Nineteen Voices: The Power of Acceptance
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Go here (https://www.shaktiyogaathens.com/blog/nineteen-voices-1) and read the prelude.
See you back here soon.
Nineteen Voices: The Power of Acceptance
For me, acceptance began in June of 2018. Repressed pain felt ready to burst. So when I started to experience some of that emotion & process it for the first time, I felt entirely overwhelmed. I became aware of a deep familial trauma that I had to process within the context of my experience. I became aware of a deep-seated apathy towards the direction my life was heading. I became aware of how little I had healed from past traumas.
I felt hopeless & desperate for help, confused and unhappy, so I sought out a therapist. In July, I walked into Dr. Sydney Felker-Ross’s doors and spent the next hour recounting the timeline of trauma I needed to heal. I can’t remember if she even got a word in. I was so ready to share, words flooded out of me.
Over the next months, awareness of the trauma wasn’t the hardest part of the therapy process. Accepting that what I’d been through was horrific and traumatic and deserved to be felt... that was the hardest, and I felt (still feel) unworthy of healing.
Up until I started therapy, I’d spent 23 years within a murky type of numbness. The degree of dissociation ebbed and flowed with how well I took care of myself, but I didn’t realize there was another option. And, up until June, I’d considered myself a happy person. “Bubbly.” Constantly bubbly. I’m removed enough from that to realize, I created that bubbly, happy person because I was so terrified of stopping long enough to see my sadness.
Awareness of my own pain looked like, “I don’t have to be happy all the time. I can be content. I can be sad. I can be okay. I can be elated! I can be really, really bad. And that’s normal.” Feeling numb, disconnected, and dissociated = not normal. Or maybe it is normal for a lot of people, but it’s not the best, or only, way to live.
A large part of my healing was accepting parts of my past as traumatic. And now, six months later, I can say that’s nearly complete. So the work has shifted to acceptance of the present moment. I’m moving forward in accepting the people, places, circumstances of my life as is, because accepting what is allows me to act from my values, authenticity, and independence. Shitting on the way I look isn’t acting out of my chosen values. Starving myself isn’t authentic to my goals. Depending on external validation is not living independently. Acceptance means nothing is outside of my control, and everything is outside of my control.
Juliana, Sabrina, and Jaclyn have moved through similar processes, and I’m excited to share their stories.
“People come to you, and they either see a wall or they see a path where they can walk”
- Juliana Escalante
On Shakti’s website, Juliana is described as ‘walking sunshine.’ That’s the truth. Juliana and I began working together in August, with me teaching the Sunday night restorative class and Juliana offering hands-on assists. She has a way of emotionally seeing students. Knowing how to connect. Juliana is tapped into her emotions in a shame-free way, and it’s part of what makes her special.
Juliana recently went through yoga teacher training, and her teacher gave the trainees this prompt: My least favorite part of my body is ________.
“I wrote my thighs,” Juliana says. “I realized it came from a long, long time ago. I was very insecure and always doubting myself. I would compare to my sister and my mom. My mom's obsessed with diets. And my aunts and my uncles would say to me, ‘Oh my God, look at those legs.’ Big legs, culturally, is appropriate and normal and they're good. But I would see how they were not saying it to my sister.” I imagine those comments felt alienating, the positive intention not making up for the fact that it marked Juliana as ‘other’ in comparison to her mother and sister.
For Juliana, acceptance looked like coming to terms with the toxic relationship her mom has to food and body image. “I love my mom. And I think at some point I did blame her a lot, but she really doesn't know any better. Now, I feel sorry for her; she's freaking dieting all her life. She's a very vain person. She cares a lot about how she looks. And that's also a very cultural thing in Latin America. I go to Costa Rica during the summer, and [my mom and sister] were working out together. My sister goes, ‘We saw this article about getting Miley Cyrus’s legs! So that's what we're doing.’ I'd rather have my own legs.” Sitting there listening to Juliana, it seemed like she’d developed a strong sense of confidence within this environment.
Even so, when Juliana goes home, there’s a shift. “When I'm here, I'm this super confident person who does not care about how I look. I don't even have a mirror in my room, because I honestly feel good. The moment I land in Costa Rica I’m feeling awkward and different and weird. It makes me sad. It does, but I've talked about it so much that in some ways, I feel removed. I've learned so much because of it, and I've learned that some people never get the opportunity to learn about themselves.” Through learning about herself, Juliana liberated a piece of herself from that mindset.
Yoga played a large part in finding that awareness, and Juliana felt like some of the hardest times of her life were during high school and the first few years of college. A time before yoga played a major role in her life. “These mental health illnesses were coming up, and I was super, super anxious all day long and super depressed.” Depression and anxiety ran in the family, too. “So my senior year of high school, I started asking all these questions, but since it's something that had never been talked about in my family, I didn't know how to approach it.” Juliana received surface-level answers, and her family didn’t dive deeper into what mental health illnesses looked like.
For Juliana, healing needed to happen through conversation with her family about mental health illnesses. “I made it public. I was like, ‘Hey, this is how I'm feeling. And everyone needs to know.’ So we started talking about mental health. Everything started being more open. And then after [yoga] training, I wanted to talk to my mom about [body image], but I was not able to.” So even though the work started, a shift occurred, there are still limits to what Juliana feels comfortable talking about with her mom. I feel similarly, with certain members of my family. Like, how much can I share before they get offended? Or, how much can I share before they label me as my illness, instead of seeing the totality of who I am?
“I've talked about [body image] so many times,” Juliana says. “Yes, it hurts, and I'm strong as hell. It does not affect me in that way anymore. If anything, I feel like I'm ready to have people come to me.”
What advice would you give someone coming to you for body image healing? “Look within. Stop looking around, stop listening around. It's all inside. Because it's so easy to compare yourself. You step into the world and the world's gonna smash you down. But if you look within, you have everything you need. Take layers off, be vulnerable. Open yourself and talk. Talk about it many times. It's going to be a lifelong process. Which was a relief for me. Because I kept wondering, ‘When am I going to feel better?’”
And for Juliana, acceptance of the journey gave her peace. Knowing that she is whole and complete now, meant nothing needed to be different.
“I went to yoga today, and I was like, ‘Man, I feel safe!’”
- Sabrina Roualdes
Sabrina has a talent for capturing theeee perfect moment. She’s the creator and owner of Mila Promotional Films and works as Shakti’s videographer! (You can check out some of her work on Shakti’s IG.) She’s a kind, awake spirit with a quiet, present-moment awareness. It’s like she just gets it. That quality lands similarly in her yoga practice. She’s one of my regular students, and she moves with grace, ease, and poise on her mat… so I wasn’t surprised when she told me she had a background in dance.
“I danced all my life since I was three. When I was 13, I was going into my freshman year of high school and I wanted to be on the dance team at school. You had to get a physical during the summer before you audition. The doctor talked to my mom, and was like, you know, your daughter has very severe scoliosis. It was just so shocking because I had never… I was already so insecure. I thought I was too skinny in middle school. And then he said that I had to wear a back brace 23 hours a day. That was a very traumatizing thing. I had a lot of insecurity up until that point. And then after that, I didn't wear my back brace how I was supposed to. I only wore it when I was home.” I talked with Sabrina a bit more about the diagnosis, how traumatic that moment felt. Especially at a young age, already vulnerable, and having to wear something that would put her outside of the norm… It’s a teenager’s worst nightmare.
That moment stuck around for Sabrina, but she was able to actively work towards acceptance through healing practices. She consulted with her friend, a shaman, and he lead her through a guided meditation. “We did a meditation where you take yourself back to that moment, and you try to experience everything that you were feeling. I was thinking about it and he was helping me get back into that moment, and then he said, ‘Have someone in your life, or make someone up, who will take you out of that space and take you to your safe place.’ And then you go to your safe space. And he said, ‘Now you get to recreate that moment in history. Go back and change it to what would make you feel comfortable and good.’” She was able to reprocess that scene in a comforting, safe, and lasting way. I can imagine how that would feel like a gift: A process of acceptance that gives you the power to choose a different experience.
Writing a letter to your pain/trauma/body/disease is another approach Sabrina tried. “It was writing a letter to your scoliosis, and blame it for all the bad things and all the good things. Everything you need to say to it. It’s in the book, Path to Love, by Deepak Chopra. He talks about writing to your illness or disease and then you respond as your illness or disease. Some of the responses [from the book] were like, ‘Okay.’ Or, ‘Thank you for sharing.’ Or the disease would yell back.”
When I first thought about this practice, I thought my body would respond and be pissed. Like, ‘Fuck you for starving me for so long. Fuck you for making me feel like shit and hating me when all I’m trying to do is keep you alive.’ But in reality, I know my body would say, ‘I’m so sorry you’re in pain, but please stop hurting me.’ And that feels harder to bear.
“[The letter] wasn't as healing as I wanted it to be. I did it a few times, but it was interesting to get a new perspective on it. It opened me up outside of my own perspective. It's more of a relationship than an ‘I hate you.’ It’s an open channel.” Same for me. I didn’t feel revitalized or like my body had undergone a revolution. More so, it made me think: if my my body could speak, she would want me to feel better. That’s it. Which is beautiful. And forgiving.
Through her body, Sabrina has learned about the beauty of acceptance. She says, “There are so many good things that came from my scoliosis. I listen to my body a lot more now. I have been so intrigued by learning about the mind-body relationship, the spirit.”
Scoliosis didn’t stop Sabrina from pursuing her passion of dancing, either. “I went to a dance show with my sister, and her boyfriend was dancing, and there's this really famous hip hop dancer in the community, Mari Madrid, and she's super skinny. I felt very out of place, wanting to do hip hop. And I was thinking about giving up dance because I felt like I was too tall and too skinny. But she's so highly regarded, and it gave me hope to keep going.”
I asked Sabrina what changed, what gave her the confidence to feel, move, and show up in her own skin, especially when dancing. For her, confidence in her skill as a dancer translated to more confidence in her body. But insecurity still lingered in yoga.
“I had insecurity at my spine showing. When I'm in a sports bra, I don't know what my spine looks like in down dog. I feel like it might be startling to some people. So I've been trying to be out there and just not let it bother me as much.” I’ve felt similarly, like I would be ‘too out there’ or ‘too exposed’ when I removed my shirt. It’s frustrating that something so simple dictates what I will and won’t wear into a yoga studio.
Not to mention, getting policed by other people adds to the frustration and pain. Sabrina talked about how her friends would make comments to her about her size, about how she looked “ideal.” “It doesn't feel that way to me. I've always struggled with it. I get, ‘You're so skinny,’ a lot. ‘Eat some more bacon.’ I get that kind of thing from friends, parents, coworkers. It's probably made me more introverted and not wanting to meet people. I feel a lot of judgment, not just [about my] body, but a lot of judgment all the time.”
Sabrina and I talked about this some. It’s tricky to discriminate between a story we tell ourselves and what is actually happening. Maybe no one is judging her, maybe everyone is, but what if neither mattered to her happiness? This moved into conversation about how her sister read her Tarot cards recently, pulling for past, present, and future. Sabrina’s future card translated into her development as a divine goddess. Those words stuck with her. I asked Sabrina how that translated into her actionable future.
“I think I would practice unconditional love. You don't have to change for me to feel good; I'll never make you change. Feeling good is my responsibility. You keep yourself feeling good, and I'll keep myself feeling good, and then we'll feel good. Giving love and being confident.”
What if you gave that to yourself? “I don't have to change to feel good about myself. That's crazy. It's like unconditional love for the self. I don't have to change to feel good about myself.”
What I took away from my conversation with Sabrina:
Love begins with acceptance. Peace begins with acceptance. In a quiet, simple way, our healing guides us on a path towards being okay with who we are. Maybe one day, landing us in a place where we love ourselves, too.
“I want to be the best person I can be, in the body that I've been given, in the time that I live, in the space that I live in, with the tools that I have. To me, that's beautiful. That's a worthy cause. ”
- Jaclyn Steele Thurmond
During our interview, Jaclyn said to me, “It's one of the great gifts of life to create something out of nothing. It's a miracle.” Ain't that the truth.
Jaclyn is a powerhouse. Powerhouse musician, creator, writer, influencer, friend, wife, business owner. Jaclyn was one of my first regular students at Shakti, and we quickly became friends. She was the first person I shared my book with (the first person to really believe in this new creative baby I was terrified of talking about). Not to mention, Jaclyn holds a bank of quotations (both her own and famous influencers/authors/poets/etc.) in her brain that she can whip out any time you’re needing a boost. She’s the person to go to for one hell of a pep talk.
“Growing up I was a really confident child until I was six or seven. I wasn't afraid of anything. I would march up to adults and tell them exactly what I was thinking.” Aside: this doesn’t surprise me one bit. “It wasn't until I started to become aware of my body that I second guessed myself. All the kids in my class were skinny. That’s what I thought was beautiful. And I was on the chubby side, and I got made fun of sometimes, so I was mortified by it. I shrank, from being very confident to holding my hands in front of my stomach.”
“I remember one time going to the swimming pool and my mom saw me covering my stomach with my arms,” Jaclyn says. “And she was like ‘Young lady. Don't you ever cover yourself up. Walk with your head held high. Don't let anyone know you feel any kind of self consciousness.’ And so it was a mixed messages that was meant with the best of intentions. From that point on, I put on the facade of confidence, but it wasn't actually felt. I can portray whatever I want on the outside. And I think I've become pretty good at doing that and it hasn't been until I've gotten older, like late twenties, early thirties, that I've gone, ‘Wait a second. What if they knew the real deal?’” A comment her mom made to build up Jaclyn ended up instilling a mask of false confidence, suggesting that feeling anything less than put together wasn’t acceptable. For similar reasons, I feel myself holding onto my own mask, even when healing has tried to chip it away.
Jaclyn talked about how perfectionist tendencies in her academic life translated over to how she looked. Plus, in the midst of that mounting pressure, Jaclyn’s family underwent a seismic shift. “At 17, 18 years old, my parents were in the middle of a horrible divorce that had gone on for about four years. I grew up very quickly in a lot of ways, and my mom and my brother and I had moved out of our house. It felt like everything I had ever known was gone, and I felt completely out of control in every way except my performance in school and what I ate. I took what I ate like it was my job. I was anorexic. I got so skinny, I stopped getting my period completely and had to go on medication to get my period again. I was consumed by thoughts of food all the time. And people would say, this is the scary part, I got more compliments than I got concern.”
The lack of awareness I used to have (and still have, sometimes) about the impact of my words feels staggering. Sadly, I can’t count how many times I’ve complimented a woman on her weight loss. Again, reinforcing the idea that thinner is better, and reinforcing the acceptance of fat stigma in American culture. I wonder how many times I’ve perpetuated an ED. So, part of my acceptance process is letting the past be the past, learning from it, and committing to doing better now.
When Jaclyn’s life shifted, with that came a difference in how she saw food and her body. “It was the worst my senior year of high school; it continued through my freshman year of college, though. I transferred to Baylor University, and I got out of my comfort zone. I was in Texas, my family was in North Carolina and Iowa, so I was far from my family, and I started depending on myself. I started to become aware that I was really struggling. I think in order for any change to occur, you have to want it, or you have to be so sick of yourself and sick of how you feel.” For me, it felt like a combo of the last two. Sick, angry, and tired.
“I didn't have, you know, an epiphany,” Jaclyn says. “It was well into my twenties that I started to like get my period again naturally. But I would say I still was trying to be that skinny, waifish 17 year old until I was like 24, 25. I did, over a period of time, get so tired of being hungry, of beating myself up emotionally and consistently every single day. I can accept what I've been given and love it and nurture it and care for it, or I can keep treating myself in a way that I would never dream of treating another human being.”
Awareness, acceptance, and curiosity were the pieces that pulled me out of disordered patterns. Jaclyn found that through inquiry. “I was always passionate about [inquiry], and in my early twenties, I started to unravel what was happening with my thoughts around food and my body. I think self awareness is the first step: understanding a problem. But it's also a choice, which sucks. You are making this decision. And you're choosing to treat yourself poorly, or you're choosing to go another route. So in those early twenties, I spent a lot of time reading and attempting character development. It's one of those cyclical things where you think, ‘Oh, I've got it!’ Only to fall on your face.”
After this, Jaclyn talked about how with each cyclical go-round, with each bout of learning, she bounces back faster. She ‘gets it’ more with each round. So, even if it doesn’t feel like a straight line moving forward, that’s fine. Because, “Life isn't static. It's changing constantly. We're changing constantly. Our bodies are changing constantly. Our likes and our dislikes are changing constantly, and that's okay.” It’s a renewal each cycle. “Do I want to focus all my energy on what other people physically see, or do I want to focus my energy on what really matters, which is being loving and kind and trying to attain wisdom where I can?”
Similar to what I talked about with Maggie in the previous blog post, it’s a complete restructuring of our thought/emotion/action interplay. Which isn’t easy. For me, now, I’m learning how to have more acceptance about my present moment. Especially around my creativity. Like this blog series, for example. I shared with Jaclyn how tough it can be to make something creative and actively fight against self-doubt and ‘getting it right.’
Jaclyn’s thoughts: “We have to choose to conquer our own self doubt, and to me, self doubt isn't conquered like an artist fixing a flaw. It's one brave decision at a time. Going, ‘You know what? I'm going to choose not to give into that thought right now. I'm going to choose not to entertain that fear, or I'm going to choose to walk on the beach in a swimsuit despite my feelings of being self conscious.’ Then I think you realize, nobody fucking cares.” We got a good laugh out of that last sentence - Really! No one cares! I am so grossly wrapped up in my bullshit, my healing, my love, my life that I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what anyone else is doing. At least, not all the time. :)
“Take some of that pressure off, and ask, ‘Who am I living for?’ Do a gut check. I'm at a point now in my life where I know who I am enough to know when something is in line with what feels good and with what I love versus pushing me in a direction that would just be a distraction. I want to be brave and raw and honest and authentic and real because I want to connect with other people because that's when I feel happiest. And I don't know if we ever fully get to the point where we're authentic 100 percent of the time. There's so much unraveling that needs to be done, it requires a lot of wrestling with yourself. A lot of self awareness, which can be exhausting. We have been so conditioned to be like everybody else that we forget the power that we hold.”
Acceptance of who I am and who I am thoroughly not is the beginning of tapping into that powerhouse. It’s a way for me to let go and fucking live for the first time in my life = No preconceived notion of having to be or become a certain someone = Letting go of the expectations I hold for my present moment.
“I think from a spiritual perspective, letting go of expectations allows the universe to flow freely. Create those little miracles. Paulo Coelho says, ‘When you start to go after your treasure and you start to go after your heart's desire, the whole universe conspires behind you to help you.’ But we can't do that if we have a tight grip, we don't allow the breathing room. Letting go of those expectations allows all the energy to flow, and God, the universe, however you want to define it, to do what it does best. That's where I'm at right now: trying to make a shift from ‘This is where I want to be professionally,’ to, ‘Who do I really want to be?’”