Posted on by Bethany Ramus
By Chivalries as tiny,
A Blossom, or a Book,
The seeds of smiles are planted –
Which blossom in the dark.
Written in the fall of 1858 and bound into Fascicle 3. I copied this one down and had it hanging it my apartment for a while – it’s a sweet bit of encouragement to be kind. An affirmation that the slightest action does make a difference, even if it doesn’t seem to in the moment. A reminder that people remember how you make them feel over what your wearing or how your hair looks.
As Annie sang in the musical I watched as a kid – “You’re never fully dressed without a smile!”
We’ve entered Fascicle 3! I swear I haven’t skipped around, the poems naturally jump from 1 to 3 this way. We’ll see if 2 comes up later on. Now it’s Fall of 1858, and, of course, she captures the change of season in her language –
The morns are meeker than they were –
The nuts are getting brown –
The berry’s cheek is plumper –
The Rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf –
The field a scarlet gown –
Lest I sh’d be old fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on.
How can one ever hope to keep up with Nature’s everchanging beauty? Simply, one cannot. I’ll tell you a secret – beauty isn’t a contest. It’s not a zero sum game. We can all be abundantly beautiful, and celebrating each other’s beauty intensifies our own. Find beauty in everything and you will find beauty in yourself; we reflect what we see in the world.
Namaste, beautiful –
Do you ever find yourself engaging in destructive behaviors? Acting against your values for a fleeting night of debauchery or a few extra days in bed – sabotaging yourself? I know I’m not the only one.
Why do we do this? Why, when things are going well for a change, is it natural for us to tip the scales in the other direction?
Maybe we’re used to trauma, to bad things happening, to always having something to struggle through – after a while, pain becomes familiar. It becomes safe, even if it isn’t good. And good things can become scary. Good things can feel too good to be true, and, instead of savoring the golden moments, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to find out what the catch is, the flaw, the actual reality – because things can’t just be great, can they?
I think they can. I think life can go well, and this doesn’t mean that it’ll all turn to shit eventually. I think, if we practice love and kindness and mindfulness and trust, that we can all live great and beautiful lives. And I think we’re all capable of achieving truly incredible things, solely by being our best selves.
It sounds cheesy or fluffy or fake, right? Like cotton candy that’s way too sweet. It looks nice, and you buy some at the fair, but after two bites you’re tossing it out because you can’t stomach the flavor of pure spun sugar. So you buy a salted pretzel or a sausage on a stick, and you balance out the flavors.
And this is self-sabotage – a sick way of balancing ourselves out. Because some part of us knows how incredible we are, and some part of us is terrified of that, of the greatness that lies latent within us. Of the ways we can change the world, of the pressure and responsibility that comes with such power. So we hurt ourselves, knock ourselves down a peg, placing ourselves in negative relationships, drinking excessively, eating unhealthy foods – whatever your vices, the wicked bit of our subconscious finds a way to balance us out. To keep us from achieving our potential. To keep us safe.
Because greatness is kinda terrifying. Success, that mythical ideal that the world continually chases, can be scary. Because what happens when you get it? What happens when you realize that success is a state of mind, that you have nothing to chase except your own dreams, and that you can be successful whether you’re a cashier at Burger King or a renowned neurosurgeon? Then you’ve made it. Then you’re happy, right? Then you’re grateful, gracious, loving, calm, clear – able to give from a place of wholeness and light and security, able to truly contribute something positive to the world, something that only you have to offer.
But that seems too good to be true, and we’re all conditioned into skepticism, raised to believe that old women who offer young girls lasting beauty and happiness are only out to get them, out to put them into a deadly slumber and sabotage their dreams of true love. But here’s a twist – maybe the witch in all those Disney movies isn’t a separate character from the princess – maybe she’s the princess’s subconscious. Maybe she’s sabotaging herself, too insecure and afraid of losing the joy and the love and the light and the beauty of the fairytale, so she stops it all before it can come true. Before she can be proven wrong. Before she can have it all.
We know the witch is evil, and we know the story always ends with happily ever after – with the witch being defeated and the princess being saved by an external force, journeying off into the sunset. But this doesn’t feel quite right. Because where’s our example of saving ourselves, and where’s our model for living happily ever after? These things are elusive – even Walt Disney couldn’t portray them. So we’re left wondering what will happen when life goes well, dreaming of happily ever after without knowing what it actually consists of, deluding ourselves into believing that it isn’t happening right now.
But this is it. Your happily ever after is your prerogative. The witch is yours for the defeating. She’s not a foe to be vanquished with a single kiss – no, this battle is lifelong. She will always be there, tempting you away from your joy with exactly the vices you crave. And sometimes she’ll win. And sometimes you’ll win. And the happily ever after comes when you accept all this, when you bring grace to the fight and learn to dance with your witch. And over time you learn the steps by heart, your muscle memory takes over, and it gradually becomes easier, and, while you can’t kick her out of the party, she’ll start to realize that you’re a way better dancer than she is, and that you don’t let her shove you around the way you used to. That she’s lost her power because you’ve found yours.
I don’t think it ever stops being scary. But maybe that’s the beauty of it, maybe that’s the thrill. So lean in to the fear, lean in to your power, lean in to your potential. Let yourself be great. And have a ball.
Love, calm, & care –
It’s the holidays – the most wonderful time of the year. Parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, caroling out in the snow, etc, etc. But why do we care, and what does one wear?
Of course we all like to look festive for Christmas parties, throwing on sequins and red dresses – really doing ourselves up. I went to a couple events, and, for the first big buffet I went for a big high-waisted skirt. I found it at a thrift store a couple years ago, and sewed two snaps in the waistband, so it’s expandable. It’s a great deal of material, so I save it for special occasions or when I’m in a particularly flashy mood, but I find that I wear it most around the holidays. I keep it simple with black, my necklace, and my tall boots. A bold lip sets the whole thing off. It’s simple, comfortable, but still interesting enough to merit complements at a holiday party.
The holidays are a big time – a series of days with high expectations attached. Expectations are a sure-fire way to set yourself up for disappointment, so why do we always insist on having them? Why is it that Christmas must be the most wonderful time of the year? Supposedly you’re with the people you love most, giving and receiving a few thoughtful gifts, eating delicious foods, and all laughing and wearing santa hats like you’re living the reality of whatever Christmas card you sent out. But what actually happens on Christmas, and why are we celebrating?
To many people, Christmas is nothing more than a chore – a day to be around people you call family by blood, not by choice – to eat and drink and try to be merry, to give and receive gifts that not much thought were put into, to attempt to enjoy each other’s company. For others, it’s a break in the monotony of everyday life – something to look forward to, a day to set aside for nothing – for fun. A day to be calm, relax, socialize with people whose company you enjoy, and forget about the rest. We throw parties because we can – here in China no one knows what Christmas means or where it originates – stores put Santa Claus stickers in their windows, and people use the day as an excuse to have a party, to go shopping – to treat themselves. Because they need a reason.
It began as Saturnalia – a week-long pagan festival of debauchery, something like The Purge movies – where anything and everything was indulged, and a human sacrifice set it all right at the end; gingerbread cookies started as human shaped biscuits to symbolize the human sacrifice. If you’re curious to know more, I read through this page and found it fascinating. But then Jesus came – supposedly the ultimate [human] sacrifice. He was born, and Christians placed his birth on this day – somewhat arbitrarily – in an attempt to redeem the pagan holiday. Then it became an excuse to persecute Jews – a day to mock them for being wrong about the messiah’s arrival.
Growing up, we always read the Christmas story straight out of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and celebrated the whole thing as a day of hope – a day when, as the Christian band Point of Grace pointed out on a Christmas album we played every year – love came down. Regardless of why we celebrate, I hope we can all latch on to that phrase. Whatever or whoever love is to you – let it come today. Let it be a day to give, to enjoy, to embrace – to extend love to those you might not naturally extend love to. And let that pervade your daily existence. I think that’s the true spirit of Christmas, and what is there to lose by practicing it? It can bring joy all year round, and it doesn’t even require the trees or the presents or the feasts.
Feasts are a blast, though, and I really got to go HAM this weekend. I took time to care for my body in between meals with a 20 minute yoga vid especially for holiday meal digestion – it’s a gem, especially with all this rich food. For the Christmas day festivities, I wore dressed up pajamas – a second buffet within 24 hours required an elastic waist, and this top literally came from a pajama set at Target. I’ve been incredibly comfortable for games and meals, and I look cool to boot – at least I think so, and that’s what makes it true.
What do the holidays mean to you? What do you like to wear for a party or a day of opening presents? Please comment down below, and enjoy your holiday!
Love, calm, & care –
I read recently that what really defined the fall of man, in the beginning, was gaining awareness. The knowledge we gained was the knowledge that we existed on this planet. Instead of simply living blindly, allowing events and circumstances to unfold as they may, we started thinking about it, started plotting, started making plans and strategies for how to live – something that, as far as anyone knows, we’d never thought to do before. Because we didn’t know any better.
But, in the societies that followed this awakening, many groups were excluded from living in the light this knowledge provided. Women and people with darker skin tones or different religions were excluded from the greater plan that straight white men conceived and subsequently enforced. It’s taken hundreds of years and countless atrocities to get to where we are today. Damage has been done, but we are making progress. Think about when this country – America – was originally founded. White men who thought they ran the world came in on their ships; they plundered, exploited, and enslaved entire native civilizations. Our country – and others – were founded on practices of slavery, of cruelty, of subjugation.
Really, what was our nation birthed on? On the one hand, we have strong principles of liberty, of freedom to pursue dreams. Supposedly, if you read the poem on the Statue of Liberty, we are a nation for the poor, the downtrodden, for people who are suffering in their homeland and need a fresh start. If only these things transcended the boundaries of race and class and religion and gender.
Nate Parker’s film – The Birth of a Nation – is necessary, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. If you don’t know, it’s using the same title as one of the first movies ever made in America, one that praised the KKK as a heroic force and showed black men as unintelligent sexual predators. One hundred years after the first try, Parker redeems the title, telling the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man who led a rebellion that started this country on a path toward ending slavery.
Schools today are deficient in education about slavery – people like to brush over it, gloss over the filthy things that slave owners did. This movie no longer lets that slide. Jarring cruelty is shown, but it’s not simply to shock – it’s told in such a way that brings it home, that makes it real, that makes you as angry and as heartbroken as if these unspeakable things were being done to your own brother or wife. Because really, the people who live in this country with us are our brothers and sisters regardless of race or class or religion. The emotion is intense, and that’s exactly what this country needs. It’s what I needed, and I know I’m not the only one who is able to live in some kind of bubble because of the lack of melanin in my skin.
This movie works like hydrogen peroxide on a wound that has been festering, infected, never fully healing. It’s massive and dirty and awful, but this film, along with other movements and works of art, is cleaning it out. Healing will take some time and some pain. But pouring the hydrogen peroxide is a step forward. Acknowledging what happened can lead us toward progress. It can unite us as people under new empathies, new knowledge. We can express our concern by speaking up, by looking critically at what our nation was founded on, and by evaluating if that is still what we need.
Discrimination is dead. We can look to current news and politics to see that this is not yet true in practice, but I know enough people who believe that – that nothing is skin deep, that a person lives INSIDE a body, and any judgments should be suspended for conversation. I know this is easier said than done, but at least we’re talking about it. Let’s use our fallen trait – our awareness of living – let’s use it for good. Let’s stay woke about what’s going on, let’s practice love and kindness and inclusivity in our own lives. It starts small, with individual people, and when individual people all watch a movie like The Birth of a Nation – that does the world some good. And isn’t that what we all want?
Take care –
If not, here’s how. I certainly have my moments. It’s not always easy to feel beautiful and amazing when we live in an entertainment, image saturated world. With so much to compare ourselves to, it can get confusing if you take all the images as advice – as the way you’re supposed to look. The truth is, you’re not supposed to look like anyone but yourself. How could you? Changing your perspective may take some time, but this should help.
- Objectify yourself. It sounds ridiculous, even cruel, doesn’t it? But really, find a way to distance yourself from yourself – not forever, just long enough to analyze who you are really and find the objective truth that can stand above the lies that your mind might be telling you. It’s true that you are your own worst critic. So if you can please yourself, you can please anyone, right? It might not be pleasing now, but be honest. Talk to a therapist or a friend if it helps – someone who can help you see the truth. There will be things you don’t like, even things that are objectively awful. It sucks sometimes, but no one is perfect. Not me, not you – we are imperfect humans. And it’s better to see that for what it is than to deceive yourself.
- Accept yourself. As you are, misaligned morals, traumatic past, ten extra pounds, unibrow and all – or whatever it might be. Nothing will change until you honestly accept what you’re working with. Living in a delusion about yourself won’t help matters. Learn who you are at this moment. How do you spend your time? What makes you excited, what puts you to sleep? What do you cling to? Regardless of how you feel about your findings, accept them. Accept that you are a human being on this planet and you are worthwhile.
- Find your values. There are assessments you can take online, providing you with dozens of traits like adventure, creativity, and self-awareness, and you choose which ones are important to you, narrowing down your set until you’ve selected a top ten and then a top five. And then you can refer back to these and evaluate your actions and lifestyle by them. These serve as a guiding light, a sort of north star for personal growth. Any time you lose your way, you can reference these. They’ll grow and change with you, and your life should follow them. If it doesn’t, and if the values are truly important to you, maybe it’s time to make some changes.
- Figure out who you want to be. What do you look like in your daydreams? What are you doing? What would it take to get there? Dream. Don’t stop yourself, just let your mind roam freely in fantasy land and then find ways to make those things happen.
- Become who you want to be. Maybe this sounds silly or daunting, but trust me, it is possible. The way out of this mess is self-love, and it happens when you can be happy with yourself. With your values and your newfound self-worth, there’s nothing you can’t do. Want to be kind to yourself? Practice. Remind yourself daily that you deserve kindness and love. Start to see your world through these new lenses, and everything will begin to change. Painfully, slowly, then all at once, and one day you look in the mirror and love what you see, one day you gain five pounds and you still love yourself, one day you do things that make you happy every day. It just takes practice. And you’re as capable as anyone else.
It’s not easy every day. But it gets better. It always gets better. Life is filled with growing and changing and it’s an endless wave that you get to ride. But first – pick up your board and learn how to surf. You’ll fall a lot, but you’ll pick yourself back up because it’s important and because you’re strong. And before you know it you’ll be swimming farther out, riding bigger waves. Before you know it you’ll be yourself. And no one can do that better than you.
How do you feel after sitting on the couch all evening with potato chips and soda? Lethargic, maybe? When I’ve been most depressed, it’s been me, a bed, Grey’s Anatomy and Oreos all night long. I don’t feel great. It’s a cycle actually – eating junk food makes me depressed. And I don’t mean the occasional cookie, I mean six at once or chips and queso for lunch every day, processed crackers always on hand, and no fruits or vegetables in sight. Now that I’ve done the work to clean out my system, a piece of cake can deflate my mood. And I’m not alone in this – I’m just especially sensitive. And aware.
It doesn’t take a nutritionist to see that processed foods filled with sugar don’t make you feel great. Without fiber along with it [as in fruit], your body freaks out, stumbles blindly through digestion, and sends the sugar straight into fat supply. Sugar is a drug – it’s like the new cocaine. Except kids are addicted. And the conundrum of it all is that, if you’re feeling down, sad, etc, what do you reach for? Comfort food. And anyone who’s ever had a meal in the south can tell you what that’s made of. Dairy and sugar. Regardless of the dish, it’s dairy and sugar. Even drinks – soda, sweet tea – you’ve heard it all before. It’s everywhere. And eating it – just like any other drug – seems to be an endless cycle.
Ours is a time of disordered eating. Maybe we don’t like to talk about it, but there it is. Food as comfort was passed down to me as a coping skill, along with a biologically slow digestive system and adolescent body image issues. I was bulimic for four years. If you don’t know, that’s the one where you can’t handle feelings so you stuff food over them in excess. As the sugars settle, self-loathing rolls in, followed by a purge – typically self-induced vomiting. It’s very cathartic if you don’t know how to actually feel your feelings. And I certainly didn’t.
Any addiction is a learned behavior of escapism, whether it’s sugar, alcohol, or meth. It’s your go-to – it’s what’s comfortable, familiar, safe. As much as you hate it, you come to love it, even cherish it. When you become uncomfortable, you know how to fix that. As time goes on, though, you start to realize your habits aren’t sustainable – that this one comfort in your life still makes you miserable. Its secrecy isolates you and, with food especially, it’s very easy to keep problems a secret. You can eat in the bathroom, outside, in your car, in your home. You buy a binge amount at the grocery store and excuse it with a charming smile, saying, “My boyfriend was just dying for oreos.” Whether you purge or not, that’s easy to hide, too. Any time you go to the bathroom, all you need is your own finger, maybe a pen. No one knows if you’ve had three dinners or zero and most people are too involved with their own problems to catch warning signs in a friend or family member’s behavior. Even if you do notice – what are you supposed to say?
To stop negative, self-sabotaging behavior, you first have to decide that you want to stop. Reasons vary – but it’ll usually come with realizing your own worth, deciding that you don’t deserve to be sabotaged. Most personal work begins with self-love, but getting there can be an arduous journey. If you see signs in a loved one, simply beginning a conversation will help. Just be there. Get personal. Ask the hard questions – it’s always worth it. Here are some helpful ones: How do you feel about yourself? What do you think about? How’s your heart? Even a simple, How are you? with a meaningful look. Talk about anything personal – the mere fact of your intentional presence makes a difference. Because, just as the junkie might talk to his heroin, food becomes a friend. And if no one’s noticing your unhealthy behaviors, try being your own friend and turn these questions on yourself – at least start thinking about it.
Addictions are like abusive relationships in this way – you love them, and they hurt you. But you just keep going back. To get out – be mindful. Subconsciously you’re upset, and you’re taking it out on your body. Now you’ve decided you don’t want to go to food or cigarettes every time you’re bothered, but it’s engrained behavior. Luckily humans are adaptable, and rewiring the brain is possible. A craving sets in, and your body instinctually busies itself with finding a fix. When this happens, stop. Look. Listen.
Stop. Pause in the moment. Freeze. Still your body so you can listen to your emotions. Observe and describe what’s happening. “I just got in my car at 11 pm to go find candy/chips/whatever.” Investigate. “Why do I want candy right now?” Even with quitting smoking – which I’ve also done – noticing that you actually have a craving is the first step. Chances are there’s a reason, and it’s probably something you encountered – bad news, being ditched by a friend, didn’t like what you saw in the mirror, even boredom. Okay, you’ve frozen the moment, paused yourself – now what? That’s up to you.
Choose. You get to decide whether you go on your errand or not. No one’s pointing a gun at you, no one made you get into your car. What do you want – really? Try to see past what you want in this moment to what’s actually going to help you in the long run. If you want to beat an addiction, don’t forget that you want to beat it. Keep reasons on hand if you need to, and reference them in this moment. Remind yourself of how much you start to hate yourself after you eat an entire tub of ice cream. Is it worth it? Now of course you’ll relapse, but don’t beat yourself up for making the “wrong” choice. You still made it, the least you can do is take responsibility for your actions and accept that. It takes baby steps.
In recovering from bulimia, I struggled with binging long after I stopped vomiting. But I promised myself – whatever happened – I wouldn’t purge. I would have grace with myself, forgive a binge and move forward. The fog began to clear as I slowly cleaned up my diet, seeing food as fuel instead of an event or a comfort. It was certainly gradual, but here we are two years later and, while I am necessarily aware of food, I am healthy. I practice kind habits. And they’ve become so much easier with time. And I work for that. Anyone can. You can. Without a doubt – it is worth it.
I remember people joking about messages in Lizzie McGuire and other Disney shows – “Believe in yourself.” It sounded so cheesy, so silly – foolish, even. But actually, it isn’t. It’s some wisdom that Disney was tryna drop on us, and we threw it on the ground. Maybe some people absorbed it, but, growing up in Christianity, I was taught to believe in God – not myself. Only myself through God. Which never fully made sense to me. And, while I’ve received a lot of encouragement from the people in my life, I’ve heard many people I loved talk to themselves negatively – criticizing body parts or actions, beating themselves up. This broke my heart. I saw that these people didn’t deserve that. But everyone has to find it for themself.
Example 1: Your bills were due yesterday. You forgot to pay them. In the moment you remember, what do you say to yourself?
- “Oh shit, you idiot, how could fuck this up?!”
- “Okay. Fuck. It’ll be okay. Just pay it now. You can’t change it.”
- “Fuck the bank, they don’t deserve your money.”
Hopefully we can all agree that, while many of use might feel c, b is the healthiest option.
But so many people choose a. Too many. If you call yourself an idiot, sooner or later you’re going to believe it. In the same way, if you consistently call yourself a genius, you might become a megalomaniac. Of course a balance is key in this, but a healthy, positive self-image is an integral piece to achieving any type of happiness or success.
Example 2: You wake up with a massive pimple on your forehead. Looking in the mirror, you tell yourself –
- “You’re a hideous monster. No one will ever love you.”
- “This will pass. You are more than your face. I love you. You’re worthwhile, regardless of your blemishes.”
- “You already have the face of a goddess, so this is hardly an issue. You are the best looking human on this planet.”
I think we can once again agree that, while c is a fun option, b is the healthiest.
And once again, it kills me every time I hear people say things like option a to their reflection. While it may seem ridiculous to tell yourself, “I love you,” it makes such a difference. And, once you begin, sooner or later you’ll start to – if you don’t already.
Some days are hard. People can suck and make you feel like shit, and your mind can do this to you as well. Sometimes I feel like I just don’t want to. Really anything. I just don’t. But then I catch it, I stop my freefall, and I look in the mirror and I say, “I love you. You are worthwhile, intelligent, strong, brave, beautiful, etc. You can.” And, even if I don’t believe it in my head, seeing myself say those words to myself actually does something in my brain. And I feel a lot better. I believe myself. And then I believe in myself. And that’s not cheesy at all – that’s necessary for me to function as a healthy human being.
Society seems to place more value on what other people think of us than on what we think of ourselves. While the opinions of others can hold some weight, what actually allows for a healthy mental and emotional state is a positive self-image. It’s a beautiful thing, the self-image, something that can be curated carefully and cultivated into exactly what you wish it to be. Developing this actively is a lifelong pursuit, and it doesn’t stop once you make your self-talk positive. Having it allows for comfort in your own skin, realistic ideas of who you are and what you can accomplish, and the ability to love others well.