How do you see yourself?

Certainly our opinion of our physical appearance matters. Messages from family and friends mix together with subtle and hugely overt valuations based upon body type and various standards of beauty. We then internalize and process these messages and draw conclusions about ourselves which impact how we move through the world. Watch this video, and then let’s continue the conversation…

Clearly these women were impacted by the stark difference between how they described themselves and how complete strangers, after only a brief meeting, described them. Seemingly without exception the descriptions of others were softer, radiating greater openness to others and peace with self. What a gift this became for participants.

I wonder how else this principle might be applied. I wonder if we similarly judge more harshly our personality quirks and foibles. What if we had a way to receive warm affirmations from others of what they see and appreciate in us, holding that alongside our own views, and allowing them to inform one another? the exercise in the video included an interpreter, someone who listened to both descriptions and then sketched what was heard.

This exercise can be used in coaching, spiritual direction and counseling, where an individual (it also works with groups) is invited to self-describe. Then outside observers are asked to give a separate description without any collaboration or comparison. The coach then is in the position of reflecting back what was heard in both descriptions, literally sketching out the images that have been offered, and then exploring the similarities and differences and walking with the client toward new insight into themselves, greater appreciation and love for self, and thus more compassion toward self and freedom and peace in life.

Organizations (businesses, non-profits, churches) can benefit from a similar exercise.

Less formally, friends could do this for one another. In the simplest terms, at church camp we frequently have kids give one another “warm fuzzies” – brief notes of affirmation – “What I see and appreciate about you is…” These are incredibly powerful for many, to the degree that friends of mine have held on to theirs for 35 years and longer.

  • How might you benefit from a neutral set of eyes on your life, highlighting beauty you are unable or unwilling to see?
  • When will you be ready to invite someone to facilitate this new growth for you?

Gilkes’ need to find a place for the four loves

In perusing FB today I came across a post by an acquaintance who has one Anglo parent and one Indian parent. She speaks and writes about the experience of being bi-racial. Her post comments on a blog post by A Breeze Harper  On Buddhist Sanghas, Divesting in Post-racial Whiteness, and Nina Simone. Harper describes…  “what Katherine McKittrick refers to as a black female socio-spatial epistemology. See her book Demonic Grounds and she will break down how we develop our knowledge-base (epistemology) through our embodied experiences in racialized-sexualized spaces in the USA.” Later she asks: After spending the whole day there, I realized how ridiculous it is that I have spent so much time in largely white dominated spaces in which I physically and emotionally exhaust myself trying to explain what “racism is”, how “whiteness operates”, and that, “No, I’m not making this sh*t up in the head.” I have been depriving myself from these types of healing space my nearly entire life. At the end of the day of that retreat, I really asked myself, “What would happen if I stopped participating in certain spaces in which I can never just be ‘me’? What would happened if I shifted and just focused on spaces like the ones today?”

I was struck by how this connected with my experience reading Cheryl Townsend Gilkes’ “The ‘Loves’ and ‘Troubles’ of African-American Women’s Bodies (p81). Gilkes makes liberal use of Alice Walkers advocacy of the “four loves” as “ethical positions associated with a good womanist.” (89) These loves have to do with affirmations of self, embodied experience, and overcoming racial/sexual violence and the external valuing according to white essentialist norms. What Jha and Harper describe is the exhaustion they feel when trying to explain white privilege and the experience of being “colored” (to borrow the term Mary Church Terrell advocates) and the freedom found in a place where one does not need to explain or advocate for self. Yet Gilkes suggests that African-American women in particular often have to justify their existence and work even in their own community partly because of this very diversity in skin color, hair and body type. Given these tensions, how do we work together to create safe space, and what if any role does a middle class straight white male play in that formation? How can I use, sublimate, or relinquish my privileges for the sake of this formation? Can we all embrace the four loves or are they the explicit gift of the Womanists?