True Beauty: Honor the God or Goddess in You

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.

Holiday Gift Giving – Getting Behind the True Intention of Why We Give

When it comes to giving gifts, it’s the thought that counts… or does it? We’ve all been on the receiving end, at one time or another, of gifts that have left us scratching our heads wondering what on earth the gift-giver was thinking when they decided to bestow this particular item on us.

For a lot of people, giving gifts, especially during the holidays, is an obligation rather than a sincere act of love, kindness, generosity or gratitude. How else to explain those totally random gifts that have little practical or sentimental value?

Often times we use gift giving as a way to over-compensate for some perceived lack of self-worth or adequacy. When we feel “less than” about ourselves, we tend to spend more on gifts in the hopes of gaining the love and approval we seek from others. How many times have you been shopping at a store during the holidays and found yourself on line behind someone at the register who appears to have gone stark-raving mad? They’ve loaded their carts to the max –as though they were in a shopping spree and their lives depended on grabbing the most items possible in the shortest amount of time. Gift giving when viewed in the context of this prism becomes a futile exercise in self-redemption via crass commercialism –after all, imagine the disappointment of this person’s family and friends if they didn’t show up on the holidays with a boatload of gifts!

Then there are people who feel the need to keep score… are you one of those? You are if you wait to see who gives you a gift first before reciprocating, make decisions about who to gift based on historical performance (i.e. who gave you a gift the previous year), or you aim to maintain parity in your gift giving –meaning you always give gifts of approximately the same or perceived value as the ones you receive.

All this mental score-keeping is time-consuming, exhausting, and distracts us from the true intention of gift-giving –acknowledging those we love and care about. When giving gifts starts to feel like a chore or an obligation, that’s the time to re-evaluate your gift-giving strategy! Why do you give gifts? Is it to fill an ego-based need? Is the real motivation to make yourself feel better or to make someone else happy? What if you let your ego get out of the way and focus on what would make the other person happy based on what they actually need or

A gift is your way of expressing how you feel about another person –your way of showing them gratitude for having them in your life. The best gift you can give is the gift of sharing yourself or your feelings with someone –being present with them in a way that reminds them that they mean something to you. Here’s a quick look at some gift ideas that can support the real intention of giving:

Gifts of Experiences

There’s something deeply satisfying and gratifying about sharing experiences with someone you care about. It builds and strengthens the bond between you. It can be something simple like taking them out for dinner and a movie, going to a concert, play, or sporting event together, or doing something more involved like spending a day hiking or exploring in nature, getting pampered at a Spa, a visit to the local museum, or volunteering for an event. The emphasis should be on togetherness –sharing the experience rather than just handing them a gift certificate or pair of tickets to something.

Gifts from the Heart

Gifts from the heart are the most meaningful and can take on many forms: gifts of time, love or support (baby-sitting, house-sitting, pet-sitting, tech support for the computer-challenged, gardening or decorating advice, cooking lessons, house-cleaning, coffee or a meal together). Think of something your giftee needs, could really use, or you know would make them feel good. Start by asking them ‘What do you need?’ or ‘What can I help you create?’ This way you can help them do or create something that’s important or meaningful to them. You’re building on their idea rather than on an idea of your own which may not be as important to them.

If time is a major challenge, then other heart-centered gifts include contributions to charitable causes that are important to the giftee, or gifts from companies that tithe or support similar causes.

Handmade Gifts

Another great way to show someone you care is by using your talents to make them a gift. Great handmade gifts include food (jellies, jams, infused culinary oils and vinegars, all manner of dessert), bath and body items (soaps, candles, perfumes, lip balms, lotions and creams), clothing (any form of knitwear, silkscreened or hand-dyed clothing), jewelry, accessories, home decor, pet accessories, other craft items (photos, drawings, paintings, scrap books, etc.). If you don’t have the time or skill then consider buying handmade gifts –it’s not as personal as something that’s made by you but it still holds more value than your run-of-the-mill store-bought items.

Here are some resources you can consult for gift ideas:

For gifts to charitable causes, consult the Charity Navigator Holiday Giving Guide to help you evaluate different charities and aid organizations and make the most of your contributions.

For handmade and green gifts that make a difference, shop at the World of Good’s website –a shopping site with a treasure trove of over 20,000 ethically-sourced, fair trade, and eco-friendly gifts and goods from around the world. And don’t forget to consult Etsy –a shopping site of only handmade goods in a variety of product categories.

For gifts to people in need, take a look at Kiva. Championed by former president Bill Clinton, this organization lets you use your money to make micro-loans to entrepreneurs in poor and rural parts of the world with the goal of helping them achieve economic independence and improved quality of life. Another great option in this category is Heifer International.

Copyright 2009 Dropwise Essentials