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A Small Piece of Beauty

Beauty is something I think about it a lot, though not nearly as much as I used to, and not in the same way. As a child, preteen, and teenager, I saw beauty as power, currency, and acceptance. I had a hard time fitting in and I got teased a lot, but I noticed that the pretty girls didn’t get made fun of. Boys didn’t laugh at them or gross out when they found out those girls had crushes on them. Nobody called them names.

Summertime was my favorite time of year as long as I was in my own backyard or the canal behind my house, or maybe camping in the woods with my family. Those were my safe zones. I liked swimming, but the pool was a thing to endure. I had fun swimming and playing in the water, but I couldn’t help but notice the other girls with tans and bodies as tight as vacuum seal bags. I wanted their skinny legs and wardrobes so badly because I had hips and thighs in the fifth grade and couldn’t put an outfit together to save my life (still can’t). I’d go swimming with my cousins and wear shorts and a tee shirt over my swimming suit while they ran around in their tankinis and didn’t get sunburned. How come I didn’t turn out like them? Why wasn’t I a cute dancer with skinny legs that turn gold in the sun rather than my own brand of blistering pink?

I felt awkward and unattractive because I thought that’s how others saw me. That assumption stuck with me for a long time, even after I’d found my place in the high school drama club and made friends who loved me for who I was, and even in my freshman year of college when I’d somehow shrunk down to 135 pounds on my 5’8″ bod and had boys asking me out every week. I didn’t even feel beautiful when I started dating Sam and he told me I was beautiful. I hadn’t learned to love myself yet.

Last summer, Sam and I went to a local water park, and though I’d long since given up the shorts and tee shirts over my tankini, for the first time I didn’t feel one bit awkward or self-conscious. I was well above my body’s comfortable weight at the time and it was early June, so my toothpaste-white legs hadn’t seem much daylight yet, but I had my favorite coral toenail polish on and a turquoise tankini that looked a lot like the one my cousin once wore to the same water park almost a decade ago. I’d had a string of emotional breakthroughs that had lifted the depression I’d struggled with for years (and still do on occasion) and I’d reconnected with my creativity after a long dry spell. Though I’d been flailing around with intuitive eating for awhile, I’d finally learned to listen to my body and was starting to lose a little weight.

Because of these things, I had learned that I was beautiful even if I am shaped like a bowling pin and wear cargo shorts and tee shirts all the time. I finally knew who I was recognized my own type of beauty; that quirky, refuses-to-grow-up awkwardness and creativity that makes me who I am.

Oh, this is who I’m supposed to be. This is how life is supposed to be.

The temperature of the poolwater was absolutely perfect that evening, and I remember swimming underwater and coming up to the surface and noticing the gorgeous mountain by the waterpark. It was like seeing a mountain for the first time. I just treaded water for a few minutes and looked at the mountain and realized that the awkwardness and dull ache of not being good enough was completely gone. I felt so whole.

I was almost 23 years old and I finally realized that beauty wasn’t another planet. It wasn’t a party I’d never been invited to. It was just something I’d never recognized because I’d always expected it to be something else that I could feel by cracking the fashion code or whittling down my thighs. I never realized that it had nothing to do with rules or absolutes. I’d been free to feel it all along.

Everyone has a right to feel beautiful.

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Acceptance or Resignation?

 

A lot of us aren’t happy with where we are in our lives at the moment. We aren’t satisfied with what we’re doing or where we happen to be or what we are. We here so often that we need to accept ourselves as we are and where we are. Most of us fight this notion. I sure do.

I reread Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth last week (one big long string of Aha! moments. Read it.) and she mentioned that accepting is not the same as resigning yourself to a situation. It doesn’t mean that you give up and tell yourself that things will never change, or even worse, that you can’t change things. I think most of us think that acceptance involves giving up, so no wonder we resist it!

Accepting is acknowledging where you are and realizing that it’s ok for now. You may still want to change, especially if you don’t like your current situation. By all means, work hard to change if that’s what you really want, just don’t beat yourself up for where you are.

Acceptance is a change of attitude, that’s all. It’s not quitting. It took me awhile to let this sink in, but I realized that it’s something that I’ve always known on some level. I’ve never created significant change in my life until I accepted where I was first.I had to love myself the way I was and realize that I had to be where I was, because that’s where I happened to be. That situation had something to teach me. I accepted that knowledge, but I still wanted to change. Change happened pretty spontaneously after that.

Whenever I my situation and struggled against it, I got even more stuck. It’s like struggling when you’re sinking in quicksand (the movies always say that’s a bad idea) and sinking even faster.

What do you want to change in your life? What do you need to accept?

I’ll go first.

  • I accept that I need to have a job right now when I’d rather be a full-time artist and writer. Luckily, I enjoy my job, but I’d still rather do my own thing. It’s ok though. This job takes care of me, and I’m glad to have it. I’ll still work toward my goal, but I’m happy with what I’m doing right now.
  • I accept that I don’t have the money to travel the world right now, but obviously, world travel isn’t what I need at the moment or I’d have it. I can love my life anyway. I’d still like to travel and I’ll work toward that goal, but I won’t snub the joys of home.
  • I accept that I have about 10 extra pounds of “winter coat” around my hips and thighs. This is a little heavier than what I’m comfortable with, but it’s ok for now. I’ll still love and take care of my body and I’ll trust it to even things out on its own.
  • I accept that it’s still winter even though I’d really like it to be spring. We’ve had a lovely springy week and now there’s about six inches of snow on the ground and temperatures have dropped. I’ll take whatever moisture we can get for a nice green summer, and I’ll embrace a few more weeks of layers and hot soup.

I’ll accept these things, but I also expect change. I think the distinction here is simply attitude, because forcing change does not work. One cannot reach their natural weight by hating his or her body now. One can’t create a thriving career by refusing to acknowledge the starting point, where she is now.

How about you? What are you accepting right now? What does acceptance mean to you?

Wise Words: True Change

Change happens when you understand what you want to change so deeply that there is no reason to do anything but act in your own best interest.

-Geneen Roth, Women, Food, and God

Limiting Ideas, Intuitive Eating, and the Gym

First of all, check out this funny gym picture:

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I love how everyone is smiling. I don’t know about you, but my gym looks a whole lot different 🙂

Several months ago, I posted a piece I wrote in college about why I hate the gym. I meant every word. Yesterday though, Sam and I decided to get a gym membership at our local fitness center, which is actually a really nice facility with really reasonable prices.

I usually can’t stand exercise machines because I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I don’t like “artificial” feeling exercise. I’d much rather walk or run outside, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or go hiking.

It’s kinda hard to keep that up in the winter though.

I resisted the idea for awhile. The main reason was that it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I have a few perfectly good workout dvds at home, a yoga mat, and walking shoes. The other reason is that the gym didn’t fit with my idea of living as an intuitive eater/exerciser. It liked it to counting calories and measuring portions rather than listening to what my body needs.

Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that there’s no one way to live intuitively. For some people, this looks like a daily walk and three square meals a day. For others, it’s a gym membership and nibbling all day without set meals. Others may eliminate certain foods from their diet for health reasons. Some might use calories or measuring as a way to gain consciousness of their eating before they’re comfortable to fly on their own. For me, intuitive living is different at different times of year. During the summer, it’s little meals and snacks all day long and lots of walking with a little running and yoga thrown in. During the winter though, I’ve realized that I need something different. I’ve had to change my ideas about my lifestyle, which I was surprised to find were a little rigid despite flexibility being the whole point of intuitive eating.

Here are a few reasons why I no longer hate the gym and why I feel it’s necessary right now:

  • My body has been asking for more intense exercise than I’ve been giving it lately, and though I can bundle up and walk in the cold or do one of the exercise DVD’s that I have memorized, but it gets old. The gym has lots of different options like classes, the pool, plenty of machines, a track, free weights, and sports if for some reason I decided to experiment with that.
  • My knees have been hurting like they always do when I start sitting at a desk for most of the day. I really don’t have a low to no impact cardio option at home, but at the gym I have the pool, a stationary bike, or an elliptical. Any of those are a great way to build strength without taxing my knees further.
  • Sam and I barely see each other with both of us working weird hours and him going to school. He’s been wanting to exercise, so this might be a way to spend some time together in a healthier way than going to Buffalo Wild Wings at 9pm.
  • I’ve been wanting to build a little muscle because I have very little upper body strength (I can’t even do one full-on push up. Not even close.) and I’ve noticed that my abs are feeling a little weak as well. I could certainly do this with yoga or just with old school body weight exercises at home, but I hate the body weight exercises, I don’t really push myself with yoga at home, and I’d rather  do gentler yoga at home. The gym does have a Saturday yoga class I could go to, but weights offer a lot more variety and they’re faster. I even had fun even though years ago I likened the weight room to a torture chamber.
  • This might be a better way to blow off stress after work than munching. I don’t tend to be hungry in the evenings, but I often snack when I get home just because I feel like I should because it’s dinner time or something, and also because I usually feel spun out. Going to the gym after work a few days a week might help me regulate work stress and eating a little better as well as giving me an energy boost, because I tend to come home and crash until bedtime. Sometimes I paint in the evenings, but I’m a morning person and I do most of my artmaking in the morning before I leave. Going to the gym won’t give me more time for my art, but my body needs it. I could use a little more energy to push through these last few weeks of winter.

Flexibility isn’t about rebellion or avoiding things that you think don’t fit in your flexible lifestyle. It’s about adjusting your ideas according to what your body and spirit actually need. Rethink some of your limiting ideas such as “intuitive eaters don’t go to the gym” or “artists don’t worry about what they eat.” Yes, these are kind of silly ideas, but our subconscious can hold a death grip on silly things like these. Pay attention to your limiting thoughts. We all have them. Examine them. Question them. Are they serving you, or do you need something different right now? Do you need rest, or would a short trip to the gym make you feel amazing?

There are no rules, only consciousness, caring, and a little humility.

Are you hanging on to any limiting ideas?

What Feeds You?

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you know that I’ve had problems with compulsive eating in the past. I’m not one of those people who wastes away when I’m upset; quite the opposite in fact. While I’ve spent lots of time researching the various genetic, nutritional, hormonal, emotional, and cognitive reasons for this and have taken steps to balance them, this tendency still pops up from time to time.

For most of the past year, I’ve had a good handle on eating intuitively. I lost 30 pounds last summer and felt free from any kind of food obsession. I felt fabulous.

I’ve been pretty munchy for the past couple months, especially the last few weeks, and I have a little bit of a “winter coat,” though I’m pretty confident it will go away in the spring. In the meantime, the couple extra pounds don’t really bother me, but the thoughts do. I don’t like thinking about food all the time. I’d rather think about art, writing, Sam, my friends, or just have a clear head sometimes. I don’t like it when food seems like the most comforting, exciting thing in my life. In the week before a party or planned dinner out, the thoughts of food keep popping in my head and don’t go away. I know this isn’t entirely under my control and that certain parts of my brain tend to be overactive, which is why I get “stuck” on certain thoughts (I’ve put lots of research into this.)

To a certain extent though, I can observe this happening and even talk back to these thoughts. One tactic I’ve been using lately is to think “What is feeding me today?”

If the only enjoyable parts of my day revolved around food, I know one of two things. Either I’m experiencing fear and avoiding thinking about something, or I’m not caring for my spirit.

This is tricky, because it changes every day. I love walks most days, but some days I’d rather paint, or read a book. Sometimes I just need to snuggle with my cat and write in my journal. Once in awhile I want to go out with friends, or be spontaneous. Sometimes, I’m just sad and need some comfort from something other than cookies. The other day, a snap of beautiful weather filled me like nothing I’ve felt in months.

If you struggle with food or any other compulsion, ask yourself what you get out of it and what you’re really missing. Can you give yourself what you really need? Is something off with your mood? Do you need more excitement or challenges in your life? Have you taken time to pursue your own interests? Do you take time for rest?

I’m still getting the hang of this, and I’m learning to eat intuitively during the winter and deal with low moods authentically rather than numbing them. This is a useful tool that I’m learning to use. I feed my body when it needs it, but I also try to feed my spirit just as often, with spiritual “meals” of walking outside, connecting with others, creating, and a little dash of adventure now and again.

Has anyone else had experience with this?

10 Signs that you Need to Slow Down

Stress is a major creativity killer. The problem is, a lot of us don’t recognize it until we’re three quarters of the way through a bag of Oreos or in the doctor’s office with a diagnosis for adrenal fatigue.

The trick to handling stress is to stop it before it starts. Easier said than done. If you miss that train though, the second-best thing is to know how to recognize stress so you can know when you need to back off.

Know your red flags. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. You aren’t living in the moment: If you’re always thinking about the past or the future-to do lists, making ends meet, what you’ll make for dinner, why did you do that, you didn’t get enough done-then your brain is overloaded and you need to take some time to breathe.
  2. You feel disconnected from your body: When I’m overly busy, the first thing to go is my body connection. I find myself eating out of habit or convenience rather than waiting for my hunger signals, I stay up late, and I eat a lot more sugar. It’s worth it to take the time to reestablish communication from your body. Yoga or “lie down” meditation works well for me.
  3. You can’t do one thing at a time: You eat lunch while answering emails, make to-do lists during church (guilty), things like that. Multi-tasking is not as efficient as it seems. It just causes more stress and renders us unable to give each task the care it deserves.
  4. It takes you forever to fall asleep because your mind is going in a million different directions.
  5. You find it hard to relax because you feel like you should be doing something else.
  6. You feel like you don’t get enough done: When you allow yourself to give each task the time it deserves, you feel much more accomplished because you know you did a good job, and you did it deliberately. You were present. Feeling like you haven’t done enough is also a sign that you need to be gentle with yourself, respect your limits, and possibly manage your time better. Find ways to work smarter, not harder.
  7. Your body is protesting: You’re face starts to resemble the surface of Mars, your pants are tight, you feel a drag in the afternoon, you can’t get out of bed in the morning or get to sleep at night, your back hurts-sound familiar? That’s your body screaming for attention. In the hustle and bustle, you’re poor body has been neglected because you haven’t been listening to it. Listen to it, find out what it needs, and do it.
  8. “Fun” stuff doesn’t feel so fun because you’d rather veg: When I’m stressed, you’d think that making art and writing is a great stress-reliever. If I catch stress early, creating does feel great, but if I let stress get too far along without kicking it in the butt, I find that I don’t feel like painting. All I want to do is sit on the couch with a box of Fererro Rocher and watch Fraggle Rock. If I don’t have the mental energy to create, I know something’s gotta give.
  9. The tiniest things overwhelm you: When my life feels like a minefield, the idea of balancing my checkbook or washing the dishes seems gargantuan. It’s not because I have better things to do, it’s because I feel like I already have so many things piled up on me that emailing a gallery director feels like it’ll crush me. Secret: it’s not the little task that’s daunting, it’s the collective weight of that and the other 234 things you think you have to do, or the weight of worry. Dump that weight. You don’t need it.
  10. You feel numb: The way that most of us deal with stress is to turn off. We go into Robot Mode so that we can push through whatever needs to get done without those pesky emotions or intuition whining in our ear to slow down. If you can’t hear your intuition, that’s a good sign that you’d better tune into it. It’s there to take care of you.

Breathe.  Delegate. Get some perspective. Learning to recognize your own red flags is the first step to dealing with them. Life is much too short for stress.

Intentions for 2012

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It’s that time of year again.

I thought I’d share my intentions for 2012. I like setting intentions rather than resolutions because intentions are more like mindset, purposes with which to align myself while resolutions are more like a to-do list with the accompanying guilt trip when you don’t. Who needs that?

I looked over my 2011 intentions, and my 23rd birthday intentions, and while some of my 2012 intentions are similar, they are more clear to me.

So here we go, my intentions for 2012:

  • I intend to let my creative spirit be my leader-Tara Wagner calls it “Organic Wisdom.” Laura Hollick calls it “Spirit Leadership,” and the latter rings more true for me. Either way, I intend to let my creativity lead me through life, and to give priority to my creative work. I don’t mean that I’ll blow off other important things, I just mean that I want to live with a spirit of joy and imagination outside of my studio as well as inside.
  • I intend to lay the foundation for my art and writing career-I’ve already started this by blogging and making my art available online, but I want to put my art into the community as well. I want to find a way to get paid for writing and to develop a more steady income from art sales. Of course, I want to do this in a mindset of joy and creativity rather than fear or force.
  • I intend to honor my body with the food and movement it needs-My 2011 intentions include something like this as well, and even though this is a general statement, I do have a specific action in mind for it. This includes all food and movement that honors my body, but I intend to start by adding vegetables, especially green leafies, and reducing my sugar intake. If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you probably know that I’m in the throws of winter blues right now, that I tend to be susceptible to depression and anxiety, and that I’ve had issues with extremely low blood sugar. Sugar makes all of these conditions worse, so even though I am certainly addicted to it on some level, I intend to break that addiction with an abundance of supporting foods, a few supplements, and healthy sweeteners such as stevia and xylitol. I’m not trying to completely eliminate sugar, just form a more sane relationship with it.
  • I intend to dive into my gospel study-I don’t really talk about my religion on this blog, but I am a member of The Church of Jesus  Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka the “Mormon” church. My religion and spirituality (yes, I believe those are different things)  shape my beliefs, who I am, and what I do. It’s always been a part of me. This year I want to deepen my knowledge of our doctrines and my relationship with God.
  • I intend to use money consciously and deliberately-I have a complicated relationship with money, and money management tends to stress me out. This year, I want to reprogram my mindset surrounding money as I learn to keep better track of income and spending, reduce unnecessary spending and instead spend money on things that hold real value for us. I also hope to save money for a sunny trip next winter. I don’t think it’ll happen for this winter, but maybe the act of saving for one later will make this winter a little easier. 🙂

There you have it.

Did you set intentions, resolutions, goals, focus words, etc. for 2012? Tell me about it!

 

What’s in Your Toolbox?

 

We all get stressed out sometimes. We all get angry, tired, anxious, or plain burnt out. So what do we do when we get there? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we learn from these emotions?

If you can’t  think of the answers to these questions, don’t worry. It’s ok if you don’t know how to handle these emotions yet, because most people don’t. Most of us see these emotions as bad things that should always be avoided, and that something is wrong with us if we experience them. This isn’t always the case.

Uncomfortable emotions aren’t there to get us, they’re often our greatest teachers and road signs. If we’re stressed, anxious, or  depressed all the time, we know that something in our life or attitude needs to change. If we get angry, we might have stumbled over an emotional block that we get to work through and release so we can live better.

But how do we do this?

We use a toolbox. Everyone has one. This toolbox contains the tools we use to handle emotions.

Sometimes these toolboxes are well-stocked so that we can handle any job life throws at us. Some of our toolboxes are rather sparse. Others are full of hammers when what we really need are screwdrivers.

Let’s take a look at our toolboxes. What kind of tool could we find in there? Let’s take a look at my toolbox first. It may not look like your ideal toolbox, but it sure works for me:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga, walking and hiking outside
  • Uplifting reading like my religious texts, blogs, and books like Healing from the Heart by Dr. Judith Moore (this book was key in my recovery)
  • Talking to my husband, Mom, or friend.
  • Cleaning my apartment, artmaking, and cooking. Great activities for when my hands need something to do while I think.
  • iPod: good music, inspiring podcasts and my SoulArt courses.
For me, this is a well-stocked toolbox, and these things work  for a lot of people. This is what I do when I encounter difficult emotions that I need to work through, think about, talk about, or ride out.
My toolbox used to contain a lot of other things that didn’t get the job done, like eating to cope with anxiety. Actually, I think that was the only tool in there for awhile. Here are some other unhelpful tools we might use to distract, numb or release feelings:
  • Dangerous behaviors like using drugs, smoking, self-inflicted injury, having unprotected sex or drinking.
  • Zoning out in front of the TV or computer
  • Blowing up at someone to express anger
  • Shopping
  • Wearing ourselves out by overworking or overexercising
  • Bingeing or restricting food
  • Bottling up emotions until they make us sick.
If you constantly feel stressed, irritable, or worn out, you may want to examine your toolbox to make sure you have the right stuff. Otherwise, you’ll waste your time try to pull out nails with a wrench.
So what’s in your toolbox? Here are some ideas of tools you could use instead of the harmful ones listed above.
  • Supporting rituals like “you-time”
  • Supportive friends, family or a counselor you can talk to
  • Journaling and creative expression
  • Exercise
  • Service to others
  • Good books and other resources to help you work through emotions
  • Activities that help you unwind without tuning out. Yoga, reading, and that old self-care cliche, the hot bubble bath.
  • Anxiety-soothing activities that keep your hand or body busy while your mind is free to think like cleaning, knitting, wire-jewelry making, kneading bread dough, whatever.
What’s in your toolbox? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

There is Only Love

If you’re a creative person (and you are, you just may not know it yet) you probably know what it’s like to be stuck. You might sit down to create something or face a problem, but something seems to block you, and you can’t put you’re finger on it.

If you have a partner, children, coworkers, or if you interact with other humans at all (most of us do) you know what it’s like to be frustrated, hurt or angry with someone else.

If you’ve ever been on a diet, had nasty thoughts about your body, or stayed on the beach because you wouldn’t take off your sarong to get in the water, you know what it’s like to struggle with some degree of self-loathing.

In my last post, I talked about one of my favorite mantras: I Choose. I’ve really gotten into using mantras lately and I can’t believe the change in my attitude and perception. Here”s another powerful mantra I use when I’m frustrated for any reason.

There is only love.

I tend to use this mantra for three things:

  • my own creative work
  • the way I relate to others
  • the way I treat my body and myself.

If I’m in a creative funk, I sit with that feeling and usually realize that I’m afraid of something. Failure, judgement, limitations, whatever. The only way I can get out of that block is to remember how I love to create, and how I love to share my  creations with others. Fear is the opposite of love, and my creativity can only flow when I create from love, not fear.

If I have a disagreement with my husband or a family member, if someone cuts me off in traffic or if a cashier grumps at me, I say to myself “There is only love.” Instead of seeing the other person as a jerk or feeling like someone is out to get me, I try to be compassionate. They probably weren’t trying to hurt me. Maybe they’re having a bad day for whatever reason. It’s ok if Sam doesn’t see everything exactly the way I do, we just haven’t found that common ground yet.

I’ve a proficient intuitive eater, but every once in  awhile I still have a ghost of a bad body thought, or I might feel slightly guilty for eating something that isn’t good for me. Or, I might be stressed out and feel like emptying out my chocolate stash, but I know that isn’t in my best interest. I remember, “There is only love.” No need to guilt trip myself for a treat. I love my body, so I try to treat it well.

I use this Every. Day. I write it in my journal every morning when I wake up so I can start my day thinking this way.

Just write it down every morning. Say it whenever you’re frustrated. I can’t believe how powerful it’s been in my life.

Try it!

I Choose

Well, the past few months have been crazy awesome busy, and hopefully I’ll be able to unveil my secret project later this week!

Also, with this underway I’m planning on posting regularly again,  so stay tuned for regular spouting from McKella’s fountain of wisdom. Ha.

Ok, with housekeeping out of the way, it’s time for me to share with you one of the most important things I’ve learned in this year of tremendous growth. Just two little words, a special mantra I’ve used to keep my head on straight through stress and fear.

I choose

This is actually one of many mantras I’ve used over the past few months, but let me tell you why this one is special.

  • It’s reminds us that we are the masters of our own lives, and that we are powerful. If something isn’t working out for us, if we’re struggling to overcome a harmful habit or if we feel trapped, we can always choose something else. We live in a free country where we always have options, and you can always make a choice to change.
  • Knowing we have a choice changes our mindset. Instead of thinking in terms of “should” and “have to”, we can see our abundance of options. Instead of feeling overpowered to binge or let people walk all over us, we can choose to listen to our bodies, to stand up for ourselves. Having a choice sets us free.
When I feel stressed out or trapped, I repeat “I choose…” in my head until I feel better, or I write it in my journal. If I’m compelled to eat emotionally, give up, or let someone else take charge of my life, I remember “I choose…”
I choose to listen to my body.
I choose to be calm and happy.
I choose to enjoy this time.
I choose to be true to myself and grow my career my way, the way I feel is right.
I choose life and adventure over food.
What do you choose?