WEIGHT A MINUTE: A confession at 250 miles

Fitbit badges

In late September I bought a Fitbit personal exercise tracker and started challenging myself to shake a leg more intentionally and frequently, as I shared in WEIGHT A MINUTE: A 30-pound love note from my soul.

I have a confession to make. I specified that this initiative was aimed at feeling better. I said, and I quote: I am not weighing or measuring myself, counting calories or measuring portions. The first part of that idealistic statement ended up being untrue.

Here’s how the process unfolded. I felt proud of myself as I set up the Fitbit goals. I didn’t want this to be some crazy, unachievable or hard-driving effort I would soon drop in discouragement. Accordingly, I lowered the suggested daily goal from 10,000 steps to 8,000 and told myself that would be plenty good enough for starters. I found out by gentle experience that on the days when I did no intentional walking, my daily steps were as low as 3,000. Rationalizing from that baseline, my goal seemed a significant improvement over the sedentary sluggishness of the last few years—progress without being punitive.

As I was setting up the Fitbit software program, I came to the section in which I was asked to input my current weight and my goal. I put in the somewhat alarming (to me) figure from the last time I’d weighed myself, and then entered a goal to lose 33 pounds because I liked the number. All this seemed quite theoretical…just filling in the blanks to get started toward my overarching intention to get back into better condition and start feeling more fit and energetic.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started having lots of fun feedback right away. How beautiful that my body responded to such a modest investment! My resting heart rate lowered. My zest came zipping back. The step-tracking strategy did indeed motivate me to get out on the street even after dark so as to meet the day’s target. Wow!

And then…and then…well, I succumbed to the urge to get on the scale and see what kind of progress I’d made. Shit! I weighed more than the estimate I’d entered into the Fitbit program weeks earlier. Even though my body and mind felt much better, the scale screamed F-A-I-L in a loud and mocking voice.

Because I’d written a blog post about my lofty intentions to avoid weighing and measuring my body, I felt as if I was secretly letting all of you down. But that didn’t stop me from weighing myself compulsively a couple weeks later! The figure was exactly the same!!!!!

This seems nearly impossible and more like an object lesson from my higher self than anything, as if the scale conspired to send me back to the refuge of my original, beautiful intention: to not hate, reject, or punitively try to control any part of myself, but to instead be filled with a deep and radiant desire to be my best self.

I choose again and again—as many times as necessary—to trust how I feel over what scales and measuring tapes might indicate. I feel SO much better physically! I feel stronger and more lithe, lighter on my feet and lighter of heart, both physically and emotionally.

Although I am over 250 miles down the road, in some ways I am back where I started, returning home to the goal of learning to love and accept myself with honesty and compassion. Confessing my frailty is part of that, so thanks for listening!

Feet

 

 

 

WEIGHT A MINUTE! A 30-pound love note from my soul

For most of my life I’ve thought I was bigger and heavier than I actually am. I can look at pictures from each of the last five decades and see now that I was never the size I thought I was. In fact, I was considerably smaller. Now that I am heavier than I have ever been in my life, I’ve finally had a breakthrough in understanding.

I know I cannot depend on how I see myself in the mirror or the plate glass store windows. I finally recognize the fickle unreliability of my own perceptions. I know I cannot use my physical self-image as a motivation for change because it will always tell me I have missed the mark.

I know for a fact I felt fat when this picture was taken in the early 1980s.

I know for a fact I felt fat when this picture was taken in the early 1980s.

Like many others, I have tried a variety of diet and fitness programs over the years to whip myself into shape after I crossed a certain line known only by me, an arbitrarily-shifting standard. There’s no question I can control my weight. I’ve lost the same pounds over and over again through calorie counting, portion control, exercise, herbs, even amphetamines. I have starved, denied, punished and shamed myself. When I finally paused to wonder why the weight always returns, I realized my body was asking me for something. Like maybe—at the very least—a willingness to listen and a little kindness and appreciation.

My body started changing more dramatically than usual about four years ago. Many persons in the second half of life will understand, especially women who, like me, quit smoking in their 40s and are now post-menopausal. Anyone who has suddenly gone from active to sedentary or experienced a season of loss and grief will know what I’m talking about. Persons who are trauma survivors and utilized food or other substances to self-soothe will also relate. For me, all of these factors combined and conspired simultaneously to translate themselves into a 30-pound love note from my soul.

For the first time in my life, I responded with compassion. I stopped punitively weighing myself. I ceased self-denial and revisited my beliefs about food. I didn’t swing into action to take control. I started observing how my perception of my body could change quite markedly from day to day or even between morning and evening. I asked why I was never satisfied with myself and what impact that might have on my physical container.

From the outside I’m guessing it may have looked like I had indulged in that folly we whisper about behind our hands: oh, my! She’s really let herself go. Or so I imagine in my insecure, judging, body-shaming mode. But in a newly-emerging aspect of my psyche, I was literally embodying something quite different: I was challenging myself to accept my form exactly as it was, precisely as it had expressed itself.

As I sat with that idea—and sat and sat and sat, seemingly immobilized in some way I can’t explain, a formerly super-active person suddenly shockingly sedentary, sitting still, and uncomfortably, at that—I began to wonder. I watched my feelings arise with as much mindfulness as possible. I appreciate Dr. Daniel Siegel’s acronym for the kind of mindfulness I was led to practice about my body—COAL—curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.

Acronym by Dan Siegel, watercolor by Elizabeth Winterbone

Acronym by Dan Siegel, watercolor by Elizabeth Winterbone

This process of raising awareness and aiming toward self-acceptance has lasted close to two years, 700+ days of unpredictable emotional rollercoasters and perceptual funhouse mirrors—days of love and days of loathing—until finally I realized what I’d been missing. Those pounds kept coming back over the years to ask for acceptance. They wanted me to stop throwing myself under the bus of external opinion and impossible ideals. They invited me to love my softness and roundedness. They offered repeated chances to embrace myself unconditionally. They asked me to surrender into a full trust of my whole self.

Instead of obsessing with external standards of physical beauty and acceptability, I began offering my body gratitude for its amazing resilience and service over the last 56 years. I began looking at myself in the mirror and saying I love you.

The eventual reward for my willingness to listen to my body and offer it unconditional acceptance came suddenly as a clearer awareness of how I was feeling physically. I could notice that my several years of sitting still had affected my fitness. I suddenly wanted to feel better, more lively and energetic. I felt the urge to move. A high school friend inspired me to get a fitness tracker. I’ve always loved biofeedback and friendly competition with myself. Suddenly I was running up the stairs to my apartment multiple times a day to get my heart rate into the cardio zone, walking instead of driving to the grocery store, and finding reasons to run errands on foot. I am doing this with great joy and playfulness.

Here is the radical difference from past self-improvement efforts. There will be no before and after pictures; this is not about how I look. I am not weighing or measuring myself, counting calories or measuring portions. I am listening to my body’s intuitive guidance. I am trusting its wisdom. Finally. I am not hating, rejecting, or punitively trying to control any part of myself, I am filled with a deep and radiant desire to be my best self.

I am motivated by love instead of fear, and I believe that will make all the difference.

Aster

God made a little Gentian—It tried—to be a Rose: A love letter to heterocentric Christians

Dear heterocentric persons of faith and good will (which includes most of my dear family of origin):

I want you to know first of all that I can intellectually and compassionately understand both your consternation and some of the vehemence with which you defend doctrines on sexuality and marriage. Can we start there? Can we begin with me saying with love that I hear you and I see where you are coming from? Because I do.

Like you, I have been culturally conditioned since birth to accept heterosexuality as the prevailing paradigm and the normative ethic, both socially and religiously. I can certainly understand why those for whom attraction to the opposite sex is as natural and unquestioned a behavior as breathing would assume that any deviation from the norm is, well…abnormal, and perhaps even a willful rebellion against what’s natural.

My personal experience, starting from a very young age in this same milieu—specifically in the 1970s in the Church of the Nazarene—I’m guessing was exactly the opposite of yours, and for me, equally natural, unfolding softly like a wildflower. I did try to meet the cultural expectations, but those attempts in high school and college were strange, awkward and felt like a fraud. In 56 years of life, I have never fallen in love with a member of the opposite sex. Not once.

To be clear, this is not because I dislike men or have been damaged by a man. In fact, I love and appreciate men very much, starting with my Dad, grandfathers, and brother, all of whom were unusually loving, gentle, kind and approachable. I hung out with boys a lot during my teen years and they mostly treated me like one of the guys, which made me feel safe and comfortable, a pal. Secretly, of course, what we had in common was our attraction to the girls.

I never once said, oh, I think I’ll squelch my heterosexual identity and give myself over to lust for my own kind in defiance of the Church’s teachings. As far as I can tell, I only ever went with the flow of my own innate selfhood. I was a Marva. And even as it became clear that I would face disapproval and rejection, I did not consider twisting myself to fit cultural and religious expectations because I felt purposeful as I was and courageous enough to stay that way. I knew somehow in a very deep place—seemingly against the odds—that I was unique and beautiful and loved by my Maker, who is famous for moving in mysterious ways.

The fact that I have always felt this unexpectedly deep confidence in the face of pressure to conform to the norm, remains my single most powerful and self-evident argument against the moral depravity judgment. If I am an abomination or a mis-creation, why do I feel so confident in my holy birthright? Why would I take a path so painful, rocky and counter-cultural simply for the sake of rebellion, and if it were a phase, wouldn’t it eventually end? And why, if the way I am is a deep perversion subject to the wrath of God, do I manifest in my daily life so many of the fruits of the Spirit? How can I be the happiest and most peaceful person I know?

That’s all I have to offer, my own story, my own sweet certainty of the sacred validity of my personhood exactly as I am, and these heartful inquiries. If you would be willing to sit prayerfully with those questions, I would be so grateful. For the moment, I would love it if we could we drop our defenses and simply see each other face to face, and heart to heart, without scriptural interpretations and a church manual as wedges between us.

In case you wonder, I am writing because I have this wild, idealistic notion that it’s possible to befriend and heal the misunderstood pink elephants of shame that have been standing in the shadowy corners of so many good Christian living rooms for so long. These elephants are the unspoken plights of our children and grandchildren, cousins and nephews, mothers and fathers.

One of the motivations that spurs me onward now is the desire to heal my own hidden hurt by bringing it out into the light. I didn’t even realize how potent it was until I heard last week’s announcement of the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality and found myself ducking and bracing as if I’d just heard the unmistakable freight-train-roar of a tornado bearing down. Or of thousands of pink elephants crashing out into the public square.

While millions of happy people of all proclivities and nationalities joined in celebrating a step forward in human rights, I took a step back and felt inexplicably sorrowful, in part because I knew how many of you would feel about the announcement. I’ve made the mistake of reading too many condemnatory articles and offensive comments. I’ve stepped away in despair from many unfruitful and unfinished conversations over the last 30 years.

I am also inspired to speak because of my desire to encourage others to not give up on living authentically. I am convinced we all have a purpose in the beautiful spectrum of being—simply because we exist—just as we are.

And finally, the deepest driver of all—the most potent of motivators—the craving for wholehearted love and acceptance—not the confusing contradiction of I love you, but, or the poison razor of love the sinner, hate the sin—but love without condition, in the manner of Christ.

I am convinced this unconditional love is abundantly available to me from my Creator. I feel it purposefully and joyfully in every cell of my body and every particle of the cosmic consciousness in which I am an avid participant. I don’t need any religious institution to validate my spiritual passport; I have traveled a great distance without external approval.

What would be lovely, however, would be to feel that my fellow humans, especially my own extended family, did not condemn me for being myself. I am totally coming out of the closet as a Marva. I can do no less if I wish to be free and whole. Perhaps my heart can be a bridge. I offer it freely as a gift to the troubled waters.

Much Love, Marva

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A ukulele, a murder, and the shadowy road to trauma-informed compassion

Lately my soul has been inviting me on walks through some distinctly uncomfortable territory, through the valley of the shadow, the shadow of death as well as the shadow of disowned emotions and wounds, both personal and collective.

As a mystical idealist, I believe that to care, accept and have compassion for anyone is to embrace part of myself. To revile, judge and condemn anyone is to reject part of myself. This is my radical love-your-neighborself gospel, the good—and challenging—news of unity in practice, with no exclusion clauses. Have I perfected this? Hell, no. Again and again I have to remind myself—as often as necessary—that the light I see in you reflects my light and your shadow mirrors mine as well.

This ongoing spiritual practice was put to the test recently when the news broke that a beloved regional personality, Tanya Tandoc, had been murdered in Wichita. I instantly felt the rupture in the community as an uncomfortable physical sensation centered around my heart. Like thousands of others, I had eaten at Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, knew her by sight and reputation, and been within a few feet of her magnetic persona on several occasions.

As I read the preliminary reports and watched intense reactions ripple across social media that first morning, I felt strongly led to seek a point of peace within myself and find words to share as a gift toward community healing. I offered this:

The only thing I’ve ever found that makes sense of such a senseless situation and offers the possibility for healing in my spirit and in the community is this: every situation is either love or a call for love. 

As more details of the situation emerged, I realized with a conflicted pang that I had a direct connection to the person who’d turned himself in to police and confessed to the killing. Curt Mitchell once sold me a beautiful Riptide ukulele at his music store. My niece still plays that ukulele out in the mountains of Colorado. Somehow this humanizing connection invited me into direct dialogue with the shadow, challenging me to integrate my own ideals by practicing compassion for this fellow human, this person my beliefs and deepest intuitions tell me is part of me, uncomfortable as that may be to consider.

Love, unity and peace were the themes of my 2012 Christmas card featuring the ukulele Curt sold me.

I watched my own reactions as well as those in the community in recent weeks. We are quick to choose sides, I noticed, to align with the victim and divorce ourselves from the perpetrator. The ego’s first instinct is typically to join in reviling anyone who could do such a thing. I hope he rots in hell, said commenters on news articles. He should get the death penalty. I saw a couple of different articles posted on social media about the characteristics of a psychopath, an invitation to an armchair diagnosis that puts more distance between us and the killer. He must have been mentally ill, we might conclude, and comfort ourselves with all the ways in which we are not like him.

But what about all the ways in which we are like the killer? I am willing to consider that Curt and I might have more similarities than differences, starting with a love of music and a history of abusive self-medicating for emotional pain.

I started this post a week ago, without knowing exactly how to carry it to resolution. Then, this morning, I awakened to the news of the Charleston shooting that took nine lives in a church: a white killer and black victims, a weapon at a Bible study, a hateful act in a loving place. Now I have another name on my heart, Dylann Roof, age 21, inviting me to linger a bit longer in the valley of our collective shadow.

When people seem to lose their moorings in consensus reality and break laws and social codes, we rush to answer the question: What is wrong with you? This reductionist approach is abetted by over 300 handy, but subjective labels from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

An emerging alternative is called trauma-informed care, which is based on the notion that we are complex products of our experiences. Our feelings and behaviors are messages containing clues about our hidden wounds. The more meaningful and potentially-redemptive question becomes what happened to you? The search for the traumas that underlie diagnostic labels is the deeper work that can lead to hope for reclamation and restoration.

I cannot imagine killing anyone, but I can imagine myself sitting face to face with Curt Mitchell or Dylann Roof and caring enough to wonder what wounded their spirits, what led to such a grievous breach in their connection to the sanctity of life. To sit with them in the valley of the shadow, even at this distance, is troubling and uncomfortable, yet I cannot turn away. If I want to live in a healed world, I cannot afford to disown any part of myself.

My bias is that we are all born beautiful and innocent, and this makes me think of a massage therapist who once answered my curious question about how she coped with the variety of bodies that ended up on her table, not all of which might necessarily be particularly attractive or naturally lovable. I imagine them as newborn babies, she answered thoughtfully, and I offer up a little prayer: “May I have the privilege of facilitating healing.”

“I imagine them as newborn babies.” Me welcoming my niece Claire to the world in 1998.

I wish I knew how to share the depth of my discomfort here in the shadowland of these issues. I have no desire to sound glib or holier-than-thou. I didn’t even want to write this post, but there are stones of despair on my heart and I am listening to my intuition about how to lift them. I am sitting uncomfortably with ethical conundrums like how we justify punishing killers by putting them to death or how we rationalize sending human beings out to kill in the name of the republic, but don’t support them when they return home with invisible wounds. No wonder the steps of this dissonant dance are confusing in our culture. No wonder victims often recycle as perpetrators.

With a heavy spirit I went out to play ukulele with my friends at our monthly jam this evening. As I played and sang and sensed myself as a secure strand interwoven into the strong fabric of my community, my spirit felt sweetly repaired—as I knew it would—soothed by the balm of caring and connection.

Perhaps it is too little too late, but this healing and life-affirming community embrace is what I broadcast symbolically to all who feel isolated and estranged—this is the gift I offer to those deeply disenfranchised aspects of myself I see reflected as if in a broken mirror—this is my answer to the call for love. May my willingness to confront the shadow with compassion make a difference.

Curt and Dylann, what you did touched me. The idealist in me dares to believe that what I do touches you.