I also realized this makes me a bit of a hypocrite.
You see, I've always been a pretty strong advocate for body positivity. I taught my children that looks are not what's important, but what's inside matters a whole lot. Not blood, organs, and guts, mind you, but who we are as human beings. And while always holding that position and sharing it with others, I still carefully attempted to control the image I presented to the world.
Curious to see if I was onto something, I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter profile pictures. Only a few of the shots were candids, and those were images I'd carefully selected because I didn't think I looked too bad in them. The rest were thoughtfully curated selfies or professional portraits that showed me at what I considered my absolute best available in the moment I chose them.
For years, I refused to share images of myself because I was unhappy with my weight and appearance. I spent most of my adult life obese, but the images I shared seldom reflected that. And when others shared candid photos of me, I always winced a little when I looked at them. Part of me wanted to delete them. The other part wanted to write a caption with a disclaimer noting, "On the inside, I'm nothing like I look in this photo," or perhaps, "Warning! Objects in photo may appear larger than they actually are!"
It's easy to pay lip service to loving what's on the inside and not giving much credence to physical appearance but often harder in practice. And I know I truly believe this to be so: Who we are as compassionate and loving humans is far more important than how we look, period. But secretly, I think I've always believed that to be true for everyone else, but not for me. I've had the hidden fear that if people really paid attention to how I looked, they would reject me regardless of how amazing my technicolor insides were. So, even though people saw me in everyday life looking how I looked for better or for worse, when they saw online photos of me, I was damn well going to make sure they saw me with my best foot forward on the off chance that made them love me a little bit more.
What wasted time. What wasted effort.
Lately, I've been cultivating flow and authenticity in my life. But it's hard to enter flow when we have dialogues cluttering our minds that include negative self-talk about how we look. It's difficult to live in the moment when the voice in our head natters on about our faults. And it's nearly impossible to be our most authentic selves when we allow that voice to convince us that we must control how others see us because we are somehow not worthy if we don't appear perfect on the outside.
And so this morning, fresh from my shower engaged in one of my favorite activities (cooking), I entered a flow state where I was my most authentic self. I felt present, happy, and in the moment. I danced around my kitchen, humming to myself and enjoying the aroma of bacon (because hello - BACON!). In that moment, I didn't care how I looked - I cared how I felt. After I stepped out of that flow, I basked in the glow of authenticity. And then, wanting to capture that moment of being who I truly was, I snapped another selfie. I wasn't wearing makeup. My hair was a mess. But I was peaceful and content, and I had no need to control anyone's perception of who I was.
Next, I started to think about how many of us are caught up in presenting an image to the world that may have very little to do with who we are on the inside. We share that in selfies we think make us look pretty good, in pithy but amusing posts on social media, in the stories we tell others about ourselves, and by acting in ways we feel are socially acceptable, regardless of what we truly long to do (I can't tell you how many times I want to start dancing in the grocery store but am stopped because I don't want to freak out the people around me and be labeled a weirdo). We seldom share truly authentic moments of ourselves because to do so feels risky. Being our true selves feels frightening. Sharing less than perfect images feels scary. Owning up to our own insecurities, hypocricies, and vulnerabilities feels downright terrifying. Yet, it is only when we stop curating the images we share with the world and are our most authentic selves that we can step into the flow and fully engage in life.
And so, I present to you my moment this morning in my kitchen when I was feeling grounded, joyful, and at peace. I wasn't wearing makeup. My hair was a mess. But in that moment, I was beautiful, regardless of how I look in the photo. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you the real me. She's a pretty cool chick who looks forward to meeting the authentic you.
Another morning where we've awakened to news of a terrible attack - this time a mass shooting in a Florida nightclub with 50 dead so far. For just a moment when we hear, we each are our truest selves - drawing a collective intake of breath and feeing compassion. Yet we never stay in that moment for long. Instead, as we exhale, we're already allowing the noise to creep in: the relief it isn't us or someone we love; the fear that yells, "How did this happen and how do we stop it?"; the anger that seeks someone to blame.
Within hours, the noise has extended outside of us to the world at large. It becomes about punditry. Making news. Political careers. Agendas. Greed. Power. Within days, we have forgotten that initial draw towards compassion as we passionately argue about why it happens, who to hate, who to blame, and toss about meaningless ideas to fix it. In the next weeks, we will hear so many stories surrounding this horror...guns are to blame! Ban all guns and hate the gun nuts! It's another false flag operation set up by liberals and enacted by actors to make sure guns are banned! It happened in a gay night club - surely God is telling us that we must put an end to the gay agenda! It was a right wing religious nut with a vaguely Islamic sounding name - we must immediately close our borders and keep a sharp eye on religion, which is clearly the devil!
Politicians will pose. Activists, lobbying groups, and PACs will use it to further their agenda. Corporations will use it to instill fear so you'll buy their shit. News outlets will crow loudly to boost ratings. Pundits will push their own agendas, hoping to gain attention and further their own careers. And people will argue passionately - whether in person or on social media - cherry picking the facts that support whatever positions they choose to hold.
Meanwhile, lost in all that noise will be that moment when we heard when, for a split second, we remembered that we were all human, and we felt an emotion rising from love: we felt compassion.
Here's the one thing we probably won't think or say, and it's probably the thing we really should say when things like this keep happening. We are doing this. We, as humanity, are all responsible.
Whenever we believe our ideology is better or "righter" than someone else's, we are doing this.
Whenever we see ourselves as separate from others and look for otherness as opposed to oneness, we are doing this.
When we refuse to take accountability for our own actions (and boy do we do this), we are doing this.
When we point the finger of blame, we are doing this.
When we don't teach our children how to be accountable, we are doing this.
When we choose societal structures based upon economics, income, profits, and materialism, we are doing this.
When we choose as economic and social policy to ignore the dignity and needs of the most vulnerable in our societies while the rich and powerful grow obscenely wealthy, we are doing this.
When we marginalize any group within society because we are uncomfortable with the color of their skin, their nation of origin, their religion, their gender identity, their sexual preference, their economic and social station, or any other of the hundreds of reasons, we are doing this.
When we pass a homeless person on the street and feel disgust, we are doing this.
When we feel morally superior to others, we are doing this.
When we fail to recognize the basic humanness of every person we encounter, we are doing this.
When we fail to find ways to see the spark of Divine in every living creature, we are doing this.
When we justify our own choices, we are doing this.
When we model that behavior for our children - the greed, the justification of our choices, the sense of entitlement we all feel, we are doing this.
When the pursuit of stuff and wealth becomes a driving force in our lives; when we believe our religious or spiritual ideology is the right way and everyone else is wrong; when we get so entrenched in our politics that we lose any modicum of common sense; when we live in fear instead of love; when we choose anger or fear; when we take the attitude of "I've got mine - it's up to you to get yours;" when we believe that we, alone, are more special than everyone else; when we treat mental illness as something shameful instead of seeking to help; when we have created a world and a society so unhappy that people escape into addictions, and we don't reach out to help; when we see children being abused and neglected and turn a blind eye; when we don't recognize that the person standing behind us in the checkout line at the grocery store has the same spark of Divinity we do; when we choose punishment over rehabilitation; when we exist in dogmatic belief without open minds; when we focus on those things that divide us and make us different instead of honoring those things that unite us; when we choose darkness over light; when we forget to ask ourselves, "What would love do now?" and slip into fear; when we allow others to live in isolation; when we let others pull us headlong into fear; when we're more interested in our smartphones than the people we supposedly love who are sitting right across the table from us; when we engage in passionless pursuits to fill the time instead of doing what makes our souls sing; when we fail to ask ourselves where our personal responsibility lies...we are doing this.
When 9/11 occurred, there was a moment of unity, when we paused and recognized our oneness. And then the noise started, and within weeks we'd returned to business as usual. Companies profited, politicians gained power, news outlets got attention, and the average guy was left sadder, angrier, more frightened, and even further from the oneness. We had an opportunity for change, and we collectively made a different choice.
With tragedies come the opportunity for us to recognize ourselves and each other, but the moment passes and we return to our electronic devices and our busy lives, only making cursory glances backwards when it suits our own purposes. And those who lost loved ones or sacrificed their lives? After some noise, we return to ignoring the opportunities that arose for humanity from their sacrifices. I don't mean to minimize the loss of life and the tremendous grief and pain of loved ones - only to bring attention to the fact that this great loss of life could be a turning point for humanity, if only we allowed it to be. And I can see no better way to honor someone's sacrifice than to truly live more meaningful lives as a species in the wake of their deaths.
In my blogs, books, and classes, I often speak of the universal two-by-four...the times the universe clocks us firmly upside the head and says, "Pay attention, idiot!" I believe if we fail to listen to the calling of our souls, then this is what happens. We get the universal two-by-four whacking us upside the head and saying, "Let's see you fail to pay attention to this, buddy." It happens on an individual level, and I also believe it happens within communities, societies, and even worldwide. The universal two-by-four is almost always painful. In fact, it hurts like hell. But with a little self-examination, we can find ways to take these wake up calls and engage them as a force for positive change in our lives.
And while each of us is just one tiny soul in a vast sea of souls that inhabit this universe, we can each choose individually to start to turn things around: to see all souls as being one with us; to allow others to walk their paths peacefully without trying to force our own ideals and beliefs upon them; to acknowledge the divinity in every soul; to respond with love and compassion instead of fear; to take responsibility for our own shit and to model and teach that behavior to our children; to stop seeing ourselves as better than any other soul walking the earth; to pursue things that really matter in life, such as love, compassion, joy, creativity, and beauty instead of meaningless stuff; to recognize our own shortcomings and lovingly work on improving them; to stop complacently allowing the noise to rise to a fever pitch as politicians, companies, media, PACs, and other groups try to manipulate us for their own gain; and to ask ourselves, "What would love do now," and then act on it.
It's not about guns. It's not about sexual identity, gender identity, race, personal belief systems, religion, dogma, national pride, or anything else. Those are all artifacts of fear, and as long as we continue to allow ourselves to live within that system of fear, these things will keep happening. Banning guns won't fix it. Forcing people to share our religious ideologies won't fix it. And certainly, flapping our gums about it won't fix it.
What will? Choosing love. Every moment of every day. Which is really hard when you think about it, what with all the fear flying around. I know it's hard for me, and I often catch myself caught up in fear again, having to remind myself I came here to love. But we can do our best. We can pause as often as possible and ask ourselves a simple question, "What would love do now?" And then, we can slowly turn that into a habit - catching ourselves when the fear creeps in and reminding ourselves to act with love, instead. We can start to see our fellow humans as the same as us - instead of fearing how different they are. We can acknowledge their spark of Divinity and act with every person as if they were, as we are, the embodiment of Divinity. We can stop contributing to the fear-based culture of anger, greed, and judgment and humbly walk our paths alongside others, whose paths may be very different than our own but no less valid. And when our paths cross, we can respond with love and recognize the Divinity of both self and other. Maybe then, the universal two-by-four can stop whacking us upside the head in such a painful way.