Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Test

I “broke up” with a friend the other day. It was one of those “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” kind of things. But I also think it was maybe a test for me...

This “friendship” actually started out many months ago as something more. But as quickly as the connection was felt, it became clear that neither of us was in an emotional space to be in that kind of relationship. So he ended it. In a way that triggered many of my anxieties, insecurities, and cynicisms about love and relationships. Which was unfortunate because the time we spent together had actually begun, or so I thought, to heal those things as well. If you've been reading along, then you may realize that I used this triggering experience as an opportunity to work on healing those things for myself; an opportunity to face their roots, let go of the pain, and move forward with renewed hope. That is the blessing, the hope I take from this pain.

I have looked back to this not so distant-past, and thought to myself, “I should have known better...” I heard parts of his story... I know mine. I know things - theoretical and actual things, because of my education and own life-story - about the human emotional experience. And so I think to myself, “I should have known better...”

But he was cute. And he made me smile. He challenged me in conversation in ways that I thrive off of. He liked me. He brought me good wine! And - my emotional-saviour complex kicked in - he was going through a hard time which I wanted to help ease. As a friend, if I couldn't be more.

I reconnected with him to “debrief” as sometimes happens after a time when a relationship has ended, and we both expressed interest in remaining friends... whatever that might look like. Perhaps it was simply too soon for us to try to be friends. Perhaps the reason we'd met had passed, and our trying to hold on only made things worse. For both of us. I am sad to see this friendship end, for sure. And I do hope he is able to find his own peace and healing. But I will not be someone's emotional verbal punching bag. That is not healthy nor loving for either of us. And my ability to so clearly see that; to so clearly stand up for myself; to so clearly let go of a troubled friendship by my own deciding power is new. That is where I feel this was a test – to see if I truly have been able to let go of some of those insecurities and anxieties; to reduce the pull of my emotional-saviour complex; to accept that my situation is not what I wanted it to be and move towards change; to believe that I, and my reasons, are enough; to embrace the hope for different in the future.

Maybe it is true that “I should have known better...” Maybe I did, but decided to proceed anyway. It doesn't really matter in hindsight. All I can do now is go forward with experiential evidence and the confidence to know better next time.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Be Beautiful – Be Happy

After re-sharing that travel journal, I was going to move on from the beauty discussion. But I read a response to the Dove video that inspired more comments. [read response here: Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable…and Kind of Makes Me Angry]. This author conveyed some interesting and valid points about the lack of diversity represented and some of the underlying messages that have the potential to feed into society's view of beauty and worth. But I didn't hear what this author heard in one of the final quotes – the one I highlighted in my first post about this video:
I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, the way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

This author commented:
Did you hear that, ladies? How beautiful you are affects everything—from your personal relationships to your career. It could not be more critical to your happiness! And while it could be argued that the woman was actually talking about how you feel about yourself or something, it is clearly edited to suggest that the “it” is beauty.

I believe that what we get out of something we read or see often says more about where we are at individually than about the original intended message. That becomes truth for us, different from others. And that is one of the wonderful things about this world – that we each have a unique viewpoint to contribute to the conversation!

So the message I heard from that quote and the entire video was a reminder: like it or not, the reality is that our perceptions of our own beauty – and perhaps more so, our beliefs about how beautiful others perceive us to be – often do impact the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, the way we treat our children... your happiness. ...it impacts everything. And what an important, uplifting, empowering realization that others often perceive our beauty differently than we do ourselves – perhaps because they are also experiencing: true beauty [that] shines through the eyes, is heard in the laughter, and felt from the smile of a friendly personality ...experienced in the over-all content, fun-loving, intelligent, peaceful energy flowing through her.
[see “...Be a Beautiful Woman” for more of my comments on true beauty]

In that way, beauty becomes way more than just something that you are. It becomes something that you do. Be [beautiful] is a verb. It takes action. Yes, there is natural (physical) beauty which the woman in the video talks about being more grateful for; but to express that gratitude requires action – whether it is through personal hygiene/style/accessories highlighting the physical; or through the confidence and personality she exudes. Haven't many people – particularly in the dating game – talked about the change in physical attractiveness, for better or for worse, as ones personality begins to shine through?!

The author concludes with a challenge to critical thinking:
What you look like should not affect the choices that you make. It should certainly not affect the friends you make—the friends that wouldn’t want to be in relationship with you if you did not meet a certain physical standard are not the friends that you want to have. Go out for jobs that you want, that you’re passionate about. Don’t let how good looking you feel like you are affect the way that you treat your children. And certainly do not make how well you feel you align with the strict and narrow “standard” that the beauty industry and media push be critical to your happiness, because you will always be miserable. You will always feel like you fall short, because those standards are designed to keep you constantly pressured into buying things like make up and diet food and moisturizer to reach an unattainable goal. Don’t let your happiness be dependent on something so fickle and cruel and trivial.

To some extent I agree with these points. Relying only on the strict and narrow “standard” that the beauty industry and media have defined , we will always be striving for an unattainable goal. But let's rephrase some of them a little:
What you look like should not affect the choices you make...the friends you make – because you feel and do beautiful and confident enough to make choices and friends that enhance your life, true beauty, and happiness;
Go out for the jobs that you want, that you're passionate about – because you feel and do beautiful and confident enough to do so;
...let how good looking you feel like you are affect the way that you treat your children – because you feel and do beautiful and confident enough to want to impart the same beauty and confidence in them;
And certainly do not make how well you feel you align with the strict and narrow “standard” that the beauty industry and media push be critical to your happiness – but be beautiful and confident enough to re-define your perceptions of your own beauty because that will likely impact your happiness.

Rather than trying to turn away from the impact beauty has on our happiness – because I don't really think it's something we can actually get away from in today's culture – let's embrace it, expand on it, grow with it, and become even more beautiful in the true sense of beauty. Because, to edit the final comments of this author's response: 
you are so, so much more than [physically] beautiful.

So Be Beautiful – it might just increase your happiness!

Friday, 19 April 2013

“... Be a Beautiful Woman.”

***This post is from a travel journal I wrote in March 2008 and shared on Facebook. I'm sharing it again here in response to the Dove Real Beauty Sketches ad, and the statistic they quoted.***

"...only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful"

“Is it difficult to be a beautiful woman?” this deliciously dark-skinned Sicilian asked me with a smile at the farewell party he & his friends were hosting for us. I remember responding with a smile in my somewhat alcohol-induced state, “In this country? Sometimes.”

In the memory of that moment, I am at first amused at my own lack of humility...

And yet, why? Why must I be embarrassed by my (honest) first reaction? Why must we hide behind Canadian niceties and humility? For Italians – French & Spaniards as well – to confidently acknowledge one's own beauty is not seen as arrogant. It is simply being confident and... well, beautiful! It is a sign of self-respect and self-esteem. It acknowledges the true and unique beauty of all women (or all people – they have some very beautiful men in those countries as well!), no matter their shape, size, colour or accessories. Why can't we profess our own beauty here, in North America, without the worry of being seen as arrogant, snobby or just plain rude by our fellow citizens?

Well, let me try:
I am confident enough in myself, and have enough self-respect to admit that most days I am able to look in the mirror and see a pretty, young woman reflected there. And I do believe the few guys who have genuinely looked me in the eye and told me I was beautiful. I believe they found beauty in what they saw.

More than that, I believe that the true beauty of a woman is not in her physical appearance alone. But in the way she carries herself. In the self-confidence she eludes, the self-respect she maintains, the contentedness that surrounds her being. It can be and is often communicated in the awareness of proper hygiene, clothing styles to suit the body-type, hair-styles and make-up application that enhance the features. And yes, there are some women who have been blessed with a natural beauty that not everyone can claim. I have been able to embrace my own over the past few years as my self-confidence has grown, and I have learned to carry myself in that way.

But true beauty shines through the eyes, is heard in the laughter, and felt from the smile of a friendly personality. It is experienced in the over-all content, fun-loving, intelligent, peaceful energy flowing through her.

I have not always had this confidence in myself. I have not always possessed these qualities. And I still have days where it's a tough, uphill struggle. But I think, and hope, these are qualities that people are now experiencing when they comment on my beauty (whether they could name it as such or not). It is a beauty I try to exude, and am continually aspiring to...

I'm sure this Sicilian guy was trying to give me a compliment with his question. I'm sure he didn't intend for it to spiral me into thought. All I can say is that I enjoy dressing up, putting on make-up and doing my hair. I even enjoy the attention, the double-takes and smiles – sometimes even the off-hand whistles and tasteful comments – from guys (or girls). I enjoy the occasional perks that come with an attractive smile and personality; a little extra ice-cream in my cone, a free drink, etc. I enjoy it as recognition of my natural beauty and the time & effort I spent enhancing it; and perhaps even more so for the peaceful, friendly energy I hope I exude most of the time.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Truth: “You are more beautiful than you think”

“It's troubling. I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children. It impacts everything. It couldn't be more critical to your happiness.”
~ Florence

The post I started writing for this week wasn't feeling right. It's a topic I do want to share but it's just not quite ready, which was causing me some anxiety about not having anything to post today! Then the Dove Real Beauty Sketches ad was splashed all over Facebook yesterday.

The last comment from the ad:
“Our self perceptions are generally kind of harsh and unbecoming when really, that's not how the world sees us. We spend a lot of time as women analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren't quite right. And we should spend more time appreciating the things that we do like.

reminded me of one of the last points I made in my previous post:
“I wonder... if we could focus on looking for more of what we liked about past relationships – and less on running from what we don't like – would it change the way we engage in future relationships?”

There are perhaps so many different ways we could alter that comment and apply it to a million different things in life, like:
I wonder... if we could focus more on appreciating the things that we do like -and less on trying to fix the things that aren't quite right- would it change the way we engage in daily life?
Would we be happier?

Further, I was flabbergasted by the statistic quoted above the video on the dove.com page:
...only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.” 
Which means, statistically, not even 1 of these 12 women considers herself beautiful.

I wrote and shared a travel journal 5 years ago that was inspired by a question from a Sicilian about being a Beautiful Woman. I wanted to share it again in response to this ad and that 4% statistic. However my first thought while re-reading it was “gosh that sounds a little arrogant I can't believe I posted it 5 years ago! How young and naive I was, which I can of course now see through wiser eyes framed by laugh lines and other early signs of ageing...”
I had second thoughts about posting it here... But this blog is about being vulnerable! About being truly seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen. Not only by allowing others to see me(us) that way; but also to see myself(ourselves) that way. One way to do that is to confidently embrace my(our) own beauty, and to celebrate the beauty of others. And much of what I said 5 years ago continues to ring true, even if my confidence in it ebbs and flows at times.

So stay tuned, this week's 2nd instalment will be a re-sharing at that travel journal. Until then – tell me, what is it you appreciate about your own beauty?

Friday, 12 April 2013

The A**hole and The Prince

“Because the rational mind cannot process love or suffering, for example, it tends to either avoid them, deny them, or blame somebody for them, when in fact they are the greatest spiritual teachers of all, if we but allow them.”
~ Richard Rohr,
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

How do I move on with the hope of ever having a lasting relationship with someone else who does those things for me, when everyone around me says “But he's an a**hole”?

I had an epiphany while writing those words for the previous post. Not about blaming others for my inability to let go or move on. But about the words we say to people or in situations where letting go and moving on may be necessary.

In the first few weeks and months after that particular relationship ended, my knee-jerk reaction was to defend this man I had loved. Surely he must have had a reason; something must have happened. Because the man I fell in love with was not an a**hole! But the longer term impact of others' insistence that this guy was bad news and I had “dodged a bullet” became clear as I wrote the words above. This man had been good to me and good for me for a time. If he turned out to be an a**hole, as I keep being reminded, then how do I trust anyone who is good to me and good for me to not become an a**hole after a time?

When we focus on the a**hole at the end of the story, we forget the prince from earlier on. We forget the human from throughout – the one who made us smile as much as, if not more than they made us cry. We forget the lessons we learned and the growth we experienced. All the things that have -hopefully- made us stronger, wiser, even better people.

 I know that not every a**hole was a prince at one time. And maybe not every prince will be an a**hole at some point. But both are human.
I wonder... if we could focus on looking for more of what we liked about past relationships – and less on running from what we don't like – would it change the way we engage in future relationships?

What did you like about your last relationship that ended?
What do you like – and want more of – about your current relationship?


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

I was Lucky to be Loved by You – Retelling the Story


It's been 7 years since we met. I don't actually remember the exact date, but it was sometime in April 2006. I looked into your striking blue eyes and knew immediately that you would have a significant impact on my life. I remember that we laughed a lot, even from that very first day. I wanted to laugh with you forever.

I had a difficult time fully letting go and moving on from our relationship.

Because, even though it ended rather brutally, damaging my hope, my trust, my belief in love... still we had some amazing times together! I experienced things I will never forget. I learned lessons about myself, about life, about love and relationships that I continue to value. I want to be able to honour those things, while letting go of the pain.
But how?

How do I remember and honour the good when everyone around me says “But he's an a**hole”? How do I smile at the memory of a can of baked beans when everyone around me says “But he's an a**hole”? How do I hold on to the times you made me feel special and loved; the encouragement and space you allowed me to explore and be who I was, when everyone around me says “But he's an a**hole”?

How do I move on with the hope of ever having a lasting relationship with someone else who does those things for me, when everyone around me says “But he's an a**hole”? Even now, 6 years after you disappeared.

I no longer want to be a victim, nor even a survivor of your disappearance. I've allowed myself to be that for far to long now.
Instead, I want to be blessed by your presence in my life.

I want to let go of the pain and fear – and remember all that I experienced and learned and grew from.
I want to let go of you... and hold onto the knowledge that I was lucky, for a time, to love you and to be loved by you.

Someone asked me recently if there was anything else I wanted to communicate to you. I thought for a moment about all I've just written – which is really more for me than for you – and I realized the only thing left to say was:
    Good bye!

Friday, 5 April 2013

“...a place for me in your heart”

[I've been aiming for one post a week with this blog – to keep it “pressure-free” and prolong my fear of running out of things to write! But since an underlying theme has been (and will continue to be for the next few posts I'm working on) facing myself and letting go, I really wanted to share this today...]

Two years ago my brother and (now) sister-in-law asked me to sing at their wedding: Tracey Chapman's The Promise. Beautiful song!

I printed off the chord chart and found the video on YouTube to practice. And then, music being the ever-emotion-evoking force it is, I bawled my way through that first practice. I never told my brother & sister-in-law (this will be the test if they're reading, lol!), or anyone actually. But this was a song – about waiting, remembering, and finding your way back together – that I had played on repeat at one time in my life while waiting, remembering, and hoping to find our way back together. Since I had already gently discouraged one song choice, I couldn't go back to them again and ask for yet another. It was time for me to create new memories and associations for this beautiful song anyway. Difficult as it may have been, this was one more step towards closure, letting go, and moving on.

I put the chord chart away after the wedding, hid it in the back of my binder. It fell out the other day. My fingers stumbled over chord progressions half-forgotten at first, but it came back quickly by the 3rd play through. My voice becoming more confident with each note. I smiled.

Letting go can be so freeing! And no one can explain that to you until you experience it for yourself.

I found I was no longer singing this song for someone in my past. I was singing it for someone I may have yet to meet. Someone I am waiting for, remembering from some long-ago dream, hoping to find my way to...

More exciting for me with this is that I'm singing again! I don't know when exactly I stopped because I didn't notice until I started again. But I have begun to enjoy listening to, playing and singing along to almost anything, even the songs that have had somewhat painful associations, simply because they're great music and I like singing them. They will probably always evoke certain memories or associations, even certain feelings. And I may crash down from this possibly false-euphoric high I seem to be on right now (there's still some of the bitter-cynic holding on ;). But I'm going to enjoy this freedom from letting go! I'm going to sing!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Letting Go of the Right Thing

“It must have been recognized that to go forward there is always something that has to be let go of, moved beyond, given up, or 'forgiven' to enter the larger picture”
~ Richard Rohr,
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Weeks after my first relationship ended I still had memories of him around my apartment – pictures, stuffed animals, frivolous trinkets that only held meaning because they were from him. “They're part of my decor,” I protested to my friend who questioned the lingering presence. “If I put them away there will be a hole in my apartment!” My friend pointed to his heart and said “Or a big ol' hole in here.”

Letting go can leave one feeling empty inside as it is often meant to create space for something new or different. What if there isn't something new to fill that emotional space right away? I suppose then it may be true that “time heals”; and like a packed wound, it may be from the inside out, slow, steady, sometimes painful or with an irritating itch!

However a perhaps more important question has come to my mind on this topic in the past few weeks: How can we be sure we are letting go of the right thing?

I let go of the hope instead of the hurt.

While listening to music the other day, Anna Nalick's song Wreck of the Day came on. She got to the line “If this is giving up, then I'm giving up, giving up - On love” and I broke down. I realized that I have been holding onto the pain of past break-ups, and letting go instead of the hope of future love. Further, I packed and healed that previously hope-filled emotional space with protective bitter cynicism masked as independent realism.

I wrote a piece a few years ago when I first started to realize that I was losing hope:
“...hope of finding someone who'd stay when things got tough; hope of falling in love again; hope of being swept off my feet; hope of not spending the rest of my life without a relationship, without someone to share it with. I gave up hope, and convinced myself that I no longer really wanted that. Or at least, that I would be happy without it.
And yeah, I'm sure I would be happy without it.
But I'm not so sure that I want to be without it...”

I ended that piece by saying: “I gave up hope. But... maybe hope didn't give up on me.”
And I believe that now! I have been working on letting go of the right thing - the pain and bitter cynicism - and am finding that hope is among the things slowly healing and re-filling the opening space. A more mature, realistic hope that continues to embrace the possibility of being happy “without” - but hope none-the-less!

I'm so glad in this moment that letting go is a continual process of life's journey. So that I can begin to let go of the right thing, and find my way back to things I'd rather have held on to.