Many bloggers I know are highly strategic. They employ all the fanciest SEO (that’s Search Engine Optimization) tricks so their work comes up higher in your google query results. They extensively track trends and clicks and shares and tweets. They have their finger on the pulse of their reader and know just how to attract an ever-growing group of fans.
I’m just not one of those bloggers, at least not yet, though I admire their savviness.
I simply write when I feel inspired to write. I write what feels important, useful, and inspiring (to me) to share. I write because I want you to know you’re not alone and I want to remember the bits of wisdom I’ve collected along my way.
And so I find myself a bit in awe of the body of work I’ve produced in the course of this year (and year’s past) given my total failure to have a “plan of attack”. At the start of each year I so often feel like I’ll have nothing to say.
In reviewing my 2015 posts a number of them stood out as favorites. I’ve rounded them up here and whether you missed them the first time or fancy a second look, I hope that something I’ve shared is what you needed to read as much it was what I needed to write. xo, Rachel
May the muse find me once again in 2016! Thank you to all who follow along!
Putting together this year’s gift guide was challenging. Like many people I feel a mix of emotions about the problems in the world and the position of privilege I hold. I bristle as conspicuous consumption but also believe in supporting businesses and the power of material objects to bring great joy and support to our lives.
At first I wasn’t going to do a gift guide at all. I just wanted to shout “Go help a Syrian refugee! Find a homeless woman and give her a box of tampons! Get involved in politics! Don’t be apathetic! Your vote and dollars count!” and on and on.
But you don’t need me to shout at you. None of us need to be shouted at.
I’ll tell you that many of the things I’ve suggested in the gift guide’s of years past (2012/2013a/2013b/2013c/2014) remain my favorite things, especially 80 acres body care in verde scent, Ilia lipstick, and you can’t ever ever go wrong gifting a massage. I could pretty much share with you the same favorites list each year because I’m the type to like what I like and to keep it simple. But I wanted to share some fresh inspiration with you…
I’ll also tell you that this year’s list has decidedly fewer objects and many more experiences, services, and charities on it. I worked with a personal organizer recently (another great gift to give!) and I’ve simply come to value breathing room over more stuff…
And I’ll tell you that this year many of my favorite presents to be given are made by hand on my sewing machine, but I know that not everyone has the luxury of time to craft things from scratch, so I’m offering up great gift ideas that you can snag with the swipe of your credit card and a few precious free moments…
And so with all that said I present to you my 2015 Gift Guide—may it provide inspiration for a well-fed holiday.
2. Story Corps Recording Session (Free!)
5. Sponsor a sister through Women for Women International
7. Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself by Julie Barton
10. Make a micro-loan through Kiva
11. Engineer Print (turn one of your photographs into a statement piece)
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I often default to a state of vigilance…or rather my nervous system defaults to vigilance. Whether through nature, nurture, or trauma my orientation toward my world can be perpetually scanning the horizon (however far off and however out of my control) for incoming threats, or worse, impending doom.
This sounds more ominous than I actually experience it, but I’ve learned that my mind and body like to grip tight in fear and cycle over all the ways that I could prevent or avoid whatever thing in life could go going.
It was surprising to me to discover, years ago, that not everyone is like this. Some people don’t fret that much about the future. Some people default to assuming everything that can go right will go right. Some people move through world trusting that they are and will be safe. Some people don’t grasp for perfection or doubt their belonging. Some people don’t view their humanness as something to fix.
I feel a lot more like these people today than I did for most of my life and that’s in large part because I work with my mind.
Let me take you back for a bit. I used to live a few blocks from a house that hosted a weekly meditation sitting for twenty-somethings. Many Wednesday nights I would walk over, stroll through the prayer-flagged gate, up the rickety wooden stairs stairs and into this sanctuary. After slipping off my shoes and finding a comfortable seat on the living room floor, along with other young sitters, I would meditate.
The ‘sits’ were led by one of the members of the house who took responsibility for tracking time, ringing beginning and entry chimes, providing tea, and often reading a passage of some Buddhist text.
On one particular night the host read an excerpt from Thich Naht Hahn’s Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Our host opened with the question, “Can you smile at the non-toothache?” What a curious question. My ears perked up and he read on:
“The foundation of happiness is mindfulness. The basic condition for being happy is our consciousness of being happy. If we are not aware that we are happy, we are not really happy. When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant. There are so many things that are enjoyable, but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them. When we practice mindfulness, we come to cherish these things and we learn how to protect them. By taking good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future. Working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment.”
So “Can you smile at the non-toothache?”
Back then if I were to answer the question: no. I rarely smiled, let alone noticed the happiness of the “non-toothache.”
Today the “non-toothache”, the general absence of intense searing pain in my life, and the presence of much goodness is with me.
Over the years since that Wednesday night sit I’ve learned that thoughts are often just thoughts and that future (or past) tripping is made up of stories that take me out of experiencing my life as it is happening here and now. Doesn’t mean I don’t get caught up back there or out there, it just means I know more clearly when, why and how to bring myself back to here.
One of the main practices that supports this is savoring.
Savoring is a mindfulness practice.
Savoring is about living in the moment. It’s about taking in what is already here — feeding on the feast right in front of you.
Savoring is about gratitude and sensuality.
Savoring is all about sinking into and pausing to enjoy the non-toothache.
I noticed over the past few months I was starting, once again to approach my life from an anxious place. I noticed I was focused on fixing and judging more enjoying and allowing. As I looked at what little time I have left this year I knew I wanted to turn the tides.
So I created Savor as a way to practice, just for these last weeks of the year, simply being in my life (and my home, my relationships, and my body), enjoying the good that is here now, appreciating instead of nitpicking, and trusting instead of vigilantly scanning the horizon. And I know I’m not the only one who is hungry for this kind of grounding and support. I’ll be offering Savor each holiday season so be sure to sign up for the newsletter for updates!
I believe dieting is a violent act.
I don’t feel neutral, or calm, or indifferent about dieting. I feel quite clearly that dieting is a violent act that (predominantly) women are encouraged to perform against themselves.
I find diets to be physically violent, often leading to exhaustive cycles of weight loss and gain and sometimes insufficient calories (i.e. energy) and nutrition.
I find diets to be psychologically violent, often leading to mental obsession, increased stressed, shame, disempowerment, disembodiment, and a general sense of failure when the diet inevitably results not in weight loss, but weight gain.
I find diets spiritually violent, often severing the most sacred of ties between ourselves and the wisdom of our body. I can think of few things as holy as the act of feeding ourselves and this is exactly where diets wreak their havoc.
I have come to believe this about diets after my own stint on Weight Watchers (which fueled the start of my anorexia) at age 20 and a range of other diets in the years to follow. I have come to believe this about diets after a decade of thoroughly researching and formally studying the science and ineffectiveness of diets. Most of all though I have come to believe this after spending years on the frontline of healing women who arrive at my doorstep deeply wounded from years, often decades, spent dieting.
Dieting isn’t all that different than other forms of temporary soothing. Like eating, drinking, or shopping in order to numb out, for the person doing it, at first, it feels relaxing. It’s a bandaid solution that almost always leaves us feeling worse off.
Violence means destruction and that is what I know diets do. They destroy our natural ease with food. They destroy, albeit temporarily, our ability to listen to and honor our unique physical cues about what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. They destroy adult women’s sense that they are capable of feeding themselves without external controls.
The majority of people in the western world, including most of our medical establishment, believe that diets are an obvious and even healthy response to overconsumption of food and possessing a body size above what is deemed acceptable.
It’s just not true though. In fact it’s bullshit. Diets don’t improve our health and they don’t result in weight loss (never mind that there is nothing inherently unhealthy or wrong with weighing more or having a larger body).
It’s understandable that a woman would go on a diet, given the amount of money spent each year across various industries to sell her on the idea that she can’t be trusted around food and that she isn’t desirable unless she is thinner. I understand this. I bought into it too long ago. Yet given what I know, I believe firmly that diets are a violent act.
A word, or two, on the experience of holding a radical point of view: it’s scary.
For women, historically, our very survival has depended on being likable. To feel disliked, judged, and rejected, to women…to me…can induce panic. It is for this reason many women default to silence when their voice, however necessary, might run against the status quo.
So I share this most radical of beliefs knowing that you might not only disagree, but that you might criticize, unfollow, and reject me as a valued voice in your life. I know that my beliefs about dieting are radical. I also know that a lot of normal ideas were at one time radical. I also know that it’s the truthful but less popular ideas that need champions.
As long as it takes I will tell my story, stand for the truth, and call for peace—the peace that diets rob us of. I’m happy to put in the time, however long, until we see a cultural sea change happen.
If you share my view on dieting but feel alone this is me reaching my hand out to join yours. We may be a minority but from what I can tell that is quickly changing and a new paradigm is emerging.
That said while there is a growing awakening happening, there remains a lot of work to do. Case in point: Oprah Winfrey and her recent investment into and spokeswomanship for Weight Watchers…
Have you heard the term “The Oprah Effect”?
This phrase was coined to describe the success that resulted for a person, product (especially books), or business from a single appearance on her television show. And even without her television show, it’s a common belief that Oprah remains the single most powerful woman in the world. And her success is deserving. Oprah, without question, has improved the lives of millions of people.
As a woman, a fellow human, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for her long struggle with food and body loathing. But as a public figure, I believe her endorsement of Weight Watchers, while being a prudent business move (netting her $45 million on paper), is unethical. Simply put she has invested in and endorsed a product proven to fail in the long run.
If Oprah had come out endorsing the Volkswagon cars with faulty emissions readers we’d be up in arms. We’d be cross-eyed and confused.
“Why would anyone endorse a product that doesn’t deliver on its promises?!” we’d say.
“Why would anyone support a company that lies to it’s consumers?!” we’d exclaim.
When I learned that Oprah was coming out with a rousing endorsement of Weight Watchers I felt outraged, but more than that I felt and still feel utterly heartbroken by the incredible missed opportunity that Oprah represents. I’m pained by the incredible number of women who will, I believe, thanks to Oprah, feel a green light to diet.
If you feel drawn to dieting because you feel out of control with food and unhappy with your body please know there is another way. A more effective way. It’s entirely possible to make peace with food and your flesh without the “help” of rigid rules. If you haven’t read Intuitive Eating, please do. If you’re want support I offer 1:1 coaching and teach everything I know in my biannual masterclass, Feast.
Dieting might be the only way you’ve ever known to relate to food and your body, but it’s a violent way and peace is available, this much I know.
What I’ve shared in this post is more about my general view on dieting. Others have written brilliant and likely more measured responses to the Oprah-Weight Watchers scandal. Do check them out:
Nearly every Friday morning you can find me at the holy altar of Laurie Wagner’s Wild Writing table. Myself and a handful of other women spend a few hours writing messy, brutally honest words as fast as we can so as to circumvent our inner critic and the part of us that wants to write well and sound smart.
We just go, we write, we share — no feedback is given— and we repeat. Leaving that table we are scrubbed clean, pried open, and held. It’s all just enough to prepare us to go back out into the world, into our real lives and live them with just a bit more grace.
Today’s post is something I wrote recently at that table about a sacred ritual I keep when swimming.
A bit of back story: when I was twenty over exercise had made me bed ridden with a bum hip. I couldn’t walk or even sit without being in pain. My salvation was discovering lap swimming. By some miracle of miracles I never felt compulsive about lap swimming. Or rather I insisted that the same rigid and critical energy I’d had on the treadmill would not follow me into the water.
Over the years swimming has remained an oasis for me. I may go away for periods of time but when I return it’s always a homecoming and that’s in large part because I pray…
It’s a big, wide open stairwell—maybe 12 feet across—leading from the warmth and safety of the locker room up to the rooftop pool. I’d tried to avoid it on this night, not wanting the cool air on my already goose-pimpled skin. I’d first gone to the indoor pool which is divided into two lap lanes and an expanse of open water. This night the lap lanes were filled with what appeared to be adults learning to swim, but the remainder (and majority) of the pool was empty.
To be polite I checked in with the instructor to see if she minded if did laps in the open area of the pool. She replied, while glancing at the abundance of unoccupied water “Um, no, sorry, I’m not sure if we’ll need it.” (Side note: If you’ve ever asked someone who was clearly done eating if you could finish their food only to have them say no because they don’t want you to have their food either then you get the vibe this woman was putting out. Moving on…)
“No problem” I muttered “I’ll go up to the roof.”
So to the stairwell I went. Steeling myself for that moment when I cross the threshold, midway up, from warm air to chilly San Francisco fog.
Truthfully though, the outside temperature was gentle that night.
But this isn’t about climate.
This is about the prayer I say on that stairwell on my way up. The prayer I have said every time I enter the water since I was twenty years old. The prayer that soothes the still raw wounds of compulsive exercise and the havoc it wreaked on my life long ago.
So I say to myself kindly “Just get in. Getting in the water is enough. Just get in.”
So I say “Remember, the water takes you just as you are.”
So I say “Swim at your body’s pace.”
So I say “Just get in. The water takes you just as you are.”
And little miracles happen all around me.
Like the temperate air. Like having half a lap lane all to myself. Like the fact that in this crazy, overpriced, crowded, over-hip city for $42 a month I get to swim under the stars and be watched over by the moon in a half undisturbed lane letting my muscle memory take over.
Like savoring the fact that I already won the gold medal by simply getting into the water and letting it take me as I was on that night. I won the gold medal and kicked not enoughness to the curb when I got in, not when I pushed off the wall, or swam the first lap. Not when I raised my heart rate or traversed a certain distance. I won just when I lowered myself into that pool on that night.
So the prayer or the pep talking in the double-wide stairwell, in what felt like just one square foot of space and time, “Just get in. The water takes you just as you are.” That prayer has saved me so many times.
The invitation here for you is to think about how you might stay right by your own side in situations that beckon you far away from yourself.
The invitation here for you is to allow the sacred into what might feel mundane.
The invitation here is for you to listen to that little kind voice inside you that’s trying to be heard over the often louder critic.
The invitation is for you to look around and discover all the places in your life where, if you show up, you already are accepted just as you are.