“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.