January 28, 2012

Self Portraits

Last week I wrote about wholeness. In fact, most of my recent writings have touched on authenticity in some way. Through meditation, self-reflection, creativity, connection with loved ones, and play, I'm much more in touch with my authentic self. I'm living my life more from the inside out. But, lest I think I have all my sh*t together, I was confronted with something new and scary this week: self portraits. 

In my photography class, Susannah Conway encouraged us to use self portraiture as a means of going within, of connecting with our souls. For the first two days, my camera sat still. This was a hard one for me. Interestingly, I enjoy having my picture taken if I'm in a group or surrounded by loved ones (in fact, I routinely have people takes shots of me with my friends & family, as these are the pictures I want all over my house). But when it came to turning the camera on myself, I hesitated. As much work as I've done to love myself unconditionally, there was still a barrier. Am I worthy of a self portrait? What about all my physical flaws? Am I really, truly comfortable in my own skin?

At first I went with reflection self-portraits (in mirrors, windows, etc.). These are actually easy for me, as they feel creative rather than intimate. I'm still hiding some of myself. It was the arm's-length portraits that felt more intimate and in which I felt more vulnerable. But I did it. I've taken many "selfies" this week, many of which I won't share with others. It's really the process that matters to me. (Ah, isn't that the true nature of most things?) I started slowly, and then I dove in, taking arm's-length shots of different expressions and in different light. Some of the photos were difficult for me to view--they struck the I'm-not-good-enough cord. Yet I allowed myself to really look at them before deleting. And other photos actually seemed to express my inner self.  

So the week began with fear, yet that morphed into curiosity, creativity, and acceptance. From Susannah to the class: "My dearest wish for you this week is to create an image of yourself that you like. It doesn't have to be The Best Self Portrait Ever--just one that you can look at and quietly say: I like this one." This quotation is about self portraiture, but it also applies to life. What if each week we looked inside ourselves (at the happy, sad, playful, embarrassing, real stuff), and accepted something new: I really like ____ about me. What a wonderful wish for us all.

January 21, 2012


In my living room, I have a "nest." It's a big, comfy chair with a fleece quilt. Next to my nest is a table that holds my current stack of reading. And under the table is my craft box and another box that contains my journals and assorted comforts. Right now my stack of reading is a book of lovely photographs (A Year of Mornings), and two other books that currently speak to my heart: Ordinary Sparkling Moments by Christine Mason Miller and A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer. These latter two books focus on authenticity, wholeness, creativity, and listening to your true inner voice (not the habituated, judgmental ego voice). 

From Parker Palmer: "The strongest evidence for true self comes from seeing what happens when we try to live as if we did not have one." I hear you, buddy! For many years a denied my true self. Of course, parts of it peaked out now and then, but I didn't live my life intentionally. I lived my life completely focused on externals: Do people like me? Have I achieved enough? Am I good enough in other people's eyes? Am I thin enough? Do I work out enough? Will I get tenure? Do my students and colleagues respect me? Shouldn't I do more, achieve more, help more, entertain more, in order to be lovable?

That was a very difficult place to inhabit. Although I still struggle to live each moment authentically, I do live more moments authentically, and it's much easier for me access my centered, whole, true self. And to trust I can always get back there, no matter what happens. This all takes great mindfulness. In the beautiful words of Mary Oliver ("Low Tide"): "This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness" [emphasis mine].

To access my true self, I must allow for many things: space, solitude, creativity, awareness, connection, and reflection. And trust. Trust in myself, my wholeness, my goodness. This all takes great (HUGE) attentiveness. Some days it's there, and other days are a whirlwind of busyness. But every day is a blessing--a new experience from which I can learn and become more whole. 

A close friend of mine gave me a beautiful angel with lovely reminder phrases on it (e.g., "Unleash your joy" "Be yourself" "Embrace vulnerability"). I keep it in my office, and whenever I look at it, I smile:

PS I previously blogged a funny story about my Real Self.

January 15, 2012

Hibernation AND Color?

Winter brings reduced daylight and temperature, and thus is a natural time for hibernation. I often welcome this hibernation. (Well, I've learned to make peace with the winter, and healthful hibernation is part of this peace.) It's a time when I sleep more, make fewer plans, eat hearty soups & bread, travel less, and generally try to slow down. These are all lovely things. Yet it's also possible (likely?) for healthful hibernation to turn into a general feeling of "blah."

This week in photography class we worked on light, color, pattern, & texture. In particular, I thought much about color--not just in photography, but in my life. When healthful hibernation turns into ugh (perhaps because of lack of light and too much pattern), then we can look for color & texture. These are the things that not only make photos pop, but they make our lives pop. They give us a little skip in our step during a dreary January day.

What I speak of is a balance (as is most of life). A balance between {hibernation, slowing down, & nurture} and {color, celebration, & creation}. So my new peace with winter includes not only embracing hibernation, but also purposefully looking for and creating rich color & texture around that hibernation: sleeping & dancing, cooking & eating out (even on a week night!), moping & taking a long walk, self-reflection & connection with others, slowing down & enjoying myself. We'll see how the journey proceeds. (Check back with me at the end of February. :))

January 7, 2012

White Space

I'm taking a wonderful online photography class, Photo Meditations, from Susannah Conway. During the first week, we're learning about and experimenting with composition. One of the (many) compositional elements is white space (or negative space).  From Susannah: "The negative space gives the viewer’s eye a place to rest while supporting the main subject." A place to rest.

What about the white space in our daily lives? Where in our schedules do we allow rest, reflection, restoration, or simply space to breathe deeply? When I feel assaulted by life, it's a good reminder to make some white space. To truly allow for life to happen; for life to interrupt. When I feel overscheduled, I get annoyed when life happens. There's just not enough space & softness in which I can rest & release--both into the difficulties of life and the joys of life.

My mind is really active during the first week of the term. And my schedule is typically busy, too. But this weekend I have space. I'm grateful for the gentle reminder that space is needed--a place for my mind, body, & spirit to rest. In fact, I'll end here, so I can treat myself to a nap!

January 3, 2012


It's human nature to want to be liked and to belong. This is something with which I struggle. I want people to like me--in fact, to love me. I want this from my family, friends, students,  and colleagues. Yet when I push for this--that is, external affirmations rather than internal centeredness--I lose sight of my authenticity.

In his book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer openly talks about a class where he fervently tried to engage one particular student; and in doing so, he lost his focus and the bigger-picture of learning. He lost the entire class by focusing on being liked by one student. Such is the human condition. And, as a teacher who really wants my students to learn (and to respect and like me!), I can relate.

Recently I read an interview with Desmond Tutu. When asked about the trait he least likes about himself: the fact that he loves to be loved. Yes, that external validation is SO alluring. Our egos can turn it into the reality--the thing for which we must strive. But, when we constantly search  for okay-ness outside of ourselves, we actually lose our connection. That is, authentic connection is a very different thing from belonging.

Connection comes from a deep self-awareness that we are okay just the way we are. When we are connected (to others & to ourselves), we believe in our basic goodness. When we long to be loved, we doubt our basic goodness. True connection is filling; the search for belonging is depleting.

Every day, I walk the path between wanting to be loved and knowing in my heart I am okay. When I'm mindful, I fully understand that trusting my authentic self actually leads to more connection, more learning, more loving, & more happiness. I know this in my heart, yet I must continue to remind myself. Such is the life path--a path on which I'm grateful to travel, and on which I know I have much (connected) company.