Radically Human

As seen in Elephant Journal, 3/2013

Recently, I have been working with the great acceptance of being human. And then my dear friend, Jade Beall felt I was human enough to make me a post-card symbol for this affirmation. And while it does turn out- that I am human, I am now sitting in the question: Can I be okay with that? I did not realize until now how much I have expected myself to be super human.

The timeline of my experience with Jade and her medicinal photography is an example for me and this acceptance of who we are theme and how it is an ever continuing process. A few years ago, Jade first mentioned to me that she would love to take my pictures. She told me that she liked my style. This invitation and affirmation was the beginning of my journey not only with how I felt about being witnessed but how I felt about being seen in a whole new human kind of way. I was excited and flattered by her suggestion. And terrified. I had never been in front of a camera before where the focus was so much about me. I had never been too fond of “seeing” myself in mirrors, or through a camera lens. It always brought up my inner critic, so I figured the best remedy was to minimize the cause for judgment.

It took me many months to think about Jade’s invitation and photographs of myself. I don’t know the exact location or origin of the fear, but it was very much about being seen, and what that meant. I had to look at what I might be so afraid of. My ego struggles with wanting to be more than good enough, but not too good to upset anyone. I have been unlearning perfectionism, and the messages that became like an irreversible imprint that I need to appear like some false images that made their way into my mind around puberty, that I so unconsciously, yet ferociously cling to, and could never attain. Because they were not real. While I have studied and trained in seeing these illusions, they have stayed with me as reminders sometimes more gentle, and sometimes more fierce that self-acceptance and compassion are essential to my physical and mental health! My story had always defaulted to one around body-image, and an inability to see myself clearly. But then came inner voices of curiosity. What might happen if I faced a big fear? Once I decided to face that fear, I needed a few more months before I could actually call Jade. Once we set the date, my worries amplified and my fears festered. Being photographed became something I had to confront, as well as my fear of being seen, and of potentially not liking what I might see, which I might use to further validate my egocentric story of not being good enough. And accepting that this process, which might have been so simple for others, was, for me, like jumping off of a cliff.

The day of the shoot came but I had already been through a huge process before ever standing in front of Jade, or her camera. Jade immediately created a safe space for me to start to let go from my contracted state. She seamlessly welcomed me to begin to unwind. At first, I found that I covered myself, my face and body. I did not know how to look at her, or her camera. I was awkward with myself. It was the kind of insecurities that you learn and practice over time. It was as if she was challenging me to move past the self-perpetuating drama of inadequacy, but with kindness. When she told me I was gorgeous, I believed her. When she reflected what she was seeing I allowed myself to soften. When her partner, Alok chimed in with that brilliant smile of approval and love, I softened more. I actually began to feel delighted. Surrender came with each click of the camera. I started to ease up on standing strong in my conviction of ugliness, gross modesty and shame and felt that it was time to embrace my goddess warrior feminine bold bad ass self, and drop the tagline that I was a narcissist for letting myself feel beautiful. Some of what I experienced that day was fear, insecurity, bravery, doubt, pride, joy, unfolding and a taste of freedom that came through acceptance- and all in just a couple of hours. Jade had a way of transforming each nuance of emotion with her devout presence into something that I could meet and take on. She truly knows how to love people up with her camera and with her heart.

I left my first photo shoot exhilarated. I thought to myself that even if I never saw the pictures she took, I had received something great. Just the act of being photographed was immensely healing. I had moved through so many stages of meeting myself and my experiences fully, while witnessing the conditions I put on myself, and more than likely, others. But the time in between the act of being photographed, and then seeing the photos was another journey. What if I hate them? What if I don’t like what I see? Was that so vain of me to have my photo taken? Would having these pictures help me feel better about myself as a woman? Could they bring me happiness? Confirmation that I exist? And with value? What about my thought that never seeing the pictures would be fine?

The day came when my pics arrived in my inbox. I cried. And then I cried some more. It was amazing to see myself in this brilliant way. Captured in a photo. Why had this taken me over 36 years to allow myself to be seen? I saw that I was beautiful and so very human. I saw my family members within myself in those pictures. I saw my insecurities in those pictures. I saw my aging, my blessings, my burdens, and my uniqueness, and my light beginning to emerge. And I began to catch a glimmer of my beauty.

Another opportunity to experience my edge came a year later when I posed for Jade’s A Beautiful Body Project. In this shoot, confronting my vulnerabilities took on a whole new shape. I exposed myself to Jade- not just my flesh, and typically hidden parts, but the angles, and lines and aspects of me that came with being a mother. The exposure called to light remembrances of how my body changed shape over two different pregnancies, and two births, and the stories that my body has stored from the act of surrender to motherhood and the unexpected life that has become mine since taking the leap of faith into motherhood.

I remember writing to Jade afterwards pouring out my experiences of feeling human and connected to all beings in their most exposed places.

Jade shared a few pics with me after this shoot- but since this was her project, not mine, I had to let my curiosity subside at not being able to access all the photos she took. Still, I thought maybe I could learn more about myself if I saw them. I wondered if I would like myself more, or less? Could I even heal the wound of a dissolved marriage by seeing myself so exposed? Would I see the pictures and think I was beautiful? Enough? Worthy? Or would I find a reason to continue to oppress myself and prove that I am less than? Would I finally be able to accept myself as I am- and all of the changes in my life?

I finally came to peace about it. I was thankful and humbled by yet another healing opportunity to stay open to myself and the experiences and teachings I received from this process.

Then, last month, I received a text informing me that a friend had seen my photo on Jade’s postcard for her upcoming collaborative show Turns Out I’m Human. On the front of the postcard was one of the photographs she had taken of me, with all of my lines and angles and hidden parts. I was amazed. I again saw my humanity, and could recognize my beauty without hesitation. I actually giggled.

Today I ponder: is there something special that we need to do to embrace our humanity? Is it just about accepting the cycle of doubt and instability only to sparkle in acceptance of beauty and light? Is it about when we slip back into the stories and what we do with them? Does being human have to do with remembering our courage? Is it our practices of staying with ourselves as we discover who we are, inclusive of our lessons, our imperfections, and our unique brilliant essence?

How do these courses of development show up on our faces? In our bodies? In how we put ourselves out into the world? Is it enough just to show up? To sit with the questions? To let ourselves fall and then get back up? Why would I expect that I would ever have it all right? Perfected? Is it this Just Being Human that poses the question of “is that enough?”

I will continue to return to my practices of meeting each moment, with a practice of not shutting down, whether my clothes are on or off, whether I am in front of a camera, in my garden or, on my meditation cushion, with friends or solo. May we all remember this being human thing is a precious gift. And may we honor who we are in our light and our radiance and all of those around us on their own journey and struggles and acceptance of this sacred remembering of what it means to be human.