I realized on the way home from a support group last night that I’d been longing for a refuge, a place where I could experience non-judgmental, unconditionally loving eyes and attention, and that I had found what I was looking for in the support group.
Out in the world, the eyes are judgmental, one way or another. Either the eyes, the gazes find me, us, “attractive” and thus worthy of attention, OR “unattractive” and unworthy of attention. We’re constantly assaulted by body/image-based gazes and critiques. And the scrutinizing gaze of women has been the most painful to feel in its competitive comparisons. There were times I couldn’t go out into the real world because it felt like a mine field of negative, scrutinizing attention.
Sitting in the group last night, I felt at peace. I felt seen. I know we all wrestle with the same competitive demons, but at least the Support Group holds as its intention the creation of a safe place, a resting place for us, for those hours one evening a week, when we’re looked upon with mercy and respect.
The invitation below was inspired by last night’s experience, and emerged in one of those moments when LIFE speaks through us out of deep concern for our daughters! The invitation is passing from woman to woman today in that powerful flow of woman connection and power!
We’re rallying IAW’s poem-loving bloggers, posters, and blog-readers, and our coaches and fans, to share “The Gaze of Love” far and wide. We invite you to join IAW’s Body-Loving Inspiration Team by emailing “The Gaze of Love” to your lists, posting it in your blogs, and “share-ing” it via Facebook. From my heart to yours…
The Gaze of Love: A Body-Loving Invitation to all Women
Today, and everyday, let’s turn toward other women’s bodies, and our own, with mercy and unconditional acceptance, letting go of the competition and scrutiny-based sizing up of each other, letting go of the subtle put-downs and diminishments when we’re threatened by each other, allowing healing attention to flow one to another until the gaze of love heals us.
A gaze of love, calling wise women with their beautiful silver hair and life-lines out of hiding; inviting our smart, gifted daughters to reject the tyranny of thinness and to cease from harming themselves; welcoming the full, rounded bodies of our friends, bodies that refuse to be battered into shape by diets and admonishments.
A gaze of love so powerful, so encompassing, embracing the whole community of women, all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, and languages, with the widest welcome, the deepest affirmation, the highest calling, the loudest YES.
A gaze of love, inspiring us to bite into LIFE and the fullness of its possibility, to express LIFE through us in color and shape, sound and movement, to honor LIFE by turning our body-loving energy toward projects of justice, relationships of comfort, strategies of wellness, and words of affirmation.
Knowing we’re all in this together. One breath. One body. One life. And so it is.
Body-loving blessings, Patricia
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the founder of Imagine a Woman International, For the Love of Words, and Beginner’s Eye Photography. If you’re ready to make peace with your body or would like a powerful gift to offer your daughter or granddaughter, read about our Retreat “Love Your Body: Five Pathways to Body-Love” here: Retreat Details. If you’d like to join our Team of Certified Coaches, visit here: Certification Details
It used to be that the pressure to create resolutions and self-betterment plans was most intense around the new year, every year! For most of us, however, the pressure spills over and we live in a chronic state of planning to be better and to look better, and resolving to do better, every day of the year! The pressure rises from within us, fueled by the ancient assumption that there’s something wrong with us and we MUST do something to fix it.
I have good news! There is nothing wrong with you. Your task is not to become a new, improve, or change person by spinning out resolution after resolution or embracing the current self-improvement fad. Rather, your task is much simpler and more joyful. Your task is to return and reclaim your natural and essential self in all its fullness. In the very beginning, you loved yourself.
You came into the world with feelings of omnipotence, not inferiority. You loved your body, expressed its needs, and followed its impulses. You recognized and expressed your feelings. You told the truth. You created plays, musicals, stories, and pictures from your own unique vision of the world. You were full of yourself! You may doubt that this time ever existed. Allow Monique Wittig’s strong words to remind you of the truth,
“There was a time when you walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember. You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.” Imagine a woman…
Each “Imagine a Woman” self-guided retreat/course invites you to embrace your essential-self by discarding the facades and personas of a lifetime. It will inspire you to celebrate your originality and truth by shedding the conformity of many lifetimes. No longer content with self-improvement schemes that merely require the rearrangement of your exterior life, you’ll heal into the present and experience the transformation of your inner world.
Before you make another body-resolution, sign up for an expensive body-fix, register for a juice fast, or look into the mirror yet again with disgust, imagine a woman who is glad to be alive. A woman who has released body-scrutiny and -criticism. Who celebrates her body with reverence and respect. Imagine yourself as this woman. IAW’s transformational self-guided retreat/course “Love Your Body: The Five Pathways to Body-Love” will remind you of the body-loving instincts of the child you once were, and of how to awaken them in every season of your life.
Before you make another life-resolution, sign up for an expensive life overhaul, decide to end it all, or change careers, imagine a woman who authors her own life. A woman who trusts her inner sense of what’s right for her. Who takes responsibility for the design and content of her life. Imagine yourself as this woman. “Author Your Own Life: The Five Choices of Authentic Living” will remind you of the creative intelligence you already possess, and how to access it to author your own life and self-understanding.
Before you make another relationship-resolution, say I DO, scream I DON’T, or sign on with the latest matchmaking outfit, imagine a woman who turns toward herself with interest and attention. A woman who turns inward to listen, remember, and replenish. Whose capacity to be available to others deepens as she is available to herself. Imagine yourself as this woman. IAW’s transformational self-guided retreat/course “Relationships from the Inside Out: The Four Ingredients of Conscious Relationship” will remind you of the essential connection between self-love and the love of others, and how to experience your relationships from the inside out.
Before you make another spiritual-resolution, join an ashram or convent, turn your life over to another god or goddess, or turn away from spirituality altogether, imagine a woman who embodies her spirituality. A woman who honors her body as the sacred temple of the spirit of life. Who breathes deeply as a prayer of gratitude for life itself. Imagine yourself as this woman. “Name Your Own Gods: The Five Paths to Conscious Spirituality” will remind you of your birthright of freedom and courage, and how to use this birthright to inspire and design your own spirituality.
Invest in yourself with renewed self-love and compassion. Invest $15 in one of our woman-affirming retreats and receive these “pillows of support” to accompany you on your self-guided retreat journey:
- “Home Is Always Waiting” Meditation MP3 to prepare for your retreat.
- “Thirty Daily Meds” in your in-box to inspire you throughout your retreat.
- Membership in IAW’s Members-Only Circle on Facebook to share your retreat-insights.
Before you take another step into 2016, treat yourself to one of our 6 woman-affirming experiences to infuse the new year with dynamic self-love and purposeful engagement with the world around you. Visit here for more self-guided retreat details.
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the founder of Imagine a Woman International and Open Window Gallery. If you’re ready to author your own life, business, ministry, or self-understanding, visit www.imagineawoman.com for inspiration, opportunities, and support. If you would like to become certified to facilitate our 6 woman-affirming experiences, visit here for certification details.
Surgeons, Pink Ribbons, and Agatha’s Platter
A poetic reflection in honor of Breast Awareness Month…inspired by my graduate studies into the “political” word choices made by the translators of the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible and my one and only experience of surgery. The personal and the political are always mixing it up in our lives…
Breast, A Noun
To know anything at all about our history, our bodies, ourselves, we must reach beyond what they told us, what they taught us, what they want from us, we must reach back to the very beginning.
Before merriam and webster, who have something to say about everything: “breast a noun, either of two milk-producing glandular organs on the front of the chest especially in the human female.”
Before the reversals of christian history: adam giving birth to the woman, father god suckling the child, christ nursing humanity, the milk-giving goddess agatha claimed as their saint, her breasts cut off and carried on a platter.
Before the alterations of the hebrew bible: el shaddai, a name for god, shaddai meaning breast, male translators altered the meaning, their “god of the high places” doesn’t have breasts like mine.
We must reach back to the very beginning to the place where lovers go when they suck my breasts to the source of life. Mama Mama Mama cried in the silence as their wet lips surround my nipple, and they suck for dear life.
In the very beginning long before Adam gave birth and father god sprouted breasts and Christ nursed humanity and shaddai meant “high places” and Agatha’s breasts were amputated and my lovers wanted more than I could give.
In the very beginning was the Big Mama. From her moon-breasts flowed the milky way, the stars and planets, streams, rivers, and oceans, all that ebbs and flows, all that expands and contracts, returning always to mama’s breast.
To her breasts pharaohs and kings returned again and again hoping to receive immortality to become infants forever nursing at mama’s breast.
She came to me early in the morning the one with breasts like mine she held me in her arms as I cried mama mama mama, don’t let them take my breast away on a platter. Her nipple found my lips and I sucked for my dear life.
The breast-less surgeon, the one they call artist he cut into my breast with skill and beauty and all they took away that day was a perfectly shaped lump they left the breast.
She came to me again that night the one with breasts like mine. She brought Agatha. Agatha brought her platter. We made an altar in the middle of the forest.
On Agatha’s platter we placed her breasts and my lump. Using merriam and webster, the hebrew scriptures, the christian bible and photos of lovers who became infants at our breasts as kindling, we built a fire and toasted marshmallows.
Where two or three women are gathered together there she is in the midst of them.
Patricia Lynn Reilly is an author and the founder of Imagine a Woman International. If you’d like to join the IAW Team of Certified Coaches and circle the globe with WomanSpirit visit www.imagineawoman.com. “Breast, A Noun” can be found in Patricia’s anthology of poetry and prose Words Made Flesh. It is available for purchase at the Imagine a Woman website.
Throughout history, inspired by religions’ stories of their irrefutable inferiority as Eve’s daughters, women have attempted to transcend the weakness of being female by “becoming male.” This strategy has its historical and theological roots in the concept of progress, defined by Philo: “Progress is nothing else than the giving up of the female gender by changing into the male since the female is material, passive, corporeal, and sense-perceptible, while the male is active, rational, incorporeal, and more akin to mind and thought.”
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, a woman’s salvation is linked to her willingness “to make herself male:” “Simon Peter said to the disciples ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ But Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her, in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
“Becoming male” was accomplished through virginity, martyrdom, or severe asceticism. By rejecting both their sexual and reproductive capacities, women virgins, martyrs, and ascetics transcended the weakness of being female, a weakness clearly located in the female body. They were acknowledged for taking on a manly mentality, for being a man in everything but body. They were praised for surpassing the limitations of their sex and for performing manly deeds like a man.
My study of this phenomenon led me to Palladius’ Medieval Sourcebook (350 AD) in which he praises women for transcending the weakness and sensuality of being female and tells the story of Alexandra. Her story moved me to write this poem, an indictment of patriarchy on her behalf.
The final recourse is suicide
by many women throughout the ages.
The ultimate choice to transcend
of being female.
The way out of it all, the final relinquishment,
to die in one dramatic moment
of courage and willfulness
or to slowly disappear
under layers of fat,
in a drug-induced stupor,
or in the vagueness of an unformed life.
Palladius traveled through Egypt in the fourth century
to gather anecdotal tales of holy women and men.
He records the story of Alexandra.
A maidservant named Alexandra left the city and immured herself in a tomb. She received the necessities of life through a window, and for ten years never looked a woman or man in the face.
When asked why she lives in a tomb, she said, ”A man was distracted in mind because of me, and rather than scandalize a soul made in the image of God, I betook myself alive to a tomb, lest I seem to cause him suffering or reject him.”
When asked how she perseveres, never seeing anyone, and battling against weariness, she said: “From early dawn to the ninth hour I pray while spinning flax. The rest of the time I go over in my mind the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs. Then I wait patiently for my end with good hope.”
In the tenth year, after calling her name and receiving no answer, we broke open the door, entered, and found her dead.
Some women are murdered
by the words absorbed into their life stream.
Like the steady drip of an IV inserted at birth
the words of the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs
are responsible for Alexandra’s death.
Their words held her body
responsible for the distraction of men.
Their words slowly poisoned her
as they praised her virtue
for successfully surpassing the weakness of being female.
May she rest in peace.
Patricia Lynn Reilly celebrates the inspirational arts as founder of Imagine a Woman International, featuring personal and professional enrichment programs and resources. Patricia is also committed to the visual arts as founder of Open Window Gallery, featuring Beginner’s Eye Workshops and Patricia’s photography.
Tory was born a boy and never felt comfortable being a boy. Finally he made the decision to transform into the woman he felt he always was. He asked for my blessing after a book event. Standing there before me was a traditional female complete with make-up, nail polish, high heels, and tight skirt.
I felt compelled to ask Tory, what sort of female was he becoming. What was his template—was it the quintessential female, groomed to be ornamental, wearing uncomfortable clothes and shaping one’s life according to the dictates of the male-dominated culture?
I told him about Sara who was chronically critical of her female body. When she looked in the mirror she heard the words, “Flawed. Inferior. Ugly.” Desperate to like herself, she had facelift and nose alteration. When the bandages were removed and she looked in the mirror, she was horrified to hear the same words and self-disgust greeting her from the mirror.
I shared with Tory the journey many women were undertaking, dismantling their socialization and reclaiming the child they once were, the “tomboy” discarded in adolescence on the way to becoming a “formula female.”
I asked if he was willing to reclaim the human being he was in the very beginning with his tears and vulnerability, his unscripted curiosities and interests, his unbiased choice of both boys and girls as friends.
It became clear that Tory was actually rejecting his male socialization (and the male body because of his tremendous shame about the “sins” committed by it), in order to embrace, at great cost, a “formula female” version of being female, just as Sara had done.
In actuality, males and females are more alike than we are different. We are schooled to highlight the differences, but our differences represent less than 1/10th of 1% of the whole of us. It is our socialization that separates us.
Once we peel away the layers of our socialization, the layers of taboos and expectations piled on top of our precious evolving, we discover the essential human being. And once we are at peace with that level of our being, it doesn’t matter as much what body we inhabit—old, young, male, female, skinny, full, or differently-abled.
At home and at peace in our own bodies and lives, we are then free to choose whatever friends and lovers we want, whatever colors we want to wear, whatever viewpoints we want to express, and whatever direction we want our lives to take, from the inside out.
On a biological note, I’m aware that our “biologies” are complex and that levels of estrogen and testosterone vary greatly from person to person. Some men and women feel a biological imperative to bring their bodies into alignment with their biology, but that step alone does not sum up the process.
Until we do the courageous work of dismantling the culture’s socialization of both females and males, and experience the deep freedom that comes from living from the inside out, we will be as unsatisfied as we are now, in whatever body we choose to alter, cover, or disguise.
These are my recommendations for women and men wrestling with gender issues within themselves:
- There are many men choosing to dismantle their socialization, who do not alter their gender or bodies. The Mankind Project is one example of such a community of men. Spend time at www.mankindproject.org. Attend one of their weekends to be among men who have dismantled their socialization and now author their own definitions of being male.
- There are many women choosing to dismantle their socialization, who do not alter their gender or bodies. Read A God Who Looks Like Me, Be Full of Yourself, Imagine a Woman in Love with Herself, and I Promise Myself (available at www.imagineAwoman.com) to reflect on the ways we’re deconstructing our misogynistic socialization and authoring our own self-understanding.
- Listen to the Home is Always Waiting Meditation (available at www.imagineAwoman.com). If you’re a man, change “woman-body” to “body” in the meditation. Notice what comes up for you as you turn a merciful eye toward your male or female body, releasing shame and judgment.
- If you’re a woman, go to the roots of your self-loathing and body-shame by experiencing IAW International’s six fundamental retreats (available at www.imagineAwoman.com). They’ll escort you home to yourself. Allow your body-altering, gender-reshaping decisions to be made from the inside out, inspired by your self-love and body-respect.
- If you’re a man, go to the roots of your self-loathing and body-shame by rethinking all you’ve been taught about yourself through organizations such as The Mankind Project. Allow your body-altering, gender-reshaping decisions to be made from the inside out, inspired by your self-love and body-respect.
Recently, I received an email from another man wrestling with his body and gender. He asked, “Would your book Imagine a Woman in Love with Herself speak to someone like me? Although I’m still technically and biologically, a male, I’m experiencing a huge life-changing transformation as I allow my feminine psyche to emerge.” I closed my response with these words:
“It is my hope and prayer, that your exploration leads you home to yourself as a precious human being, whole, perfect, and complete as you are. There’s no blemish in you. Love yourself unconditionally, and from that place, make your decisions and live your awesome life!”
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the founder of Imagine a Woman International and Open Window Gallery. If you’re ready to author your own self-understanding, read about IAW’s Retreat “Author Your Own Life: Five Choices of Authentic Living.” If you’d like to join our Team of Certified Coaches, visit here: www.imagineawoman.com/home/programs-services/iaw-certification. To be inspired by Patricia’s celebration of ordinary life, visit www.OpenWindowGallery.com.
The Goddess In the Museum Basement
Throughout my stay in Ireland I heard rumors about Sheela na Gig, Ireland’s one remaining life-and-death goddess. Her name means “Sheela of the breasts.” She is a brazen goddess who grins from a squatting position while holding her vagina open with both hands. One afternoon I stopped in a reggae record shop, needing to make contact with non-caucasians even if that contact was limited to posters on the walls and voices from the speakers. Ireland is monotonously homogeneous.
The owner chatted about his dream-come-true of owning a record shop. His friend Jeff arrived and we shifted topics to feminist theology. Jeff, a pagan, had studied pre-Christian Ireland. The Sheela na Gig image was carved into stone doorways, he said, offering protection and blessing to those who passed under her. Not easily eliminated in the transition from goddess to god, the Catholic Church found it necessary to incorporate her sculptures as gargoyles in its churches. Women, on their way out of Mass, reached up and touched the stone sculpture’s open vulva and proud belly as their fertility prayer.
In the 1950s the Catholic powers-that-be, embarrassed by Sheela na Gig’s genital-displaying tendencies, scoured the country for her remaining sculptures, confiscated them from their ancient resting places, and whisked them away to the basement of the National Museum in Dublin. As I listened to Sheela na Gig’s story, my new life mission crystallized: I would liberate Sheela from the basement!
A few days later, I walked into a specialty shop in Ennis to browse and told the clerk about my mission. She offered to mobilize Irish women for the adventure. We imagined wearing costumes and presenting performance pieces outside the Museum to draw attention to Sheela’s imprisonment, and to divert attention from our team of crack goddess-rescuers making their way to the basement.
“And by the way, she said matter-of-factly, “one of the few intact Sheela na Gig sculptures is ten miles outside town on the portal of a 1,000-year-old church.” She drew a map and I was on my way!
Because I chose to bus-it through Ireland, it was necessary for me to hire an accomplice. I was directed to a cab company and asked its one woman driver, “Will you take me on an adventure?” Intrigued, and grateful for the work, Carmel said yes and we were off. She drove us to the church and a university student on a similar quest led us to the squatting goddess, full of herself and her vulva.
“Wow,” I said as I touched the goddess. I stood in front of this powerful image with ancient flesh and open vagina, grateful for her tenacious presence in Ireland, requesting her support to love my changing body. Observing my antics from distance from a distance, Carmel was planning what she’d tell her family and friends about this once-in-a-lifetime escapade: “a crazy woman from California kidnapped me and took me to the goddess, that’s what I’ll tell them!”
Our next mission was to find the local author, PJ Morgan, who wrote a short story about Sheela na Gig and lived within a few country blocks of the church. We drove down a narrow road and found his home. He graciously answered my questions. He told us that after consigning the stone carvings to the basement, the museum staff put “nippies” on the Sheela na Gig stones.
“What are nippies?” I asked. He and Carmel laughed. “Diapers,” they said in unison. Embarrassed by her exposed vagina, the powers-that-be put diapers on the sculptures. Most secular Irish folks, PJ added, were actually mortified to imagine world-renown archaeologists and anthropologists arriving in Dublin to view these rare and treasured pre-Christian relics, being escorted to the basement to discover diapered Sheela na Gigs.
Back at home now, plans for the rescue have been postponed. I see Sheela often though, in my mind’s eye, and remember those silent moments standing in front of her powerful image. She grins at me, her ancient flesh, her yawning vagina, her boldness and freedom insisting that I emerge from the basement; that I refuse to cover the beauty of my changing body; and that, in this season, I embrace it all, regardless!
Patricia Lynn Reilly is an author, photographer, and founder of Imagine a Woman International and Open Window Gallery. If you’re ready to author your own self-understanding, body-acceptance, and amazing life, visit www.imagineawoman.com for inspiration, opportunities, and support.
To read more details about IAW’s two Certification Programs, visit here: IAW Facilitator Coach Certification – www.imagineawoman.com/home/programs-services/iaw-certification; ADW 12 Step Specialist Certificate – www.imagineawoman.com/home/adw-12-step-program
Here’s my rationale for turning at least some of our Valentine’s Day attention and energy toward ourselves: I believe that an intimate connection exists between our choice to love, pay attention to, and remain loyal to ourselves, and our capacity to love, pay attention to, and remain loyal to others.
This belief was shaped by my personal journey, strengthened by listening to the stories of women, and affirmed by the thinking of writers I respect and admire:
When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. —Anne Morrow Lindbergh
As one respects oneself so one can respect others. It is not that as you judge so shall you be judged, but as you judge yourself so shall you judge others. —Harry Stack Sullivan
Everything worth having costs something, and the price of true love is self-knowledge. Becoming acquainted with yourself is a price well worth paying for the love that will really address your needs. —Daphne Rose Kingma
If we depend on our partner to make us whole, we’re in trouble. Sooner or later, we shall feel betrayed. Sooner or later, we shall hate the dependence. Sooner or later, we may be the one who does the betraying. Wholeness is within. —Marion Woodman
Loving yourself…does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion. —Margo Anand
Turn some of your Valentine’s Day energy and attention toward yourself. May “Spring Juices” awaken your original self-regard. In the very beginning, the girl-child loves herself!
spring juices flowing
the fragrance of attraction
rousing me from winter’s celibate sleep
awakening the erotic in every encounter
with bus driver, musician, old friend.
moistened by a contagious ecstasy,
i open and receive the fertile darkness,
a friend’s laugh, the calla lily’s curves,
the yam’s sweetness, an old woman’s fierceness,
the egret’s pose, the musician’s sounds,
the call of my ancestors,
the fleshiness of all that is.
i wonder what it would be like
to love myself in the moist spring.
to dance with my own ideas
on a blanket at the park, perhaps;
stroking, teasing, tasting, opening,
expanding the ideas until they formed
a beautiful poem, an ode to “what is.”
my body aroused, moistened, and opened
by the dance of my mind,
by the play of my words,
my body attune to the hum,
the resonance, the ah,
my body erupting in response
to the dance, to life, to All That Is.
in the very beginning, the girl-child loved herself.
(Excerpt from Words Made Flesh, Copyright, 2004)
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the founder of Imagine a Woman International and Open Window Gallery. If you’re ready to author your own self-understanding and life, visit www.imagineawoman.com for inspiration, opportunities, and support. Join the “Imagine a Woman” poem’s 20th Birthday Team on IAW’s websitehomepage.
Imagine a woman who remains faithful to herself through all the seasons of life. A woman who preserves allegiance to herself even in the face of opposition. Whose capacity to sustain interest in others deepens as she is loyal to herself. Imagine yourself as this woman.
Nathan and Sandy requested my assistance to plan and facilitate their wedding. They are a conscious couple with the skills to celebrate the gifts and navigate the challenges of their partnership. When it was time to design their ceremony and to write their vows, Sandy phoned me. She felt blocked because the romantic, idealistic vows so often said at weddings didn’t fit.
Sandy wanted to preface her commitment to Nathan with a clear commitment to herself. I encouraged Sandy to trust her intuition and spend the time writing a vow to herself. She phoned me a week later to report that when she completed her vow to herself, her vow to Nathan flowed without effort.
Inspired by Sandy’s experience, I developed the “Remember Yourself” process for women who fear losing themselves in their relationships, being swallowed up by the demands of partnership or parenting, or being distracted from their own projects and dreams by their commitment to their children, partners, and employers. Some watched their quintessentially female mothers ignore their creativity and vocational interests and set aside their projects and dreams, in order to finance the dreams of others with their blood, sweat, and tears.
One woman lamented, “My fear is that it’s in the genes. No matter how much hard work I do to counter the habitual loss-of-self-once-married syndrome, my partner and I will revert to the way marriage has always been done. I hope the process of composing a vow to myself will change my negative thinking and support me to remain loyal to myself in the marriage.” One new mom wondered: “Will I lose myself in the swirls of parenting? Where will I find the stamina, courage, and inner strength to sustain my commitment to the child, and to myself?”
Most women want to find the middle space in which it is possible to honor their own needs, interests, and projects, and to be significantly involved with their children, partners, and professional lives. Filled with a mixture of fear, hope, and excitement, they work through the process. It does indeed relieve their anxiety, support their hope, and provide an outlet for their excitement.
Remembering themselves, women set aside fifteen minutes a day to work through the vow-composition process, incorporating the lessons of their own lives, the wisdom and experience of other women, and a commitment to continue to set aside fifteen minutes a day, long after the group, to “remember herself.” Acknowledging that distractions are a reality of life, they embrace the life-practice of noticing distraction without judgment and then returning, always returning home to themselves.
Here are the stories of two women who wrote vows to themselves, inspired by Margo Anand’s words, “Loving yourself…does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.”
Sandy: I prefaced my vow to my husband with a vow of faithfulness to myself. Reading my vow during the ceremony rounded out the experience for me. My wedding wasn’t just an event in which I was getting married to a man— it was my life taking its next right step. It became a part of the circle of my life, rather than an isolated commitment to a man. It felt complete.
Jessica: Pregnancy was the perfect time to write a vow to myself. I was moving from one season of life to another and wanted to do it with consciousness. I set aside fifteen minutes a day for myself. The habit of “remembering myself ” has stuck. I continue to cherish “my time” each day even as I care for our newborn. The vow reminds me that I can’t be there for my family unless I’m available to myself.
To culminate the “Remember Yourself ” process, some women create a ceremony to which they invite their closest friends and allies. Others choose to read their vow at the bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, or other rites of passage. Whatever the chosen format, women pledge to honor their vows in tender times and turbulent times, in graceful moments and in awkward situations, in flowing times and in seasons of stagnation, in fullness and in emptiness, in fear and in courage, and in trouble and in beauty.
They review their vows monthly and renew them yearly. When faced with marital challenges, swirling children, or professional expectations, they review their vow before confronting the situation. For all of us, regular cultivation of the partnership with ourselves is the best investment we can make in our significant relationships.
Imagine a woman who remains faithful to herself through all the seasons of life. A woman who preserves allegiance to herself even in the face of opposition. Whose capacity to sustain interest in others deepens as she is loyal to herself.
Imagine a woman whose vow is her north star, her guiding light, the faithful breath she returns to in every season and situation of her life. Imagine yourself as this woman…as you compose a vow to yourself. The “Relationships from the Inside Out” self-guided retreat will support you in this process.
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the author of 5 traditionally published books and countless less-traditionally published ones. She is also the founder of Imagine a Woman International and facilitator of the popular “Beginner’s Eye” photography workshop. If you’re ready to author your own life and relationships, visit www.imagineAwoman.com for inspiration and support. If you’re inspired to pick up a camera on your next walk in the neighborhood, visit www.OpenWindowGallery.com.
Our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces remind us that in the very beginning the girl- child is shameless. She comes into the world with feelings of omnipotence, not inferiority. She says a big YES to Life as it pulsates through her body.
With excitement, she explores her body. She is unafraid of channeling strong feelings through her. She feels her joy, her sadness, her anger, and her fear. She is pregnant with her own life. She is content to be alone. She touches the depths of her uniqueness. She loves her mind. She expresses her feelings. She likes herself when she looks in the mirror.
She does not expend one ounce of her precious life energy trying to figure out what’s wrong with her body, feelings, and thoughts. She just lives. She makes a statement with every thought she shares, every feeling she expresses, and every action she takes on her own behalf. What happens to this amazing child of life on her way to adolescence?
Reversal of Value
A conformity-based childhood reverses the price tags. The natural and essential self, a priceless treasure, is criticized and set aside, and the artificial, constructed self grows in value. Image is more valuable than essence; conformity, more priceless than originality; coloring inside the lines more acceptable than spontaneity.
At a certain age we were expected to move beyond “childish” ways, and to settle into the “boredom and the disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” (Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder)
The girl-child grows up asking, “What’s wrong with me?” This question shadows her life as she searches for someone to give her an answer, a magical insight, treatment, or cure. She learns a criticism-based way of perceiving herself. As a result, her automatic tendency is to feel inadequate, that she’s never quite good enough no matter what she does.
By middle school, her natural body-energy is directed away from body-activity toward body-grooming, away from spontaneity toward control. Groomed to be “ornamental,” she will spend inordinate amounts of time and resources twisting her body into the acceptable shapes of the culture. Over time she loses touch with her body and life-giving potential.
Some may counter: “We’re beyond all that—it’s 2014.” No, we’re not. The question what’s wrong with me has become even more virulent (as in “marked by a rapid, severe, and destructive course”) and dangerous (as in “able to inflict injury or harm”). The illusion we maintain is that we’ve ousted the question once and for all. After all Hilary almost became president and Title IX allows us to thrive as athletes and glass ceilings are occasionally dismantled.
On the other hand, illusion aside, infertility plagues us and there’s hardly a woman in the world who doesn’t wake up feeling the need, or the demand, to cover, starve, alter, mask, or harm her body in some way. Why? Because our bodies are never quite good enough, pretty enough, small enough, young enough, non-distracting enough, no matter what we do.
In our search for answers to the pervasive question, now focused almost exclusively on our bodies, we consent to outrageous measures to guarantee our fertility or attractability, convinced that the presence of a child or a lover on our arms will dissolve the question. We sign up for diet clubs and plans and spas, convinced that our bodies are at the core of the problem. We spend hundreds of dollars on dyes, cosmetics, and new outfits to hide the question, and on new body parts to eradicate the question. Yet no matter what we do, it’s never enough, the question persists.
Telling the Truth
Let’s tell the truth at least among ourselves, for the sake of our daughters. There’s been an intensification of body-violence within the community of women. Women of all ages are injuring their natural body-intelligence and body-shape. We’re choosing to have our breasts cut open and augmented, our noses broken and reshaped, our wrinkles injected with collagen and botox, our faces manipulated and peeled, and our bodies exercised and starved to death. We’re frantically covering all signs of aging, beginning earlier and earlier in life, as if aging were a plague, a virus, an enemy to be conquered. We are at war, that’s what it is, at war with our own bodies.
We’re outraged by the ancient customs of foot binding, “comfort” women, and genital mutilation, and the current atrocity of rampant sexual trafficking of women. These customs and atrocities are done to women. Yet we in the West, in the co-called first world, are in record numbers choosing to do violence to our own bodies.
And even more horrifying is the fact that we pass on the necessity of ornamentalism, the tyranny of the scale, the fear of food, and the dread of aging to our daughters, and we export our destructive attitudes around the world. Let’s declare a permanent truce with our bodies.
A Healing Breath
Take a deep breath and remember. Your healing task is not to become a new, improved, or changed person. Rather, it is to reclaim your original relationship with your body in all its fullness. In the very beginning, you were shameless. You loved your body. “There was a time,” Monique Wittig reminds us, “when you walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember! You say there are not words to describe it; you say it does not exist. But remember! Make an effort to remember! Or failing that, invent.”
Retrieve your body from lifetimes of restrictive definitions and expectations. Look at your body with your own eyes. Develop your own relationship with your body. Create rituals to support and celebrate your body through each season of life. Learn the vocabulary of reverence to replace the shame-based and criticism-laced messages that have assaulted our minds, bodies, and spirits on a daily basis.
This retrieval process is supported by fasting from old thoughts, critical words, and image-based habits, and feasting on new thoughts, reverent words, and essence-based habits. Affirmations support the “re-education” of our minds. Newness cannot exist in our experience until it’s imagined within our minds and hearts. Once imagined, the new experience becomes ours and we reclaim our original body-love from the inside out.
A Daily Practice
Body-love is a choice expressed daily in reverent words and respectful action. Use the following words to create a pause, an opportunity to pivot, before choosing an old body-scrutinizing, body- criticizing habit of thought, word, or behavior:
“I return to the Breath of LIFE and I am soothed into acceptance of this moment, just as it is. I am comforted by the truth that I whole, perfect, and complete in body, mind, and spirit. I rest in acceptance, and all is well.
There is no blemish in me. I am the daughter of LIFE and my body is lovely just as it is, in its perfect shape and size. I am at peace—the war is over. There is only comfort, soothing, and acceptance.
I am at home in my body. I am at ease with my body’s sensations. I am at play with my body’s sensuality. I am at peace with my body’s natural cycles. I speak about my body with reverence. And so it is.”
Support Along the Way
May this week’s reflections and affirmations awakened within you a desire to reclaim your original body-love and to inspire your daughters, granddaughters, and nieces to love their bodies, regardless. If you want to engage these insights more substantially, consider purchasing the retreat “Love Your Body: Five Pathways to Body-Love” here: Retreat Details.
Read through the material as you would a transformational book or follow the retreat format with its meditations, circles of women, and journaling exercises to deepen the healing within your body and life. IAW’s retreat “Love Your Body” will remind you of the body-loving instincts of the child you once were, and of how to awaken them in every season of your life.
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the founder of Imagine a Woman International and BAB Coaching and Publication Services. If you’re ready to make peace with your body, read about our Retreat “Love Your Body: Five Pathways to Body-Love” here: Retreat Details. If you’d like to join our Team of Certified Coaches, visit here: Certification Details