Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It's What's Inside that Counts. Right?

The sun has disappeared up here in the Northwest. We had three beautiful, glorious days of it. Not a cloud in the sky. Cold as allgetout, but I’m actually learning to love walking around all bundled up in about three layers, along with lined boots, Smartwool socks, scat (scarf/hat all in one piece - fantastic for keeping warm), cashmere gloves for early morning walks, and then, when it gets above about 25 degrees, great fingerless gloves I got for Christmas. Fingerless gloves? I know… what’s the point, except that my hands can still be a little warm AND I can operate my camera without accidentally setting some function that I then don’t know how to unset (and think it’s broken and almost send it away for repair when some nice camera store person sorts it all out for me in, oh, about 10 seconds). Anyway, the gloves. I love them. I love driving in them, I can get change out of my wallet, use my phone, and iPod, plus they’re so comfortable and cozy, sometimes I’m back inside the house for an hour or two before I realize I still have them on.

Here I am, self-portrait-ing, bundled up for a walk with Lola…

I am half embarrassed, half mortified by this picture. In fact, I am embarrassed/mortified by most every picture I see of myself. Have been for a number of years. A combination weight and age, and just general--I know this because I can remember before weight and age settled in--malcontent with my physical being. But I’m putting it up anyway because one of my hopes for this coming year is to do a long and deep process around my feelings vis-a-vis my physical being. It will be part of my private journaling, possibly spilling over here now and then, to work with self portraits in the hopes of gaining insight, understanding, compassion, acceptance… maybe even some love.

I read something the other day that just inspired the hell out of me. Someone sent Gloria Steinem a postcard with an image of an old Chinese woman singing opera on a hill in a Beijing park. Her face is old, and apple-doll wrinkled, but she totally sparkles and radiates. Steinem wrote about it in her book, Revolution from Within.
I have a new role model for this adventurous new country I’m now entering. She is a very old, smiling, wrinkled, rosy, beautiful woman standing in the morning light of a park in Beijing… . Now she smiles at me every morning from my mantel. I love this woman. I like to think that, walking on the path ahead of me, she looks a lot like my future self.

It was another one of those instances where truth cut itself cleanly straight into my being. I want to be like that. I want to be like that old woman, radiant, alive, sparkling, even as my body grows old around me. I want to stop being ashamed of aging. I want to stop judging my arms, my chin, my hands, my thighs, my upper lip, my sagging eyes, my "grandma" skin. I want to stop being embarrassed by every picture that is taken of me, humiliated when people look at me. Like that woman, I want to radiate some inner something, to hell with what is happening with my physical body.

Of course, this is an uphill battle in this looks-youth-oriented culture we live in, where women are wrecked when it comes to physical self-esteem, where we are objectified, and only okay if we starve ourselves, augment our breasts, where we must be airbrushed and reshaped before we can grace a magazine page, where the standard model size today is a Two, where earlier and earlier we are injecting and nipping and tucking and lifting, where we walk around, our bodies contorted beyond the point of ridiculousness so that we can look sexy in our four-inch Manolo Blahniks.

And in the midst of this absurd craziness, I want to love my body?

Many years ago I recognized that there was something inside me that never aged. Do you know what I mean? It’s in there, some place or being or part of me that still feels 12 or 17 or 25, even as the body that surrounds and holds it grows decades beyond that. Years ago, when I started sitting with teachers that embraced more of an eastern spirituality, I got it that this is the part of me that never dies. It is the spirit maybe, or perhaps consciousness, or awareness, or presence—words are limiting here—and it doesn’t age because it is ageless, because it is beyond this physical life here on earth; it is the flame that will never be extinguished, will be there, in fact, watching, observing, as I pass from this life to the next. I don’t know how I know this but I do. I know it from personal experience. And I’m not even sure it’s “personal." Many years ago, as a volunteer at the bedside of an elderly dying woman, it was there, simply, beautifully present, both inside and outside of me, watching her, watching me, the seer, the seen, it was nearly palpable, this unchanging, eternal, everlasting thing and there was no separation between it and me and her; and it was there, calmly, peacefully unphased, as this woman's spirit passed from her body into the realm that we cannot see or feel or touch.

It is astounding, this dichotomy, and I don't begin to know how to find resolution, how to reconcile between these two such opposing exepriences, the spiritual on one hand, and the struggle I experience with my physical being on the other. Or that I can revere the growth and transformation and wisdom that maturing brings at the same time that I disdain the container it is held within. That I can rejoice that I am still around, that I still have all my parts, that though a little slower and sometimes crankier, they work, they get me where I want to go while at the same time dishonoring them because they no longer look like they used to or should or how I'd like them to. That I understand that I and my body have been through so much, things I tend not to write about or talk about, things that have altered the course of my life from early on, that have driven this healing journey; that I can understand its woundings, and I can still, still, judge it, disparage it, feel humiliated by it.

What it is that radiated through and animated the eyes of that old woman in Gloria Steinem's postcard? Is it love? Life? Joy? Peace? Contentment? Spirit itself? Senility? I have no idea, but I want it. I want to shift focus from the outside to the inside. I want to love the skin, the wrinkles, the hairs now growing in the wrong places, the stiff joints, the whole of it. I want it to be about how I feel, not how I look. It feels huge. It is huge. But as with any big trip or journey, it begins one tiny or big step at a time.

Here's my step and it feels ginormous. And just for the hell of it, here's another one. Taken a couple of months ago on my front porch in Sonora.

And yes, I do realize that one can't tell if one's eyes are sparkling or not under dark glasses but those are my glasses. They turn dark in the sun... What can I say?


  1. My first visit to your blog. I enjoyed it and all your thoughts. It helps to talk when there is a need.

  2. So glad I found your blog with you visiting mine! I very much enjoyed this piece and could identify too well with it. I have not yet gotten to the point where I no longer squirm at photos of myself..most days the seventeen-year-old I feel like simply bears no resemblance to the squirrel-cheeked lady whose picture is on my driver's license! This is a well-written and entertaining piece...I must check out your other blog too....

  3. Your glowing face surrounded by the (Ha!) scat, would serve any artist well in her design of one of those radiant, outdoor sun symbols.

    Such creations adorn the homes, the gardens, of lovers of light and nature. People just like yourself; from arctic to equator who warm, rather than chill with each passing year.

    Almost daily now, new inroads of time progress over my increasingly geriatric skin. Still, there’s this girl . . . only a year younger then me; growing ever more precious and beautiful. My heart’s aflame with each new encounter for film or feast.

    -And that fellow male volunteer with whom I once worked, he looked like death warmed over when at rest. Work and conversation animated his figure and speech. He made us laugh. He worked shoulder-to-shoulder in our efforts to make a positive difference.

    Maybe . . . some sharing the same coach aboard this slow train, see right though all these surface distractions on which that sorry civil engineer Time, plies his weary trade.

    Perhaps our passion for nature, for that great sky above and most importantly for each other, will continue to warm us from station to station, 'till the very end of this line.

  4. """Many years ago I recognized that there was something inside me that never aged. Do you know what I mean?""""

    Oh yes, I know what you mean. I feel exactly that way. My body has kind of become an envelope which is not the "real me." But I think most of people feel the same, don't you think?

    Very nice blog and great photos!


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