“Get into extended triangle pose, Utthita Trikonasana” my yoga teacher says.
Everyone in the class moves to assume the position.
“I say each asana in Sanskrit because we believe that the poses, in their original language, have energy” she explains.
And so it goes, every Sunday morning that I get myself there, first in English and then in Sanskrit. One way so we understand, another way so we feel it.
Life coaches are sticklers for language too. We’ve learned that our words have power. We’re trained to listen for the subtlest energy behind the words our clients speak.
This past week I was having a one-on-one session with a Feast student and she told me she was struggling with mindfulness. She said she was planning to start practicing on the coming Monday when she finally had a break in her busy life.
(An aside: yes, this does sound a lot like “I’ll start my diet on Monday”)
As I listened I noticed that every time she said mindfulness, a word I had not used in my teachings, it felt sterile and heavy, burdensome even. She talked about mindfulness like I might talk about taxes, root canals, or going to the DMV. If she was selling mindfulness I was not buying.
Mindfulness isn’t a word I use a lot for this very reason: the concept and practice have become an aspirational buzzword and measure of moral ranking. It’s now common belief that like exercise, morally superior people practice mindfulness.
I want no part in that.
Don’t get me wrong. The years of mindfulness study that I’ve undertaken through the Insight Meditation community, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Zen Buddhism, and via the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Cheri Huber, Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron (just to name a few) has transformed me, my heart, and my life.
But the word generally doesn’t connect with me.
So I interrupted her and said: “What if we replaced ‘mindfulness’ with ‘experiencing’ or ‘engaged experiencing’?”
With that simple switch, everything shifted for her.
She felt lighter and excited even. After all, she wanted to experience her life, her food, her emotions, her relationships. She wanted to experience what was happening. Yes, this is what mindfulness practice is all about, but by changing the verbiage a resistant student became an eager student in a matter of minutes.
This got me thinking about what other words I shy away from or have found more resonate alternatives for. Here’s a short list of my favorite switch-ups:
‘But’ negates everything that comes before it. ‘And’ honors what comes before and it allows you hold two, sometimes opposing, truths. ‘But’ divides. ‘And’ includes.
My math teacher assigned exercises. Exercise feels militant. Exercise feels rote. Exercise feels like it has a right way and a wrong way. Exercise reminds me of all the physical education and compulsive workout trauma of my past. ‘Movement’ feels spacious. You can’t do movement wrong. Movement sounds fun.
Contracted: Overweight or Obese
Expansive: Fat, Larger-Bodied, Plus-Size
Over what weight?! Who says what’s over and under? ‘Overweight’ implies a problem and ranks bodies, yet healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. ‘Obese’ and ‘obesity’ have become weaponized words, after all, we’re at ‘war’ against them, right?
If we want to live in a society that respects all bodies without stigmatizing, moralizing, or shaming then these words need to go. Within the size-acceptance community there are still disagreements about what terms are acceptable, but the alternative words I’ve listed above are a good place to start. Yes, you can call someone ‘fat’ without it being an insult. Fat is not a bad word.
Expansive: Could, Want to, Feel obligated
If I have a ‘should’ you can bet I’m going to resist doing it. In addition to inciting rebellion, ‘should’ also carries with it judgment: “If you’re good, you’ll do the ‘should’, if you’re bad you won’t.” Should also doesn’t feel empowered. The hope is, whenever it’s possible, we move from a place of choice, of desire, of hungers seeking to be fed. My response to clients who feel a ‘should’ on their shoulders is “But what do you want?”
Contracted: Food & weight numbers
Expansive: A vague description with no numbers
When we share how many minutes we ran on the treadmill, how many cookies we ate, our new pants size, or how much weight we’ve gained/lost we too easily incite comparison. In a society obsessed with achieving control over our body and under the illusion that if we only apply more discipline we can shrink, harden, and purify our flesh specific numbers are fuel for the fire. Good thing we don’t need them. We can easily tell the story of our morning at the gym, our experience at the pastry shop, or what happened in the clothing store fitting room without including specific numbers.
How about you? What words feel heavy, antiseptic, or robotic to you? What words feel layered with judgment, assumption, and morality? Lastly, what word swaps could you make that would free up energy, create forward momentum, and feel more respectful, more aligned with what you values?
Hop on over to my Facebook page to join the conversation.
What are you truly hungry for? What feeds you?
If you’ve been around my work for a while you’ve heard me ask that question.
And yet, it’s so rare that we ask ourselves or that other people ask us.
I ask this question so often because it is the gateway to a well-fed life.
When was the last time someone asked you want you want or what feeds you?
When was the last time you paused to ask yourself?
For most women I talk to it’s been a while. I good long while.
Sometimes we’re scared of the silence and stillness that is required to hear an answer.
Sometimes we’re scared that the answer will be something painfully impossible to achieve.
Sometimes we’re scared that to listen to our hungers is to hear just how needy we are.
Sometimes we’re scared that no amount could ever fill us up, that we’re a bottomless pit.
Sometimes the safer bet just seems not to ask ourselves at all.
Well, I’m here to ask you.
I want to know what feeds you.
I want to know what you long for.
I want to know what kind of tending you need.
I want to help you feel safe in the asking, safe in the listening, and safe in your pursuit, however slow or small, of a well-fed life.
One of the tools I’ve come up with to explore this question and support us in well-fed living is the Fulfillment Pyramid.
If you want play along, grab your Fulfillment Pyramid Kit, a pen, some paper, scissors, tape or glue, and any craft supplies you enjoy and watch the rebroadcast:
Here are the questions I ask in the video:
: What induces an exhale for me?
: What do I get envious of and what does this tell me about my life and hungers?
: You get the best version of me when…
: What restores when I’m drained is…
: When I’m full/filled up what I most like to expend that energy on is…
: A well-fed life composed just for me is/includes/looks like…
: I start to feel not like myself when I haven’t…
: My body is most happy when…
And here are the areas of your life that I invite you to think about your fulfillment:
: Physical Environment
I’d love to hear about your experience making a Fulfillment Pyramid. Snap a photo and tag it #fulfillmentpyramid. Send me your photo to be added to the reader gallery. Drop me an email and let me know what this activity revealed for you.
Above all, remember this: your hungers are wise and they always point toward a life that not only feeds you, but a life that allows you to be engaged in and of service to the whole of life. Hungry women can’t serve nearly as well as well-fed women. Fill up.
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.” — Toni Morrison
I grew up just outside Washington, D.C. My dad worked for the government and as lobbyist (not a dirty word all of the time) for most of my life. The paper versions of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal were at the breakfast table every morning (is my privilege showing?).
I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Political science and spent three of my college summers interning in D.C. including in the U.S. Senate. I wrote my thesis on charter schools.
Certainly I wish someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and said “Hey! Rachel! Snap out of it! What are you doing majoring in political science?! You know yourself, you should be a psychology major with an art minor. Obviously.”
Alas, no one held that intervention, it was a slog to the end of those four years, and it took me a bit longer to find my true path. One of the results though is that political engagement remains a core value of mine and never has it been more tested than now.
The truth is that since January I’ve been riding these two waves: periods of intense engagement followed by periods of intense burnout and overwhelm.
I believe that when the ground is shifting underneath us and the aftershocks (or subsequent earthquakes) haven’t ceased, feeling shaky is to be expected. It’s normal is we don’t yet know what the new normal looks like.
That said, I also believe that each of us, especially the privileged among us, needs to be committed to sustainable civic engagement. I say ‘sustainable’ because, as so many have said, this is a marathon and not a sprint. So the question I’m left with and that I pose to you is “What will allow me to be engaged and active in a sustainable way?”
My answer, so far, has been: activism + art.
This equation that’s working for me right now.
This equation is what’s keep burn out at bay.
Here’s what this looks like in practice:
- Attend my local Indivisible meeting
- Paint protest postcards.
- Call my representatives.
- Sewing for my niece.
- Create a fundraiser for causes I believe in.
- Try a new recipe.
- Sing my protest.
- Play with Sculpey.
- Watch Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin break it down. (Then watch Rachel Maddow)
- Sew some more.
This is the dance I’m trying to do: make my activism infused with art or following my activism with creating of any kind. The goal is to fill my tank, which creating does for me in spades, so that I have something to give to the resistance.
It’s worth noting that the label “artist” ignites many people’s imposter complex.
“Who me? An artist? I don’t think so!”
All humans need to make. Creative expression, no matter the form, is available and essential to everyone. The forms of art that I have been playing with (sewing, painting, cooking, etc.) are the ones I’m called towards. Let what you’re called towards, let what you make, be enough. This isn’t about being Picasso. This isn’t about making perfect things. This is about making because the act of making renews us.
On the protest front, if you’re still not sure what actions to take but want to be part of the resistance you can check out this beginner’s guide I put together back in January. It’s chock full of resources and places to start.
I’d love to hear what’s working for you? What’s allowing you to find your path to sustainable engagement? What’s filling your tank? What are you making these days? Pop on over to my Facebook page and share your experience.
I believe the most powerful force in the world is an embodied woman.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of forces working against women having deeply rooted, peaceful, and trustworthy relationships with their own flesh. These forces are cultural, governmental, sometimes parental, and always patriarchal.
I’m committed to helping change this and it’s easier than we might think. We don’t need to change those systems as much as we need to stop participating in them. We need to opt out. We need to see through the paradigm of body shaming, body loathing, body shrinking, body judging, body comparing, body manipulating, body commodification, and body warfare.
Why? Because there is nothing wrong with women’s bodies. The pursuit, or rather obsession, to fix, change, improve, conform, and hide the female body is draining invaluable resources: women’s mental, emotional, and physical energy.
We need that energy. We need those resources.
But before we can stop the leak, we need to know our story.
What is our personal body story? What is the story we tell ourselves about our body and intimacy? What is the story we replay about our body and its ability, or disability? What is the well-worn story we have about our body and food? We have to lay bare our body stories so we can see what parts no longer fit or feel true, and let them go.
It has taken years and years to heal and rewrite my own body story. There is no forcing what’s not ready to fade away. It took me so long, in part, because I was ashamed that as a smart, educated, capable, conventionally attractive, privileged feminist I struggled with my body. I had to look at my story; the one where people like me didn’t have a right to struggle too.
Your story is likely different than my story. Or maybe, in parts, it’s similar.
Regardless, your story matters. Your ability to author and revise your story matters.
I mentioned a few months back that I was developing a workbook is an invitation to explore the story you’ve been carrying about your body, to let go of the parts that don’t belong to you, and to move into a truthful, compassionate, and sovereign narrative. Well, today it’s here!
Your body is yours, despite all the forces conspiring from the day you were born to tell you otherwise. The Body Sovereignty Workbook will help transform the story you tell yourself about your body into a life-changing narrative. It includes 83 beautiful digital pages of essays by 10+ women’s empowerment experts, worksheets, and activities to support your cultivating an empowered relationship with your body. In addition to my own writings collected from the best of my archive, contributors include Carmen Cool, Julie Daley, Caroline Dooner, Mara Glatzel, Summer Innanen, Hilary Kinavey, Dana Sturtevant, Willo O’Brien, Andrea Scher, Bari Tessler, and Pace Smith.
And here’s the best part: 100% of profits from The Body Sovereignty Workbook will be donated to Emily’s List and The National Center for Transgender Equality.
If you’re not familiar with these organizations. EMILY’s List is committed to driving progressive change throughout our country by winning elections that put pro-choice Democratic women into office. The National Center for Transgender Equality is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people.
When you purchase The Body Sovereignty Workbook you’ll get to select which of these two charities you’d like your funds to go towards. The base cost for the workbook is just $10 and you you have the option to make a larger donation if you’d like. Again, 100% of the profits go to these two organizations.
If you’re ready to explore your body story and to move towards greater body sovereignty I hope you’ll grab your copy of The Body Sovereignty Workbook today. I’d also be grateful if took a moment to share this post with your community so that we can generate as much support for these organization and as many sovereign women as possible.
Image credit: Nu debout de face (1910-11), Roger de La Fresnaye
I have a practice called Wild Writing. I learned it from the inimitable Laurie Wagner and I attend a Wild Writing group with her most Friday mornings. The group practice goes something like this:
1. Laurie reads a poem. A good poem. A grounded poem. Not an abstract, hard to deconstruct poem. A poem about dirty dishes in the sink or a poetic list of life regrets. Then she pulls one or two lines from that poem and offers it up as our prompt.
2. We use the prompt, or not if we don’t feel like it, and we write for fifteen minutes without stopping. The pen never stops. We write too fast for the inner critic or to sound smart. We just go. We try to find the vein of what really wants to be said. No performing. Just truth.
3. Then we go around the table and we share what we wrote. No one responds. We are just witnessed. Then the next person reads.
4. We repeats this two more times.
5. We go home cleansed.
Today was my first day back at the Wild Writing table in a long while. The holidays, a wedding, and political upheaval had pulled me away. I returned, as I often do, doubting whether I have anything to say or if I will even remember how to do this (despite it being so simple). Below are two of the pieces I wrote this morning. Unfiltered.
May they inspire you to get it out, write it out, speak it out. May they call forth the messy truth, the contradictions, and the part inside of you that knows what’s needed now.
Advice to Myself
Go the flea market. Spend $8 on clip-on earrings of mini bingo cards. Spend $3 on poster board for protest signs — have a wardrobe of signs at the ready.
Sew like your life depended on it. Sew like the world will come apart at the seams if you don’t stitch it up.
Measure the pillow insert and remeasure and remeasure and even though it says 19”, ignore it. Pretend it’s 20” in a world where facts are debatable. You can decide it’s 20” if you don’t mind a slightly oversized pillow case.
Pray to the light of cute babies and dinner parties where you pull animal spirit cards and share whose husbands have trouble getting naked and whose have trouble staying clothed. Pray to the light of French onion soup and a life free from wedding planning.
Pray to the light because you have no choice but to bury your fingers—no, your arms—in the blackest of dirst and dig. Dig like a chain gang. Each of us sentenced to hard labor for the foreseeable future. If you sit this out completely you’re a traitor.
Make granola. Toast the oats and the coconut and use the last bits of crystallized ginger, the sesame seeds, the sour cherries—the ones you bought in Germany for plane snacks but never ate.
Advice to myself: get on your fucking yoga mat. Your neck and shoulders and hips are a few of the most trustworthy sources of information there are right now.
Go out for thai food, slurp noodles in between glances of the basketball game.
Roll lettuce cups while too-calmly explaining that you’re just at the “impeachment” stage.
[This writing was inspired by Lousie Erdrich’s Advice to Myself poem]
What kind of times are these?
These are times of picking battles. These are times where so much that used to ruffle feathers falls insignificantly, weightlessly by the wayside.
It doesn’t matter that he needed one typewriter ribbon but ordered four to get the free shipping. Or that she’ll have to take a cab because you’re running late. Your weight doesn’t matter, it didn’t then and it really doesn’t now. It doesn’t matter that you have two turnips in your vegetable drawer that have been there since October.
Kellyanne Conway’s frizzy hair, the President’s tiny orange hands, or Mike Pence’s repressed homosexuality don’t matter.
No, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, eyes on the bloody Syrian baby, eyes on The Constitution, eyes on our community, eyes on what our dollars support, eyes on the times that we blindly checked the box for the incumbent or didn’t check the box at all.
What doesn’t matter is if the cleaning lady sees your vibrator or you forgot to eat a vegetable today, or this week. It doesn’t matter if you called your grandmother out of obligation or if you haven’t cancelled that unused gym membership yet.
No, what matters is the friend with seizures who may lose his health insurance. What matters is the sixteen year old who, like you, had sex with her boyfriend, and unlike you got pregnant. What matters is the life she wants to live. What matters is that, as painful as it is, we read the news every day. What matters is that nice white ladies put their bodies visibly out there in support of black bodies.
It doesn’t matter if people call you radical or you make a mistake. It doesn’t matter if the NSA taps your phone and hears you saying almost daily how comfortable you are with someone committing assassination.
No, this is a time of stark contrast and we must pick our battles. If we’re not fighting to protect what we hold dear, we don’t deserve it. We might not deserve it.
Is this boring? All this call to arms? Are we already jaded, already too overwhelmed, already too confused about what’s happening and who’s in charge and “How could he say that?” and “How could he not know that?!” Are we there yet?
What matters is that’s what they want: to exhaust, confuse, and lull us.
What kind of times are these?
[This writing was inspired by Adrienne Rich’s What Kind of Times Are These poem]
During extremely stressful times, our internal challenges can become magnified.
The current political crisis in America has lead everyone I know to react in a different way. Some are channeling their anxiety into activism. Others are burying their head in the sand — or the refrigerator. Some are circling their community for comfort — others are putting themselves on punishing exercise plans.
If you are struggling right now with your relationship to food and your body Feast will give you the tools you need to navigate this particularly uncertain moment in history: self-compassion, intuitive eating, effective emotional coping, and self-trust.