Lately I’ve been noticing more and more media spewings about the perfect body. About erasing dark circles and wrinkles. About controlling what you eat. About the 50 Hottest Women in the World! About actresses who “look good” for their age. About the Beautiful People and who they are procreating with. About fatness and thinness and shades of skin colour as if the body is all there is.
I buy magazines to cut up for #creativityreboot fun and suddenly notice how young the women in the pages are. How a feature about anti-wrinkle creams is illustrated with close-ups of teenage faces that have probably still been retouched. I read about actresses getting digitally slimmed and perfected in films and my heart just hurts.
It’s all so preoccupied with the external.
I know so much of it is animal instinct — it’s sex, basically. Women want to attract a mate so they want to look appealing to catch the attention of potential suitors. That basic instinct is woven through our DNA. We’re most fertile when we’re young, so youthfulness becomes most desirable. Then we wonder about our competition, so we become interested in who’s more appealing and where we land in the desire-ablity charts. Our genes want to be replicated — it’s all about survival. It’s about immortality and the fear of death.
I spent a large chunk of my young life wanting this perfection and feeling cheated that I didn’t have it. How I LOOKED was more important than anything else. The surface of my body was how I measured my worth and most of the time I found it to be lacking. I wasn’t photogenic, the holy grail I wished for for my first 30 years. I didn’t have the self-awareness needed to look deeper than my skin and begin healing my hurts, so I became obsessed with the pieces I could see with my eyes. All of this external preoccupation wasn’t caused by the media but it was certainly exacerbated by it. As women we were told we’re second class for so long it got absorbed into our collective psyche. And now that bras have been burnt and we edge towards a society filled with equals? We’re hit again in our tenderest of places — we’re judged on how we look by the harshest critics of all: ourselves. Has there ever been a more effective way of keeping people down? We’re so busy worrying about how we look there’s no time for anything else. We could probably take over the world if we weren’t stressing about fitting into our skinny jeans.
I’m making sweeping statements here, of course, and on the other side of this there is so much amazingness in the world. Possibility and freedom, knowledge and progress. Art and music, inspiration and joy. And love, there is plenty of love. I see it and I feel it and it fills my heart. And yet there are still too many mornings when I look in the mirror and make a split-second judgment on my attractiveness. It’s as automatic as taking my next breath. Since hitting my 40s the unspoken judgment is most often “I look tired” even if I feel rested, and though I no longer voice it, I can still feel the chilly backdraft of “not good enough”.
I feel as frustrated with all of this as I did the first time I read The Beauty Myth and started becoming conscious of how I was disempowering myself. The older I get the easier it is to see what’s really important but that doesn’t mean I’m now magically immune from wishing I was more classically beautiful. Writing that in public really shines a light on how meaningless that desire is and how so much of all this was written into my blueprint when I was younger. I don’t believe we can rewire our thinking to the point where such desires are erased, but I do think we can hold the light AND the dark of who we are. Awareness is where it’s at. I am aware of my desire AND I know what’s more true for me. I can be gentle and loving with the part of me that still believes I should look a certain way AND celebrate the fact that I have a fully functioning body that houses a beautiful soul.
I imagine it’ll take generations to filter out this messed up perfection-is-everything ethos. As sentient creatures we’re still so very early in our collective development. We still kill each other. We still wage wars over an unseen man in the sky. We’re still so unbelievably self-destructive, like toddlers who put their fingers in electricity sockets to see what happens. So maybe it makes some kind of weird sense that we still make lists of who’s the Richest or the Most Beautiful or the Most Clever as if those things have any bearing on how to live a worthwhile life. We are still learning. We’re only just graduating from evolutionary kindergarten.
This post isn’t what I intended to write when I opened my laptop this morning, but it’s been burning a hole in my head for a while and clearly needed to come out.
Despite all the screwed up crap in the world I still believe in the magic. My most fervent belief is that if we heal our own hurts so we don’t pass them on, the world could change overnight. If we dared to look beyond the external to find out what’s truly going on inside, our way of being in the world would transform. So I’m going to continue remembering who I really am, and sharing what I find, and making stuff that helps others do it too.
This pin sums it up for me. xo
I don’t really know where to start so I will begin with the end. During the closing ceremony there was time for each of us to share what we felt we needed to say to the group in order to be complete. After listening to each of our 13 vixens speak so eloquently about their experience and what has changed for them, I was speechless for a moment. Gathering myself together, I shared how nervous I’d been before the retreat and how I’d worried I just wouldn’t have the energy to be as present as I wanted. (As it turns out my fears were unfounded.) I told them it had been an honour to witness their growth and spend this incredible time with them, and that I wished I had the energy (and personality type) to do retreats like this more often. And that is the truth.
Just like last year’s Redfox retreat we all had a transformational week, made all the more enjoyable because we knew what to expect. This year’s retreat wasn’t “better” — it was just different. A different time of year with a different group of women. We made adjustments and tweaks to the programme as we went, checking in with our intuition and leaving plenty of space for the stuff we couldn’t predict. There was an ease and a softness to it all that felt good, and thanks to the amazing food Denise & Martin prepared for us, we were truly nourished from the inside out.
We certainly had the energy of the goddess in our corner, and not just because we were in deepest darkest Somerset. The four elements kept us grounded: the gusting winds at Glastonbury Tor, the rain failing in the moonlight, the mud under our bare feet and the heat of the fire burning in the grate. We were gifted with music from two of our vixens, an unexpected gift that moved me deeply (and inspired me to reconnect with my singing bowl and place an order for a drum!) We had the most powerful releasing ceremony I have ever experienced. We witnessed epiphanies and a-has every single day. And we watched 13 women blossom as they dared to own their incandescent light.
By the end I was reminded, yet again, that this is important work, and while I may not have the energy or the stamina to gather in person like this very often, I do know I want to weave even more connection and magic into the work I currently do. Because it really does make a difference. This deep connecting is so needed by women, a precious chance to refill our cups so we can return to our loved ones replenished and full.
Sharing our stories — in whatever form that takes — fosters empathy and awareness, the first crucial steps on the path to healing and wholeness. And to me, there’s no greater journey we can take. To be whole… to be whole… to be WHOLE.
* Thank you Becki, Caroline, Deb, Heather, Heather, Jen, Jo, Jocelyn, Johanna, Laurie, Michelle, Priya and Valerie for showing up as your true selves and trusting us to help you see your light xo
I’ve got something a bit different for you today. I get a lot of emails. This one in particular stood out to me and I immediately knew I wanted to reply with more than just a few sentences pinged back. So this is for you, dear Sri (I’ll send you a private note after I’ve published this post), and for anyone else who was wondering the same. Here’s my take on how to access your own inner wisdom…
Hi Susannah, much love from India. I have been reading for blog for while now. I was part of the last Unravelling course you offered too. Your wisdom and sensitivity gives me the space to open up spaces within me.
I have a question. When you read so much (as I do- our reading lists are very similar:) ) and read online so much (as I do too), how do you eventually access your own wisdom? I have been meditating for a while now and am struggling with grief that has left a gaping hole in me. I feel inadequate quite often. I also feel that my grief is worn so close to the surface and yet no one sees it.
How do I access my wisdom?
Love and peace, Sri
I do believe that each of us has all the answers we need inside of us, but you’re right to wonder how we access that. We live in such a noisy world. There are a lot of other people telling us how to live and how not to live. There are rules to follow and responsibilities to fulfil. We’re blessed with these incredible brains full of memories and dreams, but the fears and doubts so often get in the way. As a textbook overthinker, I battle with this every day of my life.
If I was to sit down and try to access my ‘wisdom’ all I’d hear would be thoughts, so I have a few tricks that help me side step my overthinky brain and tap into the part of me that’s far wiser than the face I show the world. It starts with a piece of paper and a pen.
Without a doubt journalling is one of the fastest ways to get to know who you are on the inside. You can use paint and collage, write gratitude lists, use prompts and keep five-year diaries — and all of that is fantastic — but the method I return to again and again is the simple act of writing stuff down, stream-of-consciousness style, in a notebook. I write the date at the top of the page and then scribble down whatever is on my mind. It might end up being three pages of hormone-fuelled angst or a paragraph outlining an idea that came to me over breakfast. I don’t journal every day but I’ve made it my practice to check in with myself in my journal at least once a week, usually more. I don’t write anything particularly profound — most of my journalling reads like a messy brain dump.
Getting into the habit of journalling — however that looks for you — is the doorway to accessing your inner wisdom. In that way it’s a bit like meditation: for the first few minutes after I’ve closed my eyes I’m like a dog trying to get into a comfortable position. My neck suddenly itches, my hands feel cramped. My head immediately fills with everything I must do and my monkey mind jumps around wanting to be let out of the cage. But after a few minutes of letting myself settle, things quieten down and I can bring my focus to the mantra, if I have one, or I simply ‘sit back’ in my head and pay attention to the space inside me (best way I can describe it). If I’m lucky that’s the point when I start to feel more connected to the bigness of everything, but even if I don’t get there, I still feel calmer when I eventually open my eyes.
So if we translate that into journalling, first you get everything out of your head onto the page. Concerns, worries, half-baked ideas, preoccupations. He said this, she said that. The what ifs? The resolutions. Get it all out. And then keep writing. Start asking the questions and see what you come up with. Once I’ve dumped everything out of my brain I find it’s much easier to start looking at things from a different perspective. Sometimes I’ll keep my notebook by my side all day, adding more notes as they occur to me. What started as chaos in the morning might look very different by the evening.
Another really powerful journalling technique is dialoguing, where you write out a dialogue between you and another person/place/feeling/part of yourself, writing both sides of the ‘conversation’. For example, you could write a dialogue between you and the ache in your foot. Start with: Hello foot, why are you aching? What are you trying to tell me? And on the next line write out a response from your foot, going back and forth until you come to a natural pause. You could have a conversation with anything you want more clarity about — a colleague at work. Your house. Your fear about a certain situation. You could even bring out the big guns and have a conversation with God/the universe/your idea of a higher power that means something to you. Ask a direct question and then write out the response.
The other journalling technique I use a LOT is letter writing. Like the dialoguing, you can write letters to people, places, things, feelings — anything and everything, really — but it’s especially powerful when you write a letter to yourself as yourself. Try writing a letter as your future self, one year older than you are now. Or five years older. Or as your 80-year-old self. What does she have to say? What clarity can she share about your current situation? I like to imagine that my future self knows a heck of a lot more about the world than I do, so when she ‘writes’ me a letter I feel I’m accessing the part of me that’s wise and loving. Doesn’t matter that it’s the me of today who’s writing it — I’ll often read a letter back and wonder where did that come from?! Sometimes it’s magical, sometimes it feels a bit silly, but it’s always useful.
I journalled everyday for the first few years of my bereavement and alongside my weekly trip to see my therapist and my eventual artist dates with my camera, these helped me heal and move forward in my life. I’ve been journalling for 30 years, but it wasn’t until I was plunged into grief that my journalling started to go deeper. I had more questions and desperately wanted to find some answers. I didn’t find the answers I wanted, but I did start to unravel the answers I needed. I didn’t meditate during those years — I sat with my mind in a very different way — but I can tell you that these days I find the journalling I do after meditation is often quite profound, so keep a notebook by your side when you meditate and jot down anything that comes to you, no matter how small.
It would be lovely to think that we could read a book or attend a seminar and be gifted with all the wisdom we’ll ever need. There are some extraordinary teachers out there we can learn from, and I am always looking for new breadcrumb trails to explore, but what I know to be absolutely true is when it comes to me and how I live my life, no one knows more than I do. I’m the expert of me just as you are the expert of you. So pick up a pen and start writing a letter… see where it takes you. xo
Friends, it would be silly of me not to mention my journalling course. Journal Your Life is currently in session but will be running again in September. In the meantime, The Sacred Alone starts next Monday and is an invitation to spend 20 minutes a day tuning in to that quiet knowing space inside you that offers wisdom, refuge and calm. If you’d like to practice some meditation-and-journalling magic, this is the place.
While I’m exploring The Sacred Alone with 322 other people (that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it) I thought I’d share an old post from 2009. I don’t know why I even thought to read this post today, but perhaps there’s somebody out there who needs to read these words. I offer this as yet more evidence that we CAN create the life we dream of. That is IS worth trying, it IS worth reaching high. In a year’s time, or five years’ time, or even in six months’ time, life could look very different. Let’s work towards making that happen…
Sometimes we don’t believe we are worthy of receiving what we dream of; sometimes we don’t believe it could ever happen. Sometimes we are so convinced of our apparent unworthiness we do everything we can to prevent the good stuff entering our lives. We don’t do this consciously, of course. I’m slowly learning that all I need to do to help the good stuff manifest is to step out the way, to stop littering the path with my worries and insecurities, and all the endless head-chatter that scares the dream whisps away. In some ways it’s easier to sabotage our dreams than help them become reality — that way, when they don’t happen we can shrug our shoulders and say, ‘see? I knew it. I’m not worth it.’ But lately I’ve been trying this idea on for size: what if I AM worthy? What if it is okay for good things to come into my life?
There was a part of me that assumed life would be easier once I survived the grief — that I’d embrace a new life-is-short credo and let go of all my fears, gliding through life feeling the power of survival under my wings. But that didn’t happen. Life still felt as difficult as ever, if not more so. But today I realised that I’ve reached a place where I’ve let go of some expectations — of what my life should be looking like by now, of what I am capable of doing, of who I could be. I’m starting to embrace what is, and that includes giving my dreams more space to breathe.
I always thought I’d be married with kids by now, that I’d be more successful by now, and more established blah blah blah. What I’m starting to grasp is that this is it — this is my life — so why not have some fun with it? View it as a malleable batch of bread dough and see what shapes I can create. Because no one else is going to do it for me, and, heck, maybe some good stuff will happen. This weekend I made a good start on my book proposal, and in doing so I drop-kicked the whiny but-who-do-i-think-i-am-to-write-a-book out of my third-floor window.
My part of the deal is to work hard, be committed and have a little faith. And to make room in my life for the good stuff to flow. We are allowed to have our dreams, big and small and everything in between. Think of them like your children, to be protected and nurtured, believed in and encouraged — and when the time is right, you need only get out of their way so they can stretch their wings and fly.
First posted November 1st, 2009