June 22, 2015

thoughtsbecomethings

During the recent NBA finals, my partner, a life-long Golden State Warriors fan, kept saying to me “Thoughts become things.” He’s not particularly woo, but people tend to tap into the metaphysical when pro-sports championships are at stake. And we won, so maybe all his ‘winning’ thoughts made the difference. I don’t know. I do however believe thoughts are powerful.

It’s tricky though, because some thoughts are a lot like knee reflexes. Often they just happen.

For example, just because I know that body size doesn’t tell me about a person’s health, lifestyle, intelligence, or worth doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t make automatic assumptions. My brain does this increasingly less because of I’ve spent over a decade bringing awareness to and challenging any size prejudice thoughts I notice.

What I don’t do is beat myself up for having a judgmental thought. That’s what they call adding insult to injury. If I notice a prejudiced thought floating through my brain. I name it and remind myself of the truth: “You don’t know anything about that person from looking at them, just like they don’t know anything about you from looking at you” and move on.

I don’t believe people who say they don’t have prejudiced thoughts. We all do. Our society blasts images with corresponding meanings at us all day. We are told what beautiful looks like, what health looks like, what intelligence looks like, what fitness looks like, what love looks like, what criminals look like, what wealth looks like and so forth.

But these images are lies. These things—beauty, health, love, etc.—come in every package under the sun and the truth is that it can take our brains a while to catch up with this reality.

But we must fiercely participate in this catching up.

We have to bear witness to our thoughts and step in, with firm kindness, when they need correcting.

And, as I said, I’ve been doing this when it comes to body size, but I admit that haven’t been as diligent about racial assumptions. I’ve let myself believe that because my conscious mind isn’t racist that I don’t need to examine my own unconscious thoughts and actions.

That changed this week.

I’m stepping up and expanding my own awareness practices to include knee-jerk thoughts like these:

Like when, late at night, I see a male person of color walking towards me on the street and I react more fearfully than if he were white…

Like when I drive past the neighborhood liquor store and see a person of color emerge and for a split second make assumptions about them that I wouldn’t make about a white customer…

Like when I see a mother and child, both of color, and assume, again for a millisecond second, that the father isn’t the picture…

These micro-aggressive thoughts are my responsibility to challenge and uproot.

I can call myself liberal, awake, progressive, feminist, and most of all, an ally to people of color, but until I take responsibility for the places within myself where these ignorant and frankly violent thoughts of my heritage still remain I’m part of the problem.

Here’s to turning the light on.

Here’s to taking responsibility.

Here’s to truer thoughts becoming more peaceful things.

May 14, 2015

nothingwrongwithsex

As you probably know, I work with women and hunger.

ALL hungers. Not just food hungers.

That makes my work infinitely interesting and multifaceted. That’s how’d describe most women too—infinitely interesting and multifaceted.

My clients come to me to explore career hungers, relationship hungers, spiritual hungers, creative hungers, seemingly unnamable hungers, and, yes, sexual hungers.

And we, life coach types, are often known to say “There is nothing wrong with you” to our clients caught in the ego’s illusions. (An aside, Cheri Huber wrote an excellent book by this name.)

But rarely—perhaps because it’s a topic still so shrouded in shame—do we, life coaches or otherwise, come out and extend this fact to our sexual selves.

So allow me:

There is nothing wrong with your sexuality.

There is nothing wrong with who or what you’re attracted to.

There is nothing wrong with what you fantasize about, and whether you want those fantasies to come to life or simply remain in your imagine.

There is nothing wrong with the way your body smells, looks, tastes, or feels.

There is nothing wrong with the shape, appearance, or size of your genitals.

There is nothing wrong with how you like to be touched or how frequently.

There is nothing wrong with your own twisty, turvy, sometimes confusing path to your own sexual awakening.

There is nothing wrong with what gets you off or how frequently you orgasm.

There is nothing wrong with having different sexual preferences than your partner.

There is nothing wrong with having different desires than your parents or society condone.

There is nothing wrong with having an ebb and flow in your interest in having sex.

There is nothing wrong with not knowing your sexual self well or with evolving or changing as a sexual being.

We’re told and sold on such a narrow and messed up concept of women’s sexuality, if we’re even given any concept at all. We don’t have role models in this culture for healthy, real sexuality, so many women are left to come to their own conclusion, which is often that something is wrong with them. Add to this that women’s bodies have been ground zero for centuries of abuse, trauma, shame, neglect, fear, and war.

Here’s the deal: for most women sex is, at least some of the time, a journey, complicated, exhilarating, vulnerable, messy, confusing, uncharted territory, scary, changing, painful, never-like-the-movies, and of course, pleasurable.

Thankfully, there is a sex-positive movement and a growing number of excellent books, sex educators, sex coaches, and sex therapists committed to helping women heal and awaken their sexual selves. If you want support it exists. But please note, wanting to learn, heal, shift, feast, or grow sexually in no way means that there is something wrong with how things are for you right now. Do listen to those calls, but don’t equate them with a problem.

There is nothing wrong with your sexuality. Not. One. Thing.

May 5, 2015

Vanity

A few weeks back I went to meet my partner Justin for lunch at his office. He works at one of those tech companies that provides a lavish lunch each day and he’s allowed to have me join him from time to time.

This particular day we met up during the peak of the lunchtime rush. After unsuccessfully scanning the cafeteria for an empty table Justin spotted a co-worker with two empty seats at his table. “Can we join you?” Justin said. “Sure” he replied moving two bowls of food out of the way. “It’s my dinner” he said referring to the two bowls, each topped with another bowl that served as a lid, “I have to eat before 6 pm.”

We nodded, not really listening, attempting a lunch date for two at this table for four.

I was able to get a few bites in before I noticed this co-worker take out a digital scale (You know, the kind a baker might use to measure flour). He then placed both of his dinner bowls on the scale, one at a time, and jotted down their weight in a small, spiral bound notebook.

We’ve got a dieter in our midst, I thought to myself.

I truly didn’t want to engage. I just wanted a nice lunch date with my guy. But, the co-worker asked me what I do (“I’m a life coach”) and then who I work with (“Women, around hunger”) and we were off to the races before I knew it.

After hearing that I work in the realm of hungers he says “Sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m so hungry.”

“Yeah” I nod knowingly, having experienced the same thing when starved myself “the body prioritizes getting enough to eat over getting sleep.”

“My body just really likes to be *** pounds so I really have to starve myself to get it lower.”

“Why? Why do all this? What’s this about?” Justin inquires.

“Vanity” he chirps matter-of-factly back with a nervous smile.

No.  Nope, I think to myself, this isn’t a result of vanity.

This is a result of anxiety.

This is a result of not feeling like you’re enough, just as you are.

This is a result of a fractured relationship with your body.

Vanity is an easy scapegoat. Kind of like when we stay in bed all day and call ourselves “lazy” when what’s really going on is something much wiser, deeper, and nuanced.

Vanity is a scapegoat and I’d argue that it’s never once caused someone to go on a diet or fall prey to an eating disorder (a line this particular co-worker was teetering).

We use these behaviors to soothe our worrisome minds and to falsely bring us closer to feeling as though we are enough.

As lunch was winding down he said “I think I have that leptin disorder—the one where your brain doesn’t signal when you’re full. That’s why I have to limit my intake.”

Not able to help myself I replied: “Well, it sounds like you have a history of overriding your body’s cues and keeping your weight below what your body prefers…”

“No, this diet is recent. Before this I was just paleo.” he innocently replies.

I sigh and think to myself, What do you think eating paleo is if not a diet?, but not wanting to engage any more I just said “Well, sounds like what you’re doing is working for you and you should probably get tested for that leptin thing” and we went on our way.

I’m sharing this story because I want to challenge you to think about how you might be mislabeling your behavior. Do you think of yourself as irresponsible with money? Materialistic or vain? What about lazy or undisciplined? Selfish? Wasteful?

Instead of so quickly dismissing your actions with these labels and instead of looking upon yourself with judgement, inquire about what’s really happening.

If you think you’re dieting because your vain, could it be that you’re anxious and dieting (or losing weight or being a certain size) is soothing? Could it be that you’re living in a world gone mad, one that tells you there is no fate worse than being fat, and you don’t yet know how to be at home in your skin?

If you think that you’re careless with money, could it be that you’re afraid that you won’t have (or be) enough, and shopping (temporarily) alleviates that feeling of scarcity? or that you haven’t discovered a more soulful way of relating to your finances?

If you view yourself as lazy, could it be that you’re simply tired? or disconnected from your spark? or expecting yourself to be super-human?

Bottomline: In my experience, what we call vanity, is almost always just anxiety and the hunger to feel enough. We’re too quick to slap a one-word judgement on ourselves. In reality our behavior, when met with compassion, is rich with information about what we’re truly hungry for.

January 11, 2015

Doing Your Best by Rachel W Cole

You might think I regret my eating disorder. You might think I look back in shame at all the seemingly wasted energy I spent obsessing about the number on the scale or the food on my plate.

But I don’t have shame.

Instead I have compassion and a deep awareness that at that time I was taking care of myself the very best way that I knew how.

At the time I was in pain and I was anxious, both of which lessened when I focused intensely on food and my body.

I actually think 20-year-old me was pretty resourceful.

Yes, she was also miserable, ill, and hungry. But she was, nevertheless, resourceful, using her limited toolbox as best she could.

As the old adage goes: when you know better, you do better.

I frequently encounter women who feel such self-loathing for all the years spent riding the dieting pendulum, abusing alcohol, or over-spending.

However you cope, it is or was most certainly you taking care of yourself the best way you know or knew how.

I believe that when you know a better way you do it.

Regardless, whatever your salve, self-care is often mislabeled as self-harm and I want to change that.

Let’s forgive ourselves for the hurt our efforts to help ourselves caused.

Let’s celebrate that when we’re hurting our natural tendency is to take care of ourselves by any means necessary. (Look in the mirror, you will see someone who has, all along, been on your team).

And finally, once we’ve forgiven and seen the goodness of our true nature, we can move towards the discovery of effective, less-harmful self-care methods.

If it’s time for you to make your toolbox more robust…

If you’re ready for the resilient life that comes after you forgive yourself…

If you understand that being a sensitive soul comes with a different life-playbook…

If stepping fully into the roles of advocate, soft-place-to-fall, ally, lover, champion, and oxygen-giver for yourself is what you’re called to do…

I invite you to Feast.

January 5, 2015

Go Closer by Rachel W Cole

Connection is hard enough without the ‘no fly zone’ of food and body preoccupation between us.

Here’s the rub: we need connection with each other like we need air and yet nothing scares us more than connection, than being seen, than being so vulnerable we could be rejected.

We need connection and yet we live during a technologically-centric era of human civilization where real connection is often traded for isolated screen-time and high-light reels.

We need connection but judge ourselves so harshly we don’t give others a chance to see, like, or love us.

And with connection so essential and already so challenging, what we don’t need is the added barrier of body shame and food obsession.

I thought this the other night as my partner’s hand traversed the curve and softness of my belly and I could actually feel all that didn’t stand between us — and all that could — and all that does.

Because connection is hard and it’s everything.

I thought of this because I know what life feels like when we don’t love, or even like ourselves. I know what life looks like when we’re hungry, empty longing for a crumb of connection.

I know what life looked like before and I know — hallelujah — what life looks like on the other side. I know just how unnecessary the wall is that our loathing, shame, preoccupation, and obsessions build. I know how easy it is to think that we’re the weird one, that we’re the exception to the rule, and that everyone else but us is deserving.

At another time in my life when a partner lovingly touched my body though we were in the same room, in the same bed there were miles and miles between us.

Go closer.

Tear the wall down. Even if it’s grain of sand by grain of sand.

Behave kindly toward yourself. Don’t proclaim to do this. Bring it to life in small tender moments.

Practice inhabiting your own skin. Don’t proclaim to do this either. Rather, right now, feel your skin touch the air and your thighs touch your seat.

Most of all feed yourself so the gnaw of hunger quiets and you can make the connections that are what you’ve been hungry for all along.

December 28, 2014

The Power of Pausing

In a trance-like state I went to the refrigerator and quickly took out one raw ravioli and ate it. Then I walked away, shame-filled, only to be back for another less than a minute later. I did this until every one of them was eaten.

That’s how I spent one Thanksgiving some years ago.

That year I wasn’t making the trek to be with family and no local invitations had materialized.

While I was lonely and sad to be spending the day solo, I had intended to make a special meal of fresh butternut squash ravioli with browned butter.

The meal never came to be because leading up to it I was overtaken with shame about my out of control relationship with food, guilt for planning a “carb and fat-laden” meal, and intense feelings of sadness I didn’t know how to experience.

So I mindlessly ate cold raw ravioli until they were gone and my belly ached and I crawled into bed to watch something on television that would take me as far away from my reality as possible.

When I think about what’s changed in my life that makes that night feel like such a distant memory and such an impossibility today it boils down to peace.

And peace isn’t something I declared in one broad sweeping moment from which I never looked back.

Peace was something I had to declare moment by moment. Urge by urge. Frightful thought to frightful thought. Peace became my practice and like any practice there was no expectation that I perform flawlessly right out of the gate.

To this day calling for a truce is one of my favorite disarmament tools.

Here’s how it might go:

  1. Recognize that you’re in opposition, afraid, or feeling threatened. You might be feeling opposed to your feelings, to your thighs, to your dinner plate, or to your scale. Make a point to learn the symptoms of being at war. Notice what it feels like so you can recognize it better next time.

  2. Name your experience. “I’m feeling at war” or “I’m feeling like I’m on the opposing team playing against ______.”

  3. Breathe. Feel the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your lungs.

  4. Pause. Even if for one minute, decide to stay put with your experience. Don’t get up. Don’t distract yourself. Stay. If you can only do ten seconds, then start with ten seconds.

  5. Inquire. Be curious. Ask with sincerity:

Sweetheart, how are you? What’s hurting?

How does the tug-of-war feel?

What are you resisting?

Where did you learn that [what you’re fighting] is something to fear/resist?

What would/could it look like to call a truce?

What if you’re actually on the same team at what you’re fighting?

What if, just in this moment right now, you put down the weapon and proceed from here gently, holding your own hand?

Can you, just for now, choose peace over everything else?

Another helpful addition to this practice, one that came in handy in interrupting my lightening fast dash to the kitchen, was designating a special chair as a my remembering chair. In my living room I have a big, oatmeal-colored linen wingback chair that I love and I used it as a sacred place to pause and remember myself. Many times I would only pause there for a moment before I would get pulled gravitationally toward food, but over time those moments got longer,  the choices more plentiful, and my own ceasefire grew deeper roots.

I don’t know if I’d have been able to stop myself from eating all the ravioli in their cold, raw state had I asked these questions or sat in that chair. I don’t know if I would have made it to the table with a hot, lovingly prepared meal that night had I just hit the pause button.

I do know however that I practiced this for years after that Thanksgiving and over time it worked. It allowed me to slow things down enough to have a choice in what was happening. This practice allowed me to slow myself down enough to see that what I thought was the enemy (myself, my body, food) was actually an ally. This practice allowed me to see that there was nothing to fear in the present reality of my experience.

Pausing for peace is a favorite practice and when paired with self-compassion I’ve seen it move mountains.

 

November 16, 2014

Success Redefined by Rachel W Cole

Staredown

Being in control feels awesome.

Determining the outcome of things because we’re in control, double awesome.

When we feel in control, our nervous system is as calm as if we were a baby snuggled in our mother’s arms. Control feels safe and safe is where it’s at for many of us.

Unfortunately our sense of control, especially as it pertains to outcomes, is most often an illusion.

I know a thing or two about pursuing control. I spent a good chunk of my life white knuckling the steering wheel. I was in hot (and often rigid) pursuit of controlling my weight, other’s perceptions of me, and how successful I was at whatever endeavor I’d embarked on.

Perhaps you can relate.

Sadly, the tight grip I tried to have on everything–and everyone–didn’t produce the results I’d hoped.

My weight yo-yo’ed, people judged me, boyfriends left me, employers fired me. Try as I might, seeking to control the end game never seemed to work out for me.

These days I have a radically different approach.

I make choices about how I show up and what my boundaries are, releasing all outcome, as much as possible.

Success today is defined as whether or not I did my part, not whether a certain result came to be.

In my very real, and very imperfect life this looks like…

Practicing eating intuitively and releasing any control of my body’s weight.

Committing to showing up with my clients with presence, curiosity, and love. Releasing whether or not they’ll get anything out of working with me.

When I was single, this looked liked choosing how I wanted to show up on dates and releasing whether it went anywhere. Whether the outcome was rejection or a second date, success’ hat was hung on how I chose to show up.

In a relationship, this looks like a personal requirement that my partner and I do work with a couples therapist long before there are any major issues and releasing whether or not we’ll be together in 60 years. It looks like telling the truth, even if it’s not what he wants to hear because I want whatever outcome is the result of the truth.

This practice is entirely about having awareness and commitment of how we want to be in our lives.

I want to be honest. I want to be present. I want to be relaxed. I want to be compassionate. I want to allowed to be human. I want to be creative.

And I can play a part in all these things. I can play a major part in how I’m showing up.

I can’t however, determine or predict what will happen tomorrow around the bend. I don’t know how others will receive me or my work. There is so much I don’t know, and accepting that–living without attempting to be psychic–is freedom.

The impact of my being is not in my control and to chase it would be fruitless and exhausting. Of course, I only know this from the painful years I clung to controlling outcomes.

Something unseen in all this is the belief that I’m enough.

If I didn’t believe that I was enough I would still be chasing that through all the same old dead-end alley ways.

In my coaching practice I see this showing up when a client is utterly terrified of dating (while hungering for partnership). Terrified she’s being awkward or that she’ll be rejected. Terrified. The solution isn’t to avoid dating. The solution is to figure out what she can control and make that the definition of success.

This same phenomenon shows up when clients have career or creative hungers that paralyze them with fear. This is a sign that success (and safety) is defined as a certain outcome rather than simply the act of going for it with heart.

So I propose this:

If you’re exhausted from trying to control your weight, stop. Try instead to eat in a way that feels good, tastes good, and honors your body. If you can do that (and you can), what your body weighs will matter a whole lot less.

If there’s a creative project you’re pregnant with or a career move calling to you, play with defining success as trying something new, or as Brene Brown says, as getting into the arena.

Today, success for me is hitting publish on this post. It’s far from perfect. It might not even be useful to some people stopping by. But it’s honest and communicates something that has been liberating for me. And thankfully, my sense of my own enoughness doesn’t rest on these 700 words. And that feels way more awesome than being in control.

October 20, 2014

What You Get by Rachel W Cole

Add a splash of gumption. Rinse, lather, repeat.

October 16, 2014

whitelie

Ships

I moved to California almost 10 years ago.

I didn’t know anyone here when I made the trek.

All of the sudden I was living 3,000 miles from my family. I had to find housing, employment, and survive in graduate school on my own.

I felt invisible in a town where I had no connections and, at the start, it was a pretty lonely time.

On the one hand I felt separate from those around me and yet I knew deep down that we were all connected. I felt that I was amongst fellow humans and I just needed a way to bridge the gap.

So I told a little itty bitty white lie.

To get a daily boost of connection I began to tell random strangers–at the grocery store, in the steam sauna at the gym, at the bus stop, in waiting rooms–that I was working on a creative writing project (which wasn’t true). I told them I just needed to ask them one question.

The questions i asked would shift. Sometimes I asked “What’s something you’re grateful for?” Sometimes I asked “What’s been your greatest life lesson?” While the questions changed, the way these small moments fed me did not.

Almost every exchange was heart-warming and effortless. On occasion someone would decline my curiosity, but that was the exception in my experience.

This one tiny white lie made a world of difference on days when I’d otherwise have little to no connection with other people.

In the time since then I’ve built a robust community of local friends but when I’m in the cereal aisle or at the dentist, I still feel the urge to reach out and ask the nearest stranger a question that will create a moment of connection. Reflecting back on that time I’m struck by what a sweet and simple little practice.

Perhaps those early California days are what make me sensitive to one of the challenges I see my clients face frequently: making adult friendships.  (That and the fact that I went to five schools before college so making new friends and starting over are familiar territory for this sensitive woman).

I’m sharing this piece today to offer you a little exercise if you’re feeling alone or disconnected. If you’re not, I’m sharing it to start a wee conversation (over on my facebook page) about what small ways you find connection, build community, and make new friends.

It’s simply true that we’re all in this together and we’re all the same.

–– Oh, and it’s not lost on me that writing this blog post almost makes that old white lie, a truth.

September 28, 2014

darkside

Pursuing a well-fed life is not one long buffet table of awesome-sauce.

When you agree that your hungers are wise and that you are worthy of being fed, you also agree to experience being hungry.

And most of us don’t enjoy being hungry. In fact, many of us will do anything to avoid this particular flavor of lack.

To avoid feeling our longing and desire we put our hungers in the back of the closet, or in the attic, or behind the stove. Anywhere out of reach of our conscious experience. And to keep them there, we numb ourselves through all the usual suspects: food, shopping, alcohol, staring at screens, and so forth.

And the  result of putting our hungers away, in an effort to not feel hungry, is that we are then rarely, if ever, feel fed. Quite simply, it’s hard to feed a hunger that we’re actively denying.

The solution: play the odds.

I can’t promise you that if you walk the path of a Well-Fed Woman that 100% of your hungers will be fed, 100% of the time, with minimal discomfort or waiting.

What I can promise is that the first option—stuffing them down or denying them—has a near 0% success rate when it comes to living a happy life.

The second option—saying yes to your hungers—the option I’m advocating for, will always lead you somewhere very fulfilling.

I can also promise that the discomfort of being hungry won’t kill you. And, perhaps more importantly, I can promise that hunger becomes significantly less uncomfortable the more we have a ‘yes’ relationship to it.

Much of the discomfort we experience around being hungry comes from anxiety and fear that we might not ever be fed or get enough. But women committed to living well-fed lives, over time, we establish a pattern of feeding ourselves and tending to our hungers, such that the anxious (and previously starved) part of us becomes reconditioned to trust that hunger is just a precursor to delicious satiation.

So yes, if you want to be a Well-Fed Woman you will experience periods of hunger. Some will last mere minutes and some will last many years. And the reward for your courage to feel these wise messages will be a life far more satisfying than if you deny your wants.

In my book, this is a risk always worth taking because the odds are in your favor.