Love Liberates

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Art by better-with-salt, on deviantart.

I was watching a clip of Maya Angelou’s Masterclass, in which she  said, “Love Liberates”.
When I heard them, they rang so loud in my ear that it felt as though my whole being had been trying to tell me and I just wasn’t listening. I thought of these words as they relate to my relationship with my body, I realized that this certainly wasn’t the kind of love I’ve been myself (or at least not enough), even as recently as yesterday.

For as long as I can remember, loving my body has always come with rules and restrictions. Body love wasn’t possible if I ate too much, if I missed a workout, if I gained weight, if I didn’t master a yoga pose, if a man wasn’t attracted to me, if someone made a note of my weight gain. And even when I made the conscious decision to master self-love, I simply came with a new set of rules for myself.

Body love wasn’t possible if I didn’t do a long enough meditation. If I caught myself saying unkind words about my body.  If I hated the way my dress looked today, even if I was aware that dress size wasn’t a measure of my body. If today I hated the scars on my legs, even though I had written a blog post on honoring my scars. If I didn’t drink enough green smoothies. The pursuit of self-love, if you don’t catch yourself, might lead you to another road of self-loathing.

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Love Liberates. Just ask Genie (courtesy of GIPHY)

 

The kind of love I was giving myself before or after my journey of self-love,  has often been a love that suffocates me and leave me feeling empty, ashamed and angry, if I don’t constantly evaluate my motives. It’s a love that has an ideal of who you should be, and condemns you if you don’t live up to said idea.
So what does it look like to love yourself in a way that liberates? A liberating love is a love that expands to create space for you, and honor you wherever you are in your quest for self-compassion and self-acceptance. It’s a love that holds you accountable not as a way to condemn you but to redeem you.  It needs to be a love that is tender, patient, validating, and uplifting. It needs to be a love that always asks, “how am I feeling, how do I want to feel, and how do I get there in a compassionate and patient way”? 

But in real life, tangible ways, how do you apply this kind of love for yourself? Here are just a few suggestions

  • let yourself feel all your feelings, good and bad. You’re allowed to be a multi-layered individual so don’t punish yourself on those days when positivity makes you want to vomit
  • Learn to be a better listener. Your negative feelings, much like physical pain, are trying to bring your attention to something that is wrong. Being a good listener means moving past that initial shame you might feel when you have a negative feeling. What is that anger, sadness, frustration, trying to tell you?
  • Practice patience and acceptance with your body. This might be the most important way you could possibly practice a love that liberates. The source of our hatred for our body is often because we want it to look a certain way and it’s failure to live up to these expectations, is a source of frustration. That frustration for me, has often been with yoga, when after weeks of not practicing, I realize my back won’t bend like it used to, or my shoulders won’t carry me as easily as before. For you it might be a skirt that doesn’t fit like before, or love handles that make you feel ashamed, or weight gain that sneaked up on you and you’re frustrated. Liberating love is love that meets you where you are, and loves you right there, without requiring to be any different from where you are now.
  • Seek change for its own sake, not as a prerequisite for love. I know that I when I mention above the necessity of self-acceptance, something in your panicked. You wondered, well if I love myself exactly where I am, how I am, then surely I will become complacent and not want to change. That’s the thing! This whole time, you have been giving yourself a love conditional on meeting certain requirements. But a liberating love is one that is with you where you are and that includes wherever you go. When Maya Angelou said “love liberates”, she also added that “it doesn’t bind”. So loving yourself won’t stop you from making any changes, it will simply go along with you. You don’t have to be miserable and self-deprecating on your way to wherever it is you’re going. What if instead of using love as the reward for meeting a goal, you make it a companion, or the fuel for your journey?

What does a liberating love look like for you?

 

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The Golden Rule is The Reason why You Don’t Know How to Love

“Don’t treat people the way you want to be treated, treat people how THEY want to be treated” Kim Katrin Milan.

Most of us were raised with the Golden Rule as the standard for human decency. “treat others how you want to be treated. Do onto others as you would like them do onto you”. It seems like solid advice doesn’t it? After all, if you make the effort to give people the same treatment you would want for yourself, it helps you make better decisions in your behavior with others. If you want kindness, give kindness. If you want patience, give patience. Pretty straightforward.

So then what’s the problem? Why change this, if it’s working just fine?  Activist Kim Katrin Milan, argues for a different approach. She mentions that the problem with the golden rule is “that is assumes we are the standard for other people. But we’re not. We need to treat people the way that THEY want to be treated. Which means we have to ask“.  Turning the golden rule inside out like this, requires that we shift the focus from ourselves and unto the person we want to love. It requires that we engage in conversation, and learn to be better listeners. We say ” I love you” a lot, but don’t ask often enough “How do you want to be loved”?

It’s an important lesson that I learned when in the midst of a breakup, I told my then boyfriend that I loved him. To which he responded, “yes I know. But your love makes me miserable”. He taught me that it didn’t matter that I had the best intentions and made all the efforts I could. I had never bothered to really ask him the kind of love he needed.

True love, is the kind of love that is willing to shift the gaze and focus on the subject of our love. Whether in romance, in friendships, with our own selves, in social justice, in work. We have to be willing to ask people about the kind of love they need. The harder work, is to then let go of own preconceived ideas of what love looks like, so we can truly love people on their terms.

A love that is transformative

A love that is healing

A love that is redeeming

and as Tiq Milan said, “unconditional love is love that is accountable, and hold you accountable“.

3 Relationship Boundaries I wish I had learned much Earlier.

In my quest to master self-love and self-compassion, perhaps the most difficult task has been to change my relationship with others. That might explain why when I began this journey, I essentially became an emotional hermit, not necessarily because solitude is so cool and mysterious, but honestly because self-mastery is much easier when you don’t have to test it against interactions with other people.

What does your self-acceptance and compassion really look like, when you have a friend who is constantly trying to break you with negative comments. What does self-love look like in the face of rejection? What does self-care look like when you are a people-pleaser? These are questions I constantly have to ask myself, as I try to transform my relationships with others. So when I found this SuperSoul Sunday video, I was elated to learn in a few minutes, 3 relationship boundaries that even until 3 weeks ago, I had yet to set for myself and others in my life.

No is a complete sentence (Shonda Rhimes)

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I once had an interaction with a guy who did not respect my physical boundaries at all. He was overtly inappropriate, and constantly felt entitled to my body despite my pleas for him to keep his hands to himself.  At my request to respect my boundaries, he said to me “who wants a man who listens to what you say anyway, that’s boring”. His argument was that we’d been talking long enough that I should relax and expect this kind of thing. And I,  though I knew without a doubt that I wasn’t comfortable, I kept asking myself whether I was being too much of a prude, too distant, too stuck up. So I’d plead my case with him, explain in details with supported arguments why I deserved a modicum of respect and patience. All the while, I’d also try to laugh off the discomfort  even though everything in my body wanted to scream and run.  Still I stayed, all because I doubted this gut feeling which said, “this is not right, walk away”. That’s the thing when you don’t have the best relationship with your body; you don’t trust it enough to know what’s good for you, and you’re afraid to say no because you don’t think you’ve earned it. But please for the love of you, saying no without explanation is  enough. You’re  enough. Say no. Say it often. Say it unapologetically.

 

Don’t let people who don’t matter too much, matter too much (Wes Moore)

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Last year during my 31 days of self-compassion, I wrote about this bad habit I had of being a people-pleaser, forever chasing unanimous approval even from people who had little impact in my life. This endless quest for validation is a trap  that is easy to fall into when you don’t like/know yourself enough to trust your instinct. So you look outward because you believe that everyone else knows much better than you do, about your own well-being. The thing is that you will always get different opinions on the same matter, and you will lose your mind trying to people everyone else, then realize that you’ve spent all this energy on external validation while the sense of emptiness within grows bigger. Letting go of other people’s opinions is scary. Because not only do you have to risk making some people upset, you no longer can avoid the difficult task of looking within. What do you really want, and are you willing to take responsibility for any decision you make?

 

Don’t make someone else’s issues about you (Iyanla Vazant)

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More than three years ago, I sought out a therapist for the first time ever. And one of the exercises she asked me to do was to tell her about the people whom I believe had the most influence on my self-esteem. I immediately was turned off by this, because I didn’t want this to be some Freudian exercise in which we discover that everything is my mother’s fault or whatever. But she then explained to me that unearthing these deep seated wounds wasn’t about blaming anyone else, but to give me clarity. I needed to not only identify who did what, but also understand why they did what they did. What this exercise does is that it teaches you how to step outside of people’s stories. To recognize how often people’s struggles aren’t really about you, even when you’re on the receiving end of the neglect, or anger, or abuse. This isn’t to absolve anyone of anything they might have done to you, it is so you can free yourself of the idea that you are not good enough, because someone else treated you as though you don’t matter. Who are you, when you are not trapped in someone else’s idea of you?

In your quest for self-acceptance, it will be difficult to figure out how to set relationship boundaries. Because if you’ve spent so long knowing nothing more than self-loathing and self-doubt, it’s hard to trust yourself. But that’s precisely when this is so important. Because in order to set the tone on how you want to interact with others, you have to go even deeper within, and ask yourself with all the tenderness you can muster, WHAT DO I WANT?

Free Yourself from New Year Resolutions, Choose 3 Words Instead

2016 will go down in our collective memory as the year of many struggles, including events which at the beginning of the year, most of us would have deemed as impossible.

Impossible.  If I had to pick one word to describe my year, that would have been THE word to choose. I really learned what it means to expect the unexpected, to stay ready, and learn to surrender. Impossible things happened to me this year, both great and bad. What this taught me is that life rarely goes according to plan. And thought this is hardly an epiphany, it really got me thinking about what my year would look like if I embraced the unexpectedness of life, while still striving to be my best self. Coincidentally, my friend (Hi Tom!) sent me an article from writer Chris Brogan, who for nearly ten years has begun his year by choosing 3 words that will drive how he approaches the new year. He explains that most people forget about their new year resolution by the 20th day of the first month. Adding this to the fact that life often has plans of its own, we can easily get sidetracked.

So what is so great about choosing 3 words then?  Chris Brogan explains that you need to choose words that are multifaceted and will therefore apply to various situations. Author H.G Wells famously said, “adapt or perish. now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative”. As we set goals for the year, we set expectations for how we want our life to go, yet plans go awry quite often, because we didn’t /couldn’t factor in the unexpected. The ability to adapt to anything life throws your way (good included) is important in not only surviving, but also thriving. Though you can still set goals, choosing 3 words is a way to create a strong foundation for how you will navigate your year, while accounting for life’s plans. The three words are also a way to set the tone for the kind of person you want to be overall. With that said, below are the 3 words that I chose for my year.

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1. Ho’oponopono

I’ve written about this before (read here), but let me give you a recap. Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian word which roughly translated, means “to make things right”. Popularized by Dr. Hew Len, it is philosophy which encourages us to heal in ourselves the ills we see in others. As someone who is dedicated to self-improvement in addition to addressing social injustice, this word is perfect for me. What it means is that every time I see something in someone or in the world that I don’t like, my first plan of action has to be to see how I too, am complicit in the problem and what I can do about it. For example, a friend of mine shared a story about a woman in a wheelchair who was forced to wet herself because the train she was on, didn’t have an accessible toilet. Evidently, this is an outrageous story and it never should have happened. But in addition to figuring out how to be supportive to Paralympian Anne Wafula, I needed to also take a look at how I too am complicit in ableism. In my own life, what do I need to do to make the space I occupy, disability accessible? I could make sure to provide descriptive captions for the pictures on my blog, choose videos with captions (or volunteer to transcribe), and check the language that I use so it’s not ableist. By choosing Ho’oponopono as my philosophy, everything I see wrong in the world becomes an opportunity for introspection. You can do this with work, relationships, politics, everything really.

2. Share

 

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My second word is share, not because I am a greedy person, because I underestimate myself way too much in everything that I do. I hesitate to share my work with others, whether it is photography, blogpost, yoga, ambitions. I’m in a constant inner battle of impostor syndrome, in which I never think I belong in the places where I find myself. Thankfully, I often get people who tell me that my writing is healing, that my photography has a unique vantage point and aesthetic, and that my yoga practice has encouraged them to get started as well. Having people give me these words of encouragement is so helpful in giving me courage to show more of my work to the world, but it is encouragement that is often short lived because  my inner critic quickly takes over again. Having the courage to give more of myself to the world in a consistent manner requires that I deliberately push through my fear. If you are reading this, then you are reading this year’s first attempt at sharing despite my fear. Wish me luck!

 

3.  Dependability

 

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Dependability is really an extension of the second word, share. I consider myself a highly dependable person, but only for other people. If someone wants me to do something for them or if something is needed at work, I’m happy to do what it takes so that goals can be reached. When it comes to myself, I’m a total flake. This goes back to this feeling of unworthiness.  I set goals for myself but don’t carry them out not because I’m lazy, but because I don’t think I’m good enough for the things I wish for. I question my story telling skills, so collect drafts that I rarely publish. I question my photography skills, so I panic whenever someone (who clearly loves my skills) asks that I do some work for them.  I question my intuition, so I let people mistreat me because I question whether my standards are too high. But I know from past experiences (2016 included), that showing up for myself, produces results that are extraordinary (I don’t say this lightly). This year I want to stop bailing out on myself and show up when I say I’m going to show up.  Show up for me, so I can so show up for everyone as well.

What about you? If you had 3 words you would choose, what would they be and why? Share with me below!

 

 

Things We Should Leave in 2016

I think we can all agree that 2016 has been a challenging year, natural disasters wreaking Havoc on countries,  to Native Americans fighting for access to clean water, to Syrians barely surviving bombings, to a presidential election that was straight out of an episode of the Twilight zone.

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Goodbye 2016

We’re ready for 2016 to take its pain and exit stage left, with hopes that 2017 will dance in with much needed healing.  As we wind down to the end of the year, here are a few things we ought to bury in 2016 along with everything else it took from us.

  • Constantly making self-deprecating comments about your body
  • Apologizing for the way you look, because you’ve internalized the idea that a body like yours should be seen as little as possible
  •  Constantly feeling guilty over your eating habits
  • Sharing damaging diet trends with your friends
  • Using the bathroom scale as a measure of how much tenderness your body deserve
  • Believing that intense self-criticism is the only way you can relate to your body
  • Putting your best life on the shelf until after you lose weight
  • Being afraid of leaving relationships that drain you, because you don’t think you’re worth much more
  • Second guessing your intuition when it tells you that something/someone is just not right
  • Not listening to someone when they tell you how they want to be treated
  • Thinking about the value of self-love only in terms of how it will help you attract your soulmate
  •  Thinking someone can love your insecurities away
  • Not knowing how to let yourself be loved
  • Feeling ashamed for needing comfort, for not always having it all together, for needing someone who holds space for you struggle
  • Not believing that you deserve all the things you yearn for
  • Being afraid to say yes
  • Being afraid to say no
  • Being afraid to step into, and OWN your awesome

These are just a few of the many things that 2016 should take with it into the black hole of oblivion, but I’m sure there’s much more we could add. What other emotional baggage should we drop in this year so we can step into 2017, lighter than ever?       dpb2

 

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