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.

You want to change? Ok. You asked for it…

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This might be the precise moment in which I conjured the inner storm, which hit approximately four days later.

What in the universe is going on here? One moment I’m asking to be more loving during a mini-meditation on the beach in San Francisco, then I’m back at home feeling a good kind of wobbly after a dharma yoga class, and the next thing I know, I’m in my kitchen discovering the unsettling truth about a mean-spirited side of myself who berates me from within. Suddenly, and without clear reason, I whiplash my way into a blur of anxiety, insomnia, fear and self-doubt.

About 48 hours into a vortex of major inner ickiness, it was clear as day.

I asked for this.

I’ve got to remember that, when making a sincere request of the Universe so cavalierly, it may involve the routing of my soul. Like the collected debris that slows the shower drain demands a call to our trusty plumber so the water may drain freely again, an earnest request of God, of the Universe, can mean the not-so-pleasant cleansing of old gunk that no longer serves us so that the intention we set while we were feeling strong may newly flow freely through us.

My simple request—make me a channel for divine love—was like placing a work order with the Universe. But, paradoxically, I’m the one socked with the work. And, sometimes, that work is tremendously uncomfortable. I’m not saying it has to be uncomfy—in fact I believe if you ascribe to the laws of the spiritual realm rather than the material realm, life unfolds way more fluidly and pleasantly—but I often find that my darkest times come just after I’ve set an intention for a better me, and just before a massive inner shift.

In my experience, change or, in this case, spiritual evolution, can be a bumpy ride, at least when you’re working through the really tough clogs. Take this, my most recent request, for example: I asked something that seemed so simple (to be more loving) and I received an answer that is particularly challenging to my makeup—To love others divinely, first love yourself divinely. This challenge sent me through a gauntlet of a to-do list:

  1. See yourself as loving, and treat yourself with love.
  2. Observe where you are showing yourself unconditional love, and where you are not. Notice the difference between the two attitudes and how, respectively, they impact you and your loved ones when you’re in each space. (i.e., My kids are radiantly happy when I am feeling good about myself and they unfailingly turn into assholes when I’m in the space of being hard on myself. They’re barometers for my emotions—as most little kids are—and often reflect my beliefs about myself at any given moment.)
  3. Study yourself without attachment. Without judging yourself, anyone else, or anything, Emily, see if you can figure out why you’re showing yourself love and why you’re not. Observe, reflect, accept, release. Take your time.
  4. If you feel badly, it doesn’t mean you ARE bad. If you feel good, it doesn’t mean you ARE good. Feeling badly can mean wonderful shifting is in progress. Habits are hard to change, and the process can smart a bit. This is important to remember in our shame-happy society.
  5. Step boldly into your new, divinely loving self and feel gratitude that your request was answered.

Oh, how I long for step 5 right now. For me, this is process is painful up until the moment I realize I’m on the other side of it. And that’s ok. Really looking at my “stuff” and going against habit to choose another way is incredibly challenging. That said, while I’ve yet to come through on the other side of this one, I’ve emerged glowing from other similarly turbulent periods of transformation, so I know the process works. In fact, going through the process of routing the stuff that’s no longer serving my highest and greatest good is the only way I know how to be, how to grow and, in this case, how to learn to love. And, through it all, I must trust that all the opportunities I’m receiving to confront my ugliest, most un-loving ways are actually the blessings that will usher me toward the divine love to which I aspire.

How my search for a more loving me applies to your search for a more (insert desired quality) you:

This process can be applied to almost any intention you set for yourself. You may have your own trusted way of evolving, but here’s how the process of spiritual evolution might look for you:

  1. To set an intention for X (insert desired quality here), first cultivate thoughts of X about yourself.
  2. Observe where/when you are able to do this, and where/when you are not. Allow yourself the permission to really explore your feelings, and notice how different deep-seated “stuff” affects the way you approach the world and those around you.
  3. Study yourself without judgment or attachment. Without judging yourself, anyone else or anything, see if you can uncover the “why” behind your roadblocks to becoming the quality you desire. Observe, reflect, accept, release. Take your time.
  4. As different emotions or even physical sensations arise, remember that if you feel badly, it doesn’t mean you ARE bad. You are processing, releasing and changing, and that can cause any number of inner storms. If you need some love and support when you’re in this—and I know I do—reach out to friends, counselors, pastors, partners, whoever.
  5. Congratulations, you’ve done it! Step confidently and with gratitude into your newly shifted self.

Evicting my mean organizing troll. Or, the backstory on why Pinterest terrifies me.

I’ve been trying to be more organized. There’s just something about those women with their gracious entryways, cute yoga pants and seasonal toss pillows that makes me swoon. (The same goes for you boys out there with your fancy kitchens, Mad Men hair and well-lit artwork…I get weak in the knees over you, too.) When I walk into an organized, beautifully appointed home in which everything has its place, storage is optimized and clutter is a swear word, I feel like a five-year-old staring at my pretty teenage babysitter, mesmerized by her glistening beauty and desperately yearning to be a picture of polished feminine grace just like her one day.

Unfortunately, this awe spawns the rise of a nasty, nasty troll deep within who drives me into a frenzy of cleaning, obsessing, moving stuff around and placing unspectacularly arranged vases of flowers everywhere. Because that’s what the organized people do…they put flowers in the bathroom, flowers on the porch, flowers in the basement, flowers by the stove…

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Darn it. When I moved this bench to the window, I forgot to put some flowers by the dog.

On coffee and not much sleep, I gutted my kitchen shelves yesterday. I’d scooped up one of those “Organize!” or “Storage!” magazines in the check-out line and made the mistake of reading it before bed. And so two nights ago I reclined with my eyes open for possibly hours thinking of what I would rearrange the next day. Sort! Purge! Keep! Find it a home! Boom! A beautiful home is mine!

I moved a bench. I moved a table. I moved chairs. And I moved all my cookbooks because on-the-fly meal prep suits me well in this season of everyday life. What did not suit me was an overflowing basket of plastic grocery bags, using my shelves to store a bazillion pairs of shoes and a bar counter cluttered with stand mixers, juicers, tissues, hand sanitizers, fruit bowls and catch-all trays. And so I turned this shelf-and-bar-counter area into what the organized people call a “hub” or a “workstation.” A mail organizer on one shelf for incoming and outgoing mail and magazines, container-bound keys and glasses/sunglasses on another shelf, cutting boards in one slot, easily accessible kids cups and plates on another, a respectable amount of grocery bags down low for dog walking, the stand mixer put away and a countertop almost completely clear for dropping stuff when we walk in the back door—and, of course, for displaying flower arrangements.

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This is my super awesomely organized set of shelves. To the trained eye, it’s most definitely flawed. But for a girl who might possibly have no left side to her brain, this is, like, worthy of much praise.

I admit, my organizing muses, Lindsay, Becca, Cin and Grandma, whose homes inspire me to no end in their vastly different executions of beauty and fluidity, might not find my new hub inspiring, but it’s a start. This new “system,” another organizey word I learned when I hired an amazing professional organizer to save me from myself a few years ago, is better than it was before, and my mind feels clearer, and I enjoy being in the space a lot more with it this way.

But it was hell getting there.

You would not believe how mean I can be to myself. From the moment I opened “The Organized Home” (even the mag title taunts, no?), I felt wobbly in my gut, where I usually store my emotions. Excited about the prospect of a more neatly arranged kitchen, but tainted with an ominous feeling. A feeling of not-enough-ness.

As I got started, my nasty inner troll emerged like a drill sergeant trying to break me at basic training (not that I’ve actually attended basic training, so, this may not be an acceptable simile.) “Oh, that’s cute. You’re on a little organizing kick. That’s funny. You want to have a pretty home, don’t you, little girl? Well, you had that couple over for dinner thinking your kitchen was warm and inviting but the whole time they were looking at your messy-ass shelves and wondering if the food you made had dog hair in it. Heh. Probably time for you to make things a little more presentable, dontcha think? At the rate you’re going, you’re always gonna be a sorry excuse for a homemaker. Not even Better Homes & Gardens’ Storage can help you, honey.”

Any time I venture to clean the house, which is often, or reorganize a room, this horrid little troll rears her head, ever full of sarcasm. “You think you’re such a wise thing but, wait, what’s that? You can’t figure out how to make your stuff look nice and be functional at the same time? Aw, that’s too bad. And you thought you were someone special. You can’t figure out a better place to put your shoes? You don’t have attractive, matching containers for those? If I were you, I’d be too embarrassed to have anyone over. Ever. I mean, you put your kids’ dress-up costumes in a giant Rubbermaid container instead of a seagrass basket from Pottery Barn…what the hell kind of inviting home does that make? Why are you even trying to do this? You’re so far behind you’ll never get anywhere with this organizing kick. Just quit now.”

This little troll goes on and on, providing commentary on every little thing I throw away, everything I keep, everything I place with intention, every flower I trim and drop into a vase. And I wonder why I end up feeling jittery and nauseous every time I try to tackle an organizing project.

Turns out that, at the same time I’m doing something really nice for myself, I’m driven by a decidedly miserable motivation: the belief that, without a constantly beautiful, tidy home and the high-functioning, catalog-ready organization of our possessions, I’m not good enough. In fact, I’m worthless. I’m a meek and homely little kindergartner pining for confidence, magnetism and physical beauty out of my reach.

Ack! It feels terrible. And I am not in the business of making myself feel icky—I love to feel good, and I take great care to make sure I feel fantastic most of the time. So I don’t know why this happens every time I clean or organize. And I don’t know how to stop it. But, in addition to bringing attention to it following meditation, I’m going to get past it the same way I got into it.

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The vision board, possible culprit for the new energy and inspiration I have to get organized.

A long time ago, I posted a couple pictures on my bulletin board, let’s call it a “vision board,” that evoke the more organized self I’d like to be. And so, here I am now, evidently with the appropriate level of energy and inspiration to become that person. However, it’s clear to me that my energy around this theme is actually hardcore detrimental. I missed something in that vision-board intention: Honor for the wonderfully right-brained woman I am. And the understanding that neatly storing my giftwrap so that I can craft gorgeous hostess gifts at a moment’s notice will not make my soul any more radiant.

I’m not sure how to go about employing my vision board to make myself both self-loving AND organizey, but I trust it will unfold for me. Perhaps I’ll find clippings of images that evoke joyful, wild-haired women relishing their organized, though mismatched, spaces. Or photos of wild horses running through kilim rug fields littered with potato-sack boulders stuffed with kids dress-up clothes beneath wire-hanger clouds. I don’t know.

I do know I want to change my beliefs about what it means to be neat and organized, and about what I’m not if I’m not. I also want to evict the nasty troll. And, more than anything, as it’s clear to me that my pain around wanting to be organized and have a pretty home reflects a deeper issue at hand, I want to emerge from this excruciating pattern triumphantly radiant and full of gratitude for all that I am. I think that’s a reasonable request.

For those of you reading this who have your own inner troll wreaking havoc in its own way, I send the most sincere energy toward your complete liberation, your radiant spirit and your infinite gratitude for all that you are. Because, believe it or not, you really are something special.

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May we all see the light of our own perfection, and the falsity in our not-enough-ness.

And the winner of the Mrs. Party Mom Pageant is… Emily’s shadow side! (cue the crown and the tears.)

Last Friday night I really kicked up my heels. Somewhere deep down, my moxie was rising and a well-timed girls night set off the eruption. Absinthe, wine, gin…woo hooooo! Let’s just say that, had I been competing in the Mrs. Party Mom pageant, I totally would’ve won.

In fact, I won so huge that my inhibitions loosened enough for me to give my girlfriends an extemporaneous reading from my future tell-all autobiography. Historically, this seems to be what I do when I drink too much. (Aside: Perhaps you have something unsavory you notice about yourself when you’ve had too much to drink? Or even when you’re sober, but just not at your best?) I spilled every insidious story I could conjure–no specifics here; you have to get me drunk first. By purging myself of a few deep-down details, in my drunken state, I thought I’d somehow be free of their weight. I hoped I would be accepted despite them.

Blessings on my friends, because they are indeed an accepting bunch. However, instead of feeling free, it turns out I dredged my stuff only to feel it—hard—by the light of the next day. When I woke up at 10 in the morning because my immeasurably wondrous, and obviously majestically understanding, husband let me sleep in, my interior monologue unfolded something like this:

Wow, I was pretty drunk last night. That was so fun—wait, uh oh. I think I told them about that time I—why did I tell them that? Now they probably think I’m such a— What do they think of me now? I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I was saying whatever was on my mind, and that’s never good. I hope no one thinks I’m a horrible person. Oh shit. What if they do?! Oh, God, please make this awful feeling go away. Oh no! There was that random guy who was dancing with my friend and then sat down and I started talking to him about God and I’m pretty sure I attempted to give him a psychic reading. I’m so dumb. Why did I let myself lose control?

The feeling of overexposure took its place as a terrible beast sitting in my gut. Heavy. Depressing. Churning. Shame. The beast of shame rolled to meet my gaze and suddenly looked familiar. What do they think of me? Them, them, them. Ah! We meet again, old foe. You, my mortal enemy, were the voice that always prevented me from flying by asking, “But what will they think?” I defeated you weeks, months, maybe years ago. It was a grueling battle, but all that remained of your voice was the echo. Why have you returned, guns blazing?

And the voice replied: Because you have not yet accepted your own shadow. 

My old foe stepped forward into the light and I saw that it was God:

Where there is light, there also is darkness. They coexist in this dualistic world. Neither is good or bad. It just is. I’m calling you to look at your dark sides and embrace them for what they are—a part of you. My child, do not hide who you are, even if it appears unsavory. Know thyself. Aspects of everyone’s karma and mental makeup cast shadows in their own light. I release you of all shame for revealing darkened sides of yourself, and I encourage you to accept all of who you are.

Standing in my kitchen, mid-task, with my mouth and the cabinet wide open, I felt lighter. Despite the fact that a.) I know it’s not good for my body to fill it with cocktails and deprive it of sleep, and b.) I technically broke my own vow (see my earlier post, “What? You mean drunk moms aren’t awesome?”), the suffocating shame from this Friday and a thousand Fridays was not rooted in my over-consumption of booze, but rather in my reliable tendency to drunkenly reveal darker sides of myself I haven’t yet examined, acknowledged and embraced.

Flying high on cocktails and candid girl talk, I delve into stories I’m traditionally too guarded to tell in sober daylight. From my days as a reckless sorority girl (YOLO!) to the present, an over-served Emily becomes a loose cannon. Then, when I wake the next day, I’m horrified at what might’ve come out of my mouth. On a more honest note, I’m afraid of what is actually inside of me. I’ve always tried to explain it away to myself that “drinking makes me someone I’m not.” Hold up, Princess. This is who you are and it’s high time you take a closer look at it.

What a relief! This is something I can face. Being charged with investigating my own shadows, feeling around in the pitch-black crevices of my consciousness, getting to know the darkened nooks and crannies of my whole self so that I may embrace my own complete nature… It’s a daunting assignment, and one that will surely require great attention, but at least it doesn’t have to be a battle any longer.

My wish for you: May you encounter your own shadows when the time is right, and may you feel completely supported and accepted for them in their revelation to you.

(Disclaimer: You can probably accomplish an investigation of your shadow side or the taming of your own shame with something other than absinthe and martinis. If I were to do the past few days all over again, I would probably choose prayer, meditation, therapy, devotional reading, chanting and a big hot bath. Just my two cents.)

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.)

Hello darkness, my old friend

I do love a summer picnic in the grass…one reason why I’m mourning the change in season.

Fall came too soon this year. I mean, the fall equinox comes in late September like clockwork, but this year I’m not only puzzling over what to wear between hot and cold, but also feeling full-on pangs about the end of summer.

I want to hold onto the feeling of my bare feet in the dirt, the sun on my skin, chasing two boys in the sand, the days stretching out warmly in front of me. I want to not have to be anywhere at any particular time, to pack picnics, to launch into water, to wear sundresses, to be breezy.

Autumn is so many people’s favorite time of year that I start to wonder what’s wrong with me. The crispness, the leaves, the colors and the clearness are all undeniably beautiful. Still, deep down, I don’t feel ready for it this year. I’m uneasy. I feel scattered. Among other things, I just don’t want to put on my effing shoes.

The need for shoes = my autumnal melancholy

The start of the school year hasn’t helped, but rather magnified the fact that transitions are hell in our house. My finely tuned four-year-old, who deeply experiences even the slightest gyrations, has given me a massive awareness of change’s impact in his short time on the planet thus far. When even the little things require mindfulness—moving from one activity to another, one place to another, one parent to another—the big things, like transitioning from one season to another, wham us into an unrecognizable state.

Sometimes, to help the kids feel secure in knowing what the day holds, thus avoiding the fallout of an unexpected curve ball, I draw visual schedules of the day. Right now, I wish someone would draw me a visual schedule of this time of year.

Occupational therapy for mommy…will someone make me a visual schedule for fall?

“Here, lookie, Emily,” some magical someone would say. “You will start wearing shirts with long sleeves. And shoes that cover your feet. And maybe even socks. You might sometimes wear a jacket. And you will cook more with greens and potatoes and apples. And squash. So much squash. You will be driving in your car a lot, because school is 20 minutes away. The sky will be darker much earlier, so you will begin to nestle in a lot earlier in the evenings and you might have a harder time waking up in the morning. And, this will seem odd, but you may even feel reluctant to fill your after-dark social calendar. It’s ok. You’re entering the season of darkness and it’s normal to feel this way. It just is.”

Lookie, Emily, autumn looks like all this, plus squash.

Yes, of course! The fall equinox is about the arrival of the darkness, the time of year specifically designated for going inward and for burrowing “underground” to enjoy a transformative hibernation. It’s dark outside for a reason:  the darkness encourages us to move more slowly, to rest more, sleep more, to cook nourishing stews and cinnamon apples. To retire within to quietly transform. We do this all winter long, even through the winter solstice in December, which is about the return of the light. Until the spring equinox in March, we can be about gathering up energy from within to burst forth when the days again grow longer.

And so it strikes me that my own self-invented mental constructs about fall are the very things keeping me from embracing it.

Somewhere in my mind, I’ve believed that fall is the season of go-getting, the time when you buckle down and do stuff. In my head, this is a time of year when you have no excuse not to have it together. (Aside: That bleak time from January through March feels similar to me.) In my younger days, the arrival of fall meant the start of a new training cycle in the pool, when the short two-week break at the end of summer merged into long practices and sore muscles, long school days and late nights of homework. So. Tired.

Early fall has always meant to me that it’s time to get down to business. However, with my whole being, I wish to avoid this business of busy-ness.

Fresh off a fall equinox celebration with some wonderfully earthy women last night, I understand why I’ve been so resistant for the past few weeks: I’ve had it all wrong about fall. So, with new understanding, off I go to embrace the darkness, within and without; to take things more slowly, even amid the endless driving to and from preschool; and to hibernate a little more than usual in hopes of a quiet transformation energetically supported by the season. And, of course, to fall back in love with my boots.

Sunny days, bare feet and dozing in the grass give way to crunchy earth, fall boots and cozy nights at home. (Charlie took this pic of his brother and me.)