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On Finding Clarity of Heart and Life

by Dr. Jenny Copeland

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.

~Leonardo da Vinci~

Life often feels as if you are wandering around with GPS in hand but no satellite signal. You are endlessly searching and, unfortunately, endlessly recalculating. More succinctly: you feel lost without direction. Just when you think you are on course, your GPS loses satellite connection. Anyone who has been stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of a booming metropolis or lost in a rural area knows how terrifying that can be.

Modern society is defined by the pursuit of perfection in all things. One’s worth is measured by the number of zeros on their paycheck, their politics, and their waistline (among other things). We are admonished to be no larger than a certain number on the scale and to achieve this through socially approved deprivation. At every turn we are regaled with miracle diets and newly discovered prescriptions for weight loss. Whether your body fits into socially acceptable ranges of size, age, skin color, culture, gender expression, or sexual orientation, you receive a message that you are not okay and that you should change to meet these expectations. Eventually you will be unable to recognize the difference between your genuine self and who the outside world thinks you should be.

In the midst of these “shoulds” we simultaneously experience both misery and longing. A small piece of ourselves hopes for something better than what we have, yet fear we cannot (or should not) have it. We dwell on our regrets for the past and our fears for the future, therein neglecting the present. Rather than accepting the pain in this moment, we become consumed by suffering. In that moment we are stuck, mired down by the enormity of it until we are unable to see a way out.

The world would have us believe that our flaws, our imperfections, are bad. Not just limiting, but immoral – wicked even. The world would have us believe that our lack of a thigh gap makes us less worthy as a human being. That we will ultimately be unable to reach our dreams unless we invest in the one product which will finally help us achieve the “perfect” body. And so we stumble on, recalculating our direction as we forget what we were looking for in the first place and are now consumed by the elusive search for perfection. Yoga and meditation instructor Mark Van Buren suggests refocusing our intentions: “We don’t need to be changed or bettered, and we don’t need to deny or remove the dark, hidden parts of ourselves. We only need to learn how to see ourselves clearly.” Freedom, then, lies not in changing ourselves but in the growing awareness of who we are at our core; to be seen and accepted for who we are in this very moment.

When we are perpetually in a state of searching – for answers, maybe even the right question – we wear blinders. We miss important opportunities and forget about those pieces of ourselves that may hold the solutions to what we are seeking. The truth is, we are the experts in our own bodies. No one else has lived the same experiences, has the same circumstances, or was raised in the same family. The outside world may gift us advice, but in reality, only you know what works for you. Only you know what is true for you.

Confession time: right now I simply do not know the answer (or perhaps even the right question). It feels impossible to put into words the events which have led to my sense of stuckness so far this year (and it’s still early!). Through personal grief with my family I have been blessed beyond words; while I am grateful for this evolution in my relationships, I am ashamed that on some level I am grateful for this tragedy spurring these changes. It feels nonsensical.

I am learning more and more about what it means to be a member of a targeted and oppressed group as a woman, yet realize that for those who do not have the privileges am afforded as a white, thin, cis-gender, financially stable human, it is exponentially more painful. I am ready for new beginnings and continued growth, but I do not know where to start. How do I move forward from here? How will doors be opened (or closed) to me simply because of my group membership?

And so I am mired. Not stuck, but mired in the enormity of it all. Of life and death. Of what it means to truly be alive. Of how to live with integrity while balancing survival. It is overwhelming and terrifying – with the possibility of excitement for transformation. It is easy to feel as if, when we need to change or grow, we need to start over or simply fix all these broken parts of ourselves. This simply isn’t true: not for me, not for my family, and certainly not in the face of overcoming implicit (or explicit) oppression. Rather, we need to see and know ourselves more than we ever have before. Our principles do not need to be altered: we need to understand their fullest expression in ways we have not before. I do not need to change my life: I need to open myself to the possibilities I have not yet realized.

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