before us, before me, freedom to think outside the perceived box of accepted norms gives me hope. I am now living my dream - a dream that seemed so much out of my reach before. I was encouraged to stay in that toxic place, in that toxic relationship, that place in which I was dying because to leave would be unrighteous. Well, that advice was so wrong for me. I am now privileged to be in the most loving, respectful, satisfying relationship - it is the stuff of my wildest dreams. I am in my junior year at a university that is amazingly fulfilling and challenging, studying my most obsessive hobby and passion - religion and gender. My beloved children are grown (or mostly) and three of the most personable, interesting, and bright people I know (and for that I take very little credit) - every mother dreams of having their children be healthy and happy as they venture out into their own life. I have the absolute pleasure of living with my most closest and dearest souls in my favorite place on the entire earth - the beach - where I can breathe fresh air, commune with the wildlife, and feel the pulse of the very earth in and around me. Now, this is living.

At just shy of  51 years, the eagerness of my fellow, much-younger classmates to follow a dream has been contagious - I am following my dream. In spring I will be carrying the largest class credit load to date, as well as tutoring responsibilities. Studying at university is mostly about pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do - a reality that may be obscured  in youth. It is not lost on me, and I have been stretched in ways that are far beyond what I thought was possible. I am still up for the challenge, although I must admit, I do whine a bit in the process.

One week at a time. One day at a time. One moment at a time.
It is only in the moment where we truly live. No where else.

Yesterday I was saddened to hear of a tragedy within the letterboxing community. A fellow 'boxer was brutally murdered by her companion and left in a park while he ended his life at their home. Moments like these always cause us to hug our loved ones close, and pushes me to look closer at those I interact with, looking for ways to help if needed. Who knew her trauma? Could someone have known? Did she reach out for help? So many questions. Now her children are without their beloved mother and so much more. It puts in bold type the fact that we only have the present moment to make the choices that will propel us to our next potential. Do we have a dream? Do we have hope? Do we express gratitude? Are we looking for the good in others? Are we waiting for a deity to determine our fate or are we taking responsibility for our own decisions? Are we giving...or only surviving?

I believe we are all interconnected, a giant tapestry where all the strands touch and impact each other. It is in this vast fabric that we ebb and flow, living and loving, giving and taking, creating and consuming all that is. For me, I find satisfaction in the details, and feel those around me on the highest volume setting. That has been my year; discovering my limits, realizing my sensitivities (my true super-power!), and releasing the burden of clutter, negativity, and expectations - of others and of myself.

Nothing is permanent.
Change is a constant.
Compassion is everything.

The letter-writer Paul says that "if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."

I have everything.





Everything happens for a reason.
Everything.
The good, the bad, the indifferent.
They all have a purpose.

Never forget who you are.
Never forget Who you serve.

And no matter what happens,
keep your face turned to the Light.