Extreme makeovers are all the rage these days, with botox injection parties, and reality shows. Plastic surgery is on the rise. Many people are trying to match the extraordinary measures actors and actresses go through to look perfect on the screen. These are shortcuts taken to try to create happiness with a scalpel, a diet, or an implant, and they don’t fulfill their promise. Beautiful people are not automatically happy people.
Diva-dom, god-ness, is just a way of expressing the goal of the human quest-to attain the highest expression of the beautiful being you are is not about sex, or perfection, and you can’t get there via technology. It’s a growth process, a transformation of self through awareness and learning. It’s about meaning, and being real. It’s an emotional and spiritual walk, and it requires faith fueled with liberal doses of loving kindness.
Every day, I have the delight and privilege of loving Richard, my husband, a real, human, fallible man. We’re about the same age, he’s losing hair, I’ve gained weight. But, after almost 20 years, we have fused our hearts and souls, if not our personalities. He clearly loves me, though I often frustrate him, and I am grateful for his presence in my life on a daily basis. Our sex life is lovely, thank you, even if it doesn’t match movie fantasies. We laugh together, we share the struggles of daily life together, and the thought that he might die before I do fills me with dread. All the buffed up male models in the world couldn’t replace my very own, live and kicking, formerly red-haired leprechaun. It took me 37 years to find him, and I’m not about to replace him with so-called “perfection”.
My friends and I are no more perfect. We can be cranky, we occasionally carelessly hurt each others’ feelings, they don’t always say the right thing. But, we are here for each other when we’re really needed, we do our best to be caring and kind, and we forgive each others’ imperfections.
Perfection, particularly media perfection, is highly overrated. Clients come to my psychotherapy office every day in considerable emotional pain because their lives aren’t “perfect” enough. They feel inadequate, dissatisfied, hopeless and frustrated because they can’t attain life as they see it on the big screen. I have to break the news that those people up there have problems in their real lives, too, and refocus my clients on accomplishing normal things that work for them..
All the face creams, cardio workouts, healthy diets, Prozac and meditation tapes in the world aren’t going to make their lives, their bodies, or their mental state much better. Life is not about remaining young and photogenic. It’s about growing your soul.
The only way I know to develop my soul is through feelings. Awe at natural phenomena (the star-lit heavens, a centuries-old redwood, the gorgeous flowers of the Mandevilla vine at my gate) stretches it, making me yearn and aspire. Human relationships bruise, batter and comfort it, teaching me resilience and humility. Love urges my soul to blossom and glow, compassion causes it to blur at the edges, and so I learn to accept others as they are.
The humans in my life are not the narcissistic, self-absorbed “beautiful people” of the screen. We’re ordinary, real, imperfect people, like you-the ones who really keep this country and the world going. Together, we work hard at life, trying to be our best selves, taking care of our families and each other, and striving to bring our personal ethics and aspirations alive in the world. We come from numerous backgrounds and religions, we don’t always approve of each other’s decisions, but we care for each other the best we can. We struggle to be less self-indulgent, more compassionate and understanding. We try to resist the fads, the manipulations of advertising, the con artists who prey on our weaknesses. We survive through government administrations we don’t agree with, through natural and unnatural disasters that take our loved ones and possessions, through fads and fancies that are often unhealthy. From each event, we learn, we stretch, we recover, we process the emotional aftermath, and we move on. These life events are the soul’s workout, and though we may groan and complain, we can feel the growth eventually.
Today, an elder of my church, a man in his late 70s, pretty physically battered and a bit stooped over, proved to be one of the most forward-thinking of the whole congregation. Life has beaten him up a bit, but it has not passed him by. His spirit glows radiantly. Have you ever seen an elderly person like that? One whose wisdom shows in his or her eyes, and whose love is not flamboyant, just there in a gentle query about your health, or a brief touch that calms and reassures. The spirit that shines from within them is true beauty, and it can’t be bought in a jar.
The miracle is, that each of us has the total capacity to achieve this perspective, this fullest embodiment of the highest expression of soul, even as our bodies wear out and crumble.
Here’s a visualization to help you access the god or goddess within, your inner wise person:
Picture a person of seventy or more-just the kind of elder you admire, the one you would like to become. Financially secure, in good health, surrounded by people who care, good friends and family… active with lots of interests… Introduce yourself to this elder, and notice your names are the same… this is you, later in life… Make an agreement with this ideal older self that you will get advice about what decisions you need to make as life goes on, to live to a healthy and happy state of being. Continue your conversation as long as you wish, and ask what your elder’s secret is for living to such a lovely old age.
Once this contact is established, you can check out your decisions regularly by using this wise mentor within. For example, how does this inner counselor react to your life choices? At that advanced age, will you look back on what you’ve done and think it was worth it? Does your wise self approve? Does he or she think your choice will last? What is the difference between what’s important to you, and what this inner counselor regards as important?
All the experiences of your life, especially the difficult ones, have taught you valuable skills-using what you’ve learned in life to help yourself and others can create meaning out of pain. Buddhist teachers note that poisonous plants and venoms become healing medicines with careful processing. Every trial that you face has something to teach you and can become a source of wisdom-this inner counselor will help you access what you know.
It is a very effective tool to help you look at your own life and your decisions from a different and valuable perspective. The decisions you make today affect the rest of your life, and you are ultimately the only person to whom you are accountable and for whom you are responsible. Every new decision is truly a new life’s resolution.