I loved this one commentary in a documentary I watched over the weekend on America’s view on what’s beautiful. When an East African woman was asked whether or not she loved her body, she looked puzzled by the question. “Why wouldn’t I?” she said. “I have hands that can do everything for my family, strong arms to get water and carry food. My legs are so powerful they can wrap around a man and hold him there; I love my body.”. Then the East African woman asked the narrator why she would ask such a question. The narrator replies “Well, I don’t particularly like my stomach since bearing children and my arms are droopy…” to which the East African woman interrupts “It is your body, and it is amazing. Do you see that tree over there (and she points) do you think that tree is beautiful? And this one here, (she points again) is this tree beautiful? They are both different, but do you think the first tree wishes it could look more like the second tree? Women are trees. You are a tree and I am a tree, and we are beautiful.” When asking teenage boys and young men what makes a woman beautiful, they were quick to answer with celebrity names and faces, but when asked why they were beautiful, what was it about them that made them beautiful, and they weren’t able to answer. In recent years, I have come to learn how to drop my inner critic, and although I still strive to improve, it is much nicer when it comes from a place of love and tolerance rather than the result of criticism and fault-finding missions. So how do we celebrate our uniqueness when we are constantly barraged with images of waif thin women and muscular men? It may seem overwhelming to try to change an industry, but we can start by supporting the companies who fall into line with our own values. Most importantly, we have the power to change ourselves from within, and how we view each other… and once we can do that, we will see a world that is so full of true beauty.
I am at one of my local eateries by the ocean two mornings ago, and I catch an elderly man gingerly lowering himself into one of the beach chairs on the sand. Before I could complete my thought, silently happy for him that he made it into that chair without breaking something, his daughter (I think) yells at him to turn his head back so she could get a good picture for her Facebook page and then they really need to go. I realize watching the old man straining to get back out of this low laying chair that I am staring now, so I avert my gaze to others enjoying the beach and spectacular scenery.
I look around to see girls posing for an iPhone in a “candid” shot as they pretend to be in a water fight, and immediately hop back onto the beach to continue the shoot. A mother telling her son to “do that again” this time she has her camera in hand to catch the moment that happened once already ten seconds prior. I think to myself, it’s a beach; of course there will be a lot of camera happy visitors and resume to my breakfast. I live in a “touristy” area now, and rationalize to myself that this is all a part of the package. But this thought lingers with me. I think back to my own childhood, and vacations we used to take to the beach. I remember sometimes posing for one or two family snaps and my mother would maybe take a couple more as we played. We would build gigantic turtles in the sand, taking six hours or more to complete (looking back, I think it was a clever way to keep us busy so my mother could relax and suntan), and when we were done, it never even crossed our minds to ask mom to get a photo of it. We all hopped back into the family car sacrificing our turtle back to the ocean, and it didn’t really phase us. I would like to think I was a pretty observant kid. As I search the far corners of my memories, I don’t remember seeing so many “photo shoots” happening on vacations as I saw that morning on the beach. I never posed much for pictures, unless we were at Sears for our portraits. I remember those because I was not the type of child who could stay still for that period of time, the artificial carpet seats smelt like chemicals, and I couldn’t wait for them to be over with.
Since Facebook came on the scene, taking pictures has risen to a whole new level. Photos used to be mementos, a way to remember the times in our lives. We would frame them, scrapbook them, or keep them in boxes ready and waiting for our next trip down memory lane. I can’t help but feel as I watched the fragile man in the beach chair struggle to appease his daughter that pictures are taking on a life of their own. It’s as if the picture is more important than enjoying the moment that the picture represents. Seconds after a photo is snapped we can upload it to Facebook to show all of our friends what we were lucky enough to experience five seconds ago. Don’t get me wrong, I also love uploading interesting things I see to social media sites to share with my friends and family. Living so far away from them I find it is a great way to stay connected and close. I am guilty of having 46 virtual photo albums, and significant Facebook worthy life events are always on the horizon.
Why does the old man stay in my thoughts? As I watched him struggle to get in and out of the chair, I realized that the real experience for him was to be in it. To feel the sun on his face and listen to the waves and the gulls that flew overhead. To inhale and exhale the saltwater air, and just be. Who knows if he would ever be able to come back here again? Although there is a picture to document him on the beach, it wasn’t really an accurate reflection of the moment.
Pictures are supposed to be reflections of our experiences. They are nothing more than a way to look back and smile at the times we have had. The key though, is to make sure the experiences we document are ones we took the time to enjoy, or the photos one day might be worth less to us than the paper they are printed on.
When was that last time something moved you? How long has it been since life stopped you dead in your tracks, jolted your mind into the present, silencing the past and the future to focus on right now?
If you had to think about it, it’s been too long, because this is a truly amazing time to be alive.
As you read this the next Great American Novel is waiting be discovered, and poets around the world are capturing the essence of feeling in a way you never knew it could be written. A self-indulgent painted self-portrait graces the wall of your local museum begging you to ponder another human being’s significance, while a painting down the hall expresses the color red in a way that makes your heart want to burst out of your chest. A cinema can pull you into the screen and convince you the world is ending, aliens walk among us, and immerse us in true life stories stranger than fiction, deepening our compassion for one and another.
A cell phone can scroll its page up or down based on your eye movements alone. A car can tell you when you are falling asleep. We live in a world where the internet can instantaneously settle a debate between friends, and warn entire communities of an impending flood before it’s too late. Tonight you could make an authentic exotic meal in your kitchen, expanding your palette in ways your grandmother had never heard of. You can introduce your children to her through a computer screen from thousands of miles away, so her love and her beautiful spirit can fill up the room, and the hearts contained within it.
The planet is becoming smaller, and we continue to explore every square inch of its mystery and wonder. There are waterfalls as tall as skyscrapers and exotic flowers that have yet to be named. A sunset can inspire your entire body to inhale and exhale, and flood your being in peace. There are forests so quiet a calm mind can hear the trees breathe, and our lungs open to the sound. We see happy people who have nothing and yet are beyond rich in joy and love, and they inspire us to love again, too. Mother Nature can devastate us, reminding us that nothing is permanent, how much we need each other and that everyone is beautiful.
You can call your mother, because someday you will not be able to and the stories she carries are the stories you are meant to revel your children with. You can let the nostalgia grow with every page you turn from those old photo albums you keep tucked away, and maybe even see something new in the faded moments they fossilized. You can listen to your children, they way they laugh and love unconditionally, and be grateful to catch those moments of amazement in how effortlessly they see the world without our filters. Remember how a ladybug could command every bit of your attention, and how you connected? And when that ladybug flew, flew, flew away home, you felt a piece of your being leave with it, watching until the spec in the sky was no more. The ladybug is truly free, and so are you.
When was the last time you felt completely alive? There is beauty in everything, and it is never too late to wake up.
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me to know how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals, or if you have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine, or your own. I want to know if you can dance with the wilderness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, realistic, or to remember the limitations of the human being.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself and if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not a pretty day, and if you can sort your live from God’s presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine and still stand on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you are, or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moment.
When I stand in the ocean, I feel like a tiny speck in this vast planet. A body of water so large it is impossible for me to comprehend the distance to the other side.
I am so small. And so are my problems.
My feet sink into the sand under the shoreline, covering my toenails, and then my toes entirely. If I stand there long enough will it sweep me away? Maybe, but I cannot stand still that long. The water comes up to my ankles and I lean back to stabilize myself. As I pull my foot out of the surf, I study the indent in the sand. The ripple my feet have left has already begun to wash away.
My mark is already starting to disappear, not long after I’d left it.
I begin to think of the Buddhists who make elaborate paintings of colored sand, that take hundreds of hours to create, only to blow it into the wind when done, as if it never existed at all. This is a lesson in impermanence, a reminder that nothing lasts forever.
My footprints have almost disappeared now.
There have been thousands of shipwrecks just over the horizon according to local legend here. I think about the treasures that roll up to shore, and the lost souls attached to its story. The ocean keeps its secrets from me for another day, and I take notice of its smaller gifts.
The seashell I spotted is almost entirely intact.
There is a small crack in the softened marble like surface, but the spiral remains obvious. This was a creature’s entire world once, now it exists purely for my observation. I begin to think about how my entire world is like this seashell to another body and I can feel my possessions become irrelevant.
I breathe into the lessons the ocean has created in this moment.
As soon as this moment is created it fades, and my thoughts float back out with the tide, and my mind is completely silent. My footprint has completely washed away now. All that is left is the sound of the water rolling over itself, and the evening breeze has set in. I feel briefly as if I have had an out-of-body experience, and I pick up my sandals to make my way home.
We are all seashells on a beach, experiencing the sun before we are pulled back in again. Enjoy it, don’t over analyze it, just experience the warmth and love in this brief moment we’ve been given.
I noticed while riding along the ocean the most peculiar thing. Looking up into the sky from where the sand meets the surf there were these flocks of birds gliding effortlessly in place. Like still-life black silhouettes on a softly painted background, these birds were just hanging in mid air, wings spanned and level. A perfect example of going with the flow I thought, yet these birds are not going anywhere at all. I wondered if they too were soaking up the sun on their feathers as I was on my face, if they were appreciating the same warmth. These birds were floating in the breeze, without purpose or destination; in fact they had absolutely no agenda at all. I began to think, although these birds are not a slave to daily itineraries, or smart phones like the rest of us; I have always believed that all creatures have a purpose at every given moment. All birds are either finding food, or building nests, or flying south like the Canadian geese do at the end of the fall season. Now that I live in Florida, why is it I have curiously not had a conversation about these geese flying north in the spring? I know when I lived in Canada, I have always taken notice of them.
The universe in its infinite wisdom always works with a purpose, and here are these graceful, charcoal black birds which seemingly have none. In a sort of moving meditation, these birds are completely present, still, and without any noticeable end game. As I felt my own breath soften and align to the intelligence surrounding me, my mind began to quieten, and I joined in my environment’s silent harmony. As I smoothly glided along the winding ocean road, I too did so with ease, and there was a moment where everything synced, briefly and unexpectedly.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Sometimes, we get so busy with our lives that soon we stop taking notice. I too, am guilty of it. I seem to be always flying around the country for work, planning the next deal. Even birds intrinsically know the importance to be still. Every time my life gets hectic, I will remember this moment I had, a brief moment between moments, where I could be still, and I will remember to just
Those puffy eyes could reveal more about you than you think .
How many times – for no logical reason – have you taken an instant dislike to someone you’ve just met? And, when pressed as to why the only answer you’ve been able to come up with is there’s something about them? Equally, when you bump into someone, how often do you find yourself exclaiming “you’re looking well!” without really knowing why?
According to author Jon Sandifer these spontaneous reactions indicate that intuitively we’re reading someone’s face – something the Chinese have been doing for 2,000 years as a way of diagnosing illness. “When we meet someone for the first time a diagnosis is going on almost immediately”, says Jon, who has more than 20 years experience of Eastern healing. “If you’ve never met that person before it’s in those first 10 minutes that you see the most. You see very clearly how that person appears energetically.”
Face reading was once an integral part of Chinese practitioner’s analysis. A bare foot doctor (the ancient Chinese hybrid of a health visitor and midwife) would divide their study into two distinct strands. Firstly, they would look at those things that never change, such as bone structure and shape of face, which reveal an enormous amount about the individual’s character and personality (constitution). Secondly, they would observe those tell-tale signs such as lines, puffiness and bruising – which unlike a person’s constitution will fluctuate – to determine their health (condition). From an oriental perspective, any symptom an individual displays is simply a microcosm of their whole condition. “You can look at any part of a person and, in theory, that should reflect the whole”, Jon says. “It’s like cutting through the stem of a plant. If you were a good gardener you could cut through the stem and say, “This plant needs more water”. Where Western medicine is designed to treat the symptoms of disease, Chinese medicine has always been more concerned to treat the symptoms of disease; Chinese medicine has always been more concerned with underlying causes.
It believes that the five areas of the face correlate to the five major internal organs of the body – the heart, the spleen/pancreas, the lungs, the kidneys and the liver. So the cheeks reflect the state of the lungs. The kidneys correspond to the area just below the eyes. An imbalance in the liver will be noticeable in the space between the eyebrows. The nose, with its central location in the face is a reflection of the heart. Finally, the condition of the pancreas will show up upon the bridge of the nose. Oriental medicine believes these five main players can be compared to the instruments within an orchestra. It takes only one to be flat and the whole orchestra will be affected. Discover which one is out of tune and it’s possible to steer your body towards grater balance and, ultimately better health.
Fundamental to all Chinese philosophy is the theory of yin and yang. When a practitioner observes someone’s condition they are also detecting whether it displays more yin or yang characteristics. In the West the word yang has come to be seen as synonymous with male qualities and yin with female. But Jon believes it’s inappropriate to limit the properties of either category to male and female. “We’re all more yin one day and yang the next”, he explains. “If a woman was feeling tired and spaced out (yin), but I threw her into the Thames river suddenly she would feel very alert and thoroughly fed up (yang). If a man was feeling wired and impatient (yang) but he settled down with a nice glass of red wine after a bath then he would yin out”.
In case you’re wondering how a practitioner can pick up on your yin or yang energy, your complexion offers some clues. Apparently, pale and sunken cheeks scream out yin. More puffy with broken red capillaries denotes yang. As does dry, prunish skin. Practitioners believe that, given the results of yin/yang observations it’s possible to ascertain which organ may be malfunctioning and how best to remedy it. Does our in-built constitution affect our daily condition? To a point. A person born with large fleshy ears will theoretically be blessed with strong kidneys. Just as the individual with deep-set eyes possesses a highly effective nervous system. However, as Jon says we shouldn’t take our constitution for granted. “We all have natural strengths or weaknesses but you condition can be shifted. Our health is born out of the quality and function of our internal organs. But good health also includes the emotions we experience, the stresses we endure and the relationships we are involved in”. In other words, even if you have been born with a great set of lungs and liver, if you hammer your body with alcohol and cigarettes, stick around in a lousy job or abusive relationship, even the best constitution in the world can’t prevent your lifestyle wreaking havoc on our health.
Or, ultimately, it showing on your face.