The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Singing My Song

Recently, I heard a woman singing her soul’s song. It was as if that song, those words, the music were created just for her voice and her voice for the music. It was absolutely beautiful and I could feel the song as if it were coming right out of my own soul. There’s a certain kind of joy I get when I am witness to someone who is in the moment of doing exactly the thing he or she was meant to be doing. When someone is at the top of their game, it is almost intoxicating to be in their presence. It’s that awe I felt watching Gabby Douglas in the Olympics or Tina Turner on her stage or my favorite professor in my undergraduate years at Agnes Scott College, the late Ayse Carden, while she was teaching. There’s something about being in the presence of someone who is in their MOMENT of fulfilling their life’s purpose that leaves me in wonder and joy. I know you must know the feeling.

I believe I feel that overwhelming joy when experiencing another person in the middle of the thing they are here to do because it’s like looking into a mirror of possibility. It’s like seeing and knowing what I am capable of. It’s inspiring because it’s my highest self expressed. There is a sacredness in those moments in which we are living up to our fullest potential. We recognize those moments when others are in theirs because they are OUR moments, too. After all, we are of the same spirit, the same source, the same life. So even when it’s not me in that moment of being in the presence of somebody else’s moment, I am also able to feel it as if it is mine, too.

I am in search of the truth of who I am. I have a general sense of the essence of who I am but I’ve been feeling a certain restlessness lately that’s telling me that maybe I’m not singing my soul’s song. This morning I listened to a talk on the Authentic Self. Funny how when you’re searching for answers, the lessons (and teachers) come flying at you and the closer you get, the more it feels like being in the storm. I’m feeling tossed and turned amidst these thoughts and trying to learn the lessons as they come and hoping that I am moving into the eye of the storm where I can feel the calm once again.

There is a beautiful story floating around about a group of people somewhere in Africa.  Side note – I rarely say such things as “somewhere in Africa” because very specific regions and countries and towns are home to me and vary greatly. However, not knowing exactly which tribe and where in Africa, I can only hope that Alan Cohen knows the truth about them. The piece is called Sing Your Song from his book, Wisdom of the Heart. Go on – click on the link and read it. It will open in a new tab. You’ll be glad you read it if you haven’t already. It’s beautiful and it brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me to seek, know and be guided by the truth of who I am. It reminds me that I have a song. It brings tears to my eyes to know that there are special, special people who know my song and always will. It reminds me that I came into this universe intentionally and to live out a purpose in a way that only I can. And it assures me that there will always be people around me to remind me of my song by singing it to me.

Today, one of those special people in my life sang me my song. I needed it. She sang it and I listened and I remembered my song. I may not have figured out my life’s purpose, but I remembered my song. I’m settling into the acceptance that, mostly, I’m living out my purpose without ever knowing what my purpose is. It’s not necessary for me to know my life’s purpose all the time. It’s only necessary to sing my song. To live out the truth of who I am. Ultimately, if I do anything in the spirit of true love, I am living out my purpose. Even when it’s really, really hard. I must remember that. And I must remember my song. I am deeply grateful for those special people who know my song and sing it to me.

So although I’m not clear about my life’s Purpose, I know I have been in the moments of fulfilling my life’s purpose. Some have been big and wild and had fireworks in the background, while others are quieter, simpler moments of knowing. Like right now, while writing, I know I’m in it. I like this. I feel calm and excited and happy all at the same time. I am in the eye of the storm in this moment.

And as surely as I sit here in this quiet Moment, I also know that there are bigger Moments to come as I live out my purpose and as you live out yours. I commit to daring to sing my song as loudly or as softly as necessary.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

P.S. Sometimes it takes me a while to make the connections and I just had an Aha! moment that forced me to update this post. This morning, I took a moment to sit outside on my deck to be in my feelings of feeling lost from my self. As I sat there, I saw a hummingbird in the distance hovering over some flowers in our yard that often attract hummingbirds. I always feel lucky to see hummingbirds. This one, however, hovered right on over in my direction and came all the way to 3 feet in front of my face and looked right at me while hovering!!!! It hovered for several seconds, gazing at me, then went on its way. I knew something special had happened in those moments with my humming bird.

And it took me until this evening to realize that it was a HUMMING BIRD. Get it?! – a humming bird. Humming birds hum. It came to hum my song to me. Without a doubt I know that it was God-sent. No doubt.

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Saying YES to the Universe

There is so much that needs to be written out of my head and heart that I feel I might burst if I don’t. I actually just began to write something quite profound and then in walked my 5 year-old with books to read. With the intention of going with the flow and accepting invitations from the Universe, I said sure and enjoyed a few moments with her and a couple of books.

I was then joined by my 8 year-old who wanted to quietly sit near me while his mind woke up and before his energy levels and vocal cords rose from 0-100 percent. Again I said yes.

Then, having sufficiently enjoyed the moments, I shifted to my computer to write. I’ve been itching to write. So much has been on my mind and in my soul and this is the way I let it out. This is my therapy (and it’s free, which I like).

So I sat down and returned to my profound thoughts…only to hear a piercing, high-pitched and very long drawn out sound from one of my kids. I don’t really know what it was and why right THEN, but there went my profound thoughts as I fell right back into my real world of trying to juggle the everyday pieces of parenting and working and living.

Except that this morning is quieter than my usual mornings and I took a moment to say yes to The Universe – to writing as well as to precious time with my children.

This blog post is short but a much needed therapy session with the Universe that I said yes to. As I write, in this moment, my two most amazing gifts are beginning to engage in “sibling love” that is escalating from…scoot over…stooooooppppp…I’m just trying to get comfortable…stop pushing me off the couch…I’m not touching you…heeeyyyyy…what are you trying to do???…I’m trying to sleep…stop!…you’re snoring…I thought we were trying to sleep…I don’t like it when you snore next to me…etc., etc., etc.

Life is good. As is.

That’s my prayer today.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Nine Lessons About Marriage From My Nine Years In It

A year ago, Brian and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. I stumbled over the word celebrated because we didn’t really celebrate the day in any dramatic kind of way with bubbly and balloons. We did go out to eat with the kids and it was a beautiful evening at 246 in Decatur, GA. We exchanged special words in true 21st Century style on Facebook and received many, many beautiful greetings and wishes that warmed my heart and made me feel so loved and celebrated. However, there were a few comments made by lovely people that left me feeling a little off. I couldn’t quite understand the comments and didn’t feel quite right accepting them. So I decided to write about them in the hopes of making sense of them.

The comments that stopped me and sat like bricks in my gut were these:

“Happy Anniversary!! Thanks for being such a great team & giving hope & love to us all!”

“May God continue to shower blessings on both of you. You are a shining example of marriage.”

“What a beautiful example of marriage the two of you are!! Happy Anniversary! Continued blessings!!”

These sorts of comments puzzle me. They feel good to hear and are beautiful sentiments, but they leave me feeling puzzled. You see, I don’t view my marriage this way. I am aware that Brian and I have many great things going for us – things we have in common, amazing family, cute kids, humor, a shared Alma Mater, degrees and place of employment, love for travel, etc. And we’re very lucky in this way. But when I think about where we are in our marriage, I think about how the hard parts have been a constant through all the beautiful parts of marriage.

I want to feel like I truly deserve those comments offered enthusiastically by loved ones. Somewhere in my being I can see a truth in them. I can see how the universe really has conspired to bring us together and we really could be “a great team” and give “hope and love” to others. We really could be “a shining example of marriage” someday. But I haven’t earned this yet. I guess that’s why those comments don’t sit well with me. I love them but I want to earn them. I see the possibilities for our marriage, but I want to get there.

Fast forward a year and we’re celebrating 9 years of marriage on May 21st, 2014. I choose to honor this day by recognizing 9 lessons I have learned in my 9 years of marriage. Here goes:

1. He is NOT my everything. Contrary to the messages that bombard us about finding your one person that will fulfill your every dream, Brian has never been that for me. I’ve never actually believed in the possibility of one person that will be everything for you and this has been confirmed in my marriage. In fact, it would be too much of a burden on him (and on me for that matter) to be everything to each other. No, we are two people on our own journeys whose paths are intertwined. For each of us to fulfill our dreams, we must have spaces between us and interests and joys and friends that are our own. When we got married, we chose to include one of our favorite lines by Khalil Gibran in our wedding program.

“Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Little did I realize exactly how true this would be for us. We are meant to live big and wild and free next to each other and not in each other’s shadows. And if one of us were to live in the other’s shadow, we would never be able to see exactly how beautiful the other is. He is not my everything and I love being able to see everything about him that is beautiful.

2. There is a very, very thin line that sometimes fades to invisibility between love and hate. This is real. This is truth. My truth at least. There have been moments in which I have loved and hated everything about my spouse. These have been extremely confusing moments in which I have wondered if this might be exactly what it feels like to be have a split personality or if indeed I really could medically be labeled so. For me, the struggle to communicate well frustrates me to no end. The pride and stubbornness and incredible measures we take to protect our egos break me down sometimes. In those moments of brokenness I find it hard to imagine even one more day with him in my life while in the same moment unable to imagine a life without him in it. It is exactly in those moments of being a fragmented soul that I realize I am no better and no worse than any other human being on this Earth. It is exactly when I see all I am capable of in the mirror of marriage and I realize how fragile I am. How fragile we all are as human beings.

3. Teamwork is necessary and you can’t keep score between team members. This is a lesson I KNOW to be true but one I still struggle to implement. There was a time when I would put off cleaning up the kitchen or folding the laundry because it was HIS turn to do so. I would pretend not to see the piles of dishes or clothes in the hopes that he would get to them. It would mean that he was holding up his end of the deal. Lately, mostly for my own sanity, I take a deep breathe and do it anyway and remind myself that he picks up in other ways.

Parenting together requires teamwork. REQUIRES. This is hard for me. My constant battle to preserve my independence while knowing that a serious amount of co-dependence is necessary in a marriage is confusing and exhausting. I depend on him and he depends on me for our lives to happen in a less than chaotic manner. And teamwork does often mean giving the best you are able in any given moment and trusting that your teammate will do the same.

Apparently, we’re doing it. We’ve played our lives well enough that our kids are well-nourished, generally happy, loving, joyful and adventurous. We have a home and jobs that we like and we keep showing up for the game with our game gear on.

4. It’s all about me.This is the ultimate truth – it IS all about me. When I’m happy or sad or mad or frustrated or just pissed off, it’s because I have some stuff to work through. I’m on my journey (see #1) and everything in my life is here to teach me lessons that will get me to the end. I have a purpose and it is to love wholeheartedly. And I have to learn to love and then I have to practice, practice, practice. This is why my partner is in my life. He is here to be part of my learning and he is teaching me to love. What he brings to the table is lessons and practice for me to learn to love wholeheartedly. I must learn to be wide open. Forgiveness is about me. I must learn to love. I learn to do this by looking in the mirror that he holds up for me everyday. When I see something in him – good or bad – and it causes a reaction in me, it’s because I am seeing what’s actually in me. If you can spot it, you’ve got it. Get it?

5. It’s all about him. I realize that while he is here to teach me, I am also here to teach him how to love. I play a role in his life and in his learning to love wholeheartedly. I have choices in how I respond to him in any given situation and each response is an opportunity for him to love better. There are many times that I don’t know what’s going on for him but I have to trust that he is doing his soul homework. I don’t have to take on his stuff when it doesn’t feel like mine. He’s able to handle whatever comes his way. I know this also means that I have a deep responsibility to God to love in the best way I know how at any given moment. He’s on his journey and when stuff doesn’t feel like mine, there are times when it’s really NOT mine and I have to let him have it.

6. Chilling out is necessary. Translate that however you will – chilling out as in a chilled cocktail with girlfriends or taking a chill pill along with some deep breaths. Chilling out means those things along with the laughter that accompanies it. Laughter is good. Laughing at myself and not always trying to save face is necessary. Chilling out with Brian is even better and sometimes I have to take the initiative and pour the Patron or figure out the babysitter and make time to be together away from the everyday busyness that can blind me from the fun guy with whom I fell in love. There’s nothing that takes me back more quickly to those falling in love days than doing something new and laid back with Brian. And being reminded of those days is necessary.

7. We are not with the person we married. I have learned that, while life does not change the truth of who you are, life changes how we are in the world. Along with most cells (but definitely not my neuron in my cerebral cortex) in our bodies being replaced by new cells over the past nine years, we have also changed based on what we have learned about being in this world. This means that I have to let go of seeing him the way I did years ago and expecting him to be the way he was years ago. I don’t expect (nor do I get) an excited and captivated man who cleans up his entire house prior to my arrival.

This also means that I have to try to see him for who he is today and notice when he makes an effort to do better and be better. I know I have worked hard to get better at speaking my truth and forgiving more quickly and NOT resorting to the silent treatment when it gets hard to talk about hard things. I know I’ve worked immensely on daring greatly by being vulnerable (thanks, Brene!). And I want him to see me this way and not expect me to be how I used to be. I have to keep looking at him with fresh eyes so that I don’t miss out on who he is becoming. We are not the people we married and that’s a good thing.

8. We stand alone but are supported by a village.The success of our lives and the state of our marriage depend, ultimately, on us. We do the inside work on our own and mostly in the privacy of our life together (except for this blog post, maybe). However, we are held up by a village of people who love us. People who encourage and challenge and listen and pray and cheer us on in our marriage. This village includes our parents, our siblings, our extended family members, our children, our friends and our colleagues. This is our community.

This village matters so very much to me. We live on a big, big planet with so many millions of other people, but this little village that surrounds us and supports is precious to us. There are days when I am carried almost entirely by the people in my village who believe in us and care deeply about our marriage. I feel a deep gratitude for this village. If you happen to be in our village – THANK YOU!

9. We ARE part of a Divine Design. This lesson and truth has been seeping into my being on a daily basis in my nine years of marriage. The universe really has conspired to bring us together and the Design has been in place from the beginning. I dreamed this life with Brian into being because it was already in place to happen. And I don’t write about this in an “up in the clouds” sort of way. I write it with the understanding that life is serious and sometimes seriously hard when it come to learning the truth of who you are and loving from that place. Growing into love and in love are a part of my spirit growing towards Spirit, God, I Am, Source (insert whatever special names exist). I believe without a doubt that Brian is intended to be with me and me with him in this way. The Universe is relentless in growing us in love and we must be open to the lessons.

There. Those are the nine lessons I’ve learned. Perhaps they are not new to anyone but me. Perhaps they are not glamorous enough. Perhaps they reveal too much truth about me. Perhaps nobody else can relate to any of them and all other marriages are butterflies and rose gardens free of thorns.

This year, unlike many other anniversaries, I looked up appropriate gifts according to the number of years married and bought him this piece of pottery (what is to be given at 9 year anniversaries – yes there is such a list and I found out about it a couple of years into my marriage). I’ve seen a few Facebook posts about this Japanese art form and love the story behind it.

The Japanese art of Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, repairs broken pottery with seams of gold. This repairs the brokenness in a way that makes the object even more beautiful than it was prior to being broken.

Isn’t it beautiful? The pottery becomes more beautiful because it has been broken and repaired. The breaking of the pottery is the beginning of it becoming more beautiful. It’s the perfect story of marriage for me. It gives me hope that in the hardest of times when we get broken is exactly when we have the opportunity to become more beautiful. And this is what I see in my marriage to Brian – not that we have a perfect marriage but that we have the perfect opportunity to keep becoming more beautiful. And this opportunity is one I receive with open hands and an open heart.

Happy 9th anniversary, Brian. I look forward to continuing to break and mend with you as we journey on.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

 

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A Letter to a Phenomenal Future Teacher

I teach teachers and wannabee teachers. There’s a special place in my heart reserved for teachers and the work they do. This work with teachers challenges me daily because of who they are and what they’re getting into and with whom they will work. I spend a lot of time thinking about each one who comes my way and admiring and caring deeply for them because they have chosen to be a teacher. Because they have chosen to be on the front lines with our children. Because they have chosen a career that matters in this world and if they are among the good ones, they will never get paid their worth. It’s impossible. We should try, but it’s impossible.

It’s the end of the semester and, sometimes, if I am lucky enough, I give this letter to future teachers when I leave them because I see that they will be the good ones, the heroes. If you happen to be one of them, this letter is for you, too.

Dear Future Phenomenal Teacher,

I’ve had the opportunity to say a lot to you in this course. In the end, however, I realize that most of what I said will, likely, be forgotten. I decided that if I chose what I consider to be the most important things and put them on paper, maybe then you would remember. Three seems to be a time-tested magical number so, in the spirit of being unconventional, I will go with four. Here goes…

             First, know everything you need to know about good teaching and apply it. Learn about content and pedagogy and content pedagogy. Learn about how children learn, what they love, what motivates them, what scares them, what sharpens their minds and what dulls their minds, who loves them, and who does not consider them. Learn about the world – its people, its problems, its future, its wonders, and its fragility. Learn about how curriculums get developed and chosen, how schools get and use their funding, who makes decisions about standardized testing, why you have to do what you do. Know your worth as a teacher and show it.

             Second, know the students who enter your classroom. Really take the time to know them. Don’t underestimate the importance of informal conversations, eye-contact, humor, and attentiveness. Know your students so well that you can’t help loving them…or at the very least having a deep concern for their well-being. Ask them about themselves, ask their parents, ask anyone who cares about them. Actively take the time to know them and then be sure they know you know them. Acknowledge their presence daily. Speak to each of them at some point everyday. Let what you know about your students guide the way you teach them. Be the teacher that will stand out in their minds as the one that challenged them to realize their potential.

             Third, be an advocate for children. Discover what you stand for and be the teacher that speaks up for it, knowing that you will be empowering others to do the same. Challenge those things we do to children in schools and in society that we know are harmful to them. Determine your comfort zone and then challenge yourself to step out of it, when necessary, to advocate for what is best for children. Be an advocate, not just for your students, but for all children. Become political.

             And fourth, love life. Make a sincere attempt to thoroughly enjoy your life. Go to movies with happy endings; go to the beach and swim in the ocean; walk barefoot on soft grass; ride roller coasters; laugh every chance you get; fall in love with another person; try new foods; remember hilarious jokes and tell them every chance you get; talk to strangers; dance; sing out loud – off key or not; eat good ice-cream; have dreams and hobbies and books that have nothing to do with school and teaching and social justice. Be passionate about life. Enjoy life to the fullest because you will need to refuel yourself as you go through your career as a teacher and take on the lives of your students. Many will come to you from fortunate backgrounds, but so many will not. And whether or not you like it, you will take on and feel their pain. So fill yourself up on the good things in life as often as you can to balance out the tough stuff.

Teach to change the world…one little person at a time.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Sweating the Small Stuff – My Messy Beautiful

Today I’m struggling with embracing the mess in my life so I thought it was the perfect day to write about how beautiful it all is. At least, I’m trying to convince myself of that. I like a good challenge and I am definitely sweating the small stuff.

EVERYTHING is ridiculously messy at this moment because it’s been exactly 7 days since the two women who bring me joy every two weeks last came to clean this house. Every flat surface has been claimed for old and new mail, back packs, dirty dishes (that I keep telling the kids will not be picked up by the servers who quit a long time ago), random boxes, science stuff, cut up pieces of paper, crayons, cards, remote controls, shoes, clean and dirty laundry, and also art. Yes, it’s definitely art when it’s your child’s. And it’s a lot. And it looks nothing like the beautifully organized and displayed art I see on Pinterest all the time. They don’t tell you what to do with all the REST of the art once you’ve displayed the ones you’ve managed to display. I have this set up in my laundry room:

And I thought I was winning and reveled in that smug sort of way I just KNOW those Pinterest-posting people feel. I felt, for about 3 days that I was one of them. It’s impressive, right? Okay, so I didn’t actually use the leveler nor did I drill holes into the wall or hang the wire. I could do all that if I wanted, but someone else around here loves levelers more than I do so I sacrificed my opportunity to bring joy to this man that I love.

After the 3rd day, the other MILLION works of art proved to me that I was not Pinterest-worthy because what do you do with the rest of it?! I’m not one of them. The Pinterest-posting folks are still on my pedestal and I’m not on it with them. Oh – and please don’t notice that those masterpieces have been up there for 2 years now.

I’m still searching for beautiful in the mess. Still sweating the small stuff. I’m also feeling a little miffed that I came home and spent an hour planning and cooking what I consider to be a nutritious, delicious, veggie-packed, made-from-scratch, natural, mostly organic and definitely no high-fructose corn syrup nor Blue no. 7 nor Red no. 40 meal only to have it all negated by a giant-sized cookie packed with an entire bag of M&Ms – and the kids tell me that Daddy is so nice because he sits and watches TV with them (I was cooking, remember) and also lets them eat the stuff they like to eat (said cookie containing a bag of M&Ms each). Seriously, we should have a rule about this. The rule should be that you can only destroy what you built. I think they have this rule in Kaya’s pre-K class. It’s not fair to be the one putting time and effort into the good-FOR-you stuff and also be the unfun parent.

I was quite hurt. When the dinner was all ready, they were not excited enough to come eat. They requested longer in front of the TV (with Daddy). Then, when they finally came to the table, they looked suspiciously at their plates and poked at the few beets I placed on their plates – just to try – don’t judge me. THEN they argued over whose plate belonged to whom, i.e. the plate that looked like it had the fewest veggies was most wanted. Then there was crying. Well, I did take away a plate and muttered something about the food not needing to be eaten because there were other kids in the world who would appreciate even a bite of what was on the plate. No need to force anyone to eat this great meal was my rationale. So the crying was sort of expected. Still, don’t judge me.

And I was still searching for the beautiful in the mess and still sweating the small stuff.

So then I left the house in the hopes of getting some retail therapy. Retail therapy is real. You can’t convince me otherwise. I drove all the way to the closest mall, enjoying the first quiet moment in my day. And then when I got there and opened my door to get out of the car, I shut it again quickly because it was way too cold and windy to step out of my car and walk in for my therapy session.

So I drove back home thinking about it all and wondering how to stop sweating the small stuff and how to truly live out all the beautiful quotes and stories and messages I have received from the universe my entire life through the Glennons and Oprahs and Freires and Brenes and Mayas and many, many self-help and spiritual books. The truth is I know so much more than I live out in my everyday life. I could stop reading all of that and know all that has ever been written and all that will ever be written about truth because it’s all inside me and it’s also all inside you. I know it  and you know it when we come across it because we recognize it.

Living out these truths is my quest in life. It’s my journey. It’s our journey.

And I realized another truth and that is that there will only be one time in my life when I will have arrived at that place of perfection and it will be when I take my last breath. Until then, I must keep at it.  The mess will always be there whether physically or emotionally or socially or mentally. The mess is part of life and if we didn’t have it, we would never see the beautiful that exists in it all.

And then, while writing this post amidst the mess on my desk, because I contribute to the mess, too, of course, I see this:

IMAG0917

Do you see it? There, in middle, but not entirely hidden was a See Beautiful sticker from a remarkable woman and friend who started a movement to get the world to See Beautiful. If you haven’t come across her website or blog or Facebook page, you must. She has encouraged and challenged and pointed out the beautiful in this world at all the right times and in the best ways and sometimes when she doesn’t even know it, e.g. the sticker showing up at the bottom of my messy desk on a day that I was struggling to see beautiful in my messy life. See Beautiful is all about spreading beautiful through messages, projects and sales in the same way that Monkees do. And since I’m writing this post as part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project by Glennon Melton of Momastery (one of my favorite blogs), it seems appropriate to spread the word about the See Beautiful movement.

I’ve stopped sweating the small stuff for now (as in just for today until my slightly neurotic PMSy self returns). And I can see my messy, beautiful life again.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

To learn more about the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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The Big Reveal

I found myself watching an old episode of What Not to Wear recently and, as always happens, I went through all the emotions of 1. worrying about the ego of the woman that was mauled into a makeover, 2. feeling mildly guilty for judging her poor taste in clothes, 3. impatience at her inability to see how she really looks to others because of her clothes, and 4. a growing excitement as Stacy, Clinton, Carmindy and Nick (or Ted) work their magic. #5 is the kicker…

The show does not vary much. After the magic is done, there is a Big Reveal of the “new” woman who is radiant and beautiful. This is my #5 where I always, ALWAYS have to wipe away tears. ALWAYS. I love makeovers and I absolutely LOVE the moment of the Big Reveal. I savored every Oprah and Dr. Phil makeover show. I take it all in while watching the transformation – particularly the very beginning where the person’s story is told of who they are and how they got into the state they’re in. And, of course, the Big Reveal is the very best part for me.

Today I thought about why it is that I love makeovers so much. I have very seriously considered this career path for my life. I’m not even joking. Friends who know me well would confirm it for you. This may have been the career that got away. Anyway, as I thought about why I love makeovers so much, it dawned on me that I love makeover shows because throughout the show, the makeover magicians are actually people who are really good at seeing past the outside of the person and right through to the inside of the person. They see the radiant, beautiful person on the inside that is just yearning to be seen and to be free.

That radiant, beautiful person has always been there at the core, the truth of who the person is. And the makeover people just have that gift of seeing that truth through all the other stuff. All they have to do then, is to simply remove those things that diminish the radiance and uncover the beautiful person that is on the inside. What a special gift to be able to do that! To be able to SEE right through the ridiculous clothes and makeup and crazy and/or neglected hair.

Stacy and Clinton see it almost immediately and then spend some time trying to understand more deeply by talking and showing and questioning and listening to the person. They really listen to the experiences and desires and fears and dreams of the women they makeover before they ever tell her what not to wear. It seems their main goal is to help the woman see what’s on the inside by holding up a magic mirror. And I love it.

And what I love EVEN MORE is the look on the face of the woman when she is revealed to herself. The routine is that she puts on one of her new outfits and walks out without ever looking in a mirror until she’s with Stacy and Clinton and on camera. Then she looks in the mirror and, often for the first time in a long time, she sees HERSELF again. She sees HER SELF. She recognizes the beautiful, radiant woman that she knows as herself. She recognizes herself and can suddenly see her dreams within reach because she looks like the woman in her dreams. She had lost sight of her self and someone else had to find her for herself and help her SEE what was always on the inside.

We’ve all been there, I’m sure, where we have lost sight of the truth of who we are. There are times when I don’t recognize myself and the dreams I dream for myself don’t seem to fit the woman I see in the mirror. She sometimes looks so strange and foreign to me.

And here is where I am pausing to filter and deciding that I must keep typing. I’m sort of in that phase right now. In and out of it. Some days I see myself with such clarity and I look exactly like the woman destined for my dreams. But then there are days when the mirror reflects back to me a very blurry, distorted and diminished image of the truth of who I am. And it is in those moments, when I am least recognizable to myself that I wish the most for someone to see me – SEE ME. I want a Stacy & Clinton in my life to hold up the magic mirrors on those bad days when I am most blurry and distorted.

And what a gift it is when someone who loves me – the truth, the core – of me so deeply and so openly that it is the only way they ever see me. None of all the outside ridiculous stuff ever matters. That stuff is always a transparent mask that means nothing. It is during those times, when the image in the mirror I look into is blurry and distorted that they hold up their shiny, magic mirrors and I see my SELF in all my radiance and beauty that I also know most certainly that I am loved. That’s grace. That’s love in its truest form. In the end, isn’t this exactly the kind of love we all seek? To be loved at our worst. To be loved when we are furthest from the truth of who we are.

Inevitably, this kind of thinking about how much I love what others do for me always leads me to ask myself how well and how much I do those kinds of things for others. Because it’s a hard thing sometimes not to get distracted by the ridiculous outsides of people. All the ridiculous masks can get me all judgmental and impatient. Sometimes it’s just too hard not to look at their blurry, distorted images and believe that’s all there is. Sometimes it’s easier to take the masks seriously and focus on and criticize the mask rather than see through it and love deeply and openly. More work for me to do, but I continue to strive to live out that career as a makeover artist for people – at least the part where I can see their insides first, just like Stacy & Clinton. Because this is also true…

As for me, I’m not even sure where I was headed with this post except I’m still chipping away at the armor and trying to get to the truth of who I am so that I can live from that space of always seeing myself in plain sight and always remaining true to my SELF.

And still, always, trying to live as the woman destined for the dreams I dream.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

P.S. If, based on the title of this blog post you expected a naked picture of me….my sincere apologies.

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My Girl. Our Girls.

There’s a little girl I know. She’s 7 and bubbly and smart and precocious. She joined me on a walk with my dog and our friendship grew to where she’d come knocking on my door whenever she could and bring her friends to meet me. She staked out a very special place in my heart and I happily welcomed her in. Her family came here from Iraq as refugees. She’s one of the most delightful people I know. She could light up any room with her smile and her bright eyes that dance when she looks at me. I love this little girl.

Except she’s not 7 anymore. She just turned 19. And she’s been serving time in prison…a two year sentence. Long enough to smother her bubbly, smart, precocious personality. Long enough for her to learn lessons that could harden her for life. Long enough to see and hear things that could change her forever. Long enough to slow down her path to college and independence and a happy life.

How she got there through the ridiculously flawed justice system sickens me to my stomach. The punishment far from fits the mistake (NOT crime) she made as a teenager. Far from fits it! The fact that the juvenile system left her case sitting long enough for her to be tried as an adult is beyond problematic in itself. The fact that the prison system is using her as a means to profit is despicable. Have I said enough about how I feel. To protect this young woman’s privacy, I will not delve into the details of her case, but trust me when I say that SHE DID NOT DESERVE ANY OF THIS. ANY OF IT. If you knew the details, you would agree with me. I have no doubt.

I am deeply disturbed about the path of girls like her, who live in a world where the right opportunities are just enough out of reach so that the wrong opportunities get taken. It’s girls like her that can change the world. Girls like her, who are bright and lovable and precocious growing up in a community that bears the brunt of poor decisions we’ve made as a society, can make a big difference. Girls like her grow up to become mothers who make choices about the education and care of their children and about the things they tell their children about the world. Mothers who have to teach their children how to know the difference between the right and the wrong opportunities. Mothers who could know about the opportunities that are available and how to get access to those opportunities. Instead, our system, more often, leads girls like her to grow up to be mothers like her own mother whose heart is a little broken because, no matter how much she loves her children – and she does – she did not know of or have access to all the opportunities that could have helped her along. There is a way and a need to change the systems that aim to punish rather than teach our young people – systems that capitalize on the mistakes of some teenagers knowing that they cannot afford to pay for a good defense. We have to change the systems for girls (and boys) like her.

This is what “the girl effect” is all about globally. This girl – my girl – is one of many girls. We have to start seeing them as OUR girls. I’ve said before how much I believe in the power of women – in the way we know and nurture and love and make wise decisions for the people around us. I believe in the power of us women and I also believe it’s our time. Our innate nature and the wisdom of that nature has a purpose on this earth and it’s our time. It’s our time to say STOP and to begin tapping into the wisdom of our nature. Time to listen to that voice, which for some of us has been been quieted down to a whisper that’s barely audible.

The louder voices that silence us often come through the media. We are told that we are not strong enough or smart enough or creative enough or tough enough or able enough to change the world. We are told that we are here to be pretty – not even for ourselves but for others. We are told that we are princesses who live in castles and get saved by knights in shining armor and that our purpose is to do all we can do to be ready and recognizable and pretty enough to take on the role of a princess.

Kaya Pirate

Yes, we’re in a bit of a princess-free zone around our house and whenever talk about princesses comes up, I find a way to have educational discussions about royal families and monarchies and freedom. I try not to lay it on too thick. Really I try. But I do have an aversion to princess talk and I am bored by the big eyes and long hair and feet that remain pointed even while barefoot. There’s just too much else in this world to occupy my children’s minds to let them get stuck on princesses. I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a twinge of doubt and guilt when I pretend not to hear my little girl’s request for a princess doll. But I still mostly believe I’m doing what’s best for her by holding off on the princess and Barbie dolls and teaching her to question the meaning and value of beauty.

But I digress. I believe, with more conviction everyday, that women are the answer to today’s human problems. There’s a certain kinship and consciousness brewing in the last few decades that’s preparing us to change the world. And it’s going to take us tapping into our womanism. It cannot come from understandings of power in the way that our current society has established. It cannot come from the historically male-dominated society that we are in. And let me clarify that womanliness is not exclusive to people born with the physical body parts of women, but is open to anyone who is truly in touch with that other side of “manliness” that has become the standard by which we measure power and success and strength.

-Sojourner Truth

I believe change will have to start with women. Change will have to start with womanism – a way of being and knowing that has been around the world for hundreds of years. Womanism is an idea that differs from and precedes feminism. We need to reach back into the wisdom of our woman souls. Layli Maparyan wrote about this in her book The Womanist Idea. Womanism reaches back into the nature of who we are, into our core spiritual nature, and calls us into activism. Womanism is what drew women together to care for each other during birth and celebrations. It’s what drives women to do impossible things in the name of love for our families. It’s the no-nonsense, go-getter, put-up-with-bullshit so we can take care of what needs to be taken care of wisdom and strength we carry inside us. It’s what makes us fierce and phenomenal when necessary. We need to understand and tap into our womanism. And we need to teach our girls about the womanist idea when they are young so that they know better than we know about the Divine feminine force within them.

Hindu Goddess Shakti: The Feminine Divine Force

The kind eyes of a little girl whose face could be from any part of this earth watch me from a vision board that hangs near my desk. She represents my girl. Our girls. She beckons me whenever I look up and reminds me that the work needs to begin. This beckoning may just be another truth of who I am. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my girl. Our girls. I know there’s something brewing in my heart. It’s a wish and a whisper I’ve carried in my heart for a while now. I may even have been born with this wish that refuses to quiet down. The little seven year-old girl that joined me on my walk and chatted up a storm right into my heart gently awakened the dream in my heart. Her last two years have beaten up my heart. It’s to the point where I can no longer ignore the dream.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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A Gift From an Angel

Who knew when I went to bed feeling blah and then woke up this morning still feeling blah that I would be meeting an angel? I believe the Universe knew. But I had no idea.

I was having just that kind of morning in which tears and cuss words were on the brink of falling on whoever was in my path. Feeling restless. And angry. And disappointed. And misplaced. And scared. And so very guilty that I was not waking up wholly and completely joyful about all the amazing things I have in my life. After all I have a good (and handsome) partner, two hilarious, darling kids, co-workers whom I love and who blur the line between co-worker and friend, a comfortable home and a body that works well (but could use some exercise and a couple vegetables daily).

So being on the brink of tears and cussing makes me feel scared that the Universe might snatch it all back just so I REALLY appreciate the beauty in my life. And I feel guilty for feeling restless and wanting something else because I feel a little lost. With all the quotes I see daily that remind me to love and to be positive and to be brave and to just do the thing that has to be done, feeling the unrest seems so wrong. But there I was leaving the house with all of it and venturing into an elementary school to observe and offer feedback to budding teachers. I would much rather have stayed in bed and wallowed in my pity and negativity.

As I sat in the atrium of a lovely school and got irritated at the sight of pictures of kids who looked nothing like the kids who attended the school advertising STEM education, I heard a loud thud out of nowhere and found a young boy sitting next to me in tears. There was no-one else in that big room and I could have sworn he came from the sky or wherever angels live. He was mad and sad. He was NOT having a good day. Neither was I, so I immediately connected with him and scooted closer and patted his back. That simple act ignited a tiny spark deep inside me. After some probing and angry tears and through a shaky body (all him, not me), I managed to gather that 1. he did not feel like he could do anything right, 2. a friend had just said (loudly) inappropriate things about his mama (!!!!!), 3. his teacher had not been helpful and 4. he wanted to move to another country where he would be more liked. Apparently we were sharing the same experience under different circumstances.

That’s where I got to use my magic. See, THAT’S what I do really well. I can comfort a child like nobody’s business. I can help people – friends, strangers, loved ones – feel better. It’s sort of a gift I’ve been given.I can’t play any instrument well nor do I have a stage-worthy voice. Line dancing stresses me out and sports have failed to keep my attention for very long. It took me a large part of my life to choose teaching as a career, even. I used to wish I had a definite talent that propelled me through every choice including WHAT I WANTED TO DO WHEN I GREW UP. I never liked that question because I never knew an answer. I’m still not sure I have an answer, actually. But I have learned that I have this gift of being able to get people feeling better – even if it’s simply feeling better while still feeling their sadness or hurt or disappointment. I know it’s a gift because I receive it every time I give it away.

My ten minutes with with my angel boy were the best moments of that day. I lit up from the inside the moment I started to share my gift and the little spark grew into a bonfire by the time I left him. I drove home thinking about him and wondering what it might be like to do that all the time, everyday. What might it be like to ignite my spark and feel a bonfire every day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Goals and Intentions and the difference between the two. One of Oprah’s friends wrote about it and it stuck with me. Intentions are more important than Goals. You can fulfill your intentions through a variety of goals but goals should always begin with an intention. For example, it’s been my intention to nurture teachers into their most authentic and successful selves in the classroom. My goal of getting a Ph.D. came from that intention. Or another example – my intention is to be a GOOD mother and raise kind, happy children. My daily goal is to be patient and to NOT yell at my kids even when it’s the 51st time I’m making a request. Another example – my intention is to bring out the best in people, including myself. And I translate that to mean simply that we live from our souls, from our insides, from the place that God resides, from the truth of who we are.

I had to pause a moment after that last line, and even before it, because I didn’t see it coming. I just stated the intention of my existence. I realize, in this moment, that all the things that make me sad or mad or frustrated or disappointed or pissed off and on the brink of cuss words begin with not witnessing myself or others living from the truth of who we are. The opposite is also true – all that makes me feel happy and joyful and loving and amused and peaceful comes from witnessing myself or others living from the truth of who we are. Funny – I didn’t know when I named my blog that I was also naming my life’s intention. I suppose my goal of starting a blog fits with my Intention.

As for my little angel – our talk was just what we both needed. He walked back to his classroom with a lighter step and a promise to me to tell people and show people who he is on the inside so that they would know. And if they knew, then there could be no other way to feel about him than to love him. Same applies to the rest of us. Sometimes, the truth of who we are is harder for others to see because we’ve gotten so good at masking it. The truth of who we are is our Divine Self and all anyone could ever feel when they come in contact with our Divine Selves is love.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Life is a Potluck Banquet

There’s no denying that I love to eat and there’s no denying that I love being with people I love. So to gather with people I love around a table of food is something that bring me joy. Potlucks are my favorite because you get to taste a variety of different flavors. I’d be a happy woman if all my meals were sample sizes of things I love to eat. That’s how I imagine most of heaven to be, except there would be no high fructose corn syrup, nitrates/nitrites, GMOs, antibiotics, pesticides and definitely NO CALORIES in any of the food.

Because of my appreciation for lots of flavors, I have the hardest time deciding on one menu item when eating at a restaurant. I read over descriptions of EVERY item and then, painstakingly, choose one item to order and keep my menu open until the server arrives to take the dreaded order. Then I attempt to get everyone else to order before me so I know what’s coming to the table. Then, finally, I state what I decided on and look again at the menu and CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE. It is so very hard for me to commit to one food item to eat!

This is NOT one of my husband’s favorite things about me because, inevitably, when the food comes out, I want to taste what he ordered. He is not a sharer. He hates people eating off his plate. He hates eating off other people’s plates. This “problem” he has used to hurt my feelings early in our relationship but we have progressed to a great place in our relationship where he now offers me a bite of everything he orders before he digs in. He tries to act like he’s doing it grudgingly and I try to act nonchalant as I thank him and accept his offer. It’s one way we’ll grow old together.

I don’t know a whole lot about the science behind my enjoyment of tasting a variety of flavors, but this video, called The Sound of Taste captures it well. This is what it sounds like when I taste different flavors. It’s like a party in my mouth. Like fireworks on the Fourth of July in the U.S.A.

The video is right on point except it makes my heart weep just a little at how many delicious spices were wasted in the production of the video.

What I also like about potlucks is that I get to share something I, myself, prepared with love for somebody else. It gives me pleasure to put my all into a dish or a meal and have the people who eat it truly ENJOY the experience. As in they get JOY out of eating the food. This is a truth of who I am. I love to eat food, cook food, share food, talk about food, plan food, etc. I’m still hoping I will one day develop the same kind of passion for exercise to balance it all out. I love to cook for people. It’s one way I show love. It’s such an intimate thing to think of food that I prepare nourishing someone else’s body. It’s sacred, really. This is why every Hindu temple in India feeds every single person who enters the temple to worship on certain days of the week. The Bhagavad Gita teaches that “Sharing food is the highest form of Karma” because sharing food is a way to affirm that we are tied to each others destiny. Turns out I may still be connected to the truth of who I am from my roots in Hinduism.

A couple of weeks ago, David Ault, a man who often rocks my spiritual world, described life as a potluck banquet. I loved the analogy! It was right up my alley and it worked so much better than any sports analogy people have tried on me.

Life is a potluck banquet. Everyone is invited to sit at the table and everyone has the opportunity to bring something to the table to share and everyone gets to eat at the table. Because we are born, we are invited to life’s banquet. We can consume what we choose and we can share what we choose to share. And we can share it freely and abundantly or grudgingly and stingily.We can choose to participate as fully or as half-heartedly as we desire. We can choose the crumbs or we can take what we desire from deep within us.

This analogy brings me to a hard truth about myself. See, I’m rarely the one to pick up something quick on the way to a potluck unless life constraints require me to do so. Contributing chips and store-bought dip or, heaven forbid, 2 liter sodas to a potluck are missed opportunities for me. A failure even. This is not any kind of judgement on those who bring such items, it’s simply how I judge myself because of that whole joy of preparing food for others that I get. It’s my THING. It’s my gift to be able to prepare delicious food for others. I bring my best to potluck dinners every chance I get.

So when I first heard David Ault’s talk, I immediately assumed that what I did at real-life banquets translated to what I did at life’s banquet. I smugly drafted something in my head about how what I bring to real life potlucks was an indication of what I bring t0 life’s potluck banquet. It felt good to think that I was THAT person who had it right and brought my best for all to share. Oh, it felt so good. But it also felt like I couldn’t really write with joy. Well, thankfully, and maybe by Divine intervention, I rarely get to write and publish my posts immediately. I mulled over how to finish, to find joy in the writing, to share the truth. And then the truth started to sink in slowly until a light bulb went off and I was humbled to realize that I DON’T always bring my best to the table of life. Heck, I don’t even consume the best at the table. I do often settle for crumbs and I do often bring the bag of chips and hope somebody else brought some dip to go with it. I miss opportunities often. Sometimes, I sit at life’s potluck banquet in all its abundance and choose not to participate. And here’s a question that stopped me in my tracks at just the right time:

“What if the ques­tion is not why I am so infre­quently the per­son I really want to be, but why do I so infre­quently want to be the per­son I really am?”

~ Oriah Moun­tain Dreamer

It seems I have some more digging to do to get to the truth of who I am. I don’t know what stops me from participating wholeheartedly in life in exactly the way I really want to. I don’t know why I don’t always bring my best and take the best knowing that the table is full and there is enough for everyone. Why do I sometimes find myself checking people’s plates and wishing I could have what they have. I’ll admit that Facebook has supercharged that occurrence. I CAN have the same or at least exactly what I need.

And now vulnerability is creeping in and while I feel brave (thanks, Brené Brown) about it all, I also feel like wrapping up this post and settling for a declaration of what I want because…

So instead of a show-offy, look-at-what-a-fine-example-I-am post, I am writing about my truth which is a sincere desire to be more mindful and committed to bringing my best to life’s potluck. I want to be the same way about life and what I bring to the table of life. If life is a potluck banquet, I want to make sure I bring the very best to share AND I want to taste a little bit of everything and a lot of what I love. I definitely want to show up at the banquet and sit at the table and connect with the people around me. And if we ever have the Divine opportunity to sit next to each other at life’s potluck banquet, feel free to hold me to my commitment.

Getting hungry now….

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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Color Me Beautiful

When I was a little girl, I often looked in the mirror and wondered if I was pretty. I’d stare at my reflection and study my features and my full eyebrows and wide cheeks that had been squeezed by aunties and uncles often. It’s a bit embarrassing to write about this because I have never told anyone about this insecure or maybe superficial side of my past self. It’s a truth about me that I don’t want to shed much light on, but I’m willing to bet that if I had such thoughts, then someone else out there has had similar experiences.

Pretty was not something my mother ever talked nor obsessed over. In fact, I could count on one hand and not need all my fingers how many times I remember my mother wearing makeup. She was a firm believer in Vicco Turmeric Face Cream and some Pond’s Talcum Powder. That was it. She noticed, and still does, beautiful fabrics and designs and took pleasure in wearing eye-catching saris and dresses, but I never got the impression that my mother was overly concerned about being pretty. I believe she has never needed to concern herself with being pretty because people around her connect with her gentle, no-nonsense, joyful, spiritual self.

My mother and I. Can you see how she delighted me?

So I’m not even sure why I would look in the mirror and wonder if I was pretty. I’m not entirely sure what in my world set me on a quest to be pretty. I’m not even sure what I was looking for in my reflection that would confirm pretty for me. My ideas of pretty developed in the midst of African people with a side of Indians and Europeans. While I’m not sure exactly how I developed my ideas of what pretty looked like, I do remember the only two Barbie-knock-off dolls that we somehow acquired looked pretty to me, as did the White paper dolls and Snow White and the golden-haired, freckled dolls that my father brought home from various work trips. I used to hold my dolls and stare at them and study their features and blue eyes and think how pretty they were. My best friend in Grade 4 was Vanessa with red hair and pretty freckles and my best friend in Grade 5 was Caroline from Canada. I think the fact that they looked like my dolls and the stars of the fairy tales I liked made me partial to them. They looked pretty to me. But I did not look like them. And I sort of knew that.

I just finished watching Oprah’s Lifeclass on Colorism and I’ve already experienced a range of emotions from sadness to irritation to frustration to anger. So what’s a girl to do but write a blog about it. Colorism is defined as discrimination based on skin color, skin tone, or skin complexion. The discrimination happens within the group and also from outsiders to the group.

Before going close up into colorism, let me take a step back to acknowledge the ridiculousness in the fact that we humans are so hung up on the color or shade of the skin that covers our incredible bodies. Take a step back with me and think about it. Of all the different and amazing, fascinating pieces that make up who we are and how we function and LIVE as human beings, how trivial and ridiculous is it to focus on our skin tones as a marker of anything important? ???!!!  We are ALIVE and able to breathe and move and communicate and connect and aspire and create and LOVE!!! How could the complexion of our skin possibly matter to anyone in deciding how valuable or worthy or beautiful one is? In the midst of the incredible way that humans came to exist on this planet in this solar system, how did we figure out a way to place so much importance to any one organ of our body?

Back to the close-up of colorism…

Colorism is not a new topic of discussion for me. At some point in just about every course I’ve ever taught, we talk about colorism. This video A Girl Like Me starts off the heated, painful, liberating, confusing, frustrating and empowering discussion well. There are 3 seconds of the clip that move me to tears EVERY SINGLE TIME I watch it. The clip cuts deep for many as we try to make sense of the phenomenon.

One of the differences between the discussion on Oprah’s Lifeclass and my course discussions, however, is that her show had an audience of only Black women of varying skin tones while my courses include men and women of varying races, nationalities and skin tones. In both situations, I feel sadness and frustration, but there was far more irritation and aggravation while watching Oprah’s Lifeclass because that discussion centered around why light-skinned and dark-skinned women “do it to each other” and how this is a phenomenon that is now considered a mental health crisis!!!! What????!!!!! Seriously????!!!!! A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS????!!!!!

I don’t often get indignant when watching Oprah-led shows, but this infuriated me just a bit. I watched another 45 minutes of the show and it continued along the same lines of how the light-skinned women felt and how the dark-skinned women felt. I cried a little and continued to get more annoyed that the focus and the blame seemed to remain entirely on the Black women (and other groups such as Indians and other Asians who got honorable mention for participating in colorism).  The take-away was, basically, “You have to love yourself and stop judging each other, women of color.” As in, “It’s all on you, women of color. Stop doing this to yourself. Just see beauty in your skin color the way it is.”

Do you hear the message? Do you get it?????!!!!!! I’ll tell you why I’m so irritated. The problem seems to be placed right back on us, women!!! This phenomenon is not something that Black or other women of color “do” to each other. We didn’t get born and decide on our own free will to judge ourselves and others based on the color of our skin and the texture of our hair and the shape of our lips and hips and breasts. The show did discuss the roots of the problem being in slavery and colonization. Thanks, Oprah and crew, that was the HISTORY of it, but can we talk about the CURRENT structures that support and promote colorism? Can we change those structures, please? The media with a capital M, for one – and not just what’s on TV or in movies, but EVERYWHERE – magazines, billboards, children’s books, advertizing, comic books,  catalogs, commercials, even porn (which I don’t study deeply). And then there’s toys and and make-up, beauty products, hiring processes and employment opportunities, language-use, tracking and re-segregation in schooling.

It’s no wonder that we can’t just “love ourselves and stop judging each other” because all the other messages seem so loud and consistent and ACCEPTED by everyone. The problem goes far deeper than simply a history that started it. The problem is perpetuated heavily by current structures in our social and professional worlds. It’s NOT us doing it to ourselves. Although we can teach our sons and daughters to be aware and critical, it’s not enough to stop there. And until we bravely explore and challenge and dismantle those structures that influence our minds from a very young age, we are going to make very slow and little progress in solving the problem of colorism. It’s time to stop taking in messages about ourselves blindly and to open our eyes and our souls and notice and refuse to accept the messages we receive on a daily basis.

Since my people only got honorable mention, let me share from my own experiences of being told to avoid the sun so I wouldn’t get “too dark” or watching many, many Hindi and Malayali movies with light-skinned Indian women as the good and beautiful and wanted ones and the darker-skinned women in the evil and undesirable roles. This is still true of Bollywood movies. In fact, with the arrival of a few popular westernized Indian movies, most people’s impression of Indians is that they are light-skinned. The truth is that Indians come in every shade and most are much, much darker than the majority of Bollywood stars  – who happen to get their starring roles BECAUSE they are lighter shades of brown. Lighter skin is what you hope for when you’re having a baby. I remember hearing people ask, when they heard about the birth of a baby (girl in particular), how dark she was. To be fair (no pun intended), all other features were always about the same – brown eyes, black hair, definitely hair. The catalogs and magazines and books I read did not depict characters like me. Skin lightening creams were easily accessible and advertizing like this were and still are accepted as truth:

I let go of looking for pretty in the mirror a while back in my life. I’ve seen so much beauty in women (and men) that looking for pretty felt trivial and boring. Glennon Melton said it well on her blog post, Don’t Be Pretty – Be Beautiful in 2014. She wrote just the words I want to use with my own daughter as she tries to understand pretty. Pretty is something defined for us everywhere we look and sometimes when we are not even looking. Beautiful is what we get to define for ourselves every single day. I leave you with a little timely video snippet from the Golden Globe Awards show (which has been on in the background while finishing up this post). When I learned of these women this past year, I saw so much beauty that it brought tears right out of my heart and soul. And I can see beautiful in each image because it’s me and it’s you and it is US. How we are colored is not who we are nor what we can do in this great big world. Let’s forget pretty and let’s color ourselves beautiful.

Now let’s get to the work of questioning and creating and imagining and doing and loving and changing our world as we know it.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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