Take a look in the mirror.
Really be there with your reflection for a while.
It can be a charged experience. Most of our reflections are faced with one of the harshest critics we’ll ever encounter. Society has done a thorough job on our “lenses” and it has become entirely too easy to see ourselves through the lens of “not enough”. And while it’s natural to want to shine out the best of ourselves as we step out into the great wide world, we’ve developed a rather scary tendency towards self-loathing as motivation to whip ourselves into even better shape so we can one day bask in the sunshine of approval. Unfortunately, however, that kind of thinking is like digging a hole to fill a void because we distance ourselves from the parts of us that can experience joy and fulfillment as we continue to chase it outside of ourselves.
In the wake of Robin William’s suicide many of us are faced with the rather terrifying reality that a person can have “everything”, be a talented, accomplished and beloved performer, and still face acute loneliness and depression. But there it is. It wasn’t enough. And more and more of us are coming to the conclusion that, despite our ever growing collections of gold stars, our sleek bodies, our fancy cars and our “happily ever after” Facebook profiles, we can’t get enough validation from the world to stay happy with those things for long. Approval is an addiction.
So I’ve been embarking on a little journey, one that is turning out to be an epic journey – my attempt to look inward with compassion. I am revisiting my reflection, bringing honesty and compassion along for the ride when I’m able, and what a bumpy and exhilarating ride it is turning out to be!
It takes courage to be seen. A ton of it actually. And I’m still struggling to cultivate that courage. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that makes me feel so vulnerable when attention is directed my way, but I have been feeling it acutely as I’ve made my way out into the world as me, unabridged. Ok, less abridged. But it has also been the gift I continue to give to myself as I allow more parts of me out into the sunlight. Life is unfolding in a new way before me.
Saying “Yes” to participating in the Mantra Project was one of those acts of courage and I was quick to pat myself on the back for how far I’ve come. And then Joanie pointed her camera at me and suggested that I refrain from smiling. I immediately heard the voice of my friend, Beth, quoting her yoga instructor: “Intimacy begins the moment you want to walk away.”
Indeed it does. Courage is a journey, not a moment. My courage evaporated and was replaced by a desire to flee. In that instant there was nothing to hide behind, not even a facial expression. The prospect of relaxing my face became almost comically impossible. It’s been a while since I’ve felt so naked. Sometimes we don’t even recognize the accessories we hide behind until they’re taken away.
But I know what allowed for my willingness to try. I trusted the lens. Not the camera’s lens, but Joanie’s. I trusted her to view me with compassion. The result was a photograph that showed a version of me that I have never seen before and, once again, I found myself in uncharted territory. More vulnerability and more fear as I realized how much my face reveals when I’m not “putting something out there”. And then another realization. I can decide what I want to put out there. And I can choose my lens.
This is what I love about the Mantra Project. Through it we are creating a community of women who are choosing how we want to perceive and embrace ourselves. Instead of allowing society or family or friends to define us, we spend a little time thinking about the words we’d like to live by. These words become our mantras, charged with the power of what really matters to us. They give us strength to stand our ground when we’re inevitably confronted with the question, “Who do you think you are?” And they give us roots and offer solace when the winds of change and public opinion threaten to blow us over. Repeating our mantras connects us back to our hearts and our knowing. So when we share our mantras, we are not asking for your opinion – we’re proclaiming ours. And we’ve decided that our best sides are our “in” sides. Yes, it makes us vulnerable, but it also makes us badass. And the evidence is right there in the mirror.