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The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally an aggression against yourself. 

–Pema Chodron

Can I just channel what my father would have said (before Alzheimer’s) about Pema’s quote? When he was in his “right mind?” He would have said:  That is pure crap.

Dad was a perfectionist who taught his children there was always room for improvement and the sooner those improvements were made, the better. He had no patience for psychiatrists or slack standards, mystics or milk toasts or “slovenly sons of bitches.” He applied those teachings to his own life with more exacting rigor than to ours—and was successful by all conventional measures of success, accomplishing a great deal before the tangles and plaque neutralized his perfectionism.

Having sufficiently internalized my father, whom I have admired all my life to the point of idealization (doing both of us a disservice) I inherited his drill sergeant. Only recently have I begun to internalize dissenting voices, immersing in them as a counterbalance. Slowly, my drill sargent is being replaced by a heroine that lures me to wholeness rather than shaming me to shambles.

I’m going toe-to-toe with you, Daddy. I agree with Pema. And oh how I miss you.

Remember, I worked in marketing for 36 years selling a lot of things people didn’t need.  I tell you, we have become hostages in The Land of New and Improved.  We are  pummeled with roughly 600 advertising messages a day. They tell us that the car we drive or the purse we carry determines our lovability. That the pills we take or treatments we get will fix what’s wrong with our minds and bodies. We are never left alone until we go to bed, and even there we’re stalked with products that promise to help us perform better sexually or sleep through the night or burn calories while we rest.

Thanks for listening, Daddy. And forget the” sexual performance” reference. What’s that? Oh good, you have.

Now, to my fellow woman:

On those rare occasions when we are left alone in total silence, all these messages reverberate against the “shoulding” subtexts of our childhoods. So many conditions for happiness!

Regardless of how cynical or serene we are—if we live on the grid—the sirens of self-improvement through acquisition seep in.

We humans are porous.

We don’t have a clue how much hostility we direct at ourselves on a daily basis, and there’s no litmus test that indicates its toxic levels. These things we tell ourselves, it is a form of violence; a psychic cutting.

Isn’t it only logical that women, the target of most of these messages, feel as though they are never enough—or too much?  Our internal Goldilocks are never quite right—and marketers know this. So they up sell us on Baby Bear’s chair or bed or diet plan, persuading us to focus on “the other,” turning us into big-time coveters.

In my thirties I started to become aware of how outwardly self-deprecating I was. One of the greatest favors my ex-husband did for me was pointing out that I should never call myself stupid or ugly (he said it would manifest itself). I went to therapy to identify and mitigate my mean voices. Then I’d go home and hear my mother and sisters do the same thing to themselves.

Listen when you’re in a dressing room—isn’t it normal to hear a woman deriding herself to a friend?  I like to shop alone, but I do the same thing, beating myself up when I go up a size (I made a rule: never shop for bras and jeans on the same day).

I recently attended an Overeater’s Anonymous meeting and heard a woman talking about how disgusted she was with herself for not  staying on her plan to “be good” on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This might be projecting, but she was not that fat. How telling, right? As if body weight is the alpha indicator for good health, trumping even our emotional health.

We are like portable torture chambers, some more dark and clandestine than others.

I’m weary of programs that promise a new me. I have launched hundreds of campaigns in my advertising career–and thousands of them personally (sometimes a new one daily, feeling like a failure at the end of the day and starting over the next).

Actually, there is a learning there. It’s called practice.  Of all the initiatives I’ve tried, yoga works the best. It is a practice. Just practice, a mirror of life itself. In my studio, it’s not “do it until you get it right.”  It’s keep doing it and things will begin to shift. Not all that glamorous—but surprisingly more effective than the drill sargent.

My father—a hardcore perfectionist in the days of bringing up baby—might agree. I don’t know for sure, but I think if he could look through a View Master to his brilliant career, his devotion to family, and how much and how openly we’ve loved him since he lost his attachment to self improvement—he might be down with that.

Holly Smith-Berry
Holly Smith-Berry
Like you, I’m a shape shifter, living as many roles as an umbrella has spokes: marketing exec, entrepreneur, parent, daughter, friend, sister, yogi, writer. Most of my career I’ve worked in the Housewares Industry developing new products. Sometimes I’ve taken them all the way from the gleam in an inventor’s eye to America’s kitchens.
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