Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Open Letter to Angelina Jolie

Angelina Dearheart,
You first made an impression on me in Tomb Raider. I was 17 years old and awkwardly, painfully fumbling through existence in the womanly body that I was not yet mature enough to inhabit. You had this totally bangin', healthfully athletic figure, and even if they were rubber suit sculpted and not entirely real, girl! You had some boobies. Then you factor in the strong female lead part and you became the kind of role model that every 17 year old girl needs: ass kicking, fiercely independent, powerful, and above all else, healthy. I was so ill at ease in my skin but watching you filled me with a hope that I, too, would someday be just as strong and confidently embodied.

As the years have gone by, I've followed your work and have been particularly moved and inspired by your involvement with the UN. Even if I kind of hated the deeply disturbing Changeling, you have always held a special place in my heart for what you represented to me as an adolescent.

This week everyone is talking about your right leg and the fabulous velvet Versace around it, but I want to know about the rest of you. Like Bill O'Reilly, all I could see on that red carpet was your skeletal frame. It was so shocking to see you this way that I gasped. The dress is fabulous, of course, and you are still so beautiful...well, what's left of you. Where did you go? Are you okay? No, really. You seem to have been struck by the same diminishing disease that plagues so many once-healthy-weighted celebrity women. I'm all for being conscious of what you eat and staying physically active, but honey, I can see bones of yours that I shouldn't be able to see so much of. You nearly have a post-Auschwitz thing going on. What happened to your body?

Forget about being a role model to women. We have Christina Hendricks, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson to show us how to confidently rock curves. I am concerned for your well being. I can only imagine the intense pressure of being under such constant scrutiny, but nothing matters if you lose the healthy function of your precious body. You and your life matter in ways that have nothing to do with your status and celebrity. You have a mess of babies to raise with care. This is the most important job in the world. Also important is the role you play giving voice to the voiceless in your humanitarian work. And you have a marriage to tend to like a garden, it's vibrancy (or lack thereof) affecting the way your kids approach love and relationships as adults.

Being a loving parent and spouse, and a responsible, active planetary citizen are such vital contributions and guess what? It doesn't matter what you look like. Everything in you has been trained to think otherwise. There is a strange Hollywood non-reality that sells slimness over substance at any cost. Every time a voluptuous woman enters the scene, it breaks my heart to watch the diminishing disease get her until her body is barely recognizable. Yes, sometimes it's good for people to lose weight. My life's work is to help people have a real, conscious, joyful experience of their bodies in their lives and I will support anything which contributes to that.

But it seems like there are always 5 or 10 more pounds, a few more inches or dress sizes and then! Then I can love my body. It's as though we are constantly at war with this sacred space that is the only permanent home we'll ever know in life. I've been taking a lot of group fitness classes at the gym recently and find my attention unconsciously lingering on my form reflected in the mirrored walls, mentally pummeling my gently rounded belly or the place where my thighs touch. For as far as I have come in literally and figuratively embracing myself, in some ways I am still very much the young woman I was when I first met you, shy and ashamed.

My mind keeps returning to a beautiful quote from an article about Bikram yoga I read months ago: "The mirror is there to ask you a single question: Do you love me?" I have been working on taking the mental reins and changing my answer to the question so that I can look myself directly in the eye and say, "Yes, I love you" over and over...and mean it!

There is something I am coming to realize, darling: there is no magic number or size that you can reach which makes you worthy. We are all inherently worthy of love and respect and kindness, regardless of how many holes deep you are on the belt loop. Yogi Bhajan asserted (and I agree) that happiness is our birthright and I would extend that to include being happy in our bodies just as they are, right now.

Your body belongs to you and you alone. Your body does not belong to the paparazzi, to your agent or your husband or your directors. You have a right to enjoy your body, to be gentle to it, to be at peace with it, to be completely comfortable and at home in it. You have a right to the flesh that surrounds and softens your bones, making them less of a hazard to one of your many children. You have a right to eat amply in this land of plenty- let's be real, I know you have money for food. You could even pay someone to buy and prepare it for you.

At some point someone decided that women had to be skinny to be beautiful. We made a collective agreement that this would be the case and the agreement is continuously reinforced, but for a handful of women in the business with great T&A. Why? Why do we keep reinforcing these standards that can be so harmful and aren't even representative of that many women? Why are so many people and their senses of self-worth under the thumb of so few?

Let's have a Radical Revolutionary Occupation of the Body. For the very little that it's worth, I give you permission to tell the whole world to fuck off and put back on the weight you lost that made you look like a very pretty Skeletor. Go for it! You have important work to do in this world and I know how badly impaired my cognitive function becomes when I'm hungry. I give you permission to practice radical self-love, throwing off the repressive agreements about beauty and celebrating everything about you that is so naturally gorgeous.

Above all other rights, you have the right to dictate the terms of your own life. Decide for yourself how you are most genuinely happy and live that with every ounce of passion and guts you have. As far as I'm concerned, it's your passion and guts that make you most beautiful. It's what gave me hope that I could grow gracefully and powerfully into my womanly body. You never seemed to care before what anyone else thought. This would be a great time to start not caring again. It's not like you'll stop being a household name anytime soon. Do whatever is best for you. As Dr. Seuss would remind us, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."


Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Heartbreaking Act of Staggering Difficulty

He asked me for money and I said no.

I'm from a place where I'm asked for money sometimes a dozen times in a day by all manner of people raising money for all manner of causes, including but not limited to: drugs, booze, a room for the night, a Greyhound ticket back to [__________], and The Environment ("Do you have moment to talk about The Environment?" "No, no I do not."). Sometimes I'm asked if I have four quarters for a dollar. Sometimes it's just a mumble mumble shuffle shuffle incoherent. Sometimes it's the guy in the suit who got mugged and just needs $25 to get his car out of the St. Mary's parking garage before it closes for the night. This happens to him at least once a week, poor guy.

After years and years of this sort of dialogue my policy became to never give anyone money unless they were playing an instrument or otherwise performing in some way that enriches the urban environment. I acknowledge people minimally with eye contact and a smile, sometimes with a meal purchased or a warm embrace. Compassionate touch is vital to human health and it hurts my heart to think of people going days or weeks without being touched in a loving way. Hugs are valuable currency and I am rich with them.

A long time ago, weeks after moving into the Tenderloin, a ragged looking woman approached me on the street and asked if I would buy her a flask of vodka. The quaking in her frail body was evidence of the DTs and I knew she could die, so we went to the liquor store. Her name was Margie. We stood talking on the corner for a while as she winced down the flask and told me to get a knife to protect myself. It's a mean neighborhood.

He asked me for money and I said no. I had given him small amounts before, always for bus fare or something else legitimate sounding, but I have no idea what the money actually went to fund. Someone once told me that when you give someone money for which you do not expect repayment, it's a gift and it becomes none of your business what they choose to do with it. He promised he would repay me and of course he never did.

He asked me for money for cigarettes and I said, "No, I love you...No, I love you...No, I love you," to each repeated request, his ink blot eyes darker than usual, belying not the slightest hint of meaning. Somewhere in those depths is a man that makes me quake with laughter like Margie with the DTs, like the ground beneath our feet reminding us to stay loose. This shadow person pressed and I pressed back with all the neutrality and love I could muster because that's what he deserves. There's still a good man in there and I'm going to keep whispering, "I love you," until he remembers what it's like to feel love.

He left in a huff, telling me he'd just have to buy a pack of gum, that this was the second best option in his situation. I gave him a hug on his way out and repeated, "I love you." He said nothing. The tears came easily, mixing with the soapy dish water sliding down the drain, brimming over to blinding, knees buckling under body quakes like Margie with the DTs, like the ground beneath our feet reminding us to let off some steam.

The moment recalled another moment a few years ago when I split my own heart open with the words, "We can't be together anymore." As I writhed and grieved in the night, bleeding immediate regret and unimaginable confusion, there was a small, strangely comforting thought, "I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive." There was no denying it.

Margie disappeared from my block for a long time. I didn't see her again until weeks before I left the Tenderloin. She was still frail, still quaking and impossible to forget. If she continues to survive the little daily quakes, she is probably still there living from one cheap flask of vodka to the next. I wonder what would've happened if I had said, "No, I love you" instead. You can't sway the will of an addict bent on using with any amount of love or fear or guilt. People are going to do what they're going to do until they want to do something else. But we can make the choice to look deep into the void of the addiction disease, find whatever shred of humanity is left and repeat, "I love you" until they remember what it's like to feel love.

This is what it means to relate to and act in the best interests of someone's highest self. It takes courage. They may always think of you as the monster that wouldn't lend them $5 for cigarettes in their hour of need. They certainly may not thank you later. In saying "No" you may be breaking your own heart but it must be done. Regardless of how far gone someone is, they always deserve to be treated as the human they still are and not the disease that drowns them.

Don't give the disease what it needs to survive another day, give the human what they need in order to remember what it's like to feel love. And sometimes the most loving word is No.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What You Leave Out

The Fool
When I was younger and would, all wide-eyed-and-eager, tell my daddy that I loved him, he would say, "Thank you." The absence of that four letter word from his expression created a vacuum in my heart that knew no bounds. For years I ached a little empty all the time, consuming all kinds of unhealthy anything trying to fill this void that never would've existed if not for an apparent lack of L-O-V-E. It's so small, so simple, a single syllable that would've meant so much.

See, the things we don't say and do matter immensely- sometimes more than the things that are said and done. There is no room in the mind of the egomaniacal child to account for the foibles of their parents, so when the child doesn't receive the feedback they are looking for, of course there is something wrong with them. This child will grow into an adult who wonders, silently and aloud, if they are okay. Sugar addresses this perfectly in this quote from her beautiful forty first letter: "Do you realize that your refusal to utter the word love to your lover has created a force field all its own? Withholding distorts reality. It makes the people who do the withholding ugly and small-hearted. It makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel."

There are moments when holding back feels like the only safe choice. Sometimes it actually is.Who has the patience and purity to be The Fool? To be guided by trust and innocence instead of skepticism and past experience? Who has the courage to slough off each hurt like an old, ill-fitting skin and enter each moment fresh and open?

The drive for self-preservation and the desire to avoid pain are useful evolutionary adaptations that serve us well in many instances. Hot stove ouch! Hungry tiger AHHH! This Tom Robbins quote just found its way into my consciousness this week and I'm kind of in love with it: "There are only two mantras, yuck and yum, mine is yum." Who doesn't want to feel good? Isn't that why people do drugs and eat delicious food and get massages and sit in hot tubs? I'd argue that the majority of human activity is geared towards achieving pleasure, or at least comfort. Yummm.

But the thing is, Mr. Robbins, sometimes on the other side of a deep, dark valley of yuck is a big ol' mountain of YUM. We can't always run at the first twinge of discomfort. I find in my life on and off the yoga mat that the most uncomfortable things are the things that I absolutely must be doing. For example, I used to be filled with great distaste for Sat Kriya but it came up over and over in class until I took it on as a personal practice and gained incredible benefit from it. There are some things that are worth braving the yuck for, like looking into your little daughter's gleaming eyes and saying, "I love you," no matter how foreign the words feel in your mouth or what you think it might mean to say them.

No matter how scary it may be to say, you know you need to hear it. We need to be told and shown demonstratively how loved we are. Hang tight with the people who never leave a doubt in your mind that they love you so much they ache a little. And if you feel that way about someone, TELL THEM! RIGHT NOW! Seriously. Stop reading this and go tell them. I'll wait.

We only get so many breaths with which to make words. Don't waste your breath.

I love you.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Burn It Down.

Stereotypically speaking, there is a drive for stability among women that inspires us to root deep, settle in and give birth to beautiful, gardens, babies, community. Not all the women I've ever met are like this, and I must admit that I used to be baffled by their apparent ungroundedness. Those who know me know that I love cozy nesting and nurturing, and that I am very grounded and steady.

That was until about a year ago. Something happened to me and since then I am repulsed by the mere idea of staying still and growing anything. It feels so fundamentally wrong for me to be tethered to where I am that I have spent the last year resisting any attempts to stay put.

Since this is so contrary to my nature, it's been a disorienting year. I have been extremely confused by and frustrated with my own resistance. I've meditated and prayed for clarity: Where am I supposed to be? What should I be doing?? I have researched  moving to different places, applied for jobs all over the world, and the longer I go without clear purpose and direction, the more crazy I feel.

Enter Kali. Kali is the Goddess of Time and Change, and the consort of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer in the Hindu Trinity. On Monday night towards the end of Rusty's class, we were asked to sit in meditation and open to the Beloved, not to talk but to Listen. In this quiet space, who should appear in my mind's eye but Shiva, followed immediately by a ferociously beautiful Kali. Startled and bemused, I asked Kali what she was there to teach me. She glared and hissed, and with eyes bugging told me that it is not a time to build, it is a time to destroy. It is a time to step into my power with absolute royal courage and radiance. It is time, as Yogiji once told me in meditation, to "stop bullshitting."

Like the song says, there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven. I am reminded of the Bishop pine, whose cones are only able to open and spread its seeds after a forest fire. Sometimes destruction is necessary, even healthy and vital, for continued survival. If you want to grow a gorgeous garden you have to till the soil first. So we begin at the apparent end, with the spark that burns the forest down, with a shovel breaking open the earth. You're creating a rich loam for future seeds by first destroying old structures and patterns. This is the message of Kali: Burn it down, dig it up, work it out, build a better foundation.

Have faith. Everything you tear out or burn up will be replaced, like the inhale that follows the exhale.