Monday, April 7, 2014

I've fallen...

I wasn't supposed to fall in love.

But somehow I did. It caught me off guard. I didn't just fall in love, I let it envelop and embrace me. I not only fell in love, I felt in love. 

With a city...
A city that continues to hold so many spaces for me to discover, to be safe, and to heal. 
A city whose light has taught my eyes to see things from the perspective of love, of understanding, and of compassion.
A city whose beauty has shown me to see the sparkle, the depth, and the meaning in moments, not in things.
A city whose vastness showed me my own beauty, creativity, and potential.
A city whose places welcomed my crazy, my hurt, my tears, and my stifled feelings.
A city whose people gave me an opportunity to fall gently into the places in which I've always belonged.

I fell in love because I wasn't supposed to fall in love. I had fallen in love with the lies that told me I didn't deserve to feel. I like kicking these lies' assess. I'm a rebel like that, I guess. Those lies told me I was incapable of finding joy, purpose, and beauty in life. I guess I'm glad I don't follow the "supposed to's" and the "supposed not-to's," because I discovered a secret treasure. I discovered my own heart, and my heart holds way too much love to ever be told that it cannot love or be loved.

Unfortunately, my love is not monogamous. I haven't just fallen in love with a city, I've fallen in love with beauty, with love itself, and in all the small, meaningless silly details of life. I've fallen so deep that I'm swimming in it. It surrounds me, and the city is just the beautiful space in which I can explore the possibilities for now. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inspiration knockout

Rarely a day passes in which I am not creative. Creativity is a part of my livelihood. What I didn't realize, or perhaps just didn't connect was just how profound this actually can be...

I've always admired the antique lace and crocheted tatting that mother saved from my great-grandmother. I have used this in several of my artistic creations in the past few years. Other than thinking it was beautiful, and a cool vintage tribute to my great-grandmother, I never thought much about it other than of its uniqueness. It set my clothing designs apart, but that was about it.

Tonight I held a few pieces of this lace, one from the cuff of a sleeve, one trim from a petticoat, and about 6 inches of trim off of a corset cover. I stitched the ends together, gathered them in the center and made three beautiful, antique flowers to accent my sister's wedding garter. I held the large rosette in my hand and looked at it in the palm of my hand, still connected to my needle and thread. Suddenly, I envisioned what these pieces might have looked like over 100 years ago when they were first made. Then I realized that my 29-year-old hands, busy with creative energy, were touching the same pieces of lace that were held in the hands of my great-grandmother, Frieda. She died when I was 4, and my memories of her are mostly comprised of stories and sparse snapshot-like memories. But then I realized it was deeper than that. I felt connected to generations of creativity. Suddenly, my usually steady hands started to tremble a little bit, and I felt the tears well behind my eyes and fall down my cheek.

I saw that I wasn't just holding lace, or flowers, but I was actually holding the hand of my great-grandmother through our shared creativity. All of a sudden, art transcended time, and I sat awhile with my great-grandma. I've never considered how deeply rooted my creativity is in my spirit until tonight. I knew my parents were creative, and that I must have learned it from them. Tonight I understand it much deeper. When I stared at the yellowed, time-worn lace in the palm of my hand, I saw the hands of a woman whose heart I share. Creativity is in our hearts and is shown in the work of our hands. Thus, through the things I create with my hands, people can see into my heart...and into the hearts of those who came a long time before me. It's more than a tradition, family value, or even genetics. It's a connection, a connection that only hearts understand. Thanks for hanging out with me tonight Frieda. Come back again soon. Love, Mandi

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is your revolution?

You. Yes, you. You are a little revolution, just waiting to happen. So, be here--in your own body, ready to make it happen! It is absolutely OK to be happy with your own body! It's actually even ok to love it!

Just those few words are enough to incite panic and fear for some of us. I get it. I have been there. Being in this body, and loving it were two of the very LAST things to cross my mind! In the next week, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) will dedicate an entire week to raising awareness nationwide about the prevalence, symptoms, treatment, and statistics surrounding eating disorders. However, my idea of awareness starts much earlier. What if we all believed that we truly deserved to love and respect the body in which we reside, just EXACTLY as it is? No changes needed. I don't have to change who I AM! The potential is there, just waiting to be awakened. I don't need to have a certain body type/shape/weight in order to deserve the space I occupy! Neither do you. Neither does anyone.

So what is your revolution? Mine is self-love. Radial, unapologetic self-love. I'm not talking about an arrogant or conceited love. It's a love that says, "I refuse to hate any part of my body, even the imperfect parts." Imperfections are unique fingerprints of our creative potential. Imperfections are what make me unlike any other person that walks the face of this earth. I can't help but believe that embracing, redefining and loving our imperfections can heal the negative thoughts that feed the eating disorder monsters. I actually strive to be perfectly imperfect with confidence and style. In doing this, I hope that others can see how empowering and freeing it is to live and dance through life like this! When I gave myself the permission to screw up, admit that I was wrong, laugh at my clumsiness, and forgive my shortcomings, I stopped trudging through life looking down at the ground! I decided to dance!

My body isn't perfect. It's not what society considers a "dancer's body." I don't care. EveryBODY is perfect, and everyBODY deserves to dance. This has been one of the most valuable, life-changing lessons I have been given through the practice of Nia. No, I'm not "skinny." Yes. I dance. I can even teach! I dance feverishly and crazily with my whole, imperfectly perfect body toward a revolution of changing what it means to love our bodies.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Where to focus?

I don't particularly enjoy the concept of having an entire week devoted to Eating Disorder Awareness (this is next week, by the way). Don't get me wrong, I think that there is far too little attention given to these deadly disorders and the lifestyles that foster their development. However, raising awareness just draws attention to actually diagnose-able cases/incidences of these insidious disorders. What about the countless numbers of little girls (and boys too) who criticize every flaw and blemish they see in the mirror? What about the constant focus that most of us have upon the way we look? Body judgments, body shaming (fat or skinny), body sneering, and just plain disregard for our bodies is literally EVERYWHERE! How is awareness of the diagnosed cases going to keep this from stealing more lives? It's not enough to just notice the symptoms and get treatment. It's not enough, by far.

Like most things, I have found that I prefer to focus on what is wonderful or beautiful about something first, before or rather than focusing upon what is ugly, not good enough, or wrong  with it. I think the same goes for bodies, weight, size, shape, and appearances. What would happen if little girls were taught to love their cute little bodies from their foreheads to their feet, and everything in-between? What if we let kids teach US how to exercise? What if we stopped waging war with the mirrors and scales by learning to love and accept what they show us? What if I laughed at myself in the mirror every morning instead of sighing in disbelief as I pinch or poke the parts of me that disgust me? What if little ears NEVER heard us say, "I hate my body!" or "she/he/I/you/this is so ugly!"? What if the word "fat" just became another adjective? The world would be a much different place if I took the feelings out of the word "fat." (Think about that one for a moment--take the feelings away from the word "fat")

How on earth can we make changes to anything by HATING it? I can't change my body by hating it into compliance! If my primary reason for exercising is because I hate my body because I'm not exercising, it is a pretty sure sign that before long, I will hate the exercising too. Trust me, I did. I HATED going to the gym. I hated running, and I hated counting laps or miles run on the treadmill. I was told that I would love the body it gave me, but that was a lie. I hated that too. Physically, I may have weighed much less back then, but I can tell you that if you could have put my self-hatred on a scale, it would have weighed FAR more than the 50 pounds I had lost. That hatred was worse for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health than the weight that I have gained since then ever will be. It is so much easier for me to WANT to take care of a body that I love than it was to stop abusing a body that I hated.

What do we have to lose by believing that we're wonderful and beautiful and deserving of love and affection?  The despair and darkness of self-hatred? Maybe. I, for one, am willing to try. And with that, I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

The same goes for bodies. Join the revolution of body love. A revolution that starts right now, in your own body.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I am strong...

Believing that you are strong and courageous is probably the bravest task with which you will ever be entrusted.

Strength. Courage. They are always there... deep inside, untouchable by anyone except its keeper--you. It was given to you the day you were born, by a creator who knew exactly how to design a vessel beautiful and unique for this amazing spirit. Trust that you are the keeper of an amazing gift. Be brave and live the life you, and only you were meant to live.

Be brave enough to share your wisdom, for you are the only one who can share your wisdom with this world. Only you know what life is like to be lived as you. Love yourself enough to share and teach others about you, and in return, open your heart to learn about life from them.
I neither have your wisdom, nor can I ever take it from you. We can only share, and thus add to the richness and fullness of our knowledge and understanding. From knowledge, our eyes are open to see unique beauty. No one, not me, or anyone else on this earth can ever take, or even replicate your unique beauty. That is something you and only you will ever have! I can admire and admonish your beautiful and unique traits as I learn to recognize and admonish my own. I have to see my own in order to acknowledge those in others. So, no more hiding our beauty! Let's together, be brave enough to express our beauty in the world!

Be brave and live life with the creative expression of who YOU are.
Be brave enough to love as only you can love, and then nurture the strength it takes to be loved in return.

Live in the bravery of vulnerability, and connect to the wisdom of others. In connecting the threads of our wisdom and our beauty with others we weave rich tapestries of community, faith, and compassion.
From those tapestries of collective wisdom, strength, love, and beauty we can enliven and enrich this world we share.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Take me to where the shadows dance

I used to think that being able to dance had something do with the way I looked. I used to think that being able to sing had something to do with my voice, and I used to think that I wasn't the one who got to chose the course of my life. I was wrong on all of those accounts. My physical capabilities are not determined by anyone except me. I had dreams that my freedom was so limited by what I simply could not do that I forgot to notice what I could do. I forgot to notice that I wasn't limited or restricted by the shadows.

Have you ever wondered why the shadows frighten us so much? I had a thought yesterday as I danced in the warmth of the sunlight that shone through the windows of the senior center where I teach Nia. I watched my shadow dancing with me as I felt the warmth of the sun shine on my back. Underneath my bare feet, I felt this small area of tile floor warmed by the sunshine. I appreciated its contrast to the icy tile floor surrounding it. I admired the shadow's beauty as it danced, it looked peaceful, graceful, happy, and lively. I watched the shadows of my students dancing in and out of the light-path. I saw no age, no skin color, no wrinkles, and no imperfections. I just saw shadows dancing unbounded and free. I stayed in this one spot as the music slowed. Suddenly, a thought came to my mind about shadows. Why would I be afraid of my own shadow, why would I be afraid of me? Throughout my life, I have understood shadows as reminding us of our past, our darker side, the side of ourselves that we don't want anyone to see. The shadows hold us back. Or do they? Why? Where did that come from? I looked at my shadow again as my students left. I moved my arms expressively and stared at this Mandi-shaped form created by an absence of light. I noticed that my shadow was a little bit larger than me.
The shadow reminds me of how big I can chose to make my life...let's dance!

Could it be that the shadows remind me of how big life could be? Full of larger than imagined capabilities! Does it remind me by its simple, non-detailed representation of myself, that there are boundless possibilities of expression? It's just an outline. The details are left to me. I have freedom! Freedom. Freedom has been terrifying at times for me. What would I do if I truly knew that the possibilities really are endless? What if I danced unlimited, and unrestricted by my shadows? What if I let them show me those big possibilities? What if I changed the unknown into an excitement for the freedom that I can choose my life's details?

I think I'd say, "Let's go. Take me to where the shadows dance."

Friday, December 27, 2013

What will you gain?

I haven't watched TV in over 20 months. I would occasionally watch half an episode here and there of something-or-other if I stayed in a hotel, or with a friend. However, I can count those instances on one hand. Apparently, I've missed out on a lot.

Or have I?

For the first time in a very long time, I didn't have anything that needed to be done this afternoon, so I plugged in the TV and flipped through what I could find. I've been away from TV so long that all I wanted to watch was a good rerun! Then I started feeling awful.

I remembered why I chose to turn the television off in the first place.

The commercial tried to make me think it was loving. They tried to get me to think they really cared about ME, who I am INSIDE and about my well-being and joy. I should have known it wasn't true; I've known for a long time that the media lies, but it required me to abstain from it for almost a year. But today I saw a commercial that gave me some only lasted for 25 seconds. In the last 5 seconds, one single commercial reminded me of why I will refuse to give up discovering absolute beauty in EVERY body regardless of size, shape, weight, or appearance. Special K started out trying to convince me that there was more to women than size. Their recent #FightFatTalk campaign asserts that "we've been defined by numbers since the day we were born," and that it's time to stop that. Yet the commercial ended by asking women to write to them and "tell us, 'what will you gain when you lose'?"

In my opinion, their campaign to "end fat-talk" fell apart right there. They just started talking about it with different words. How about a campaign to end body bashing, body snarking, and body hatred? In my experience, the only things that I gained by "losing" were directly opposite to what this commercial seems to be assuming! If I'm honest, losing weight caused me more suffering than the entire painful process of regaining it and learning to accept it ever has. If I had greater self-esteem at a lower weight, it lasted only a brief moment until the intense comparisons to EVERY other woman I saw set in. Then I was miserable and overwhelmed by constantly comparing myself to the appearance of others. And joy? What the hell? There was absolutely no joy in constantly worrying about what the scale said every day! A piece of plastic and a few springs held my joy captive! Let's talk about real joy. Let's talk about REALLY learning how to love ourselves for every curve, bump, scar, and beautiful inch of self there is! Those are the gains I want! And if those come about by having to "lose" something, can it be from losing hatred, fear, and anger instead of weight?

It's true. We have been defined by a number since the day we were born. However, I think we have forgotten that despite these numbers, there are SO many other things that have defined us since the day we were born. Was it your weight or length that defined you in those first few moments when you arrived here on earth to your mother or father? Not at all. They waited in an anticipation that seemed to last forever not to hear how big or small you were, but rather to hear you take those first breaths of air outside the womb. They waited to embrace your little body and hold you close to their hearts to tell you through their tears and words how much they loved you. And you? You just longed to be held close and warm, and to be loved, and this does not change. Our whole lives long, we just long to be held in love, close and tightly to hearts that accept us for each and every breath we share. The greatest gift of all is knowing that we have the power to give this love to ourselves. When we do, we can freely share it with others who we know long for the same. And this my friend, has nothing to do with numbers defining us. If I'm defined by a number, please let that number be the number of hugs...and I hope it's too many to count.