Updated: May 27
I have been reading a lot of Pema Chodron recently. If you haven't read her books then I can recommend them. It might sound slightly Oprah ish but the words and wisdom, especially around the thoughts that get stuck in your head, really make you think.
So much of who we think we are is based on these thoughts. Our own long held misconceptions of how we look, walk, talk, style our hair, exercise or diet can be extremely negative and more often than not, not seen or shared by others. The internal thought process we cling onto moves from, "you never look good in photos","all you can see is my scar" or "for God sake, no! Hide that double chin". So my question is this why do we hold on to these thoughts? Why do we not want to let go? Why do we always say "I never look good in photos" when images are who we are?
I had to do some filming the other day for a series of videos connected to an organisation I help out with. It was a nightmare, every time I filmed a piece I picked over every little detail on my face, my weight, my clothes and my slouching insecure shoulders. I nearly threw the towel in but my sister offered to help me re film some clips that were in focus and looked marginally better (my view, not hers). Whilst she was looking at the way the light shone on my hair, all I could see was my slopey face with wonky eyebrows (result of a muscle spasm as few years ago) ... and there in brackets is the excuse/held onto thought/misconception. A fact that, yes, is real but I see magnified a hundred times more than it actually is.
The video has gone out and there has been lots of good feedback but for me, it was still painful every time I saw it, until this morning.
I got a message from someone I have not seen or heard from in years. She was scrolling through Facebook and the video started playing automatically. "I was sitting drinking my morning cuppa when I heard those dulcet Glaswegian tones coming from my iPad and the next thing I knew I had drifted off to a bar with a pint in my hand and a stirring debate on what order you put salt and vinegar onto chips". No mention of a slopey face, no mention of a double chin only a remembrance of a great time we had had many years ago.
Why, then, are we our worst critics? Is it a safety mechanism that stops us from letting that self belief actually take control to move us out of our comfort zone? Are we like the dandelion, in my photo above, holding onto those seeds till a breeze gives us no choice but to let go?
I took this "selfie" accidentally one day in the library at the University of Glasgow and thinking back to the Pema Chodron quote, I looked at it again and tried to let go of the negative thoughts about what I see.
So deep breath here I go ...
When I look at the lines and the scar around my mouth, it shows I have lived. I can see eyes that say I have only had one coffee and am not quite awake yet. I see me in a place that I love wearing my Dad's old University scarf which both my brother and I have worn with pride. I see wisdom highlights in my hair mixed with the amazing cut done by a great friend. In other words, I have realised, it shows me and who I was at that point in time.
Yes, there is no great epiphany.
Yes, there are still the self misconceptions. I would not be human if I didn't have those.
Yes, I know that there are those who will always say, "no way you look amazing" for good or convenient reasons.
But what is important is the real life face to face belief in ourselves that I can be me and be good with that. In a world that is currently existing via a lot of virtuality, that is hard. We all know the Zoom call scenario where you appear looking like you have been dragged through a hedge backwards with the lens at that oh so flattering have another chin angle. Then instead of concentrating on that very important agenda item, you spend most of the call googling how to get a facelift while social distancing. In these days of, in my opinion, unnatural filters, photoshop and fillers, we can look like whoever we want to be but if we don't get rid of that "I never look good" thought how can we possibly be our natural selves. It took me a while to get up the courage to really look at that selfie but now it is done, I can
look at other photos including this one and enjoy them. This one for me says fun, it says I need another beer, it says beep, it says I loved those sunglasses and wish I hadn't sat on them.
So perhaps it is time to allow the breeze to blow away the dandelion seeds of those held onto thoughts and instead beep the red nose of a happy Take That fan believing that we can "change the world by being ourself".
To believe and acknowledge our self worth is key, other people believe in us so let the seeds fly and see what grows.
Pema Chodron : When Things Fall Apart, review on Books page soon