Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Learn to Love Yourself, Body and All, Before it’s too Late

I just finished reading an article online about a woman dying of cancer. The reality that she had cancer was not what intrigued me though. Nor was it the prospect of her passing on. While it’s certainly a fact that both are dreadful life dramas, what touched me most about her story was something quite unexpected. In her end-days she arrived at the realization that she was going to miss her fat body.

Fat. Her word not mine. Throughout her story, this woman lamented how she had allowed people – friends and strangers – to influence the way she regarded her physical appearance. So much so that she grew to dislike her body. What most captured my imagination is that during her final days, she insists to now be at peace with her physical self.

This woman’s life account is less about self-judgment than self-acceptance. She related how she learned to loath her body at a young age – very young. She detailed comments people made (and didn't make) that led her to the conclusion that because of her size she was worthless. Again, her words.

As she related her story, I reflected on mine. My own body. I am lean. Some say skinny. Too skinny. It has always been that way for me. Quite the opposite experience of the woman in the story who was dying. In fact, I hesitate to even try and draw comparisons of myself, my own physical size to hers. That's because in our society it’s true being skinny can be a source of ridicule. But the criticism skinny people like me receive pales compared to other body conditions and physical forms.

On top of that, I am male. And gender makes me far less a systematic target of ridicule in this largely misogynistic society.

With that fact glaringly in mind, I confess to having grown-up with my own largely unflattering perceptions of my physical self. They’re still hanging around too, I reckon. A good portion of this comes from internalized oppression regarding my physique. Growing up underweight in the eyes of others, pocked with acne and its resulting scars, plus “four eyes” to boot, I was sometimes the target of bullying. What’s worse, I became a perpetual bull’s eye in my own mind.

Those difficult teen years molded a foundation of distaste for my physicality that extended through college and into adulthood. Most of the actual or imaginary teasing and ridicule largely ended in my adolescent youth. Yet I sometimes find myself haunted by a preference to embody a physical form more attuned to what Hollywood and popular culture emphasize what a virile heterosexual man should look like.

But alas, try as I have, bulking up is quite literally just not in my DNA.

It all boils down to self-hatred. Brought on by the pressure to fit in. Brought on by the media stressing what is beautiful and what is not. Brought on by people who abhor their own bodies and then ridicule yours so they can feel better about themselves. There’s also the unsolicited peer pressure inflicted on me by those I respect and trust…

Still, my own sometimes painful journey pales in comparison to others, mostly women, whom society has and continues to target in all the worst ways. It’s a tragedy the time and energy we waste disapproving of our bodies, not appreciating them, until for some it’s almost time to leave them.

If only we could be gentler with ourselves. Easier said than done I’ll wager, if my own less than flattering thoughts about myself are any measurement.

 Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at 4humansbeing@gmail.com.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Time to Change our Belief System

Well, that is a system...
Let’s talk systems. Each of us is part of them, whether we like it or not. Whether we know it or not. Some systems are beneficial; others less so. Still others are downright destructive. How much you know about the systems you’re part of can go a long way in helping or hurting. Yourself and others.

I work hard to understand systems of which I am a part. That’s because when I recognize how they operate – what drives them, influences them, and my role in them – I can interact in beneficial rather than harmful ways. Some systems can be challenging to think about. That’s because the most complex ones have lots of moving parts.

Then there’s the challenge of knowing or learning all the parts of a system. Lop on top of that the fact that our world these days moves so quickly. It’s brimming with activities and information overload. Taking all that into account, it becomes hard to even want to understand how systems work, let alone try and appreciate how they might affect us and each other.

Systems as I define them consist of more than two persons, places or things interacting either with each other or something/someone else. They can cause a chain reaction of events or even ways of thinking. An example of operating within a system is when on the freeway.

Despite a bunch of other vehicles on the road it can feel like we’re out there only doing things individually: driving fast or slow, passing or being passed, entering or exiting the freeway, etc. Yet in fact, we’re operating collectively with other vehicles on the road. All of them. We are cooperating with other drivers. Or not. Even the ones too distant to see. (Consider a distant car accident and how it eventually affects the flow of traffic around you.)

A more immediate example is when another car is merging from an on-ramp: you have to decide whether to change lanes, go faster, slower or maintain speed. The oncoming car has similar options. So do other vehicles close by. What one does effects what the others might do. Or not do.

This is my exit.

So it is with social systems. What one person says or does in a situation can impact what happens to others. Cause and effect. But it’s deeper than that with human beings. That’s because there are a bundle of other factors in play, not the least of which is perception. There’s also how a person was raised, the experiences they went through and what they’re currently going through.

We as a people are approaching a turning point. Much of it is with regard to how we look at and interact with people different from ourselves. It’s about skin color. And gender. It’s about sexual orientation, class, ability and age. And religion.

It’s about a system of shutting down and turning our backs on those who are not like us. It’s about a system of not believing or even considering the possibility that what a group of people say is happening to them is happening. Not even remotely considering it, despite the presence of prejudice, discrimination, protests, bullying, beatings, maiming and killing.

It’s about a system wanting to keep things the way they are, staying within the comfort of our own beliefs – and if it’s at the unfortunate expense of others, so be it. It’s about desperately trying to maintain the current belief system because to consider otherwise is to tilt your world; tilt it in a manner that causes you to rethink a whole lot of things. And yes, this cuts in all directions.

Future generations will look on this important period with great interest. Which side of history will you be on?

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at 4humansbeing@gmail.com.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Learn to Dance in the Moment

A few years ago during a leadership learning experience, I participated in what I presumed would be a psychologically painful and humiliating activity. But surprise: instead I felt refreshed, emotionally as well as physically. In a sense I was reborn because it changed an important outlook I had on life.

The activity to which I refer is quite common in many cultures but for me, I had grown to consider it undignified, immature and quite frankly a primitive social ritual. What is this physical practice I used to find so horrendous but now willingly embrace? Dancing.

A lot of folks are lifelong dancers; my mother immediately comes to mind. So does my wife. Me? I had grown out of it shortly after college. In retrospect what I had done was allow societal pressures, especially professional decorum, adversely influence my perception of what dancing is and what it offers human beings.

I have always understood, at least in the abstract, that dancing is an artful form of expression. That is, if you were good at it. I wasn’t. What I’ve come to understand is that despite your prowess at cutting the carpet (or any creative endeavor for that matter), it also is liberating. And spiritually enriching.

Regular dancers, casual and professional know this. Wallflowers steadfastly believe dancing and other forms of active physical and vocal expression are largely inappropriate, except perhaps at nightclubs, wedding receptions, and maybe after their favorite sports team wins a championship.

Why do so many people, especially men, consider dancing and other creative actions taboo? If it’s about being appropriate, who gets to decide what’s appropriate and when?

Recently it was reported Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor bucked the system at an annual social event consisting of fellow justices and their law clerks. The story goes that during the private party, she instructed her clerks to cue salsa music and one by one beckoned fellow justices – “some of them extremely reluctant” – to dance with her.

According to the report, Justice Anthony Kennedy “did a jitterbug move.” Others were less willing, such as 90-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens who “felt as if he had two left feet” and quickly sat down.

Folks who’ve made my acquaintance eventually come to know I come to understand many of life’s realities through scenes I’ve watched in certain movies. In the 1953 flick, “The Robe,” actor Richard Burton played the troubled Roman military officer Marcellus who is in mental turmoil after participating in the crucifixion of Jesus. In a seminal scene, upon being presented with the robe Jesus wore at the time of his death, Marcellus refuses to touch it. He is irrationally terrified, but as the robe brushes against him, he is relieved from the anguish of his guilt. Later, he drops his sword and picks up Christianity.

Religion respectfully aside (besides, the movie is fiction), I liken the behavior of Marcellus with many of us who fear a thing so much that we become hardened and close-minded. That is, until we “brush up” against that thing. In that moment for so many of us, we find there was nothing to fear but fear itself.

With that in mind, today I take to the dance floor in a New York minute and free of self-consciousness. It’s not to prove a point, and definitely not to show off my moves. Instead it’s because I count dancing as one of my cardio workouts and it’s socially and spiritually liberating.

I also do it to prove a couple other things: one, what I once feared, I can now embrace. Two, if a former stiff moving stick-in-the-mud like me can get out there, so can you.

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at 4humansbeing@gmail.com.