re-picturing BODY DELIGHTS

It was my honor and pleasure to be asked by Rebecca Murphy, my dear friend, photographer, writer, coach, complete lover of life, and author of the Relish Life blog, to contribute to her Relish11 project. She has posted a series of prompts this month to help people reflect on this past year (check it out)! There’s something amazing about savoring the past year that contributes to a grateful and hopeful heart. Today, the guest prompt that I contributed focuses on the delighting and savoring the senses in order to feel more alive in our bodies.

As I considered the times that I have felt most “in” my body, experiences including running, basking in the sun, savoring the different flavors of a new recipe, or just focusing on breathing in and out, came to mind. When have you felt most alive, connected, or exuberant in your body?

If something doesn’t easily come to mind, guess what? It’s not too late. Go out and do something this week, today, now that places you squarely in your body. This does not have to be complicated (who needs more to do this time of year). As you’re sitting at your computer, simply focus on inhaling and exhaling, rather than just walking by the Christmas tree, let your eyes delight in the twinkling lights, or when you hug your partner or your kids, fully embrace them with body and mind. By truly embracing our bodily experiences, we can connect with our authentic, whole, imperfectly beautiful selves.

re-picturing EMBODYING CHRISTMAS

 

When was the last time you were “in” your body this holiday season? Do you remember a time when you somehow crept outside the worries, nagging thoughts, or rushing to-do lists that bogged down your mind and leaned into the tastes, sights, smells, touches, or sounds of the present moment?

This year, I’m trying something that is a bit radical for me. I’m trying to capture the magic of the season by being present in my body.

Whenever the holidays roll around, I always have the same wish. This year I’m going to really savor the holiday season. Unfortunately, for me, savoring often involves adding a million things to my ever-growing to-do list.

This year, I’m going to send the Christmas letter to family and friends.

This year I’m going to make a ritual out of wrapping gifts.

This year I’m going to watch all of my favorite animated specials.

This year I’m going to throw a fabulous holiday party.

And, guess what? At the end of each season, I feel bummed, frustrated, angered, and saddened that another year has passed me by and the magic, inspiration, gratitude, joy, peace, and connection of the season didn’t manifest in the way I had imagined.

And, the truth is, the last thing I need to do during this crazy, hectic time of year is add even one more thing to my to-do list.

So, I’m trying something different. Rather than trying to do more, I’m trying (key word here is trying) to be more. And the body is a fabulous place to start. The holidays are a perfect time to savor the senses. Do you remember the last time that you actually felt the cold on your skin on a crisp December day (rather than rushing to get out of the cold). Do you remember the last time you enjoyed the first taste of a Christmas cookie as the sugar hit your tongue (rather than inhaling an entire pan of reindeer cut-outs and then wondering why you always gain a few pounds over the holidays)? Do you remember the last time you actually let your eyes flit from light to light on Christmas tree?

The lovely thing about our bodies is that we have this magical opportunity to go from doing to being at any time. Seriously. Try it. Take 5 seconds. Do a senses test. What do you taste, see, smell, feel, and hear right now? These are the mini-moments that make up the present. And the moment is one of the best presents we can gift ourselves.

 

re-picturing STRETCHING

Do you stretch yourself? I mean stretch in all senses of the word – physically and psychologically.

I typically do not stretch.

For example…

The words exchanged between my physical therapist and me on my first visit.

Me: So, I’m having these knee problems and it just seems to be getting worse the more I run.

Her: Do you do Yoga or Pilates or anything to stretch your muscles or strengthen your core?

Me: Are you f*cking kidding me? I don’t have time to stretch because I’m too busy running!

I hold a somewhat superstitious belief that if I stop running to stretch that I won’t be able to start running again.  Furthermore, if I stretch at the beginning of a run before I am completely warmed up, I might actually injure myself by pulling a muscle. Sometimes I stretch when I’m all done. Sometimes. Maybe this sheds some light into how some of my running issues developed.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that at the same time I’ve been running into these running issues, I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s creative lessons and journey in her book, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life.

She also talks about stretching in our creative lives, specifically, the importance of knowing yourself and then finding ways to stretch.

The better you know yourself, the more you will know when you are playing to your strengths and when you are sticking your neck out. Venturing out of your comfort zone may be dangerous, yet you do it anyway because our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable….another thing about knowing who you are is that you know what you should not be doing, which can save you a lot of heartaches and false starts if you catch it early on.                                                                                       Tharp (2006, p. 27)

And, in my very limited experience with stretching, it actually seems to work.

I’ve been stretching and cross-training instead of running. And, guess what? My knee feels better. Because I’m maintaining my cardiovascular stamina, my physical therapist thinks I might actually be able to run the Honolulu marathon on December 11 (fingers crossed).

With my photography, I was trying to do it all – portraits, landscapes, black and whites, even though I’m naturally drawn to colorful macros. There’s something to be said about being well-rounded, but there’s also something to be said about knowing your strengths, your voice, the way you see the world, and then stretching a bit beyond your comfort zone rather than trying something entirely new.

Stretching even impacts my scholarly research. Guess what? I see the world through a gendered, embodied, social psychological lens. However, when I started my job, I dove into all sorts of new research areas. Many of them are dead in the water (lab). The only areas that are still really active are those that are related to how I naturally see the world, what I’m naturally passionate about, but have pushed into interesting new directions.

I’m starting to see that stretching isn’t so bad after all.

What are your strengths? Can you stretch them in creative new directions? Do you need to call it quits on a false start?

 

re-picturing PAIRS

Lately, the shadows have seemed awfully big. It has been hard to turn toward the light and fight the darkness. Marathon training has been tough. I’m not sure if the Honolulu Marathon is going to happen for me. The tenure treadmill has been tough. I’m not sure if I’m going to do enough in this short period of time. Even taking pictures has been tough. I feel uninspired. However, I have felt incredibly grateful to have the right people come into my life at the right time. The right collaborators, the right running partners, the right partners in creative crime (you know who you are). When we are in pairs, the shadows don’t seem so big afterall.

What shadows have you been fighting? Who can you pair up with?

re-picturing HIGH EXPECTATIONS

I have high expectations (like really high expectations) for myself and others. I take pride in these high expectations and I suspect that you might too.

I’m what psychologists call a maximizer. A maximizer is like a perfectionist, someone who needs to be assured that they are making the best decision or reaching the best outcome possible at all times.

However, sometimes high expectations make us miserable.

Case in point. I’m training for a marathon. I went from not running, like not jogging, not running down the block, not really exercising at all (besides the running to the fridge for a yummy treat)… to trying to run 26.2 miles. Last weekend, I was supposed to run 18 miles, but at 15.5. miles my knee pain (recurring injury) became unbearable and I had to walk the last 2.5 miles. The entire time, I was thinking about the 2.5 miles I wasn’t running, instead of the 15.5 miles I had already run. What the heck? What’s going on here? By all standards, I had a run a long distance, like a very long distance. And, it made me frustrated, disappointed, angry, bitter, and generally ungrateful.

This week, I’m trying to feel a bit more grateful. I’m trying to focus on the positive instead of the negative. The negatives and positives both represent truths. Just tonight, I ran 8 miles and my knee is aching, but I just ran 8 miles.

Have you been focusing on the miles not run, rather than the miles run?

re-picturing ART

Thank you friends, family, fellow photographers, creative sisters, and readers for all of your support as I prepared for my second photography show with the talented Meghan Davidson last week! I am grateful to report that we had a wonderful turnout, the work was well-received, and we even sold some notecards, prints, and framed and matted work (thank you to all of you who supported our work and the Playhouse!). I’m still processing the entire night — it truly was amazing to see all of the photos enlarged, matted, and framed under the spotlight. I was reminded, however, that I am just playing a part in a larger creative process that is continuing to unfold all around us (even if we fail to notice it most of the time). By sharing our own voices and experiences through our art (whether that be a blog, music, visual arts, books, research, or just living a more wholehearted life), we help others to recognize their own unique voice and a deeper voice that we all share. And, your fears, your struggles, and your “not enoughs,” as well as, your triumphs, your joys, and your “I am enoughs” are beautiful. You are beautiful. I am beautiful. We are beautiful.

re-picturing SECRETS

Dear readers, I have not been completing open with you. I’ve been holding something back. A lovely, little secret. It’s not the type of secret that will spread like gossip from old men over coffee and donuts or that will cause an internet frenzy as people share the latest and greatest over Facebook and twitter. It’s just a plain, little, lovely secret that I’ve been keeping for months, but have a sudden urge to share.

I’m training for the Honolulu Marathon on December 11th (26.2 in Honolulu). This will not be surprising for those of you who have read my running ramblings (secrets have a way of finding the light, despite our greatest efforts to keep them in the dark) or for those of you who have trained with me or cheered me on during my brief long-distance running stint from 2004-2008. However, for some reason, I’ve desired to keep my training and return to long distance running under wraps since I started in August. And, it has gotten me to thinking about why we keep secrets.

Often, it is not our embarrassments, our failures, our  “why did I say that’s,”but its our deepest yearnings, our dreams, our “wouldn’t it be amazing if I could actually do that’s” that we keep secret. Although we might say that we are being realistic or modest, in actuality (if we are honest with ourselves), our lovely little secrets are often kept out of fear.

Fear that I might not make it to the finish line. Fear that I may be seen as a fool for even trying. Fear that I might encounter a challenge that I can’t overcome. Fear that others will think I’m too grandiose, too conceited, too selfish, too whatever for even dreaming my dream, much less putting in the hard work and time to go for it.

Voicing our secrets aloud makes them real, especially when we voice them to others. What if I get injured? What if I simply can’t cut it and I have to take my running shoes home at mile 20, alone and defeated. What if I try to fly off the edge, but instead I fall (fail)? These are the secrets that make us feel most vulnerable. But, by sharing them with others, we give others the courage to voice their own secrets, their own vulnerabilities. Besides, if we do fail, our friends, our supporters, and our believers are going to be the ones to break our fall, to carry us over the finish line, or to give us the strength to get up and take the next step, even if it means starting all over again.

What secret are you keeping? What is the cost of keeping it closed to others? Could you imagine being open to and sharing it?

re-picturing THE LIES OF BURNOUT

Calling to all of my creative sisters and brothers out there! Do you feel like your joy, your passion, your ability to savor the moment has taken a hiatus?

Perhaps that initial spark you felt toward a seemingly delightful project set your soul on fire, but eventually burned you in the process?

These are often symptoms of burnout. Burnout comes from doing too much, with too little time, for too long. And it often afflicts my favorite kind of people – those of us who love our lives, who feel grateful for what we have, who pursue our passions, who open our hearts to others, who dream big dreams (and then do the hard work to make them happen).

I have chronic burnout. It comes from years of stress and imbalance and while often burnout can be cured with a vacation or a change of pace or perspective, chronic burnout chars the soul. The daily grind often makes me tired, cynical, aggressive, unmotivated, overwhelmed, apathetic, narrow-minded, impatient, high on “obligations” and low on “passions.” Unfortunately, this type of burnout also likes to kick you while you’re down. It fans the flames and keeps you burned out, despite your best efforts. Through the journey of finding more balance in my life through photography, running, savoring the moment, and connecting with kindred spirits, I have begun to identify some of the lies that burnout likes to tell us. It whispers untruths to rekindle the flames, just as we decide to slow down, rest, take a broader perspective, in order to cool our crispy souls. Fortunately, discovering the lies of burnout can be one step closer toward exploring the truths as well.

 The Lies of Burnout

If we don’t work hard enough or don’t do things perfect enough, then we are not enough.

You are enough.

We are the only ones that feel this way. Everyone else can handle whatever life throws at them.

You are not alone.

We don’t have enough time to rest and rejuvenate. If we take a detour, we won’t reach our destination.

You will get there.

We will always be burned out because regardless of what we do, we will resort to our old ways.

You are on a spiral path.

Even if we wanted to do less, we can’t say “no.”

Your needs matter.

If we don’t do it, no one else will.

You can trust the universe to do its part.

Reminding myself of these truths is like a cool aloe that soothes my soul during the most difficult times.

What lies has burnout been telling you?

re-picturing RELEASE

What do you need to release in your life right now?

Is there something in your life that you are holding on to, perhaps clinging to? Something that you want to or need to let go?

Release is something that Celina Wyss, the writer and photographer of Altered Muse and our contributor to Re-Picturing Women Wednesday this week, knows a lot about.

I first met Celina through her blog and was immediately struck by her adventurous spirit – she is constantly trying new things and reinventing herself through her words and blog. And yet, she does so by remaining authentic and true to herself. She also contributed a revealing, honest, and vulnerable guest post and self-portrait to re-picturing women last spring. However, I was lucky enough to actually meet Celina in Manzanita, Oregon last June (Woot!). Although I knew that Celina was an amazing photographer, writer, and creator (check out her blog to receive 40% off her swoon-worthy jewelry), meeting her in person showed me another side of Celina. She has a quiet strength about her. She sees the truths in other people and is continuing to discover and uncover the truths in herself. If you were to meet her, you would want to sit down, have a cup of tea (or a wine cooler), and just spend some time savoring her spirit. I hope that like me, you can connect with Celina through her insightful truths that she shares in response to my questions below.

Post by Celina Wyss and Sarah Gervais

Tell us your story of your body? Have their been challenges or struggles? What about opportunities or victories? Who are the heroes in your story? Who are the villains? If you could, would you change anything about your story?

I feel like the story of my body is constantly being rewritten. I’m still trying to find out what serves it best and how to help myself through the illness I have been struggling through. I’m coming into my 2nd year of doctor visits after visit with no official diagnosis. Before that there were other chapters and many other struggles. I am my biggest villain when I should be my biggest hero. My body carries many scars and many stories. I’m tired all of the time and tired of being tired. I’m ready to leave this chapter behind. If I could change one part of my story it would be to be kinder to myself and the changes that my body has went through. I would have liked to work harder at finding real solutions to the root causes of everything I was experiencing instead of being so quick to put an end to symptoms.

What is going on with your body right now? In the context of your story, are you in the midst of the action? Are you closing a chapter of your story? Beginning of a new chapter? Brainstorming an entirely new book?

I would like to think I am beginning a whole new book. I want my body to tell a story of how I found my way back to a healthy life. How I was able to discover the root to my illness and move forward. One step at a time I am working towards a happier, healthier life. I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m ready to wear my scars with pride as if to say: “I made it. I am whole again.”

Why did you choose to participate in the re-picturing women project? Why is the word and/or body part you chose significant to you?

I chose Release because I feel it is a prominent theme in my life right now. Releasing past hurts, expectations and illness. I’m ready to let it all go and move on. The hands were a symbolic place to write it as that is where we physically hang on to so much just as we hang to too much inside as well.

As a creative person (writer, photographer, artist) do you think your body is connected to your creativity (e.g., writing, photography, etc.). If so, how?

When I am fatigued in anyway I feel like my creativity shuts down. If I am not taking care of my own needs through self care and self love then creating no longer becomes a priority. On the other hand, when I am relaxed and happy I feel like I can adequately express myself through pictures and words.

If you could share one truth you’ve learned about your body with girls, other women, or even men, what would you want them to know?

One truth I am just now starting to understand is how much pain and negative emotions latch onto our bodies. They can manifest themselves in many ways and numerous sorts of illnesses. All the more reason to release that which we cannot control, breathe, and move forward. My new mission statement is: Release past expectations, embrace the present moment and connect wholeheartedly with kindred spirits.

What do you need to release in your life right now?

 

re-picturing MANIFEST

Meet Elizabeth Grant Thomas, the author of Life In Pencil, a kindred spirit, and a member of my Tribe. Meeting Elizabeth for the first time was a most delightful experience. She was the same person that I had gotten to know through our mutual friend, Meghan Davidson, and through her blog. She was incredibly honest, thoughtful, well-spoken, and adventurous. But she was also funny. Really funny, actually. And incredibly candid; authenticity exuded every word she spoke – whether it was a humorous anecdote about her daughter or a serious recollection of a parenting frustration  – I felt like what I heard was what I got. Yet, Elizabeth was and is in a time of major transition. She recently became a mother and offers a refreshing perspective on how to “rewrite” our lives and live one day at a time through the words and images that she offers on her blog, and below. I feel incredibly grateful to have met her during this transition. She has generously shared her authentic experiences (the good, the bad, and the sleepless) of integrating her mother identity into her entire identity. A searching reader can garner many universal truths from her words. I hope that as she manifests her truths that she will give you the courage to manifest your truths as well. I know that she has done that for me.

Post by Elizabeth Grant Thomas and Sarah Gervais

What is going on with your body right now? In the context of your story, are you in the midst of the action? Are you closing a chapter of your story? Beginning of a new chapter? Brainstorming an entirely new book?

My body is in a major transition.  I gave birth to my daughter a little over a year ago, so between pregnancy and nursing I’ve been “sharing” my body with someone else for nearly two years!  Just before I became pregnant I worked really hard to lose about 20 pounds, then gained 30 when I was pregnant, and am back down to my pre-pregnancy weight, so my body has been on a rollercoaster ride.  When I look in my closet I see a wardrobe full of sizes that run the gamut, reflecting everywhere my body has been the past two years.

When do you feel most alive in your body?

I am the strongest I’ve ever been.  I do strength training twice a week at a local fitness studio, something I never thought I’d be interested in a million years, but which I just love.  Last week I started a “Couch to 5K” program; I am so not a runner, but am trying it out.  I also enjoy dancing – I used to take a number of dance classes every week, including samba – but lack the time with a little one in the house.  It’s something I hope to pick up again soon.

Why did you choose to participate in the re-picturing women project? Why is the word and/or body part you chose significant to you?

Having a baby has been the most transformative experience of my entire life.  I would go as far as to call it an “out of body” experience, although I’ve never been more aware of my body.  Seeing how my body grew to accommodate another living being, and then shifted back again, was a fascinating process.  But the emotional part of adjusting to life with a baby has been taxing.  I am in the process of “manifesting a new reality,” in mind, body and spirit.  Rather than bemoaning what I’ve lost, I’m trying to manifest a new way of living that accommodates my daughter.

What did it feel like to be photographed for the re-picturing women project? What did it feel like to look at the pictures of yourself?

With a background in the performing arts, I love to be photographed.  During our retreat, I think I was a willing subject more than once!  “Manifest” is a really strong and specific word for me; it connotes bringing something into being through effort and determination, not luck or fate.  I am not a photographer myself, so it was delightful to see how the lens captured me.

As a creative person (writer, photographer, artist) do you think your body is connected to your creativity (e.g., writing, photography, etc.). If so, how?

Writing is a very in-your-head affair.  When I am stuck, I will usually try to get into body.  Taking a walk is the greatest cure-all for writer’s block.  Because my creative time is limited, I compose a great deal in my head when I am taking my daily walk.

If you could share one truth you’ve learned about your body with girls, other women, or even men, what would you want them to know?

Much like life itself, nothing stays the same; I’ve watched my body expand and contract so many times.  One of the major themes that I write about is the idea of “rewriting life;” I think it’s our responsibility to understand that everything changes and to flow as best we can with that reality.