On Being Fully Human
I believe that you and I are who we are meant to be in this moment--perfectly imperfect and always good enough-- and also that we have the rest of our lives to become ever more ourselves; indeed, the pressure's off. Because the pressure's off, we can see ourselves as being gently drawn into an ongoing process of personal exploration and awareness, rather than as being moved to pursue personal growth as a sort of demanding moral imperative that can somehow prove our worthiness. I don't know about you, but the first option helps me breathe deeply and move freely, while the second pushes me towards quick-and-shallow breathing that fuels both relentless doing and periodic shut-down.
I think that most of us, most of the time, do our best with the life cards we've been dealt. Each of us has unique life experiences that shape our struggles and strengths; there is neither shame in the first nor moral superiority in the second. And so, we can be free to bravely take ownership of the way we fail ourselves and others, and also to truly celebrate the ways in which our being alive makes the planet a better place. I would go so far as to say we have the existential responsibility to do both.
All of us have work to do, and we can find the self-compassion, humility, and courage to do it. It helps to have like-hearted-and-minded friends on the journey toward being fully human. None of us is meant to be, or does well, entirely alone.
May we never give up seeking, finding, and nurturing relationships that offer us the opportunity to share safe, mutually respectful, and loving support. May we see and be seen in ways that give us comfort and sustain our hope.
May 9, 2022
Stopping Bullies and Ending War Begins at Home
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 of this year, which means we are now in the third month of this war of aggression. I periodically watch news updates as a means of being adequately informed. However, I choose to limit the headspace I give to reports that tend to dampen my hope, because I can't afford to let it dip, especially now.
Hope. We need to find and nurture it every day. How do you and I hang onto hope, especially in today's global climate? One way is to stand up to the bullies in our own lives. We may not have the power to end the tyranny of Putin, who is like a school yard bully aggressively taking other kids' stuff, just because he wants it. But, we can stand up to the tyrants we encounter in our day-to-day, and in so-doing, simultaneously increase our sense of personal empowerment and hope.
We can start with ourselves. How we speak to ourselves matters. Do you bully yourself into doing what you "should," rather than allowing yourself to do—or not do—what you could. How do you speak to yourself? A bullying tone demands, and leaves us feeling like we don't measure up; a self-honouring tone allows us to feel accepted and understood, and takes the pressure off. When we take pressure off, we allow ourselves to breathe more deeply, and to move toward what we truly want.
We can also look outward, and address the bullies in our culture. Despite the current global movements that support the dignity and equality of various groups of humans, isms continue to limit and stigmatize folks who do not fit current, narrow, cultural standards. Isms breed stigma. Stigma is a poison that prevents certain people, who don't meet cultural expectations, from having the freedoms and basic human rights they deserve; it leads to their social devaluation and denigration, subtle and overt, in myriad ways. Worse, stigma is frequently internalized, meaning the person being stigmatized comes to believe they are worthy of the unjust treatment they receive. This internalized stigma becomes an ever-present source of shame and destroys feelings of self-worth.
As I see it, sizeism is one of the remaining , culturally sanctioned isms that is destroying lives on a daily basis, particularly in affluent, celebrity-idolizing countries around the world. In the Western world, diet culture props-up sizeism, and is one of today's most powerful, systemically sanctioned bullies. Diet culture tells us that only smaller bodies are attractive, that we should do whatever we can to shrink our bodies, and that if we fail to do that we fail in life. Diet culture robs us of our trust in ourselves, and our ability to enjoy the richness of all aspects of our lives—including food. It steals our dignity and our mental health, and it can also take our very lives. Recent research has shown that people with higher levels of internalized weight stigma have more than twice the risk of high allostatic load—a measure of cumulative stress on all body systems—that puts people at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality.
You and I can decide to fight back against the life-stealing bully that is diet culture. We can redirect the anger we feel toward ourselves for failing to achieve an unattainable and/or unsustainably smaller body. We can aim that anger at diet culture, and the internalized stigma that has stolen our peace. We can put our focus on self-compassionate, health-promoting behaviours that lead to good mental and physical health, and let the chips fall with regard to weight.
As the war continues in Ukraine, you and I have the power to end the battle we've been fighting unsuccessfully for far too long, right on our own "home turf," before we become another casualty of a different kind of war.
January 7, 2022
Option: Choosing a Simpler Way Forward this New Year
As I write, I'm looking out my office window at an uncomplicated view: snow-covered deciduous trees and bare-branched coniferous trees dot the hillside, over which a deer or two wanders on occasion. The sky is a pale, quiet shade of grey. I feel restful. There's something about simplicity in all its forms that helps us humans to breathe more deeply and move at a less hurried pace--the speed of deeper emotional, intellectual, and spiritual connection.
How might you and I welcome this connective simplicity in 2022? I believe there are five life-guiding principles that can help:
1. Optimize your unique brain.
2. Nurture at least one mutually safe and supportive relationship.
3. Do meaningful, contributive work.
4. Make time for regular, restorative rest and play.
5. Acknowledge and talk about what's hard to talk about, and feel the feelings that arise as you do.
For so many of us, the dawn of a new year has become synonymous with our making shorter or longer lists of resolutions meant to help us live more productive lives. It may seem as though there are endless ways we're supposed to expect ourselves to do better. But perhaps this year, you will experiment with keeping a simpler, broader focus (as described above) that feels less overwhelming. You could explore one principle at a time, maybe for a month, maybe for longer. You could decide which principle to focus on first. See where it takes you. Gently. In your time. Without pressure. You may find that doing this exploration with a trusted other--friend, partner, therapist, spiritual advisor--is helpful. There's no need to move on to another principle before the one you're exploring has taken root, so-to-speak. How long that takes is for you to determine. And so it is that you can create the life you truly want to live.
You have one life.
You are exactly who you were meant to be in this moment.
You have the rest of your days on this planet to choose to appreciate who you are now, and to become ever more yourself as time passes.
Happy New Year to All!
December 13, 2021
A Dialectical Christmas to You
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .
And for many of us, Christmastime leads to a sense of tension and conflict within.
If you find yourself feeling comfort and anticipation, and at the same time, an aching sense of sadness and loss, you are experiencing a “dialectical Christmas.” Dialectics refers to the idea that we experience opposite tensions within us, and that we can synthesize those opposite states in order to find balance in life.
I recently found myself being soothed by twinkling Christmas lights, decorations, and the presence of my family, as I lay on the sofa under a cozy blanket. At the same time, I was overwhelmed by grief that I have come to accept as being part of my Christmas experience. Christmas reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for: a healthy-enough body, mind, and spirit; cherished family and friends to love and who love me back; work that nurtures hope on a daily basis; time for energy-restoring rest and play; and the will to talk about what’s hard to talk about and help others to do the same. Christmas also reminds me of the profound losses that marked my childhood, continued into my adulthood, and have shaped both my ongoing struggles and my strengths.
In taking a dialectical approach to life, we can come to terms with the reality that nothing, and no one, is only one thing—this-or-that, black-and-white, all-or-nothing, cut-and-dried. We can open to the experience of life as lived in the grey, in the space of both-and. And we can gradually learn to accept the tension that results.
If you, like I, find that Christmas evokes strong and opposite emotions, you have the opportunity to notice and be with those feelings without judging them as right or wrong. Letting feelings of comfort and anticipation, as well as sadness and loss, live inside you at the same time can help you find the middle emotional way. In finding this middle way, you may come to more clearly recognize what you need. In turn, that recognition may help you give yourself, or ask others for, what you need. For example, you may give yourself full-on permission to enjoy the company of others at a Christmas party one night, and to let your tears fall during a self-soothing shower or bubble bath, or snuggled up to a trusted other, on another night. Accepting rather than resisting our conflicting emotions and needs can allow us to live more peacefully.
This Christmas season, I wish you peace and happiness—right in the middle of the dialectic.