“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.
“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 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.
“What do you want to do for lunch?” I heard a woman say to her friend.
“Oh I’m skipping lunch today. I was a pig yesterday. Trying to make up for it,” the friend responded.
This conversation snippet could be heard anywhere. At the gym, a coffee shop, a bus stop, or perhaps even in your own home. But I heard it from two women I was standing next to at the last major women’s march.
In 2004 I, along with several of my college girlfriends, drove from Ohio to DC to attend the March for Women’s Lives. I can tell you that standing on The National Mall with nearly a million other humans making our voices heard on behalf of women’s rights was deeply moving. I can tell you that hearing this conversation then and there was deflating and yet, not all that surprising.
For all of the progress women have made too many are still ensnared in an oppressive paradigm wherein women’s bodies are viewed as untrustworthy, objects, dirty, “before” pictures, commodities, and available for the input of and control from others.
I call this part of patriarchy: body submission.
You likely know that I care a lot about women breaking free from dieting. I spend a lot of time teaching women to return to intuitive eating. I’m committed to body positivity and the liberation that all women deserve to feel from oppressive beauty standards.
But you know what’s beneath all that?
Body sovereignty is the opposite of body submission.
I am utterly devoted to contributing to the emergence of a world where women that have body sovereignty grab hold of it — and where those who don’t yet have body sovereignty gain access to it.
Those of us who have it don’t give it up in broad daylight through obvious acts of self-abandonment.
No—small holes are poked in the bottom of our power bucket and it drips out slowly.
No—body submission is dressed up, marketed, and sold as body sovereignty. It’s a convincing fake-out.
No—some of our most beloved feminist icons, for all their wisdom, still peddle in body submission making body sovereignty something we often have to find without mainstream role models.
Body submission, the giving up of our physical sovereignty, is a sneaky thing.
Here are a few ways it manifests:
You’re getting a massage and want the bodyworker to change the amount of pressure they’re using but you stay silent so as not to be a “bother”.
You’re out to lunch and everyone you’re with decides not to order dessert. You want dessert but forego so as not to draw attention to the fact you’re eating more than others.
You go to the doctor and they ask you step on the scale. You don’t want to. You know that every time you step on the scale it’s triggering for you. You step on anyways so as not to be a “difficult” patient.
Your significant other wants sex. You really don’t. You have it anyways to be a “good” partner.
You want to become a yoga teacher, or run a marathon, or climb a mountain but someone told you that people that look like you or weigh what you way can’t do those things — so you don’t pursue them.
You need to be seated at the front of the lecture hall so you can hear but you don’t ask for this because that would be “special” treatment and you don’t want to ruffle feathers.
You go on a diet, the most ubiquitous and violent act of compliance there is, because you’ve been brainwashed to believe that you can’t trust yourself or your body. You’ve bought into one body submission’s main messages: you’re out of control.
Through small everyday acts of submission many women give up the power they have as the leader, decision-maker, advocate, and ally for their body.
What I want you to know is that your body is yours despite all the forces conspiring from the day you were born to teach, tell, and treat you otherwise.
Your body is yours.
Your body is good
Your body is sovereign.
What you wear, what you eat, when you sleep, and how and who you have sex with. This is all up to you.
The choices you make for your healthcare, whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not, whether to eat that cake or not, whether to stop eating, fucking, working out, or whatever right in the middle— it’s up to you.
Body sovereignty is the clear inhabitance of your choices and domain of flesh.
It is the the protection and respect of your boundaries and your body.
It is individuation. It’s where you begin and everyone else ends. You are an adult. Grown, and thus free.
Body sovereignty is the advocacy of your needs, desires, and hungers. Especially in the face of disappointing others, ruffling feathers, and when your needs run contrary those around you.
Body sovereignty is the permission to choose, to err, to protect, to feel, to experience, to play, to refuse, to take up space, to be different, to be the same, to make noise, and to perform for no one.
It is to be beholden to no one but yourself.
Body sovereignty as I experience and know it is an allyship between oneself and one’s body in pursuit of self-supportive actions. What is self-supportive for one body may not be self-supportive for another body and only the inhabitant of the sovereign flesh can know what is right, and good, and true.
No one else can make you take advantage of your sovereignty and a lot of industries and social structures stand to profit and persist if you don’t.
My friend and colleague Desiree Adaway has a new daily practice in light of our current political landscape whereby she asks herself “Was I courageous, or complicit?”
This inspired me to ask: “Did I exercise my body sovereignty today, or did I submit?”
Those of us with the privilege to have our body sovereignty (or most of it) recognized by our culture, government, and society must advocate fiercely for this recognition to be given to all bodies.
“All bodies” means disabled bodies, bodies of people of color, aging bodies, bodies of the poor, bodies that love bodies of the same sex, transsexual bodies, trafficked bodies, sex worker bodies, and immigrant bodies.
Every time any of us reclaim our sovereignty we free not only ourselves but also the energy and attention needed to free others.
We must own, appreciate, protect and exercise our body sovereignty so that we can then use our bodies to bring this same sovereignty to everyone.
I ask you: What does this year look like for you if you were really inhabiting your sovereign body? What does body sovereignty look or feel like for you? Where are you not owning your sovereignty? How can you better respect and advocate for other people’s body sovereignty?
I’ll be asking myself these questions Saturday at the Women’s March on Washington and for many days to come.
The other night after I’d turned off the lights and gone to sleep I woke up and quickly grabbed my phone (the modern pen and paper) to capture the following statement: Reclaiming sovereignty begins with rewriting the body’s story.
In light of these words I was inspired to create a workbook to help you explore and just maybe shift your body story. This will be a fundraiser for organizations that promote body sovereignty. Be sure you’re on the newsletter list to hear more.