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Over and Over Again

10 Jul

Renowned martial artist Bruce Lee described the opponent he was most wary of: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” In my astrological opinion, you should regard that as one of your keystone principles during the next 12 months. Your power and glory will come from honing one specific skill, not experimenting restlessly with many different skills. And the coming weeks will be an excellent time to set your intention. – Rob Brezsny

It’s a theme that is so common in every thread of life: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

I hear it every week in belly dance class. My instructor and dear friend, Claudia, is unyielding in her insistence that you can take a set of simple moves and make them incredible with a metric ton of practice and a heavy helping of personality.

I can drill with the best of them. I love it. I could shimmy for hours; hone my taksim and maya for days. Add in that personality or emotional factor, however, and I crumble. Showing my vulnerability is one of my biggest fears. To show your vulnerability is terrifying, but essential to being a whole dancer. It’s what gives the dance tarab. Tarab is the climax of a feeling derived from hearing music expressing an intense emotion. I struggle with this, because I love belly dance with a passion; I want to be a complete dancer—tarab and all. I feel these emotions with the music and the movement, but somehow I can’t set them free into the universe, because that would open me up to something incredibly scary. The audience would see the raw, naked parts of me. It’s the gift of imperfection. It’s what makes us relate to other humans. But I always seem to see it as a gag gift. To her credit, Claudia never gives up on me. She just makes me do it again and again. If we dance for an hour and she sees one glimpse of my wall breaking down, she knows it can happen another time, and she encourages me to get back up and expose myself again. I am a dancer. Music and movement are my passion, and no amount of failure will make me stay down, because I yearn to cultivate this gift of mine.

Dating…I cannot count the number of times I’ve been stood up, “ghosted,” or rejected. If you’ve ever tried online dating, you know the frustration that can build so easily. Greater quantity does not necessarily mean better quality. I’ve met some true gems, but the timing wasn’t right or our schedules didn’t match up. Do I sit at home and cry about it? Yes. But then I get back up and try again. I set up yet another date to meet someone new, holding out hope that my person is out there. I am strong, smart, beautiful, and deserve to be loved. I am love.

America has felt over and over the hate that comes from fear. We see people killed for reasons beyond our comprehension. Hate crimes, terrorism, crimes of passion. It is a scary time in our existence. We easily fall down rabbit holes of depression and distress, struggling to get back up.  Should we give up, let ourselves sink back down to the darkness forever? No. We repeat our mantras of love and acceptance. We recognize that there is a purpose for the light and the dark, and search for a balance. We get to know our neighbors. Sometimes I falter at knowing what I can do for my brothers and sisters of the world. But I can start with something small—holding each of us in the light. That is what my Quaker faith taught me to do—understand that there is that of God in every person, no matter what they have done or who they are. I can start there. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If my one, time-tested impeccable “kick” turns out to be sharing my love with you, then I am honored to try, try again, with every blog I post and every action I take, whether that be writing a few words, sharing my passion for dance, or practicing loving kindness, expecting nothing in return.

love

Why: Part III—Origins

20 Jan

This “Why” series is a way to bring me closer to you—by revealing my inner-most thoughts and being 100% vulnerable with you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking my words and embracing them with love and kindness. This is the third and final installation of this series. Read parts one and two here. 

History

In honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday this week, I would like to talk about my roots. So often I shy away from calling myself a patriot. Images of the Bush administration(s) or our recent wars dance in my head, and it makes me feel less than proud to be an American. There is a lot I can criticize about the American Spirit as a whole, and much I can laud. Regardless of all of this, I am an American, which means this country’s history is my history.

I was raised in a small town in Ohio, surrounded by the typical Midwest culture mix—majority Caucasian and African American, with the tiniest sprinkling of other ethnicities. I easily identified with the two majorities, but had very little knowledge of the other cultures, except for what I read in the many books my parents showered upon me in my youth. I also had my Quaker background, which filled me with a curiosity for people from all walks of life. My hunger for information was vast, but actual real-world experience was lacking. Because of this, I felt especially called to understand African-American struggles and triumphs.

Living in Portland, Oregon for the last 11 years, where the population is currently somewhere around 76% Caucasian and the other ethnicities are largely Asian or Hispanic/Latino, I’ve noticed there is a marked lack of African American culture. I find it inspiring to speak to my African American friends and hear their view of living in such a place. Most of them are not originally from Oregon; Portland has a unique saga pertaining to its “whiteness” which most definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouths of African Americans. I won’t go into the whole story here, but if you want to know more about the fascinating history of why this is, read here from the Oregon History Project.

It’s easy to feel defeated about equality and race relations when we hear about stories like those that have happened in Ferguson and even in our own backyard. I admit that my connection to my hometown roots and those larger African American populations in the Midwest and the South is farther away than most, living here in Oregon. I am thankful that I have my small enclave of friends that share either a physical skin-color connection or a mental one concerning first-hand experience with the American outlook on race relations. We often discuss the things that advance America’s viewpoint as well as those that keep it tied down to past negativity.

It is so important to acknowledge our history as Americans, no matter what color we are. As my dear friend Hannah said to me yesterday, “This is your history too! It’s your victory too! White people should pause just as much in celebration. They were freed from enslaving notions, too. It’s a shared victory.” Truer words could not be spoken. We have many stories of immigration and population shift throughout American history, but no one can deny that the African American chapter in our story is one of the largest parts.

The purpose of MLK Day is to make us aware of a few things. Number one, to always remember America’s history and what makes us a great nation, willing and ready to push beyond our past into an awareness of equality, love, and opportunity. The past will always be there, and it is important, but what matters right now is the love we are giving the world. The second is to highlight the importance of serving the greater good.

Service

We may or may not have the fortitude to become civil rights activists in the manner that Martin Luther King was, but we can certainly find peace through helping others and sharing our love. Volunteering at the food bank, becoming a mentor, donating a few dollars to a worthy cause, or just looking in on a friend who is having a bad week is just as important as a march on Washington. It is not the size of the impact; it is the intention behind it. I encourage you to really get to know your American history, no matter what color your skin is, and vow to celebrate the American Spirit in the way it was intended.

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WHY: Part II—Precious Fragments

26 Dec

This “Why” series is a way to bring me closer to you—by revealing my inner-most thoughts and being 100% vulnerable with you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking my words and embracing them with love and kindness.

The first time I was completely vulnerable with a man, it changed my being. Bringing it back now, I feel exactly the same as I did in that moment. My breath is ragged and my chest is warm. I have a sense of exhilaration that it happened, but also sadness that my moment with him has passed. The most important part of it, though, was that I felt liberated.

Whenever I go back and read the poems I wrote for my college thesis, I am so impressed at how much raw emotion I allowed to spill onto the pages. I wasn’t scared of making someone uncomfortable with my words or that they would judge me. I didn’t fear my teacher would read the lines and immediately fail me because I wasn’t Sylvia Plath at 22. I just wrote anything and everything that was inside of me, and it was good stuff!

I hear a song, 25 years later, and it reminds me of the times I danced in the summer darkness among the lightning bugs, and how I felt in the very heart of it. I remember the feeling of being absolutely free, absolutely me, without a care in the world. Granted, I was 10 years old at the time and wasn’t concerned with having a 401k or what I would be when I grew up, but so often, even as children, we burden ourselves with too many thoughts. You know that blonde chick that everyone makes fun of because she’s empty-headed? Sometimes, I envy her. Sometimes it is essential to let go of our thoughts and just feel.

One thing my belly dance teacher always reminds me to do is to let my emotion out while I’m dancing. Claudia says that a dancer can have the most technically precise moves and the most beautiful costume, but without tarab, there can be no complete dance. Tarab has no exact English definition, but the closest I can come up with is “a shared experience of musical ecstasy.” Or “When reaching the epic moment of a feeling derived from hearing music, whether it instrumental or voice or both together expressing either joy, pain sorrow or any other intense emotion.” (Written by Mohamed Shahin and Hanna St. John) This, to me, is exactly what it means to show one’s inner truth.

I have a friend who comments that his son lives fully in the moment, every minute of every day. His face lights up when he talks about how happy it makes him to see his child in this way. Wouldn’t it be great if we all lived in the moment like that?

These days it’s much rarer for me to let go. Is it because I’m older, set in my ways? It still happens occasionally if I’m dancing, if I am feeling particularly brave, or if I’m in a foreign place and just don’t care what anyone thinks. The most interesting times are when I’m wearing a costume or a wig; I’ve noticed it gives me a mental get-out-of-jail-free card. I wish I could let down this wall I have built with more regularity—I have the potential to free myself at any time. Why don’t I? Why don’t any of us?

I read a piece by Wayne Dyer before Christmas about making peace with relatives during the holidays. It struck me that, regardless of the focus on relatives, it turned out to be entirely fitting for this post.

The conflict seems too often to be a choice between being authentic, which means no peace with certain relatives, or having peace at the price of being inauthentic. Being peaceful and authentic can define your relationship with your relatives. First, though, you may have to assess your relationship with the closest relative of all—you.

Can I be extra real with you guys for a minute? Extra-extra real? It seems like, in the past, when I’ve taken those chances and displayed my authentically weird-silly-petrified-confident-lost-found-Quakerific-dancing fool-giggly-imperfect self, I haven’t gotten the results that I’ve wanted. And it crushed me. So I sit, and I reflect on Dr. Dyer’s words, and I wonder, can I be brave again? Is it worth it? I think we all know that the answer is, unequivocally, YES. In our minds we know it, in our hearts we hold it. The answer will always be yes.

In the light of the coming New Year, let’s carry on the tradition of challenging ourselves to be better, to improve something about our lives and to make peace with our authentic selves—whoever that turns out to be. You could make a list, like I did last year, or just hold the intention in your heart. Either way, I dare you to love and express the true YOU in 2015! If you’d like, please share one thing you intend on doing in the New Year that will create a more genuine you.

Vulnerability

Who are you? Speak your truth!

21 May

“Oh I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you; you have not known what you are. You have slumbered upon yourself all your life. Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time…Whoever you are, claim your own at any hazard! These shows of the east and the west are tame compared to you. These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense and interminable as they are.”Walt Whitman

I am a Contradiction

Are we all a contradiction? Is this something that rings true with you as you read this? There are so many times that I fear it makes me less perfect, less like everyone else, but I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Is it, then, what makes us so fascinating and indelibly human?

The truth should set us free. Right?

My Truths

I love the limelight—when I choose to turn on my “light,” my friends call me The Belle of the Ball. Generally I will take any chance to stand out and call attention to myself, sometimes taking it to a narcissistic level. Strangely, though, in my natural state, I am still, quiet, and blend in. Perhaps this is the reason I need that “switch” to turn me into someone else. I’m not sure if I feel that my value goes one way or the other when I am Belle and when I am Becky, but I have always noticed these two distinct sides of me.

There are times I feel lonely, and that is when I start putting myself down for being single. Damn you, society, for putting those thoughts into my mind. Damn you, subconscious, for letting them fester. Single is not a negative thing; it does not mean unlovable. In fact, single means not willing to settle for less than I deserve. So when I am feeling lonely, I should be celebrating my independence and cautious nature in choosing who I will spend my life with. Besides, I am constantly surrounded by loved ones. I know I’m ready for my big romantic love, but perhaps he is not quite ripe yet. Who knows? I can’t let it stop me from living an amazing life.

I am very physically active and live a healthy life, yet I still see myself as the “big girl.” I was uncomfortably overweight for a large part of my life, and it became who I was—how I identified myself. It’s been 10 years since my drastic weight loss, and still I have fears and uncertainty about how people view the physical part of me.

“You think of yourself
as a citizen of the universe.
You think you belong
to this world of dust and matter.
Out of this dust
you have created a personal image,
and have forgotten
about the essence of your true origin.” – Rumi

I dance on stage in front of dozens, exposing my vulnerability and body, and yet I cower in fear at the thought of approaching a handsome, confident man.

I am full of energy and life, yet I am exhausted much of the time. I often do not listen to my body when it says STOP.

And this whole recent breakup…the religion thing…I love the fact that it made me question the truth about my own faith. I’ve been delving more deeply into my Quaker roots, and I find it fascinating to study other people and their experiences, whether or not their beliefs match my own. My faith, though not always front and center in my life, has always been essential to me. I’ve found it helpful to read several books in the past few weeks, including a great one written by a Quaker kid I knew growing up, called The Unlikely Disciple. I followed that up with The Year of Living Biblically. Talk about contradictions.It highlights the ridiculousness of trying to live literally by all of the Bible’s rules. At the same time, it weeds out some very simple but eternally applicable lessons that the Bible deems important. Another useful text is one that my mother sent me at the beginning of my breakup, called A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service, and Common Sense. It has reconnected me with some of the testimonies of Quakerism that sometimes get lost in the fray of everyday life.

My truth is that I don’t fit into a pre-made box. My mold isn’t shaped like a puzzle piece; it’s more like a dodecahedron. So where does that leave me? How do I find my people? My calling? What drives me? Do I have to categorize myself in order to find someone that I mesh well with? In some ways, my versatility makes me very easy to get along with. In other ways it alienates me to a point where I don’t know how to define myself. Let’s be honest, sometimes questioning can lead to an amazing breakthrough, but there is always that fear that it will lead to nothing. I suppose all I can do, all any of us can do, is to stay open to the journey and experience it with gratitude and a true lust for life.

Whoever you are, claim your own at any hazard!

What is your truth?

12 things

6 Dec

There was this update going around Facebook a few weeks ago, asking people to list [#] of things about yourself. I went back and forth about doing it. I thought it was the type of thing that would bore me after reading so many, but it turns out, the exact opposite was the case. It made me see those people as very brave, unleashing their most vulnerable sides. It was fascinating finding out people’s random pieces of trivia. My friend from high school, Julie, gave me the number twelve, which I thought was a ridiculously large list, but I figured that once I got the ball rolling, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get the rest of them on paper. The opposite turned out to be the case. It took me almost a week to make this list. Have you read any of these on Facebook? Did you write a list yourself?

Here goes mine…

1) There was a boy that I had a giant crush on in middle school. He taunted me relentlessly about my big butt and always sang “Baby Got Back” to me. To this day I can’t tell if he was being cruel or secretly had a crush on me.

2) I am terrified of having a daughter because I think I will screw her up.

3) My sister and I were born in the same minute, but we couldn’t be more different in our life choices. Get us around each other, though, and it’s creepy how alike our mannerisms and voices are.

4) I can’t believe I’m a runner. I’ve been doing it for three years and it still amazes me that I can do such astounding physical feats with this body. The same goes for belly dancing. I can tell you right now not one person who knew me in high school would ever have predicted I’d become a belly dancer.

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Hope for Andrew edit

5) I believe in karma and the law of attraction. What goes around certainly comes around, and I feel very strongly that the power of manifestation is real.

6) I love both of my parents very much, but I have completely different relationships with each of them. There are things I can tell my dad but not my mom, and vice versa.

7) Spiders are both my biggest fear and my biggest asset. How does that work? The physical manifestation of the spider can make my heart race. My mother tried to wean me off this fear when I was a child, saying, “You see a spider? Just invite it to tea! You’ll make friends with him.” In a word, dear mother:  NO. In two words:  HELL NO. Then a strange thing happened. A few years ago I discovered Native American animal totems. My cousin and I spent a weekend immersed in this cultural tradition and that weekend I learned about the nine animals that protect my spirit. One of them was the spider. I cringed when I spoke it aloud. Then I looked at the spider’s meaning. The spider is the story teller. Of course. This is the totem that encourages me in my writing, only one of the most important things in my life. So there you have it.

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8) I was born a Quaker (Also known as the Religious Society of Friends) and became an adult member of my meeting (church) when I was 21. Curious? Just ask!

9) I love watching basketball. It is the only sport I truly understand.

So...maybe it's also the eye candy.

So…maybe it’s also the eye candy.

10) I can be a self-saboteur (but I’m working very hard at releasing this habit).

11) I love experiencing the four seasons. I don’t know if I could ever live anywhere that was sunny all the time.

12) I write a Christmas newsletter every year marking the highlights of the past 12 months. It is something I grew up with, and I love carrying on that tradition.

Real Women

6 Feb

Part I—The Definition

I’ve seen a lot of commentary about what makes a woman a real woman. We view the Dove commercials and the female empowerment websites and we are lifted up by our sisters; the blogosphere is saturated with posts about strong, independent women which tell us how we can cultivate ourselves to the highest level of womanhood. But let’s break it down. When it comes down to the simplest meaning, do breasts and a vagina make someone a real woman? Do real women have curves? How about the ability to bear children? What about transsexuals?

Is the way a woman behaves listed in your definition? Should we be a lady on the street and a freak in the sheets? Follow The Rules or throw the rules out the window? Is a woman who can financially support herself more of a woman than one who depends on a man’s salary to survive? I ask all these questions because they come up time after time, and the answers are ever-changing in a fascinating way.

My own view has changed over the years. I was raised mostly by my mother, who was the frugality queen of the universe. I bitched and moaned about the lack of cool clothes and having giant plastic-framed glasses instead of contacts (“They cost less, and they look fine!”). Until I grew up and realized that my mom raised twins on a poverty-level salary with very little help from my father, I was bitter and annoyed. I thought Why can’t she step it up and be like everyone else’s moms? Those women have jobs and buy their daughters Guess Jeans. Why can’t I have Guess Jeans? I thought she would be happier if she would get a “normal” job so that we could have the things that we wanted and she wouldn’t have to worry day-to-day if she was going to work or not. (Note: My mother was a substitute teacher for most of my childhood. At times she had full-time work, but most of the schools wouldn’t hire her because they had to pay her much more than fresh-out-of-college teachers. She chose to stay in teaching because that was what she loved, and so she could take us traveling in the summers to see our extended family and F(f)riends {A.K.A. Quakers}, which was a very important part of my upbringing, and an education in itself.) She chose to stay true to her values, even when the going got really tough.

What do I think the definition of a real woman is now? Sisters, look in the mirror. It’s you. It’s the business owner. It’s the single mother. It’s even the heroin junkie who stole my mail last week. She might not be in my top 10 right now, but she is still a woman who deserves love like everyone else. I can’t comprehend how anyone on this earth is less of a woman than someone else. I may not be a size 6 or have my dream job (yet). I make mistakes every single day. What comes to my mind, though, if I think of someone who isn’t a real woman, is Barbie. Yes, the doll. If you are a living, breathing female, whether or not you have exactly the right parts or not, if you think and feel as a woman, then you are one. I would hope that you would be a woman with the highest amount of pride imaginable, but we all have those days when we’re not feeling so great. Take them as life lessons and manifest your next amazing experience.

Part II, a love note—“Love, Dove, Glove”—Mr. Big, SATC

With Valentine’s Day coming up, it occurs to me that something many women occasionally do, whether they realize it or not, is consider themselves as missing something if they don’t have a partner in their lives. I read so much girl-power literature about how we as women shouldn’t think about our lives without a partner as a negative thing. We are fabulous just as we are! I wholeheartedly agree. I myself am fucking fabulous,* as everyone should know by now. But…it is in our DNA, specifically as women, to feel the urge to procreate and to have a life partner. So why should we feel ashamed for wanting it? I agree that it shouldn’t take over our lives and emotions 100% of the time, but what is so wrong with desiring something that we were literally made to have? It’s not a weakness to assess this aspect of our lives, it’s just human nature. It is a part of my essence as a woman.

*I just needed a little extra oomph!

Women, however you express yourself and live your life, do it with the knowledge that you are a unique and beautiful feminine spirit. Take ownership of all your womanly emotions and instincts, and don’t feel degraded by them. Be the best person you can be.

With my own personal unique and beautiful feminine energy, I leave you with my absolute favorite poem about being a woman.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou

Belly Beautiful

27 Oct

As you know if you have read my blog posts previously, I have always had body image issues—and for the record, I am writing this post while feeling incredibly frustrated about the vacation weight I gained. I work on these issues every single day, and though I have small victories on a regular basis, it is an ongoing struggle for me (and most American women) to see my body as strong, beautiful, and healthy. This past weekend I had some amazing experiences which connected me with my body in striking ways.

On Sunday I woke up on my own accord at 7:30 AM. I had told myself the night before that if I woke up in time to go to Meeting in the morning, I had no reason not to go. Since I woke up in time without the aid of an alarm, I knew I couldn’t cheat myself out of this experience. The Quaker Meeting I had chosen was new to me; it was a Meeting in SW Portland called West Hills Friends Church (WHF). I intensely dislike going places by myself, however, I had heard great things about WHF, and even though they hold programmed services, I had wanted to go for a while. Note:  It is called Friends Church because this sect has a minister who gives a sermon preceding a short silent worship, unlike unprogrammed services like the ones I was raised with, which have no clergy and have completely silent worship.

The chapel was about a third full when I arrived, so I had my choice of seating. I sat in a pew alone, about halfway back. Immediately I spotted one of the hymnals sitting in the pocket on the back of the pew I was facing: Worship in Song. My mother had been a member of the committee that created this hymnal; of that she was very proud. I picked it up and searched for her name—there it was. I passed my forefinger over her printed name, feeling like this place was already getting brownie points for having my mother’s hymnal in it.

Eventually an older couple sat to my right, and a couple about my age sat to my left. The service began. There was music, and then something called the First Word. A heavyset woman wearing a loose red dress stood up and walked over to the microphone. The minute she began speaking, I was riveted. She spoke about her addiction to food, and how she had used it throughout her life to deal with stress, which consequently brought on shame, which she dealt with by eating more food. She spoke frankly about it, but her voice was thick with feeling. I could feel her words running through me, creating a sensation of empathy, and bringing back my own ashamed feelings about food. At the end, her message brought forth the encouragement to be honest and compassionate with oneself through any addiction. That is something I always forget when I am trying to “fix” my flaws. I constantly have to remind myself not to be harsh when I make a mistake, or fall back into old habits. I have always reacted strongly to positivity, not stringent criticism. When the woman was finished I had the strong urge to run up and hug her. I felt it was fate that I went to church on that particular day, so I could hear her words.

*         *         *         *

I was particularly excited about my Sunday evening because I was heading to a Goddess gathering named the “Red Tent.” This is my friend Sedona’s modernized incarnation of the women’s hut, where in some cultures women are quarantined to a separate building during their period or other significant times in their menstrual cycle. Sedona’s version didn’t have anything to do with the menstrual cycle, but it brought a variety of women together to celebrate being a woman. I had not been to one of these yet and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

I walked into the beautifully decorated Datura Studio and immediately saw several people I knew. That was encouraging. (As you already know, I get nervous going new places by myself.) I sat and chatted with my friends for a while, drank some champagne, and ate some yummy food. After a while, Sedona called us all into the main room and to make a circle. I saw another one of my friends, Joy, and stood beside her. Sedona began talking about the significance of the belly, or core of a woman. Her strength comes from it, incredible beauty comes from moving it (i.e., bellydancing or other forms of movement), and it is the source of all life. Pretty powerful stuff!

Then she asked us to do something that made my throat instantly go dry. She instructed us to put our right hand on the belly of the woman beside us, and then put the left one over the hand of the woman whose hand was on our bellies. OMG. There was a complete stranger to my left. Her hand would be touching my jiggly belly! I had a momentary panic, imagining her with a look of disgust when she felt it. I couldn’t just run out of the room, so I did as I was told and put my right hand on Joy’s belly. It felt smooth, and weirdly, it calmed me down a little. When our other hands were positioned, Sedona asked us to breathe and feel the pressure of the hand on our center, and to just be aware of the sensation of touching another woman’s belly. Am I pressing too hard on this stranger’s hand? I wonder if she is completely freaked out by touching my belly. Am I doing this right?? The thoughts raced through my head. Then I checked myself and remembered to breathe. I looked up, and saw for the first time the group in its entirety. It was comforting, seeing women of all shapes and sizes, their bellies rising and falling with breath, and I knew suddenly that I was not the only one feeling this way, but it didn’t matter. This was a safe place. No one cared how jiggly my tummy was. They were all enjoying the warmth of this group, just like I was.

I don’t have a witty end to this post. No matter how many momentary highs I get from events like the Red Tent, there is no denying I will always be self-conscious about my belly’s size, texture, and shape. Intellectually I know that many many women share these feelings, but in my heart it always feels so singular. Writing about these emotions can’t heal the pain of a 32-year struggle, but it does make me feel stronger every time I put the words out into the Universe. It’s cathartic. I think of the love that I sent to the woman in church, speaking about herself, and I know that every person who reads this will be sending me love as well. I am so grateful.

Love

Love Yourself

Games of Life

8 Aug

It’s 8 AM on Sunday. Normally, if I had naturally woken up at this hour, I would be attempting to go to Meeting for Worship at one of the Quaker meetings in town. Instead, I am taking advantage of this early hour and am going to finish this blog that should have been done on Friday. I apologize; I am a creature of habit, and very much wanted to post my blog on Friday, as I always do. However, I was in a frenzy of sleep deprivation and the need for one last night of practice before my bellydance performance at a Saturday market the next day. It turned out beautifully, in case you’re wondering. I haven’t performed solo in about three years, so this was a lovely welcome back into the performance world. When people who aren’t my friends or family approach me and tell me they loved my dance, I consider that a huge success. Not that I don’t appreciate the cheers of my loved ones; it’s just a nice addition when I get accolades from a stranger. Dancing for a crowd feels good! I love the call and answer of the dance. It’s like a fun game when I shimmy and get the crowd’s response in return. That kind of energy is really great!

I could write about it for hours, but I must get to the point of today’s post…

Every week an NPR podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour (PCHH) is downloaded to my iTunes. It’s an uproarious mish-mash of pop culture and hysterical personalities. To be honest, I can’t relate to half the stuff they talk about. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I don’t know anything about video games, and I didn’t follow the royal wedding. Nevertheless, one of my favorite things about Monday morning is knowing a new PCHH podcast will be in my queue when I turn on my computer. Any topic can be entertaining when the hosts make it so, and that is why I listen, even when I don’t know why they are giggling so hard.

This week’s PCHH was about games. The hosts spoke of the unbearable heat in D.C., which is where they are broadcasting. Games and movies are just about the only activity they can muster at this point. Growing up in the Midwest, I could relate with the heat, and games were definitely the summer evening activity in my family. One of my favorite memories involves playing Spoons around my Uncle Glenn’s dinner table in Pennsylvania. My family would pack the car and drive to Pennsylvania from Ohio every summer of my childhood. Most of my dad’s family lived in a concentrated area, so I got to see a lot of my paternal cousins while I was there. The most amazing part is that, even after my parents divorced, my paternal uncle still welcomed my mother, sister, and I into his home every summer. Obviously we would always be his nieces, but I thought it was really special that he didn’t think twice about continuing the tradition with my mother after the marital ties with my mother and father had been broken.

I started thinking about how games we play represent the stages of life and our development into adulthood. First we play Chutes and Ladders. My sister and I played this game for hours when we were little. It’s a simple game of chance where you move a few steps and are either thrust down a chute, or are able to climb to higher ground on a ladder. For me this game highlights what little control we have over anything at that stage in our lives. When you’re eight years old you can pretty much only go with the flow. You may not like going down the chute; you may love it. Eventually you’ll move on to a place in life where you are entitled to make your own decisions and be responsible for your actions, but right now it’s not up to you. So hold on for the ride! Or rather, slide!

The next two games I thought of were Spin the Bottle and Twister. Our fragile knowledge of sexuality and carnal relationships were just starting to bloom at the dawn of adolescence. These two games in particular helped develop my sexual curiosity. Spin the Bottle was the more obvious ploy to learn about boys. There were so many times my sister and I had “movie nights” in our basement while our mother was upstairs, unknowing. Now that I am older, I think she probably knew exactly what was going on, but trusted us enough to know it wouldn’t get too crazy. I can still remember my first Spin the Bottle kiss, and after, my first real kiss.

Twister was a great way to learn about bodies. When you play, you are not necessarily seeing the whole of a person. You glimpse an ankle, an elbow, sometimes a breast peeking out of a shirt. Twister made me feel like a variety of body parts, not like one whole person. At that age this was perfectly acceptable; I didn’t really like my body. I was overweight, self-conscious, and generally terrified of boys. But playing Twister was different. Maybe they would catch a glance of my left foot (My left was totally skinnier than my right.), or see that my neck was long and slender when stretched out over Blake’s kneecap. Maybe Gary would like me more if he saw me that way. Maybe we would get in a compromising position over a game of Twister and he would see the real me: smart, quietly beautiful, and willing to write romantic poetry about his glorious left upper thigh. You can see how games were not just games at this stage.

As I got older, I learned more intellectually-stimulating games like Poker and Canasta. The draw of these games was not only to stir my competitive side, but also to point my cognitive skills in a different direction once in a while. As we approach adulthood, we need constant reassurance that we are not acting like children. We want to be older, cooler. We want to make sure that everyone knows we are independent and self-sufficient. Cruising Maple Avenue and finding someone to buy me alcohol may have been fun, but it didn’t give me any aspirations, and it certainly didn’t help me build a life strategy. Kicking my dad’s butt in Poker, however, made me feel smart, powerful, and at the same time bonded me to him in a different way than before. It was the start of a new type of relationship with my father.

Growing older and forming strong relationships with family and friends has been one of the best parts of becoming an adult. Playing games with them gives me a type of knowledge that I am in the stage of life where my choices are my own. I am choosing to spend quality time with these people. I don’t have to be there; I could be anywhere, but my plan at this point in my life is to spend time with people whom I love, and value this time with them. I’d say that’s a great strategy.

Look for the parallels next time you play a game. Games are all about the similarities between real life and fantasy. Strike up a conversation about it with your opponents. Maybe it will distract them long enough so you can slip the ace out of your sleeve.

Idiosyncratic Oath

8 Jul

I’ve realized that every once in a while I have to fall back in love with myself. There are times when I’m completely convinced that I’m the best I can be (I’m fabulous!), but there are darker moments when I struggle to accept myself fully. Doubt creeps in and it’s hard to push it back out!

Luckily I have some seriously amazing friends and family to help me out of my funk when I need assistance. I also know that it’s something very personal that, in the end, I have to work out all on my own. Some of the things I have been doing include rewarding myself for my daily achievements, remembering that “perfect” is a state of mind and not an actual tangible thing, performing fun feel-good rituals, and most of all, reminding myself that all my idiosyncrasies are not negative things; they make me unique. I live in a city where one of the most popular mottos is “Keep Portland Weird.” I don’t think it is a coincidence that I ended up here. I’ve always been somewhat eccentric, a little kooky, and I definitely have habits that others consider strange. Generally I don’t even notice them until someone points them out. Most of the time it is my coworkers, who admittedly see me every day for at least eight hours, and know my diehard habits like clockwork. They actually have a whole skit where they “do” Becky, each of them taking one thing that I do and mocking it. It’s hilarious. It should go on Broadway, I’m not kidding. You know you’ve gotten WAY too comfortable at a job when your coworkers can present all your habits and reactions in a performance art format.

Do you remember in middle school that all you wanted to be was exactly like everyone else? When I chosen for Talented and Gifted (and therefore had to go to special classes at the middle school when I was only a fifth grader), I just wanted to sink into the carpet and never show my face at elementary school again. If I was praised for reading the most pages for the month, I just wanted my teacher to shut her trap about it. I wanted to be like everyone else; I wanted to wear what everyone was wearing; I certainly didn’t want anyone to know that I got free lunch because I was raised by a single parent and my mother couldn’t afford to pay full price for both of us girls. Oh the irony that being less than middle class is now The American Way! It is a sad state of affairs, but I think in some ways it bonds people, and helps them build character in these tough economic times. Do-It-Yourself has certainly risen to another level in the United States.

Things changed after middle school. In college we had a bunch of extracurricular groups. There were the sororities and fraternities, the sports teams, the smart kid groups, drama clubs, even secret societies. The greatest part about it was that there was something for everyone. Yes, they were labeling themselves by joining, but there wasn’t one group that was more important or more popular than the others. People could even overlap groups! I found the groups that were perfect for me, and am so grateful for it.

Since the horrifying days of middle school, I have truly embraced my weirdness, and I love that no one can ever put just one label on me. Have you ever heard of another Bellydancing Quaker Granola-Head Writer-Hiker-Runner-Twin? I don’t think so. By the way, that label doesn’t even cover half of who I am.

So today I am taking the Idiosyncratic Oath (created July 8, 2011):

“I affirm (that’s Quaker-speak for ‘I swear’) by my teddy bear Chocolate Chip, and I take to witness all the Gods, all the Goddesses, the Spirit, and the Soul, to keep, according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:  In pure holiness I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts. I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my friends/family/therapist when the skills of another are needed for my sanity. If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my unique self and may I long experience the joy of accepting others’ eccentricities.”

Feel free to declare this oath to yourself, if you feel so led. Celebrate your weirdness! But please don’t swear on my teddy bear. He is only for my own personal use.

A Dream in Progress

17 Jun

“There is a crack, a crack in everything—That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

This post is dedicated to my coworker, LE. I don’t know how she does it, but she always inspires me to write!

I dream about the insides of houses a lot. Actually any type of shelter—sometimes caves or labyrinth structures. What I mean is, almost all of my dreams are inside walls. What I am always fascinated by is the detail of the formation—rarely the plot or characters of the dream. It is usually a dream where I feel strong emotions, in which I often still feel those emotions when I wake up.

Curiosity overtook me, so I looked up “houses” on www.dreammoods.com. Part of the interpretation follows:

“To see a house in your dream represents your own soul and self. Specific rooms in the house indicate a specific aspect of your psyche. In general, the attic represents your intellect; the basement represents the unconscious, etc. If the house is empty, then it indicates feelings of insecurity. If the house is shifting, then it suggests that you are going through some personal changes and changing your belief system.

There are two reasons this last sentence is significant. One is the more obvious:  I am going through some personal changes and I am reevaluating my belief system. Everyone does this in their thirties—am I wrong? I have employed several methods of “research” for this reevaluation, but the most basic way is to look at my core values. Those I accept as-is. However, though I have always felt that I am a good example of high morals, a strong work ethic, and recognizing that everyone has “that of God in them,” it admittedly is a constant work in progress. The last part of that list is a common Quaker testimony. I was born and raised a Quaker and I still find that testimony is one of my biggest challenges. Seeing the God inside your archenemies makes it much harder to hate them…and I think that’s the point. Quakers (to the best of their ability) accept all people as equal, and are therefore loveable. We embrace the millionaire, the beggar, the drug addict, and those that society has labeled unconventional or eccentric. Yes, we hug them all. But I am not faultless, and so I strive to improve myself—I do NOT strive for perfection, because that would be boring! (Perfection doesn’t actually exist anyway.) Instead of walking past a panhandler and rolling my eyes, I could visualize them healthy and independent. Instead of balking at a new responsibility at work because it’s “not my job,” I will take it and run with it.

The second reason the dream interpretation is significant is that not only am I continually improving on myself, but I am slowly learning to look at things through a different lens. I have a situation that I lament on regularly. It seems that for the last several years, the only feeling I had about this particular situation was that it was always the same, never changing, and I could never do anything about it. Recently I realized that instead of attempting to move heaven and earth to transform my life, I could look at it from a different view and use the good parts to my advantage, thereby manifesting change. I did just that, and this blog is part of the result!

There are other ways to bring about the changes you want. Last night I was in the position to sit in silence for a while. I tried to meditate, and even though I cleared my mind, it didn’t seem to be working. Rather than fight it, I opened my eyes and picked up my Fairy Cards. If you are not familiar with the Doreen Virtue series of cards, there are several different decks of tarot-like cards with angels, fairies, and goddesses, among others, giving you messages. Whether or not you are a true believer in card reading, these cards can give you insight on life when you just need a little something more.

I did a three-card spread, and then impulsively chose one more. It was entitled “Rising Above Your Problems.” The advice it gave me was truly fitting of what I have been doing to manifest change. I paraphrase—it’s only a problem because you see it that way. Look at it from a different point of view and use that knowledge and experience. Know that you are worthy of the best in life! This message gave me such satisfaction and validation in my recent life choices. The thing about these cards is that they can either advise you to do something completely different OR confirm what you’ve been doing all along.

Whether your method is to seek outside guidance or look within, it is truly worthwhile to challenge your beliefs every once in a while.