Academic Musings, Autumn, Beauty, Nature

Autumnal Glory: Mindful Walking & Intellectual Labor

These days find me writing 8, 10, sometimes 12 hours a day. At times, I find myself so excited about my work, so alive with ideas, that I feel physically overwhelmed with energy. This excitement can manifest as restlessness, tension, a slightly elevated heart rate — even nervousness.

In the past, I was unsure of what to do with this restless energy. At times I felt frustrated — as though I should not feel so physically affected by intellectual labor. And yet, the more mindfulness I bring into my academic work, the more I have come to compassionately accept that the brain is part of the body … as are the neck and shoulders that support that brain .. and the hands that do the typing. Mental work is always physical. Beginning here, accepting what is, I found my intuition leading me to move when overcome with intellectual energy — or when the body felt too tense or tired to continue writing.

And so it is that I’ve taken to regular autumnal walks before, between and after writing sessions. Being in nature brings things into perspective. It’s also an important tool in an academic’s arsenal of self-care. Fresh air. Soft rain. Blue skies. Skate clouds. Whatever comes, I lovingly embrace. Getting out of my office and out into the world during the work day keeps me sane and grounded. Sometimes I practice mindful walking. I’m always consciously breathing. But mostly, I simply allow myself to be in the flow of Life. In awe of the majesty of it all. Sunkissed by the glory.

When the spirit moves me – as it often does – I whip out my smart phone, click the microphone app – and begin to speak. Ideas about whatever I’m writing continue to manifest, crystallize and work themselves out in this way. And so it is that mindful walking has become another way of writing — an intuituve blending of mind and body, intellect and physicality .. corporal consciousness.

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Beauty, Life Musings

On Ego, Hair & Self-Love

My curls

While I’ve generally been thrilled with my haircut, it’s also been challenging for my ego. I cut my fro in part to overcome some of the egoic identification I had with my hair. I had spent 8 years “mastering” my natural hair and learning how to style my twists.. And I had it down to a science.  My ego came to take quite a bit of pride in the mastery of my fro because it took so much time, experimentation and effort to learn these things. I also was just supremely happy with how healthy and beautiful my hair had become – and with how easy it was to maintain my twists.  I’m big into effortless, easy, breezy beauty and I even did a few hair tutorials back in the day:

Still, in the back of my mind, I knew I was overly attached to my curls. The salience of this attachment really hit home when I visited an Egyptian salon that a family member recommended for a hot press back in January. I usually get my hair hot combed straight once a year, so I thought this would be the same ol’ thing. Except it wasn’t. They burned my hair! Some strands became permanently straight. I was heartbroken. My curls had lost the perfection I projected onto them.

Aware of these egoic thoughts – and just frustrated with the madness – I took a pair of scissors and cut my hair. And it has been remarkably liberating. Nonetheless, I found myself grappling with a new set of egoic issues and insecurities.  As with all things that arise in my experience, I integrated my conscious awareness of the ego into my spiritual practice.

First, I found that I was still rather attached to the state of my hair. I wanted to look cute. And to the extent that I thought the haircut was very cute, my mind was usually satisfied.   Except in the morning. I would wake up and look in the mirror, only to be greeted with a lopsided fro.  The thing about negro hair like mine is that it in its natural, untwisted state, it easily takes on the shape of whatever is happening around it. It will flatten out on one side and be curly on the other depending on how I sleep. I wasn’t used to this unpredictability.  With my twists, I looked reliably lovely at all hours of the day.  Which is to say, my mind and ego were perpetually satisfied.  It’s one thing to style your hair and feel great. It’s another to fully accept yourself and feel great at your most unkempt moment. I found my inner critic being VERY hard on me.  I began to fear that no lover would love me at 5 am, with my crooked, half-matted, Elvis-like bedhair. I felt challenged in my femininity.  “Your hair looks crazy”, “You look like a man”, “Your hair is ugly” . . . this is the onslaught of harsh thoughts that would emerge first thing in the morning.. until I washed and styled my hair and once again satisfied the ego.  Then, this fickle voice would whisper “Your hair is awesome”, “You look so pretty”, “You’re a goddess” .. While the ego was thrilled with these assessments, my higher wisdom was well aware that such thoughts were not reassuring at all, because believing them meant that my self-acceptance – and my peace of mind – would remain conditional.

For a while, I contemplated getting another haircut or just doing something.. anything.. to shut up that ruthless inner critic.  But rather quickly, I realized that acquiescing to these reactions would be a losing battle. The ego is never permanently satisfied  If I bowed to its criticism and exalted in its conditional affirmation, I would become a slave to my own feelings and projections about my appearance. So instead, I decided to use my awareness of these thoughts to radically expand my self-love.  To that end, I started greeting my puffy-faced, crooked-afro-having self with this morning salutation: “I love you exactly as you are.  You are gorgeous and divine just like this.  I accept you as you are, unconditionally.”

I was skeptical that this approach would work, but by day #2, I already felt more at ease.  A couple days in, and I actually started to like how unpredictable and wild my hair was.  I embraced the crazy and started to feel more sexy and beautiful. I began to see more clearly what is timelessly, unconditionally radiant and perfect about me. In other words, I began to love myself the way I’d want my soulmate or lover to love me. I affirmed that I didn’t need long, predictably beautiful twists to feel whole.  This seems like a silly and elementary thing to say, but my ego had gotten so wrapped up in my hair that it has taken some concerted effort to undo this conditioning.  Throughout it all, I’m using my awareness of my thoughts and feelings to consciously expand my self-acceptance.. which is just a further elaboration of my intention to love myself a little more on a daily basis.

So far, so good.  Turns out that self-acceptance is a lot cheaper than a new hair cut.

Beauty, Race & Ethnicity

Photographic Evidence that Kerry Washington & Scarlett Johansson Are Interracial Twins

I am fascinated with the idea that we all have “twins” in ethnoracial groups other than our own.  Of course, ultimately I do not buy into the idea that we are all really members of “different” categories, but practically speaking, many folks still do identify quite strongly with ethnic, racial and even simply phenotypic differences.

In any case, I often see people from different ethnic backgrounds who look exactly alike.  Indeed, if I had my druthers, there would be a huge internet database of “racial twins” showing everyday people who look exactly alike except for their skin tone or hair texture.  Scarlett Johansson and Kerry Washington are two of my favorite celebrity examples.  I think both women are breathtakingly gorgeous, but what I find even more stunning than their individual assets and fabulous sense of style is the fact that they look so much alike.

No matter how they wear their hair, style their clothes or do their makeup, they look like cafe latte and whipped cream versions of each other.

Their eyes, nose and lips are ridiculously similar.  They even hold their posture in a similar fashion.

Ultimately, what I love about the notion of “interracial twins” (let us try very earnestly to keep our minds out of the gutter for a few seconds . . . ) is the idea that we are all fundamentally the same – yes, even those of us who look nothing alike.