On Beauty

Truth Byte #68

“Beauty shines, no matter what.”

 

When I was a little girl, I would look at those blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls lined up on the shelf at Toys R’ Us with an ache in my heart. That was back before the days they realized little girls with dark skin and black hair may need a doll that looks like them to feel normal. I looked nothing like those perfect, pink dolls, and I wondered how I too, could feel pretty.

 

Luckily, those pirated Bollywood films my parents enjoyed on our living-room TV on Saturday nights gave me an alternate version of beauty that I clung to into adulthood. To be beautiful (in my parent’s culture) you mostly just needed those big, beautiful eyes that spoke of love and longing and brimmed to the edge with tears every so often.  Lucky for me, I had inherited those exact eyes from some sexy, demure grandmother in my lineage. Long, thick, black hair and light skin helped too, but the focus in those old-time black-and-white movies was always those eyes, ringed with black eyeliner and full of mystery.

 

I have spent years wondering if I am beautiful.

 

Then this weekend, I delivered a TedX talk called “People matter more than things.”  As I looked at myself in the mirror before going on stage, I realized that when someone is walking their talk, when they are sharing their heart with no walls up, when they are being real, the beauty shines through. Sure, a cute haircut and well-fitted clothing may help, but real beauty is simply undeniable. We don’t have to look a certain way, we just need those eyes – those eyes that reflect our souls.

 

Today I plead with my sisters – let’s celebrate beauty, in all it’s forms.

 

So much of my childhood pain around beauty came from other girls and women, from a look, or a giggle, or a face turned away. My so-called friends would mock my clothing choices, not realizing that I had little influence on which hand-me-down outfit happened to fit my always-growing body.  My cousins, fairest of them all, would encourage me to stay out of the sun because I had a “problematic complexion”. Women that knew my mom would poke my extended, pre-pubescent belly, pinch my cheeks, and chuckle.

 

They all fed into the Toys R’ Us standard, and I truly didn’t fit it.  And though no one directly told me I was ugly, each of these moments made me go a little deeper into my shell, dimmed my shining light just a little bit more, until in my mid-twenties I found myself obese, bald, and stuck in the hell that is also known as self-loathing.

 

My mom was different though. As a child, she always pointed out my eyes, my hair, my heart. She taught me how to dress elegantly, and how to enjoy bright, bold colours. She promised me that one day they would all see what she did, and she stayed the course, even when I was feeling my ugliest.

 

Finally, that day has come.

 

Mothers, protect those precious little girls, let them know that their beauty will shine even while their bodies change and grow and feel alien to them. Aunts, cousins, be kind to each other. It’s not a contest. There is enough room here for all of us to shine. If we do, it simply makes a brighter, more beautiful world.

 

It’s your life, and only you can live it.

 

Lemonade and Gypsy Trips

Self-esteem

Truth Byte #62

“Self-doubt will slow you down.”

 

When life gives you lemons, what do you do?

 

I know when I heard that phrase as a child, I panicked.  I had no idea how to make lemonade. The closest I ever got to that sweet and tart beverage was dumping a can of frozen pulp into a plastic jug and stirring.
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How Yoga Saved my Baby

Truth Byte #56

 

“It’s better to bend than to break.”

 

I have been learning the last few weeks about flexibility. I get moving in a certain direction, and then I have to pivot, to quickly and effortlessly turn on the spot as Life throws me an unexpected, better opportunity.

 

I know, it’s a good problem to have.

 

And I learned this same lesson many years ago, in a much more painful way: yoga.

 

So let me take you back there, to the halls of my graduate program where we were learning about all things spiritual.  One of the graduation requirements was that we adopt a body discipline.  First year, it was mandatory Aikido. Amazing, loved it, but I wanted to try something new by second year.

 

Enter Course 234: Yoga.
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Being the Lighthouse

Truth Byte #49

“Stop trying to make the way you feel someone else’s fault.”

 

Sometimes people are mean. Downright cruel. Sometimes, for no good reason, people pick on you. I have been having this experience lately with my three-almost-four-year-old.  Sometimes she is just mean, for no good reason.

 

So you know me, I hit the research on parenting and child development. Why is she angry? Where is this coming from? What can I do differently? And usually, I am right on point, able to diffuse and re-direct, able to love her through her tests and boundary-building exercises.

 

But sometimes, every once in a while, I take it personally.

 

And that is when s#!t hits the fan.

 

And I tell her she has made me mad, or that she has made me sad.  And then she tells me it’s because I don’t listen to her. And back and forth until one of us is screaming.  More often than I would like to admit, my voice raises louder than I want it to, and suddenly, we are two preschoolers, having a shouting match.

 

This week, my seven year-old (who is also her big brother and takes that role very seriously) called me out on that.  He said to me, “Mama, no one can MAKE you feel anything.”

 

Don’t you hate it when your own words come back to bite you in the face?

 

And I had to admit he was right.  No one can make me feel anything.  People can have behaviours, demonstrations, opinions, and they can act out in front of me, but how I respond….well, that’s on me.

 

That’s what I tell my clients, and now, that’s what my second grader was reminding me.

 

So for the past week, I have been applying this truth to how I interact with my kids.  I know it works with adults because I do it all the time.  Someone acts out or throws a tantrum or says something hurtful or makes a “joke” that’s more like a jab, and I take a breath and decide how deeply I am going to let that one land.

 

I have been perfecting this one with my large, close-knit, extended family. In my family, people love each other deeply.  They are also all up in each other’s business.  A lot.  Everyone has an opinion on everyone else’s choices.  And it really does come from a place of genuine love and concern.  But sometimes, it is a bit too much. It is hard to know, sometimes, whose advice to follow, since so many of them have conflicting opinions. And so, a few years ago, I started to take my mom’s advice, “Listen to everyone, respectfully, and in the end do whatever you want.”

 

My old approach was to argue back, make a case, prove my point. 

 

Now, I thank them for their input, weigh it’s worth for a moment, and add it to my mental pros and cons list for whichever decision I was trying to make.  Because I really do think that sometimes the people who love me can see me better than I see myself.  When I am in clouds of self-doubt, when I am feeling small and unimportant, when I am unsure of my footing, my family sees me as capable and competent and on the right track.  And sometimes I need a reminder.

 

But I also don’t want to get in the trap of always needing their approval.

 

I have been there, and it sucks.

 

Because it’s true, nobody can MAKE you feel anything.  Even good about yourself.  Because when it’s coming from the outside, it doesn’t actually last very long or penetrate very deep.

 

These days, I am admitting to myself and teaching my clients that the way we feel is absolutely, one hundred percent, our own responsibility.

 

Now I can anticipate that you may think something like: “My family member is sick/unemployed/addicted/incarcerated/heartbroken. Of course I am going to feel bad.  And it’s his/her fault that I feel bad/worried/sad for them.”

 

And I would actually challenge you on that one. 

 

You get to choose how you respond.

 

Are you going to join them in their despair and worry, or are you going to be that person who can be the steady lighthouse for them while they navigate the stormy waters of their own tribulations?  Are you going to shine your best self onto their world, or are you going to dim yourself a little to make them “comfortable”?

 

It’s really your choice.

 

I have found that when I go the “dimmer switch” route and stop shining to accommodate other’s insecurities, I end up not being very helpful anyways, and then wonder why I put myself in that situation in the first place. In my experience, it’s better to show up with all systems ready for action, and excuse myself if I am being asked to dim down.

 

Even at funerals.

 

I allow myself to be the steady so people can fall apart around me. (And let’s be honest, sometimes I am the one falling apart.  The point is, I feel my own feelings and don’t get swayed to just go along with the mood in the room.)

 

Now if only that three-year-old’s “NO!” didn’t get under my skin so deeply. In the end, it’s a work in progress, even for me!

 

Want to learn how to take your life back from everyone who has a stake in it? Watch our YouTube show, Today is Your Day and send us your questions and comments!

 

Want to keep crawling?

Truth Byte #44

 “Evolving means un-learning.”

 

I have been watching my kids, and how quickly they learn.  One of the critical skills they also need for success is to be able to un-learn.

 

Let me give you an example.

 

When my fist little guy started crawling, it was bells and whistles all around.  We were so excited and encouraging of him, and finally he could get around on his own, kind of.  A few months later, he was mastering a new skill: walking.  As expected, we celebrated with whoops and hollers when he mastered the wobbly dance of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other.
And for most parents, that would be that.

 

But since I am obsessed with the human potential for growth and change, I couldn’t leave it at that.  I was really interested to see how he would make this transition.  After all, he had spent months getting his muscles and mind to work just so to be able to crawl, and now he had to forget all that (or maybe build on it?) and move to a completely different skill.  Sometimes he would opt to crawl instead of step-step-fall, especially at the beginning.  But as time passed, he chose the “easy way” less and less, until the point that he could say to me “Mama, crawling is for babies”.

 

My daughter, on the other hand, had a different learn-unlearn trajectory.  She learned to sit up, then scooch forward on her bum, and one day she just stood up and walked.  Once she started walking, she never went back to scooching.

 

She is better at un-learning things.

 

And I see this in other aspects of their personalities.  When he makes up his mind about someone, he interacts that way with them for ever and ever.  So if he likes you at first, he likes you forever.  And if he doesn’t really like you, too bad. But with her, she gives you a fresh chance every time you meet her.  She will adore you one day, and then be distant the next.  She has un-learned who you are and what you mean to her as soon as you are out of the room (though, like most kids even she has one or two favourites).

 

And while her life seems more tumultuous (she is three after all!), she is also living in the moment a lot more, rather than being informed by the past.

 

I have seen how as my children develop through their natural developmental stages, they become less adaptable, less able to unlearn.  It’s almost like Nature is saying, “You tried that before, don’t make that mistake again, if you want to stay alive!”  And they haven’t even hit double digits yet!

 

And so fast forward to you and me and the adults all around us.  Many of us have spent decades learning, and not too much time un-learning.  Even when what we had initially learned has become maladaptive, we continue acting that old, safe way.  We continue to crawl, even though we suspect walking would get us there faster.

 

The first requirement if you really want to grow is to be willing to un-learn.

 

Which means you have to be willing to say, “Maybe I have been wrong about this or that.”

 

And for some reason, for certain people, admitting they are wrong is worse than ‘being a baby’.  It’s just plain out of the question.  They continue to trudge along in their usual, unhappy, unfulfilling way of doing things, judging the people around them as ‘uniformed’ or ‘living in the clouds’ or ‘clueless’ or ‘lucky’, while day after day, they insist that their way is the only way and the rest of us should stop running forward into this great glorious life and crawl instead.

 

On our hands and knees.

 

Feeling bad about everything and doubtful about ever reaching any of our big dreams.

 

You may have people like this in your life.  I sure do.

 

When I run in to them (which happens more and more infrequently, I must say), I remember my infant son.  Maybe one day they will decide to take the first few difficult steps, and I will happily be there for them as they master the new skill.  But I can’t keep pretending they are so accomplished when all I see is crawling and complaining, year after year.

 

I can no longer play along with that lie. 

 

I have also learned, through painful mistakes, not to call them ‘babies’, and feel somehow better or ‘more advanced’ than them.  This is a really slippery slope in the field of personal development.  We hear phrases like, “Oh, she’s just not there yet” to help explain the closed hearts and minds around us.  Here’s what I have discovered: some people genuinely do not want to be there.  They are happy where they are, and don’t want to be told that there is a way out of their drama.

 

It’s not fair for those of us who can run to taunt the crawlers. 

 

All we can do is keep running, keep laughing, keep playing, and trust that if they are meant to stand on their own two feet in this lifetime, they will.  And if they don’t, it’s not our personal failure.  It’s simply the unfolding of their journey.

 

Human consciousness is evolving.  And for those of us at the leading edge of those changes, we will have to un-learn, and un-learn fast.

 

My challenge to you this week is this: think of something you believe, from the bottom of your heart, to be true, that is making you miserable (for example, germs are everywhere, or life is short, or success takes hard work, or there will always be poverty). I would challenge you, just for a week, to see if you could unlearn that fact.  Pretend, just for a week, that something else could be true instead.  See if you can challenge yourself to un-learn the “truths” have you have been entrenched in for years.  Self-reflection, followed by conscious evolution is the way out of personal chaos, so today, “I’m starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.” How about you?

Soaking in the Happy

Truth Byte #32

“It’s okay to be happy.”

I come from heartbreak.

If your parents divorced or you had some family tragedy before you turned 20, you can probably relate.  Most of us who have pain in our childhoods have marinated in the jagged shards of heartbreak.  The happily-ever-after got snatched away by the realties of life, and imperfect partners, and difficult situations, and heartbreak was in the air, but worse, in our veins. 

In my family story, a new Prince Charming showed up, and saved the whole family, yet that bitterness of lost love stayed with me most of my life.

As I grew, I came to see the pain of lost love was not actually my mother’s story anymore.  She found love again and moved on with her life.  The person who was left pining was me.

I pined for my father. 

Even years later after we re-connected, that ten-year old girl who waited by the window for him to come home lived on inside me.

And so I was always a little suspicious when things got too happy.

Today, I am making a different choice.  Today, I realized that it’s okay to not have problems and complaints.  It’s okay for all in my life to be well.  It’s okay to be pain-free, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Here’s 8 clues which show you that you are getting used to being unhappy:

  1. You laugh hard and long one time, and then think: I can’t remember when I have laughed like that before.
  2. Happy/optimistic people annoy you.
  3. You point out other people’s flaws, either to their faces, behind their backs, or in your own mind.
  4. Happy endings in movies irritate you because you don’t think they are “realistic”.
  5. When people laugh too loud, you judge them.
  6. You choose dramas and meaningful films over romantic or mindless/silly entertainment all the time. No exceptions.
  7. You feel smug and self-important on a regular basis (but would never admit that out loud).
  8. You think happiness is over-rated.

(P.S. The more items you picked, the more stuck you are.)

I know, it’s tough to admit that you are stuck in a rut of unhappiness.  It’s easier to blame your spouse or your professors or your colleagues or your parents or your kids or your job situation or your health or…..and on and on.  It takes courage to admit that you are just getting used to being unhappy.  I know it’s hard to figure out how to get out of it.

I had a client say to me once: “I can’t just think my way out of this feeling.”  And within four sessions, she had actually achieved just that!

So what I am trying to say, in a scenic route kind of way, is that you are allowed to be happy.  Actually, you are supposed to be.

It’s your birthright. 

At times like these (when I am trying to drive home a point, that is) I look to Nature for supporting evidence.  So let’s look at puppies.  They just arrive happy.  For no reason.  Happy.  Unless something bad happens to them or they don’t have their basic needs met, they generally stay that away.

Most of us humans come in generally okay.  Even babies who are born with extreme health conditions can recover pretty well and become smiling toddlers.  Where it all goes wrong is when we start drinking in the heartbreak and judgment that is all around us.  Because so many adults for so many generations have not had the space or know-how to be emotionally expressive (unless that emotion is anger or disappointment), the children coming in to families learn that expressing joy (or any other powerful, uncontained emotion) is not really okay.

But that is changing.

I am watching my friends and peers approach parenting in a whole different way.  They let their children feel their feelings, and they give them tools to navigate those feelings.  They teach them how to express their feelings while remaining socially appropriate. These little boys and girls are saying “let’s take a deep breath” to each other on the playground, and “we hurt Sally’s feelings” before they rush over to apologize.  They are asking for help from caring adults and older children when their feelings overwhelm them, and their joy is so big, so bold, that it magnetizes everyone in the vicinity.

My children are part of this cohort.  And I want them to know it’s okay to be happy.

It ‘s okay to be happy. 

It’s okay to be happy.

It’s okay to be happy.

(How ridiculous that I even have to say that?!)

I need other adults to help me role-model this to them, and all the little ones growing up in this new world of frontier-less friendship.  If we can claim our happiness, so can they. And that could actually change our world.  So will you put down your unhappiness today and join me?

Grow your tribe and find your happy with us at our next workshop.  Book now while the Summer Slash Sale is still on, only $99 for your seat! More info and tips at www.talktosaira.com

My Two Voices

Truth Byte #31

You are being too hard on yourself. 

 

Judgment is a curious thing.  Very little children don’t judge.  They ask questions (Mommy, why is that man wearing a dress? Daddy, what is that chair with wheels for? Grandma, why doesn’t Maya have a dad?) but until they are taught, they don’t really know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what is the “right” answer and what is just plain wrong.

 

Adults and older children teach them that. 

 

Not too long ago in Western history, children were taught that people of certain skin tones were naturally inferior to others.  They learned that “fact”, grew up believing it, and then their actions as adults demonstrated those beliefs.  It was their children and grandchildren who challenged those judgments and their great-grand children who are still advocating for ethnic minorities and people of colour in the West.

 

Not too long ago we believed that it was dangerous to women’s health and the family’s stability to teach women to read.  When I told my seven-year old that little historical tidbit last month, he laughed out loud in disbelief.  “If moms and teachers aren’t allowed to read, who is going to teach the kids and help them with their homework?” he asked, incredulously.  He then told me that there is only one male teacher in his entire elementary school, and he is a substitute.  “Boys and girls both need to know how to read so they can understand life and not be tricked,” he said, with finality.

 

Judgment has a very dark side.  We have been reeling from the intergenerational impact of mistaken judgment.  For decades we have been trying to dismantle the institutional discrimination it supported.

 

So what happens when we turn that judgment inward?

 

Too many of us live our lives with a toxic inner critic as a companion.  Sometimes it feels like we can never get it right, never do it right, never be or have enough. When that happens, know that you are listening to that Voice.

 

I was looking around my home the other day, and it seems no matter where I went, there were things out of place.  I would finish with one part of my house and the other part of the house would be a mess.  My friendly inner critic showed up, never missing a beat, and went on to explain to me how I was a failure, and how if my single mom who worked three jobs could keep a tidy house, why couldn’t I, (an entrepreneur who makes my own hours and has a loving, supportive husband at home) have a presentable home?

 

Within moments of that corrosive inner talk, I was hollering at my young children about how I am not their maid and I am going to donate all their belongings to kids who deserve them if they can’t keep their spaces tidy.  They cleaned up slowly and silently, without making eye contact, and I internally kicked myself.  I should have just put on the “clean up song” like I do every afternoon when I want them to put their things away, and they would have known the drill.  Instead, my own inner judgment seemed to make it okay for me to lash out and act like a ten-year old.

 

We all felt terrible after and I went to bed that night with a migraine.

 

The critic thrives on comparisons, and won’t quit until you have lost it.  Which will give you one more thing to feel bad about.

 

There is always someone that Voice can find who is managing better than me.  Someone who is in a tougher space yet is somehow seems to be coming out roses.  And when She can’t find someone real, She will start making comparisons to caricatures and Hollywood/Bollywood starlets who seem to have it all and not be breaking even the smallest sweat.

 

(Speaking of sweat, when I first started attending Zumba regularly, my inner critic told me I was clearly not doing it right because everyone else was sweating more than me. It’s always something!!)

 

I have tried all kind of strategies to deal with my critic.  And I have found only one that works:

 

Listen to a different voice.

 

Alongside my Critic, there is another voice.

 

This voice is quieter, more loving, and always gives me the benefit of the doubt.  This voice reminds me that everything of this Earth will perish, and there is only one vibrant part of my that will survive after my last rites: my soul.  I like to think of this voice as the voice of my Spirit, that voice that speaks to me through the breeze in the trees and the waves on the sand and the twinkle in the eyes of my children.

 

This voice reminds me that even in my weakest moment, I am strong. 

 

This voice reminds me who’s child I really am, and that my true Mother/Father can never leave me.

 

This voice is much softer than the critical voice, and so it’s often harder for me to hear.  I have to be still to hear this voice, and I have to be willing. But once I notice it, the voice of my Spirit is persistent.  It points out all the things I am doing right, and reminds me that even if I did nothing “right” for the rest of my days, the fact that I am kind and caring is enough.  More than enough.

 

This voice reminds me that whether anyone else knows it or not, I am loveable. 

 

This voice makes it easier for me to breathe.

 

Today, I challenge you to get still, and to be willing.  You have this voice too, (you have probably already heard it once or twice) and it has something to tell you.  I know that other voice, the critical voice, seems more real most of the time, and it’s easy to join in the self-attack wholeheartedly. And yet, that is not making you happy, is it?  Make the switch today, and let me know how you do listening to this new voice.

 

To access this other voice, and be able to listen to it more regularly, it helps to be around others who are on the same path.   Join our tribe by subscribing to my newsletter or attending a workshop. Email me for more information at connect@talktosaira.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ice Cold Contraction

Truth Byte #30

“Stay and play, don’t run away.”

I was a pretty even-tempered child.  That is, until my feelings got hurt.

Growing up in the 80’s in a large, close-knit extended family that loved to tease, that happened often.  When I felt that lump in my throat, I would quickly change the subject and try to blink back the tears.  I was never very good at putting on a false show, and my face would give it all away, so they always knew I was on the verge of tears at every family event.

But I loved to play with all my cousins and be around my aunts and uncles, so no matter how insistent the jesting, I would stay.  There were others in our group that would simply remove themselves, and over the years, have distanced themselves from the drama and potential hurt of our big fat immigrant family.

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting upon how I choose to spend my time and with whom, and how layered and complex it can get in a family context.  I come from the type of family where we do complain about one another here and there, but as soon as the bad feelings are out of the mouth, they’re also out of the mind.  We do our best not to hold grudges, and hold each other accountable for the roles that each one of us play.

In a nutshell, we call each other out. 

In a nutshell, our love is strong and deep and unshakable, and yet we are not immune getting sucked in to family drama.

I think this makes us strong.  It also makes for some very tense and awkward moments.  So during these difficult conversations and scenarios I find myself facing as an adult, I remind myself of the ice cube technique that I learned during my birthing class.

The premise is simple: squeeze an ice cube in the palm of your hand for a full minute at three minute intervals.  The point of the exercise is for new moms-to-be (and their partners) to get a simulated version of the intensity of a contraction.

Now, those of us who have actually delivered a baby will laugh and shake our heads at this comparison, but when I was going through the exercise in the last trimester of my first baby, it really was quite difficult and uncomfortable.  Our teacher explained that there were two approaches to dealing with the pain of a contraction: you can either go in to the pain, or you can get away from it.  We all knew how to get away from pain, as this is something we are biologically wired to do and have been practicing all our lives.

But why would we ever choose to go IN to the pain?

And how would we even begin to do this?  It took a few tries for me to get it but when I did, it was like my world was flooded in sunshine after a dark, cold winter.

And so now, in my transpersonal counselling practice, I teach people to go in to their pain.

But’s it’s not physical pain, like the ice cube.  It’s emotional pain.

Which can be just as debilitating. 

Rather than distract themselves with their future goals or wish away their situations through good old-fashioned positive thinking, I challenge my clients to actually face the pain that is keeping them stuck.

I ask them to go in. 

And I promise to never leave them there. 

But if we aren’t willing to actually feel the pain, we can’t really move past it.  And this doesn’t mean you have to be re-traumatized.  There are certain memories that you really don’t need to re-visit.  But the feelings that we carry, deep in the most secret parts of our hearts, those deserve to be acknowledged and released.  What if we actually said to ourselves: “Yes, I feel bad about this thing that happened,” and then rather than explaining to away or spinning it in some way, we just felt that bad feeling for a moment or two?  And then (with the help of a trained professional, if needed) move on?

The really fascinating thing about feelings is that they are like little kids: when you pay attention to them from a caring place, they stop acting out, and if you ignore them, they either get more and more intense, or numb out and shut down.  So what if we all took some time this week to actually feel the cold sting of the ice cube from our own life? What if instead of distracting ourselves, we let ourselves have a good cry or a good vent or even just be willing to feel a bit uncomfortable for a while?

When you are willing to go all the way in, even the most overwhelming emotions can be distilled down to two primary impulses: moving towards (love) or moving away from (fear).

When we were infants, we only had the capacity to move towards or to move away from, to be attracted or to be repelled. So what if you just allowed that uncomfortable feeling to stay awhile and got to the bottom of it? Rather than push the pain away, you may be surprised at how it transforms you.  That’s what my family and I are learning: to stay and play instead of running away.

Even when it’s hard.

Join us in the Fall for an experiential  workshop that will show you how to effectively navigate your emotions and deal with emotional people without getting overwhelmed or numbed out.  Take advantage of our $99 Summer Slash Sale, and invite that person in your life that you know is ready for transformation to come along with you!  More at www.talktosaira.com or visit Dr. Saira’s Facebook page.