Introducing the Enoughness Project: My study in gratitude, receivership and transcendence

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Kip calls these my cheetah jammies. (I always hang my cotton Target nightgowns on a satin hanger. You don’t?)

“Cool jammies, Mudder,” Kip says, a talking baby koala hanging from my right side like it’s eucalyptus. It makes me laugh every time this three-year-old snuggle monster calls me “Mother,” so he does it often.

“Are you a cheetah?”

“Yes, Kippy, I am a cheetah,” I whisper.

“Mommyyyy?”

“Your mommy is a cheetah. And so are you because you can run sooo fast,” I say.

“I suuuure can! I sure can wun wiwy fast,” he sings, then pauses. “I wuv you, my mudderrrr.”

He leans his head into the curve of my neck and pats my back the same way I do when I want to let him know without words that I love him. It’s the first thing in the morning.

It seems blasphemous in hindsight to put him down in that moment so that I might return to fixating on what to wear for the day, but that’s what I do. The recent indulgence in birthday cake and pizza feels full in my midsection. I think I look a little bit pregnant and the weather has turned warm, requiring me to forego the layers I’d usually employ to hide myself.

If only I had a shirt that looked nice and also hid this stomach thing I’ve got working.

If only I had something other than last summer’s cotton dresses to throw on.

If only I had a different body altogether. Yeah, I wish I just had a different body…

Should this If Only voice go totally unchecked, it might say: “OMG, what is wrong with you? Seriously, what is up with your body? You know that if you want to look fit, you’ve got to get control of yourself, lazy. I’m talking about exercise. And no birthday cake. I don’t care if it is your five-year-old’s birthday. Get it together.”

In this moment, precisely 30 seconds after releasing Kip, the embodiment of joy, from my arms, I feel sad. I think about how much better I’d feel about everything if I had a new shirt. A new shirt would solve all my problems. I wonder if I have time to go buy one. Or a new dress. Something to make me look more fantastic than I feel in this moment.

But I’ve made a deal with myself and with the universe, and a new shirt is not an option. This deal–it popped into my head in a way that felt important while meditating one night– I’m calling it my Enoughness Project: A study in gratitude, receivership and transcendence. You could call it a sort of spiritual detox, a process of recognizing my own innate enoughness.

What the Enoughness Project entails:

-No frivolous shopping trips. I will not purchase any nonessential material items for three months. This particularly means clothes, beauty products and home accessories. I’ve never been a credit-card-debt-racking slave to beauty and fashion, and I don’t *think* my friends would describe me as a shopper, but when I want to make myself feel shiny and new, I often seek out Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, Target or the makeup counter for things that will spruce up my body, my appearance or my nest at a low cost.

-I must accept blessings in whatever form they come. My gut reaction when I’m facing generosity, gifts, work opportunities, epiphanies, beautiful moments, etc., is to think or say “Thank you so much. But I can’t accept that.” In other words, “I don’t deserve that.” With this project, I must remain open to receiving all the wonderful blessings that come my way and leave it at “Thank you so much. I’d love that.” Because I need to buy the line I give everyone else: You are amazing, you are a child of God and you deserve all the blessings in the universe. (Everyone does.)

-Maintain conscious awareness of all the blessings I already enjoy. This means opening my eyes a little wider so I can take in all that I have—and be grateful for it.

The point?

If you’ll pardon some redundancy, there are several points to this project:

-Separate the association between looking good and being good.

-Get comfortable with receiving blessings

-Be grateful for all that I already have

-Get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption, grow my understanding of when/why I buy things and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values.

What was the impetus for the Enoughness Project?

I went to the dentist. That night, as I was meditating, I received a clear call, which may have been inspired by my conversation with the Bosnian dental hygienist who I’ve seen a hundred times but who has never made mere mention of the horrors she experienced during the ethnic cleansing of her people until that day. I listened to her tales of fear, torture, bleakness and not having enough food to feed her tiny children and, with tears in my eyes, I felt sickened by my own to-do list, which included things like “look for a new going-out dress” and “buy a turquoise accent piece for the living room.” The vision of my elegant dental hygienist huddled on the floor with her four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, both hungry, in a foxhole of couches and chairs, hoping to sleep all night protected from gunfire in the streets while her husband worked at the prison camp…

Her story brought an undeniable clarity within me: I have everything I need and almost all of what I want. In listening to her experience in her home country and in receiving her call to enjoy everything we have in this country, going out and buying stuff on a whim, though a regular habit, officially became an expired habit for me.

That said, it seems worthwhile to clarify I’m not foregoing shopping out of disgust for American mass consumption, although the trend does trouble me. The connection I felt with my dental hygienist was merely a catalyst for me to examine my own motives for consumption when, in reality, I have everything I need, no one is hungry and we are safe. This is not a political statement but rather a deeply personal exploration.

Send me some good vibes on this journey?

As most of us know, changing habits can be extremely difficult, and this will be no exception. My Enoughness Project is going to be a hard row, and I’ll be blogging about it as things come up. It’s sure to call up a whole slew of deep-down feelings, ideas, beliefs and experiences just waiting to surface; and, as this project is, after all, intended to induce transcendence, this is just as it should be.

With luck, in three months, at the very least, I’ll have the wherewithal to embrace life’s sweetest moments without preoccupying myself with material predicaments like what I’m going to wear. Instead of putting Kip down to stare at my closet, I’ll swing my little koala around in my arms, snuggle him close to my cheetah jammies, bathe him in laughter—and then get dressed.

Trying to find the sun amid the storms

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To see the sun on these days of gray, I must make my own light brighter.

I woke up scared last Thursday night to a tremendous storm. Lightning flashed through the skylight and thunder shook my window. Two frightened dogs nuzzled my body, trapping my legs in a cage of down and my husband slept beside me. Rain pelted the roof. Wind howled. Water rushed in our gutters. For the first time in years, I was scared of a storm. If my boys had woken up crying, I’d have told them, “Come here. I got ya. It’s just a storm. Snuggle in beneath our covers and just fall asleep. I got ya. Everything is ok.”

But they didn’t wake up and I didn’t get to say those words. Instead I tossed about in pillows and sheets and dogs feeling a sense of ominousness. Is everything ok? I fell back to sleep. Eventually, around 5 a.m. with the storm still raging, Brian rose for the day and went downstairs, leaving me deeply asleep in bed. Is everything ok?

Bombs explode, Congress ignores me, the cold continues, grayness pervades, the marriage challenges, blogs go unposted, work remains unaddressed, the night seems so angry, the dreams are nightmares, the basement floods.

Is everything ok?

I want to bake brownies with mint chips for comfort. I want to buy myself a massage, or a pedicure, to make myself feel better. I want to flip on the TV and submerge my brain in someone else’s story. I want to eat chips fried fresh and the entire can of Herdez salsa casera. I want to escape from this moment, this sogginess. I want to see the sun.

I call my mom, because she loves the sun, too, and she has tricks for finding it when I don’t. She tells me to go to the store and buy something bright and springy, so that every time I look at it, I’ll be cheered. And so I get two cans of silly string, which the boys spray all over the patio with gusto, and I pour a glass of wine while I make Texas chili.

For a few hours, I feel better. And then night again falls.

Kids are in bed, I brush my teeth, I wash my face and I dawdle in the bathroom trying to avoid the room across the hall, the room where I meditate. The ickiness is back and I swear my hands still feel waterlogged from the morning of bailing debris out of our drain. In this moment, at the end of this damp, water-flooded day when everything seems drenched in hopelessness, I know I have one tool to make everything be ok.

I can meditate. I’ve been avoiding it lately. A few weeks ago I felt something indiscernible that scared me. I started feeling like certain prayers were being answered, and that scared me. And so I pulled the plug. No more asking God to use me. No more asking the Universe to make me more aware of God working in my life and through me. I’m not ready, I said. I’m not ready. I’m afraid. No more. I need a break.

I took a break, if you could call it that. A meditation moratorium, a spiritual time out. “I’m not ready,” I told God. “You understand, don’t you?” During this break I’ve dreamed of whales. Whales bringing me trash from the deep, whales inviting me to sojourn with them in the depths, whales stealing children from the seashore, whales accompanying me through shark-infested waters like bodyguards, whales telling me it’s ok, whales swimming with me, whales surrounding my kayak and escorting me to safety…

Nonetheless, I have avoided my meditation practice like the plague, for fear I’d have to continue on the path I was on, the path toward higher consciousness. I haven’t sat in my usual space for longer than two minutes. I haven’t followed the full extent of my practice in weeks. I haven’t made time for the exercise that makes my body feel vital. I’ve had very little mindfulness of what I’m eating. Everything does not seem ok.

The funny thing about spiritual living is that it’s a lot like falling in love. Once you’ve fallen in love, you cannot un-fall, despite your best efforts to take it slow, or even to stop it from happening. Once you hop on a spiritual path, you’re on it and you become like a surfer on a longboard, riding forever. If you bail, the board follows you, because it’s tied to your ankle. Forever.

And so, recognizing there’s no escaping from my sincere search for God and love and oneness with all things, I sit down to meditate. I do so begrudgingly, but it’s my last resort, so as I sit down, I close my eyes and stare hard at the place between my eyebrows. I’m ravenous for a solution. A few moments in, I know. At least for right now, I know.

Making my own light brighter is my best hope of seeing the sun.

It’s everyone’s best hope.

If I take care of my body, if I fill up my spirit, if I honor my heart, if I do what I know I need to do to make my light brighter, then maybe I’ll have enough light and love not just for myself, but for others as well. What if my sun is bright enough that someone who hasn’t seen the sun in forever suddenly catches a glimpse of it? What might that do for a person? If I genuinely feel that everything is ok, maybe someone else will sense it and believe everything is–or will be–ok, too, no matter how cold and gray it seems.

Wracked with the dis-ease of our nation, I’ve been praying for an answer to the question, “What can I do to help?” Apart from making donations, how can I help?

At least for today, it’s clear that I am to do the simplest yet hardest of things:  Make my own light brighter.

If we all commit to giving ourselves the very best in self care, thus making our own lights brighter, maybe everything really will be ok. You never know who you may touch, how God may use you today, tomorrow, every day. You can help. Each of us is the world’s greatest hope.

A prayer

Dear God,

We pray for Your revitalizing light to shine upon all people of the world, particularly on those wounded in any way in Boston and in Texas, and on those caring for them in any capacity.

Place in our hearts the knowing of exactly what it is we can do as individuals to create peace. Inspire us that we may be courageous enough to ask the question, “What can I do?” and to act on Your answer.

Reveal to us the part that’s ours to play in bringing heaven to Earth, no matter how small or grand the scale. And show us where and how we can heal ourselves, our neighbors, our nation, our world.

Bless all humankind in Your transformative love.

Amen

Miraculous healing follows my shoulder-shaking maiden snowboarding shred

I hurt myself superbadly about a week and a half ago. I went snowboarding with Brian and, admittedly, I fell down my fair share—onto my hands despite a seasoned rider’s advice to fall differently—and my joints in both arms ached, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. In fact, riding that board down the bunny hill was the most challenging, gleeful thing I’d done in a while. I loved it. Next morning, I woke up with debilitating pain in my rotator cuff, the likes of which I’d never known in 15 years of swimming, and I struggled to lift my right arm as pain coursed through the muscles of my collarbone over my shoulder bone, around my back and into my armpit.

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This I was just after I unknowingly injured myself doing a McTwist* in Shaun White’s half pipe* over the weekend. I hurt my shoulder fist pumping too hard.(*By “Shaun White’s half pipe,” I’m of course referring to what was probably a snow-covered landfill in Algonquin, Ill. And by McTwist*, I mean “snowboarding lesson.” Brian, a former professional ski bum, and I were seeking a level playing field so we could finally enjoy a snowy hill together without testing our marriage.)

I’d never been injured like this, physically, before. Snowboarding was my first attempt at overt athletic adventure since I became a mom four years ago, and I was a little bit furious and embarrassed I hurt myself doing it. The pain was terrific. It woke me at night and kept me up. I couldn’t move without grimacing. I couldn’t spread peanut butter on bread, slice a pear, lift my boys, play with them in the fresh snow, pet the dogs or do anything but throw all my focus into containing the pain. It reminded me of childbirth, that continuous, all-consuming pain that doesn’t go away until you hold your baby.

When the pain didn’t go away after two days, I knew I needed help. On the third day, an occupational therapist friend, who specializes in shoulders and arms, told me that, based on my impaired range of motion, I needed therapy probably for four to six weeks.

That same day, I booked it to the office of Dr. Dan Mossell at Mossell Holistic and cried on his table as he dug into the tenderest parts of my distressed rotator cuff—and my memory. Indeed, it appeared I’d been holding onto some issues in my tissues and, while the physical trauma was real, the injury of repetitive falls brought psychological issues to the forefront as well. As is a common experience for anyone attempting to lead a spiritual life, the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual often end up being connected. (Natch, everything is connected.) Specifically, an old belief surfaced: that my worth in the world hinged on whether I was successful. When I was a swimmer, especially in my teens, I defined myself almost entirely by how I performed in the pool, or by how I failed to perform, and that definition carried me into adulthood. How hard could I work to win enough recognition to prove I was as good as everyone else, maybe even better?

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Ah, highlights from my swimming grab bag. My parents recently returned to me a duffle containing all my old swimming photos, trophies, ribbons and medals, which date back roughly to when the KC Royals won the World Series (middle pic, circa age 8) and tell the story of a kid’s swimming life. It’s fun to revisit those times, memorabilia of which I hadn’t seen in a decade, but there’s more to the story. If I win this race, if I get this time, if I advance to the finals, if I help my team win, if all this hard work pays off and I happen to succeed, that makes me enough, right? That makes me good, right? That makes me better, right? And if I don’t win or advance, then…what does that make me? (Cue the catastrophe of self worth based on ego-bred ideals.) These beliefs are hard to unseat, but miracles are happening all the time.

That night after downing some arnica and icing my shoulder, as I sat in a near-scalding bath, skin glistening with Epsom salts packed around my rotator cuff, I discovered I was still hanging onto the tired old idea that an Emily who did great things was the best, most-enough Emily. And so, with some trepidation, I went into that feeling. I looked around in there, asked for help, thanked my muscles for everything they do, told my tissues it was safe to release the pain and confirmed with my highest self that I was ready to receive the opportunity to live bigger.

I prayed for the pain to be released, and I went to bed.

I woke the next morning to find my shoulder still hurt, so I went to see our family doctor, a former pro athlete who’d once suffered this same injury. He empathetically prescribed lots of ice, rest and Vicotin for nighttime. “It’s going to be at least two weeks before the pain subsides, before you can get comfortable enough to even sleep at night,” he warned. “And then you’re probably going to need four to six weeks of physical therapy. So just don’t expect to be your usual self and take it really easy.”

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It had been a while (15 years?) since the last time I packed a bag of ice directly onto my shoulder for 30 minutes. My rotator cuff was killing me, but the dog-and-kid snuggles were magically healing.

I slogged through the rest of the day with my arm plastered to my side, iced my shoulder in front of the TV with the boys, took the Vicotin gratefully that night, meditated and took another bath. There in the tub, by the light of one candle, I envisioned myself as radiantly healthy. I directed my consciousness toward appreciation of everything that I am. I tried to picture myself swinging Kip through the air, doing downward dog, feeling powerful in my body, being glowingly grateful for everything, but especially for the four amazing muscles that comprise my rotator cuff and enable some of life’s most wonderful movements—stretching, hugging, dancing, twirling children, reaching for the sky…

It wasn’t easy, and it took some deep breathing, some deep prayer and some deep faith, but I released the old beliefs about my worth in the world, replacing them with the truth that I am a child of God, therefore I am wondrous despite anything I do. There’s no decision to be made about me; I just am.

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Trophies, real or imagined, no longer define me, not even when an old one surfaces from my parents’ basement and makes its way into the hands of my boys, who think it’s the coolest sword with which they’ve ever played.

I woke the next morning tired, but no longer in pain. For good measure, I returned to Dan Mossell’s table for a second treatment one week after the snowboarding adventure. This time, there were no tears or cold sweats as he went to work on my shoulder. My range of motion was almost back, and he sent me away with the advice to take it easy, but gave me permission to stretch. “If it feels good, do it,” he said. “If it doesn’t, don’t.”

Ten days after our snowboarding adventure, which I will totally try again, despite Dan’s advice to try skis next time (“You know how you take down a steer, don’t you, Emily?” he quipped. “You tie its legs together.” ), I have no pain and my range of motion is almost completely back to normal. I’d be fibbing if I said I wasn’t surprised, considering how excruciating the pain was a week ago but, then again, I believe in miracles.

This is no accident. This is no misdiagnosis. This is no freak recovery. This is no coincidence. This feels like a miracle to me. And the amazing thing is that we’re all capable of receiving our own miracles, if we ask for them. This experience hurting and healing my shoulder is a timely reminder of the power of heart-centered prayer, meditation and good old-fashioned openness.

What is holding you back right now? Is it physical pain, emotional pain, beliefs you hold about yourself or the world in general? Whatever it is, take a moment to visit your own dark, quiet, healing space, be it your bathtub, your meditation room or your bedroom just before you fall asleep, and ask for help. Look right at whatever it is and give it permission to leave, if that’s what you want. See yourself living in the way you want to live. Believe that the vision is really you. Hold that vision and trust it will be so. And, if you’re so inspired, message me about your vision and I’ll hold it, charging it with prayer, for you as well. May a miracle so unimaginably wonderful take place in your life and bring you joy upon joy.

My inversion conversion, or I awkwardly ease into hatha yoga

The lanky guy in the back of the room had the gall to request inversions at the beginning of class today. Who does that? Hip openers, back bends, warrior poses…that’s all kosher, but only an a-hole requests inversions. Right?

Granted, I’m new to yoga. That is, I’m finding my way back to a hatha practice—I’m a born again beginner—and the idea of inversion poses is positively fearsome at this tender stage. I haven’t been regular about hatha yoga for more than five years…I since became a mom, started practicing Kriya yoga/meditation and metamorphosed my body and my relationship with it. And so everything, even sun salutations, feels foreign.

“I salute Adisvara (the Primeval Lord Siva), who taught first the science of Hatha Yoga—a science that stands out as a ladder for those who wish to scale the heights of Raja Yoga.”

– Prayer at the beginning of Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar

For years I’ve been attempting to scale the heights of raja yoga (royal yoga, or meditation) without accessing the ladder of hatha (physical yoga). One day last week, I don’t really know how it happened, but I ended up in a yoga class. And it was hard. It started out like riding a bike, but soon my limbs shook violently with both muscle weakness and the flow of energy into places long blocked. I was humbled, invigorated, emotional and sore. I went back. I cried during Warrior II. And then I went back again.

Today, after nearly an hour of warrior variations, leg-shaking repetitions of surya namaskara B (best corrective quote of the day: “Tuck your tailbone a little. We don’t want any J. Lo booty arches.”), and several breaths in dolphin pose, the teacher announced we could move our mats to the wall. She demonstrated how to enter headstand, salamba sirsasana, and then told us to get started. Admittedly, it’s a pose for beginners, and yet I froze.

“I’m a little scared of headstand,” I quietly confessed to her as she walked past.

“That’s ok,” she said sweetly, as though she were talking to an apologetic toddler. “It’s ok to be scared.”

I was 857 times less carefree about attempting headstand in yoga class than I was about taking to the bouncy castle in a dress.

I was 857 times less carefree about attempting headstand in yoga class than I was about taking to the bouncy castle in a dress this past summer. Both are risky maneuvers.

I followed her instructions, gathered the nerve to kick my legs into the air, expecting to feel my heels crash into the brick wall behind me, to feel strain in my neck due to incorrect form, to fail and go back into dolphin asana. I was ok with that, too. However, my legs went up, I felt the pressure in my forearms and, as I fixed my gaze on descriptionless space in front of my eyes, I observed my body holding itself steady, air all around me, legs reaching purposefully toward the sky. I breathed. I saw my vulnerability, my lack of control, my fear.

When I discovered I was actually in headstand, known as the “king of all asanas” for its many physical benefits, my upside-down squashy face flushed with glee akin to a five-year-old on Christmas morning. I took three more breaths, noting without question that I could now face anything in the world, officially, and brought myself back down into child’s pose, smiling.

My interior monologue: No way! I just freaking nailed sirsasana. That means I can do anything. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I wanted to hug the lanky dude in the back of the class.

B.K.S. Iyengar says of sirsasana in Light on Yoga, “The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid.”

I’ve been afraid of a lot lately, not the least of which is standing on my head without a spotter.

Probably like a lot of us in the past week, my anxiety has been rising—in public places, while the boys are at school and any time I think of Sandy Hook Elementary, which is often. I feel more vulnerable than ever, and more acutely aware of my own inability to control other people’s actions. Coincidentally, we rented Horton Hears a Who last weekend and watched it three times in three days. My four-year-old’s casual pronouncement, free of any fear, at the end of the movie is that Earth is just like those dust specks, and we are just like the Whos of Whoville. In other words, we drift along on what we believe to be secure, dependable ground when, in actuality, we’re on a speck of dust at the mercy of the cosmos.

You know what I know after today? It’s ok to be scared. Because, as inhabitants of this earthly world, we can choose to face our fears, feel them and trust in a greater order–God, the Universe, Nature, Love, Self, etc.–even when all points to chaos. Maybe the lanky dude in the back of the class knew, consciously or unconsciously, that we all needed to flip everything upside down for a few minutes to uncover new perspective. Bless that guy. Because of him, I might actually be the a-hole who requests inversions next time.

Another of my favorite four-year-old observations, which has nothing to do with philosophy on the meaning of life, but rather the rules of the Africa house at the zoo: "Uh oh, Mommy, this sign says 'no eating hamburgers, no sippy cups and and no cigarettes in here.' "

Another of my favorite four-year-old observations, which has nothing to do with philosophy on the meaning of life, but rather the rules of the Africa house at the zoo: “Uh oh, Mommy, this sign says ‘no eating hamburgers, no sippy cups and and no cigarettes in here.’ “

Bear with me and all these bullet points, but I’d like to discuss your bangin’ body

You know you’re gorgeous, don’t you? I bet you can do some incredible things with that body.

For reals, you know you can do anything with your body, right? I mean, you’re lovely as is, but all this talk of hard-work weight loss is weighing me down. If it’s important to you, there’s another way.

I noticed a recent Facebook status update from a friend requesting weight-loss motivation. In response to her update was string of recommendations for workout websites, strict eat-right plans and running challenges. Tools are obviously helpful with weight loss, yet they don’t touch the underlying issues—aka, feelings—that can prevent a typical person from having the leaner, fuller, stronger, pain-free-er, whatever-er, body he or she desires.

This is me the month before I became pregnant for the first time. I felt so free on this trip to Hawaii. I cleared so much on this trip. I was just beginning to understand the idea of being freed by inner awareness. My body has changed so much in the years since and, finally, I’m delighted to report, I’m a whole lot closer to “free” than I was when Brian snapped this pic of me.

So, let’s now address the elephant in the room. To you who are feeling dissatisfied with the current shape of your body, I ask you the following:

When you’re alone with your eyes closed in meditation or rest, how do you feel about yourself?

Breathe into that. You’re pretty rad, aren’t you? Wonderful, in fact. Yep, you’re positively loveable. So now that we’ve established the fact that you totally kick ass (you really do), let’s get to the heart of it.

You are a rare gem and, while you are not just a body, your body is a priceless treasure. (Quick exercise 1: Say that to yourself while looking in the mirror.)

You are worth taking care of. (Quick exercise 2: Say to yourself, “I am worth taking care of.”)

Taking care of yourself takes many forms, but in the realm of body composition, it involves empowering yourself, CEO-of-your-body, to make eating and lifestyle choices that resonate with your own template for health and wellbeing. More on that later.

First, here are some reasons not to lose weight:

  • For appearances
  • For someone else
  • To get the attention of a suitor
  • Because you think you should conform to conventional images of beauty
  • You think your body is all you have

I’m always struck with the effortlessness of my sons’ respective body images. Neither have baggage; Charlie can carry the boogie board all by himself. “Look at what I can do with my body!” is all that matters to him.

Now we’ve established your desire for weight loss is rooted in self-love (because this won’t work if it’s not), let’s continue…

In our material world, we are so quick to rush to a friend’s side with skinny-fying suggestions without even asking how he or she feels about what’s on the inside. Anti-feminist propaganda tells us that, in order to be today’s woman, we must be thin. And sexy. Thin is sexy. Unfortunately, “thin” is one of a long list of Pinterest-perfect expectations by which we’re being duped.

Love yourself like God and the Universe love you and you’ll reach your highest expression of self, physically, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and mentally. How you compare with images of societally agreed-upon sexiness won’t even matter at that point. (except, of course, when it suddenly does matter, but ideally you’ll be able to catch yourself before going down that treacherous path.)

Drilling down, here’s how I believe self-love looks in relation to weight loss

If you want to lose weight, go for it. But rather than cruelly demanding you get thinner and better right now, take the long view. Approach your new eating and exercise choices with the mindfulness of aiming for your body’s highest and fullest expression of itself.

Big picture: Self-love spawns self-care. Self-love also spawns a strengthening of the will, which changes habits. An equation: Self-love –> self-care + changed habits –> a strong, proportioned body. An affirmation: I give thanks, for I am free of all bad habits. Daily my power of dynamic will strengthens.

How self-love feels: Amazing, like you just got permission to do something you can’t believe is actually allowed. You know you’re in this world for a reason so, in every way, you treat yourself like you’re the ultra-special someone you are.

How self-love works to change your body, from a spiritual perspective: When you become mindful of your divine birthright—that you come from and are infused with God—you know your unlimited potential to be anything you want. You understand that your body can achieve any template you set for it because in God, all things are possible. I recommend picking up a meditation practice to get your awareness on.

Self love feels a little like running around a playground.

Self love in practice, as it relates to your kickin’ body:

  1. You feed yourself foods that make your light brighter. (Not-so-quick exercise 3: Sit in stillness, focusing on your breath. When you feel very calm, in your own words, ask your body questions like, “How often shall I eat pizza? How many glasses of wine are too many? When do you feel best? What makes you feel icky? Do you want me to eat dairy? How do you feel about meat? Are you ok with coffee? What do sweet treats do to you? Etc.” You’ll probably have a gut reaction to each question, so pay attention to what you “hear” first. Write it down. Then try it out. Tweak your diet according to your body’s answers to your questions and see how you feel, and how your body responds.)
  2. You eat with intention, slowly, and enjoy every bite.
  3. You pay attention to how your body responds to food, thoughts and activities. You honor what you notice. As CEO of your body and your life, this is your wondrous job.
  4. You move your body in ways that honor and enhance its awesome mechanics. You relish what you and your body can do together.
  5. You do things for yourself that allow you to be at your most vibrant:
  • Sleep!
  • Exercise
  • Take baths
  • Clear your calendar
  • Drink lots of water
  • Play outside, be outside
  • Cook with intention
  • Make plans with people who empower you
  • Sit down to eat regular meals
  • Buy groceries you know will make you feel awesome
  • Keep a gentle and kind internal monologue
  • Take care of your body by going to the dentist, the doctor, the chiropractor, the massage therapist, the hair dresser, the nail salon, etc.

Sleep makes everyone feel better.

In case you’re wondering why I’m all preachy about love and losing weight, read on…

My body and I have a complicated past. Do you and yours?

High expectations, glaring disappointment, passive aggression, ugly criticism, lack of gratitude, eating disorders and an inability to listen to anything it ever had to say to me. Me, pointed. My body, resentful.

About four months ago, I figured out the connection between self-love and my eating/exercise habits. Older versions of me would’ve rejected the term “self love” as narcissistic, arrogant and cloying, but the healthier me notes the precedence of love over almost every other energy in the universe. Finally, the new me in my head started to sound a little less mean (“What’s wrong with you carrying around all this extra weight and not being able to say no to that cookie? Why can’t you just be thin, body? What’s your deal?”) and a little more like this:

  • “Way to go figuring out which food has been giving you hives. You don’t need to itch, honey. I know you love the way bread and cookies taste, but it’s ok not to eat that stuff very often, if at all. You’re taking great care of yourself.”
  • “Wow, you’re a little jittery after that cup of coffee. I can see you don’t like how that feels. Guess what—I know you love coffee, so we’ll try decaf and see if that works better for you.”
  • “You really don’t feel very well when you don’t get enough sleep, girl, and you’re worth a good night’s sleep. Treat yourself to an early bedtime. Every night.”
  • “You never have to tell anyone about it, but you seem to want to go for a run.
    Go ahead, give yourself 30 minutes to walk, jog, run, sprint, whatever. Listen to that ridiculous song you love. You’ll feel so good afterward.”

Enjoying food.

I have no official initials behind my name to endorse my theory of the link between self-love and weight loss, but there’s this: After four months of this new perspective, I’m almost daily getting the question from people I haven’t seen in a while, “Have you lost weight?”

Honestly, I’m not sure whether I’ve lost physical weight, but I feel hundreds of pounds lighter, spiritually. My body and I cashed in our lifelong membership to a brutal, clandestine fight club for a more peaceful, gradual, lasting way–loving myself enough to grant myself a sound, healthy body–and I think it’s actually working.

It should be stated that I haven’t lost however many pounds and 30 years of pent-up junk all by myself. I’m an unwavering advocate of seeking resonant resources to recognize, release and rise above that which oppresses. (evidently, i’m also an advocate of accidental alliteration.) Meditation, energy healing, affirmations, bodywork, counseling and intuitive guidance have boosted me forth in my quest for a healthier, brighter me. Consider this your permission to seek the support that’ll get you into your best-self kind of space.  

Spiritual weight loss, a convoluted how-to:

  1. Figure out what’s holding you back from loving yourself. What are you holding onto that’s keeping you from attaining the body you desire? Feel free to employ any third parties that resonate with your value system to assist with this process.
  2. Clear it. I personally appreciate the assistance of prayer, meditation, affirmations, therapists, counselors, body workers, energy workers, psychics and friends. Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Weight Loss is a practical tool for uncovering your divine self.
  3. Go forth honoring yourself and your body in everything you do. See and feel the results.

One’s motivation for weight loss may vary but, as I see it, the best reason for wanting to hone your body is this: Love. Love yourself fully, put that love into practice and the physical results will follow.

With some luck, you’ll learn to appreciate your body for what it can do (walk, dance, bear children, chase kids and dogs, bend, swim, lift heavy things, hug, carry kids, etc.) rather than what it can’t do (be a runway model, turn heads on a red carpet, etc.) Gratitude and love for your body will free it.

I spent Saturday afternoon touristing around town with a wonderful old friend who lavished me with the kind of talking-to only good friends can: “You have always been a cute girl, but you’re, like, an incredibly beautiful woman, now. It’s about time you really believe that.” (I’m really working on owning the practice of self-love and gratitude for my body rather than just blogging about it. It’s an ongoing effort.)

Surprise! This birthday, I got a sea change.

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Birthday dinners are a really big deal in my family. Growing up, we always had the “family birthday” party, in which my sister and I mainlined Shirley Temples during the cocktail hour while the aunts and uncles drank scotch, and then we all sat around a big table to eat. My mom served everyone my favorite meal, which I ordered weeks in advance as part of the anticipation. Grandma Fogel brought the cake, a gorgeous stack of chocolate cake-and-buttercream layers complete with a dollop of her inimitable frosting flung on top for the birthday girl. Grandma Hughey brought the ice cream, meticulously crafted custard-style deliciousness with a vanilla bean galaxy in every scoop and the perfect consistency of a soft-serve machine. Birthday dinners were bliss.

Moving away from my big, beloved extended family meant reinventing my birthday. For the nine years I’ve spent living outside of Kansas City, I’ve always emphasized the importance of my birthday dinner, and a good cake. Under no small pressure of expectation, Brian has brought home some lovely cakes and devised some beautiful birthday dinners. Other years fall into a darker category. Take, for example, age 27, when we lived in Cabo and I willfully prepared a comfort-food birthday meal and baked my own birthday cake—specifically my recently deceased grandma’s recipe. Just before blowing out the candles, I crumbled into pieces upon noticing there were no aunts, moms, grandmas or sisters to slip their wedding rings over my burning candles in the Fogel-women birthday wish fashion. It was just Brian, a couple dogs, the sound of the sea and lonely little me. When I finally regrouped enough to blow out the candles, my eyes were sunken in a moat of mascara, Brian was flummoxed and my slice of cake tasted like sadness. At that time, and for years after, I defined my birthday by a special meal, the presence of adoring friends or family and, yes, bitchin’ cake and ice cream.

It’s hard to tell without a sample size of birthdays to prove it, but I think things are different now.

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Today is my birthday. I did not have a party. I was not physically surrounded by throngs of friends or family (but high fives of thanks to all those wonderfuls who are with me in spirit.) I changed two poopy diapers, did laundry, got shot and eaten by two pretend-gun-wielding “mean turtles” (aka, Charlie and Kip), emptied and loaded the dishwasher and it rained all day. We had big plans for dinner, though, yes we did. Brian left work early only to get stuck in the traffic of a five-car accident on Lake Shore Drive. I was just finishing prep on the boys’ dinner when he walked in, apologetic, expecting an emotional wife and ready to whisk us off to my favorite Thai restaurant. “It’s ok, Babe,” I said. “Let’s just stay home and eat what we have here—we have lots of good food in the fridge. Really.”

Brian knows the phrase “it’s ok” rarely can be taken literally, but I was sincere. He studied my face and smiled. “No way, we’ll order in, then. It’s your birthday.” I insisted we hold off. He did not trust me. I insisted again. He watched me closely for the next 30 minutes. Just to be safe, I deployed my internal observer to sniff out any signs of martyrdom. My day-of-birth without a special dinner and birthday cake? Could it be that I was ok with this?

Admittedly, I’d been celebrated to excess all weekend, but I’m historically (and super embarrassingly) insatiable about these sorts of things. Friday Brian came home with fragrant lilies. Saturday, we went hiking and returned home to have a music-filled dinner, which Brian finished with a cake he couldn’t bear to leave in our fridge one moment longer, so he stuck some candles in it and endearingly looped his ring over a flame. Sunday morning, the boys watched me figure out how to stand-up paddleboard while they played on the beach. And Sunday night we went on a surprise “family date” at a fancy steakhouse. After a thorough search, my internal observer called back, “All clear!”

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Evidently I was feted to capacity, a possibility I didn’t know existed for an affection-loving Leo girl like me, but there I was, declining my favorite meal, cake and candles in favor of putting the kids to bed and facing Brian on the couch just to chat. Turns out, it was a spectacular way to celebrate. In fact, it brought about the delivery of this year’s best birthday gift: a mini transformation.

I heeded my body: “Do you think we could hold off on rich food for a couple days, love?”

I paid attention to my heart: “Ah, do you feel all that love? What a blessed girl you are.”

I listened to my mind: “What a year. A proper birthday meal is rather inconsequential at this point, wouldn’t you say?”

And, eventually, during meditation, I felt my spirit speak, too: “Welcome to a new year, dear one. Endless blessings.”

It might seem precious in the grand scheme—come on, you’re talking about skipping a restaurant meal when people out there have real problems—but this little act of foregoing a special birthday dinner with intention was big for me. Instead of sticking to old patterns once deemed non-negotiable, I carved a new inner way. And, as I understand it, it takes little chisels to attain our highest design.

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Apparently, special occasions merit photo cards at certain restaurants. Considering I’m rarely organized enough to order prints of anything I snap, I appreciate this.

And now, an affirmation from “Spiritual Marriage,” a talk by Brother Anandamoy, one of my favorite monastics.

Divine Sculptor,

Chisel Thou my life

According to Thy highest design.

-Brother Anandamoy

On narcissism and blog-silencing inner transitions

I’ve broken from blogging because, yes, I’ve been busy, but the story of how “busy” unfolds for me has two parts:

Part 1

The act of writing about my innermost experiences and feelings has felt narcissistic to me. In this age of immediate feedback, posting means, right away, I can gauge my success on how many people are reading it, where people are reading it and how many of my girlfriends “like” it on Facebook. I don’t condone defining my success by these metrics, yet I found myself checking my stats too often, looking at Facebook too many times a day, feeling ashamed of writing personal tales and just generally not living in the present moment on days I posted.

The act of being present is all important as I navigate my quest for higher consciousness, so I needed time to figure out how to stay connected with spirit and with my family while also continuing my quest to get comfy putting myself out there. The formula for this was lost on me. And then I went to a wedding last weekend in Laguna Beach. My college friend, Lindsay, married a fantastic guy and I was surrounded by a raucous bunch of fabulously, delightfully LA-ish wedding guests, a couple of whom are close friends pursuing burgeoning careers in the acting/writing/entertainment industry. Amid the land of people who fearlessly put themselves out there, something clicked.

And so, magically, after diving into profound conversations with old friends and swimming in the Pacific (nothing like giving way to the waves to bring perspective), blogging doesn’t feel narcissistic to me today.

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Part 2

The second reason for my blogging silence: I’ve been going through inner mega changes and haven’t figured out how to write coherently about them yet. I’ll figure out how to report on it at some point, but I’ve needed to live deep in the moment of these changes without editing them. I’ll write more soon about each point, respectively, but this is a glimpse of what I’ve been up to since my last post:

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a. I’ve completely changed my relationship with food, and with myself. For those who know me well, they know I’ve long struggled with why, how, when and what I choose to eat, and with how I see myself, physically, as a result. I still can’t eloquently explain it because it’s too close, but I’m newly freed of emotional attachments to food choices, I’m highly aware of the physical effects different foods have on me and, for once, I’m capable of being unemotionally discerning in my choices. It feels miraculous to me. And so free.

b. I took a tele class on the joy of money (given by Alicia Isaacs Howes, spiritual “coach” and healer extraordinaire) and uncovered far more about myself and my relationship with God and the universe than has to do with just money. It was liberating and a little painful at times, and it was just the push I needed to recognize some things within, and to release them so the higher, lighter, freer Emily could emerge. (her emergence is still in progress, by the way.)

c. This is a big one, and it’s plenty “out there.” I’ve stumbled into being able to communicate with my spirit guides. It started during a visit to the energy healer we see as a family. I told her what I was seeing in my mind’s eye, she validated that she was seeing the same thing and—boom!—I’m aware of a council, let’s call it, of great ones who are there to guide me. All the time. We all have these guides, by the way. I’ve since spoken with a friend who sees this same exact scene when he goes inward. We just have to let go and open up so we can hear them, or at least that’s what I did. All thanks to meditation and to some skilled healers helping me along.

And so, here I am. Posting. And hopefully without a trace of narcissism. We’ll see how this goes…

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