6 Principles for Befriending Yourself: Part I

June 4, 2019

6 Principles for Befriending Yourself, Matt Licata, Jeff Foster

 

Enjoy this excerpt in our new mini-series of Befriending Yourself, written by Jeff Foster and Matt Licata. Want to go deeper? Join their free webinar on Wednesday, June 5! Be sure to register here. 

 

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” – Hafiz

Here’s the honest truth: Sometimes, no matter how much healing, spiritual, and therapeutic work we’ve done on ourselves, we just feel stuck, blocked, triggered, defeated, or tired. We feel separate from life, far from where we “want to be,” or think we “should” be. Our usual default or habit is to go to war with ourselves in some way. We run from the present moment and life becomes a battleground. And we end up exhausted – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. How can we call off the inner war?

We want to invite you to slow down and tune into the alchemical medicine contained within your difficult thoughts and feelings and other “unwanted” states and experiences. To step off the battlefield with life and open to the guidance buried inside you, exactly as you are, now. This guidance is already here, not the product of some exhausting search. Life, or love, is not waiting for you to heal, awaken, or transform. What you seek is here now, unfolding and disclosing itself, and can always be found in the very core of where we have most forgotten to look.

 

THE DISCOVERY OF THE SACRED MIDDLE

We can so easily forget about the sacred “alchemical middle,” an alternative to repression or unconscious expression, which is available in every moment; a new and creative pathway in between the primordial pathways of fight-flight-freeze: The invitation to be present with the difficult material. Breathe into it. Infuse it with curiosity and love. This is our true route to healing, if we are ready to let go of our suffering.

Here is a principle that has the potential to change your life, if you really take it in:

 

TRUE HEALING HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GETTING RID OF “NEGATIVE” THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. TRUE HEALING HAPPENS WHEN WE ACTUALLY STOP “TRYING” TO HEAL ALTOGETHER, LET GO OF “HEALING” AS A DESTINATION, AND SURRENDER TO THE PRESENT MOMENT OF LIFE, HOWEVER INTENSE OR UNCOMFORTABLE IT IS. THERE IS UNEXPECTED MEDICINE HIDDEN INSIDE THIS “ALCHEMICAL MIDDLE,” THE WISDOM OF YOUR OWN HEART, RELEASED WHEN YOU TURN BACK TOWARD YOURSELF IN A MOMENT WHEN YOU NEED YOURSELF MORE THAN EVER.

 

We want to help you stop struggling against life and truly “befriend” yourself, love and care for yourself – even in a moment when you really want to escape, when you have been caught in habitual and addictive ways of responding, and the trance of judgement, unworthiness, and self-abandonment has taken you over.

We want to show you that even your deepest shame, longings, sorrows, and loneliness are not mistakes, and not “blocks” to freedom and peace at all, but actually forgotten and misunderstood doorways or portals into the life that you long to live.

As Joseph Campbell said, “… in the cave you fear to enter, lies the treasure you seek.” Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to feel worse, to bravely touch into the darkness and “negativity” of the moment, in order to find the light, in order to remember our true strength, and get “better.” This is the law of “paradoxical intention,” a concept introduced by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. The great alchemists and tantric practitioners of the past also discovered potent medicine buried in the very core of our most difficult emotional states. In order to tap into this wisdom and bring it into our lives and the world, we have to turn towards the uncomfortable place, however counterintuitive that sounds – surround and infuse it with our curiosity, attention, love, interest and care, and allow it to disclose its mysteries.

Here is Part I in our Mini-Series of some effective pathways into befriending…

 

THE SIX PRINCIPLES 

  1. STOP TRYING TO BE HAPPY (happiness is not something you can “do”)

There is so much pressure on us these days from society – our friends, family members, social media, and even self-help authors and spiritual teachers –  to be “happy,” to be “up,” to be joyful, to be at peace and to have everything “together.” It can be so exhausting, this journey of “becoming”… and especially “becoming happy.”

Happiness is one state among many, one band or flavor of the spectrum of our humanness, a lovely experience, but if we become entranced with it, if we become addicted to it, we lose touch with the other shades of the spectrum, where profound creativity, realization, and insights may also dwell. If our journey to happiness entails a subtle denial of these other shades, we send parts and pieces of ourselves into the shadow where they will inevitably return (especially in our relationships) in less-than-conscious ways, generating unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others.

We unconsciously seek this kind of one-sided “happiness,” that sense that everything is “up” all the time, clear, free of doubt, certain, sure, positive. But it’s a concept that hurts us in the end, an impossible ideal that actually takes us away from ourselves and makes us distrust our “authentic unhappiness.” We forget the wisdom in our “shadow,” that which is hidden in the core of our wounds, in those places we’d least expect to find it. But to learn to trust our deepest experience will go against the grain of a culture and society that have lost contact with the wisdom in the unwanted. It requires a reorganization of our perception and nervous system, and training ourselves to rest and explore and open to the unknown, into unstructured states of being, which is always going to feel a bit risky, shaky, and yet also full of life.

The truth is that we simply aren’t meant to feel happy, inspired, joyful, and full of energy all of the time. We aren’t meant to be “up” all the time, or even most of the time! It’s so exhausting trying to stay in any particular state. It’s a relief to be allowed to be “down.” Imagine how a dear and trusted friend – a partner, a teacher, a therapist, or even a pet or some friend in the natural world – would just allow you to be down if you felt down, and not fix or judge you or try to make you “up” again, but simply hold you and allow you to cry if you needed to cry. Held in that kind of unconditional love, great healing could emerge. Through the darkness, to the light. This is the power of love.

We are actually built to contain all of life – the sorrow and loneliness and doubt and exhaustion as well as the joy and excitement, just as the sky is “built” to contain all kinds of weather, and just as a movie screen is “built” to allow all kinds of life scenes to pass through it. There is nothing wrong with you if feelings of sorrow and fear and even despair move through you, just as there is nothing wrong with the sky during even the biggest storm. The sky simply allows all of its weather. That is its nature. It doesn’t have to do anything except be what it is. Open, loving and vast.

We are actually meant to feel down – lost, disconnected, sad, and lonely –  sometimes! It’s good and healthy to make room in ourselves for this “negative” weather, too – the rain, the snow, the fog, and the thunderstorms as well as the pleasant sunny days. These are also sacred and healthy and even life-giving experiences, and we need to take some time in our day to really allow ourselves to feel whatever it is that what we are feeling, even if everyone around us is calling us “negative” or “broken” and trying to fix us and give us advice… or even “enlighten” us. There are gifts that are important for our journey – experiences, feelings, realizations, insights, and discoveries – that are available in states of doubt, confusion, despair, and grief that are simply not available in higher, brighter, and more certain states. You are vast, a majestic holding field that contains all of life, all of love’s art and creativity. It takes courage to turn from the advice of others, and the advice of our own minds (which is in large part only an expression of past conditioning), and surrender to our genuine present-moment experience. It takes bravery to be authentically as we are, in a world that wants us to be different. Here, in our authenticity, we will find our true happiness – a happiness that is not the opposite of sorrow, a joy that is not at war with darkness.

The deepest longing in your heart will only be met by discovering this true authenticity, inside your own eccentricity and wildness, in your unwillingness to go with the status quo if the price tag of doing so is the abandonment of your one unprecedented heart. It is risky to walk your own path, but there is a very unique gift of creativity inside of you that aches to be allowed into this world, one that is utterly unique and one only you can reveal here.

To be truly happy, you have to be prepared to allow yourself to be truly “unhappy,” however counterintuitive and paradoxical that sounds.

 

2. TRUE MEDITATION IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK (it’s what you are)

Here is the paradox: when we allow ourselves to be authentically unhappy, to embrace the “negative” aspects of experience, we can actually touch a deeper kind of happiness. The happiness of true self-acceptance, the joy of being exactly what we are. Again, we must embrace this paradox, not try to understand it! As the alchemists remind us, we cannot skip stages, we cannot abandon the moon for the sun or replace one with the other, for the gold we long for is only found in the embrace of both.

Befriending ourselves means giving ourselves a break from the exhausting Self-Improvement Project that so many of us have become tangled up in, and slowing down, taking a few deep breaths, and allowing ourselves to experience the entirety of the present moment without trying to fix or change it, even if it’s uncomfortable or intense or “negative.” To discover for ourselves whether this moment truly needs to be improved, or is somehow already complete. Not the picture or idea of “complete” the mind thinks or has been told it needs or requires, but a completeness of the heart, a wholeness, a vastness that is always already present and will never be found by means of more and more acquisition of material things, concepts, experiences, or insights. The completeness and wholeness of the sky, even in the midst of a storm.

Meditation doesn’t mean working yourself into a blissful, transcendent, or even relaxed state. These (and many other) states may of course come and go as byproducts of meditation and are also welcome and embraced, but they are not the goal. True meditation has no goal, however strange that sounds to the rational mind. Meditation is not even a “practice” really; it’s more of an attitude, a way of relating to the moment, dancing and playing with it, leaning in and leaning out of it. Meditation in the true sense of the word means getting really curious about your present-moment experience instead of trying to alter it, distract yourself from it, or even to cure, shift, transform, or heal it. But to truly inhabit and befriend it. And trust it to the core. To even “trust” in those moments when you cannot trust; to accept those moments you cannot accept. Even in the core of our  “non-acceptance” and resistance, our states of doubt and “not being able to trust,” if met in deep embrace, are also doorways to freedom. The goal is not to “shift” or “translate” non-acceptance to acceptance – but to open into the way psyche or soul is appearing now, as valid, workable, and worthy of our compassionate tending.

We can accept that we are in non-acceptance right now. We can trust our doubt. We can experiment with not resisting our resistance. We can allow our non-allowing, and give a big YES to the “No” within. We can allow ourselves to be exactly as we are, the way that beloved friend or pet would allow us.

You could trust the weather, even if you didn’t like it. You might say “this isn’t the weather I had hoped for, or wanted, but I trust that it’s here today, and it will pass in time. But for now, I’m going to walk out into the rain, the fog, the snow, the darkness….” We can find the rain, the fog, the snow, and darkness inside our own bodies and neural pathways, inside the cells of our hearts and nervous systems, along with their friends the sun, the springtime, the warmth, and the flowering, too. Let’s make room for all of the weather, in any given moment of our lives.

Meditation means letting the present moment be as it is, “kindling a light in the darkness”, as Carl Jung put it. Jung also reminded us that we’ll never discover “enlightenment” by “imagining figures of light,” but only by providing sanctuary for the darkness – allowing our repressed fear, the shame, the deep feelings of loneliness and sorrow to emerge into the light of our conscious awareness. In any moment of your life you can simply get curious about what you’re feeling now, what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching in this very unique instant of your life.

You can “en-lighten” the moment, instead of waiting forever to become enlightened!

Beholding the moment as a work of art, rather than something to fix or mend; this is true meditation – seeing any moment through eyes of curiosity and fascination. And you can always begin where you are. No matter how things are going in your life, you can always begin now.

With the way your feet feel. Your hands. With a sense of pressure between the eyes. With the weight of your clothes on your body. With the rising and falling sensations of the breath. With a feeling of joy or boredom, bliss or confusion. With a sense of numbness or emptiness (yes, you can even get curious about your lack of curiosity!). All states – both sacred and profane –  and experiences – both pleasant and unpleasant –  are worthy of your curious attention. Meditation means falling in love with where you are, even if where you are is hot and sticky and unpleasant and a bit scary and groundless. Even if you have to begin with falling in love with the part of you that wants to be somewhere else. Even this “weather” is not a mistake. Remember the sky…

 

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt in our new mini-series of Befriending Yourself, written by Jeff Foster and Matt Licata. Want to go deeper? Join their free webinar on Wednesday, June 5! Be sure to register here. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

JOIN JEFF FOSTER AND MATT LICATA EACH MONTH IN THEIR NEW “BEFRIENDING YOURSELF” MEMBERSHIP SITE: www.befriendingyourself.com

6 Principles for Befriending Yourself, Matt Licata, Jeff Foster

MATT LICATA

Matt Licata, PhD is a psychotherapist, writer, and independent researcher based in Boulder, Colorado. Over the last 25 years, he has been active in the ongoing dialogue between depth psychological and meditative approaches to emotional healing and spiritual transformation.

His psychotherapy and spiritual counseling practice has specialized in working with yogis, meditators, and seekers of all sorts who have come to a dead-end in their spiritual practice or therapy and are longing for a more embodied, creative, imaginative way to participate in their experience, in relationship with others, and in the sacred world.

Matt’s spiritual path and exploration has been interfaith in nature and includes three decades of study and practice in Vajrayana Buddhism, Sufism, Daoism, and Contemplative Christianity. His psychological training and influences have been in the larger field of relational psychoanalysis, Jung’s analytical and alchemical work, and Hillman’s archetypal psychology, to  name a few. He is the editor of A Healing Space blog and author of The Path is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You (Wandering Yogi Press, 2017) and the forthcoming A Healing Space: Befriending Yourself in Difficult Times (Sounds True, 2020). His website is www.mattlicataphd.com

 

JEFF FOSTER

Jeff Foster studied Astrophysics at Cambridge University. In his mid-twenties, struggling with chronic shame and suicidal depression, he became addicted to the idea of “spiritual enlightenment” and began a near-obsessive spiritual quest for the ultimate truth of existence. The search came crashing down one day, unexpectedly, with the clear recognition of the non-dual nature of everything and the discovery of the “extraordinary in the ordinary.” Jeff fell in love with the simple present moment, and was given a deep understanding of the root illusion behind all human suffering and seeking.

For over a decade Jeff has been traveling the world offering meetings and retreats, inviting people into a place of radical self-acceptance and “Deep Rest.” He has published several books in over fifteen languages. His latest book is The Joy of True Meditation: Words of Encouragement for Tired Minds and Wild Hearts (New Sarum Press, 2019). His website is www.lifewithoutacentre.com

 

Jeff Foster

Photo of ()\

Jeff Foster shares from his own awakened experience a way out of seeking fulfillment in the future and into the acceptance of "all this, here and now." He studied astrophysics at Cambridge University. Following a period of depression and physical illness, he embarked on an intensive spiritual search that came to an end with the discovery that life itself was what he had always been seeking.

Foster, Jeff © Emily Goodman


Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Jeff Foster:
The Deepest Acceptance »
The Deepest Acceptance: Part 2 »
Unconditioned Awareness and the Challenges of Everyday Life »

Matt Licata

Also By Author

Victory! A Poem

Victory!

By Jeff Foster

 

You don’t have to be the best. 

You don’t have to win. 

You only have to be yourself.

 

You only have to be real. 

And speak from the heart. 

And know that you have the right to see how you see, 

and think how you think, and feel what you feel, 

and desire what you desire.

 

You don’t have to be a success in the eyes of the world 

and you don’t have to be an expert on living.

 

You only have to offer what you offer, 

breathe how you breathe, make mistakes and screw 

up 

and learn to love your stumbling and say the 

wrong thing 

and stop worrying so much about impressing anyone 

because in the end you only have to live with yourself

 

and joy is not given but found in the deepest 

recesses of your being 

so there can be joy in falling and joy in making 

mistakes 

and joy in making a fool of yourself and joy in 

forgetting joy 

and then holding yourself close as you crumble to 

the ground 

and weep out the old dreams.

 

Joy is closeness 

with the one you love: 

You.

 

You don’t have to be the best. 

You really don’t have to win.

 

You only have to remember this intimacy with 

the sky, the nearness of the mountains and feel the sun 

warming your shoulders and the nape of your neck

 

and know that you are alive, 

and that you are a success at being alive, 

and that you have won already, 

and you are victorious already, 

without having to prove 

a damn 

thing.

 

To anyone.

This poem is excerpted from You Were Never Broken: Poems to Save Your Life by Jeff Foster.

 

jeff fosterJeff Foster shares from his own awakened experience a way out of seeking fulfillment in the future and into the acceptance of “all this, here and now.” He studied astrophysics at Cambridge University. Following a period of depression and physical illness, he embarked on an intensive spiritual search that came to an end with the discovery that life itself was what he had always been seeking.

 

 

 

 

 

book cover

Learn More

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The Courage to Stand Alone

The Courage to Stand Alone

It can be scary when we are called to confront our aloneness, the seemingly infinite depths of that empty, homeless feeling inside of us. When all our old protections fall away and the abandoned and neglected ones inside come begging for our love and attention. It can feel sometimes as though there’s nowhere to turn, like we want to crawl out of our own skin, urgently get out of the Now and into some other time or place.

It takes bravery to stop, breathe, and—slowly, slowly, slowly—turn back toward the lonely, dark, empty “void” inside (in reality, there is no void). To actually turn to face the sense of abandonment buried deep within our guts, to soften into the sense of separation that has been with us for as long as we can remember. We don’t have to make the feeling go away today, only lean into it, breathe into it, begin to make room for it, maybe even learn to trust its presence. 

quote image

Perhaps loneliness is like a cosmic nostalgia, a preverbal memory of a deep womb-connection, with ourselves, with the planet, with every being who has ever lived. In leaning into our own loneliness, shame, and existential anxiety, we may be able to touch into compassion for the loneliness of every human being, for every heart longing to connect, for every grieving heart, every frightened heart. 

We are alone, yet never alone. This is the great paradox of existence. Our loneliness, when not resisted or numbed away, may actually end up connecting us more deeply to life and each other, like it did for me and my sweet father that winter evening. 

Let us learn to be alone, then! Alone, without distraction, which is true meditation. Alone, communing with the breath as it rises and falls. Alone with the mind and its incredible dance. Alone with the rain and the morning sun. Alone with the crackle of autumn leaves under our feet, or the crunch of winter snow. Alone with the hopes and joys and anxieties of this human form, living a single day on this remarkable planet. Alone with our precious selves, with this unfathomable sense of connection to all things, with birth and loss and death and their myriad mysteries. 

Alone, with all of life.

This is an excerpt from You Were Never Broken: Poems to Save Your Life by Jeff Foster.

jeff fosterJeff Foster shares from his own awakened experience a way out of seeking fulfillment in the future and into the acceptance of “all this, here and now.” He studied astrophysics at Cambridge University. Following a period of depression and physical illness, he embarked on an intensive spiritual search that came to an end with the discovery that life itself was what he had always been seeking.

 

 

 

 

 

book image of excerpt on lonliness

Learn More

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Into the Belly of Meditation

Into the Belly of Meditation

By Jeff Foster

 

You are weary, friend. 

Sit. 

You are thirsty. 

Here. Drink.

 

You are hungry. Here. Take this. 

A piece of bread. 

A small bowl of soup. 

See how God has taken form! 

It is all I have but it will keep you alive.

image 1

I will light a fire that will never go out. 

A sacred flame. Unconditional in its burning. 

To illuminate us in the darkness.

 

Oh. I see you are wounded. 

Bruised. Bleeding.

Exhausted from the world. 

You have suffered much, I know.

 

image 2

Come. 

Take off these dirty rags. 

Don’t worry. It’s safe. 

There is strength in your nakedness.

 

Here. Wash. 

Rub this medicine onto your wounds.

 

Put on these robes, they are clean and dry. 

Lie down. Close your eyes. 

I will watch over us tonight.

image 3

Listen. You have not failed. 

I see new life breaking through. 

I see birth. An insurrection. 

The sharp edge of hope.

 

I have no teaching for you. 

No wise words.

 

I only want you to trust what you are going through. 

To bring this fire inside of you.

Until the end.

 

I have known this pain. Yes

This courage to keep moving. Yes

This courage to rest, too.

The sacrifice of the known world.

image 1

Friend. 

Drop into the belly of meditation now. 

The place you were always seeking. 

The vast silence at the Earth’s core which is your own core. 

Breathing into the gut now. 

The throat. The chest. 

Irradiating the nervous system with unspeakable 

tenderness. 

Flooding the body with soft, warm light. 

Drenching the human form with divine love. 

And sleep. 

And sleep.

image 2

I may not be here when you wake. 

We may not meet again in form.

 

Yet I leave you with all you need. 

Food. Water. A bed. 

A chance to rest. 

A touch of kindness.

And your unbreakable Self.

flowers

This poem is excerpted from You Were Never Broken: Poems to Save Your Life by Jeff Foster.

 

jeff fosterJeff Foster shares from his own awakened experience a way out of seeking fulfillment in the future and into the acceptance of “all this, here and now.” He studied astrophysics at Cambridge University. Following a period of depression and physical illness, he embarked on an intensive spiritual search that came to an end with the discovery that life itself was what he had always been seeking.

 

 

 

 

 

you were never broken cover

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

 

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Transform your relationship with your kitchen—and yo...

Hello gorgeous community of amazing human beings,

For the last 15 years, I have been cooking up this question: 

What does it look like to nourish YOU? 

 

Let’s drop everything we might think this is 
and everything you didn’t get done today 

and bring our collective shoulders down from the sky. 

Let’s take a minute here. We are just getting started, yet I feel we need to slow down. Will you take a deep breath with me? Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for breathing. There is nothing to do here. 

You can bring your awareness to your breath with an inhale through your nose. Open your mouth slightly and exhale with a HAAAAAAAAA sound. It feels so good to drop everything and breathe. Me too. To let go, even a little, is a real lovefest for the heart and mind = heart mind. 

It feels so good, can we do one more? 
You can close your eyes this time if you want to—

I will be right here. 

We are just getting here, together.

Now let me ask you again: 
What does it look like to nourish YOU?

What if I told you that your kitchen is a place of stories, mothers, grandmothers, imprints, and emotional weather patterns that shaped how you live now? It is also a place to deeply nourish yourself and cook up the life you have been longing to live. 

Your kitchen (yes your kitchen!) is a fierce, unconditionally loving mother holding what is ripe and ready to become inside of YOU. Who would have thought that you can heal your life in your kitchen? I did! And now you can.  

I am excited to share my new book: The Kitchen Healer: The Journey to Becoming You.

It invites you to bring your entire body into the kitchen, put your shame into the fire, offer your grief to the soup—allowing all you have been hungry for to begin to feed YOU. As you turn on the fire, you will come home to yourself. You will make the room you need, to hear and see and feel the stories you have been carrying.  

 

You will begin, again and again, to become YOU. 
Welcome home. 

In loving service to your courage, your kitchen healer,
x x x x jules

Jules Blaine Davis, the Kitchen Healer, is a TED speaker and one of Goop’s leading experts on women’s healing. She has led transformational gatherings, retreats, and a private practice for over fifteen years. She has facilitated deeply nourishing experiences at OWN and on retreat with Oprah Winfrey, among many other miracles. Jules is a pioneer in her field, inviting women to awaken and rewrite the stories they have been carrying for far too long in their day-to-day lives. She is cooking up a movement to inspire and support women to discover who they are becoming.

This Is Your Time to Be Healthy, Fit, and Fine

Sex, health, happiness, and wealth . . . you know you want it all. And there’s no better time than now for having it all and “gettin’ it good!

Without social networking, motorized vehicles, or modern-day technology, many of our ancestors went for what they wanted and got it. One trailblazing “I’ve got this” woman I revere is Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. As the Civil War raged in 1864, 33-year-old Rebecca Lee became the first Black female physician in the US. She graduated from what is now Boston University School of Medicine. In 1865, with her husband, Arthur Crumpler, she courageously journeyed to Richmond, Virginia, to provide medical care to recently freed slaves that the White doctors would not touch.

Her life in Virginia wasn’t easy. While there, many pharmacists refused to honor her prescriptions, some hospitals denied her admitting privileges, and some—reportedly, even physician colleagues—wisecracked that the “MD” after her name stood not for medical doctor, but for “mule driver.” But Dr. Crumpler persevered!

She remained in Virginia for almost four years then returned to Boston in 1869, established her medical practice, and wrote a book about women’s and children’s health. She blazed a trail upon which many have and do tread.

Hers is just one story of a brave, determined, capable Black woman. Over the centuries, there have been more in numbers untold! In the 1900s, especially during the Civil Rights Movement, Black women were instrumental in the reckoning of a nation. While their husbands got the most notoriety, matriarchs such as Coretta Scott King, Juanita Abernathy, and Lillian Lewis stood along- side their men and played pivotal roles in moving the nation forward to live up to its creed.

And as the first decade of 2000 ended and a new one began, Black women became increasingly on the move, onward and upward, and are now doctors, accountants, judges, pilots, investment managers, nurses, and elected officials as well as wives, mothers, and caregiving daughters. Undoubtedly, many of today’s Black women are carving out lives about which our great-great- grandmothers may have only dared to dream.

Black women’s voices are no longer muted or silenced; instead, they are heard around the world, with sophisticated, strong, and successful style. In 2020, America elected its first Black female vice president, Kamala Harris, at whose 2021 inauguration the words of the first Youth Poet Laureate of the US, Amanda Gorman, rang forth for the world to hear. But there’s more!

In February 2021, Georgia Tech engineering major Breanna Ivey interned at NASA and helped put their rover, Perseverance, on Mars! And as the COVID-19 pandemic stole lives around the globe, vaccine researcher Kizzmekia Corbett, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology that she earned at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, worked with the National Institutes of Health and was instrumental in bringing safe, effective vaccines to the world.

Indeed, Black Girl Magic is in full force! When we look around, seemingly there’s hardly any- thing Black women can’t do—and do well—in any field, including medicine, the military, politics, education, technology, business, sports, aeronautics, and the arts. What we put our minds to, we can achieve! With an “I’ve got this” approach and determination, it is ours to be had.

But life is not a bed of roses for all Black women. Too often (and still) negative images barrage our psyches, loved ones in our community lose their lives in gun violence, and our health often needs dramatic improvement. Black women still carry the highest incidence of, and the poorest prognosis for, medical conditions that affect practically every organ system in the body. We are more obese and have a shorter life expectancy than other women in the female demographic, and we carry the highest mortality rate for many killer diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, and more.

Despite those findings, the plight of Black women’s health is rarely, if ever, specifically addressed at length in general women’s health books. For that reason I have stepped outside of my medical office, outside of the sacred space of the surgical suite, even outside of my city and state to offer women in America and abroad Black Women’s Wellness: Your “I’ve Got This!” Guide to Health, Sex, and Phenomenal Living. May it be the one-stop source you can reference on your personal quest to achieve total wellness, health, and happiness in every important aspect of your life. I offer this book as a Black female who grew up poor in a single-parent household. I never knew any of my grandparents, had an absentee father (who I later found when I was 49), a mother with some “issues,” no siblings, and many naysayers in my midst. But to achieve my goals to become a physician and a surgeon, I studied to show myself approved. It wasn’t easy, but I got it done.

Over the years, I’ve seen thousands of women of various ethnicities suffer with chronic diseases, some of which can be avoided, or at least, better controlled. I also know the remarkable and re- warding joy of practicing medicine and performing surgery to remove disease, help women with their infertility, or free them from cancer.

As a physician, my question to you is, Are you taking time to take care of your health? In fact, when did you last really think about—and take time for—your health in a comprehensive, serious, deliberate manner?

Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book reminds us that “each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Kornfield also tells us, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Whatever your schedule, lifestyle, religious preference, or personal obligation to others, the reality is you won’t be able to do anybody any good if you’re in poor or failing health. As said in the 2021 movie Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia, “Take one seed of what you give others and plant it in yourself.”

The words and images within these pages present information that is applicable to the specific medical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs of Black women. However, non- Black women can glean valuable information about their health and standing in this book as well because I also provide comparative data for Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women, as well as some data about our male counterparts. But special attention is given to Black women because the fact is, Black women’s health concerns and challenges are different from those of other women.

In these pages you will find staggering statistics and a less-than-desirable legacy of Black women’s health. But you will also find tools, medical information, and encouragement that can liberate you and Black women everywhere from a similar fate. With knowledge comes power.

Look at all the wonderful things Black women have done and continue to do when they employ their mind and determination in force. Hold on to that because improving one’s physical health is doable—you can do it!— and changing the trajectory of Black women’s health is also doable. It can be done, and it must be done because changing the health of Black women can change the health of the Black fam- ily and that of all future generations. As you review and compare the health statistics across racial lines presented herein, remember one thing: the goal isn’t to be like White or Asian women; the goal is to be healthier Black women. Black Women’s Wellness provides a head-to-toe medical reference, with information that will carry you for years to come. Some of you might read this book cover to cover, as a whole. Others might read chapters that address your, or a loved one’s, current medical concern, circumstance, or curiosity. Or as you flip through the pages, you might see a pie chart or graph that grabs your attention or gives you pause.

In chapter 1, I begin with my “Societal Stress and Black Women’s Health” flowchart that ties together the psychosocial challenges and micro- aggressions that we face as Black women and how those psychosocial stressors can affect our physi- cal well-being.

In part 1, I present timely information about heart disease, diabetes, maternal mortality, cancers, and HIV/AIDS . . . the top five conditions that are robbing Black women of life and longevity.

In part 2, I hone in on our womanly feminine form and function. As with all creation, the hu- man body is a thing of beauty with wonders it performs! No one would be alive today without a woman’s body, for it is through women that all life is formed and born.

Medical conditions can affect all of us—whether we are tall or short; “thick” or thin; heterosexual or homosexual; light-skinned, “olive-complected,” or the color of rich, dark chocolate. You’ll read about your reproductive anatomy and physiol- ogy and the diseases that can affect your female organs, such as fibroid tumors and endometriosis, but also other medical conditions that cause mid- life “female” problems such as a dropped bladder, urinary incontinence, and pelvic pain. You’ll read about vision problems, arthritic conditions, sickle cell disease, multiple sclerosis, and more. And if you are menopausal and utterly confused about hormone replacement therapy, this part can give you guidance.

No book on wellness is fully complete with- out addressing sex. Can I get an amen? Given my personal experience and professional expertise, I wrote the sex, sensuality, and relationships section with a heterosexual approach. But regardless of your sexual preference or identity, in part 3, you’ll read about the health benefits of having sex (with whoever rocks your boat). There’s also sage infor- mation about sexually transmitted diseases and how to identify any residual sexual hang-ups you may have so you can fully enjoy and benefit from the experience that love-making was meant to be.

Maybe your love life has gone from a sizzle to a fizzle, you have trouble achieving orgasm, or you experience pain with intercourse. Or perhaps you’re wondering if male enhancement medica- tions work in women or how you can possibly en- joy sex in a day of rampant sexually transmitted diseases and men “on the down-low.” Fret not; you’ve come to the right place! I give you tips on how to boost your sex life and get or keep the passion going with your sweetie. I also offer you advice on how to address these intimate issues (including sexual dysfunction) with your doctor.

And last, in part 4, I round out the call for total wellness with information on relationships, love, beauty, mental health, mindfulness, and financial well-being. I also provide a checklist for you to take stock of your health to identify the specific areas that require your medical attention.

To find happiness in a world of frequent, near-daily rejection, it is important to have inner strength, self-assurance, emotional balance, and reliable friends and family. Part 4 will give you useful tips to achieve inner peace, to keep your brain active and alert, and to avoid toxic people. It will advise you on how to capitalize on your best traits and, if needed, minimize those traits you find less desirable or that impede your personal or professional goals.

Proper diet and physical activity for increasing the secretion of endorphins—the “feel good” body chemicals—will be addressed, and tips for hair and skin care will be presented. Lastly, unique medical “pearls of wisdom” will help you improve your interpersonal relationships. Along the way, I will share a few anecdotes of my life’s journey; perhaps they will encourage you to keep moving forward when you feel you just can’t take another step.

I am excited for you and me. Despite the doom and gloom of the past, it is possible for Black women to achieve medical parity and live the best, healthiest life possible in the 21st century. We need not give up hope, for there have been and will continue to be victories and successes in the lives of women whose skin has been bountifully kissed by the sun. As never before, the 21st century presents a new day and an exciting time in health-care technology, research education, and improved medical outcomes, and no woman—whether Asian, Hispanic, Native American, White, or Black—should be left behind. Not anymore. This can yet be our time to shine, as many of us are living well past the statistical projections of life and death . . . and doing so in healthy, fine, fun, and sexy style!

Total wellness and phenomenal living are aspirations many Black women enjoy and others seek to attain. It can be done; the journey begins with just one step. Black Women’s Wellness may prove to be the long-needed source that can encourage, educate, comfort, and celebrate you, me, and Black women everywhere. With the information in this book, the evergreen list of resources I’ve provided at the end, and an “I’ve got this!” determination, your 21st-century journey to total wellness, physical health, and phenomenal living can begin right now. Let’s get started!

Melody T. McCloud, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist-surgeon, media consultant, public speaker, and author. She lectures nationwide on women’s health, sex, and social issues and has served on an advisory council of the CDC. Affiliated with Emory University Hospital Midtown, Dr. McCloud was honored as one of the 25 most influential doctors in Atlanta and named Physician of the Year by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. She has appeared on CNN, ABC, NBC, Court TV, and in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, Parade, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and more.

Authenticity is a Unique Superpower That We All Have

People often think that “personal branding” is a dirty word. That it revolves around ego and vanity and self-promotion. After building and running my personal branding agency, SimplyBe. and reflecting on our unique approach to this space, I realized that there was something much deeper to this work.

Each of us is here for a specific reason. Each of us has a light that we need to shine. And most people don’t know how to technically, practically tell their own story. Most of all, they don’t feel they have the permission, the confidence, the support, to take the leap. My book, Be: A No-Bullsh*t Guide to Increasing Your Self Worth and Net Worth by Simply Being Yourself, is that permission slip—for you to get out of your own way, to dive deep and take the journey within. Although often perceived as a practice in exterior image, personal brand is really about how you see yourself, how you know yourself, how you come to cherish yourself. That is the journey that awaits you in Be.

There are a lot of people who don’t want to be on social media or don’t want to be “famous” and therefore feel like the work of personal branding isn’t for them. But frankly, it doesn’t matter if you use social media every day or if you never touch it for the rest of your life—you have a personal brand.

Your personal brand is your value. It’s your worth. It’s the impression you leave behind in any room or crowd. It’s how you make people feel. It’s how you interface with people wherever you go—the way you treat your barista, the way you talk to your children’s teachers, the way you communicate with your team at work, how you create relationships in our community. It’s your legacy. All of these daily interactions are opportunities to hone and master your brand on your terms. That is personal branding.

My background is in marketing and branding. I’ve cut my teeth in the world of social media working with Fortune 500 brands over the last 15+ years. That said, in this book you will find frameworks and easy DIY tools to build your brand from the ground up and to take it online and leverage it to build your business, your career, your reputation, your followership. You’ll learn how to craft a message and a strategy, build PR awareness, create original content, identify your competitive landscape, and much more. It is a very tactical book in that sense. But my biggest inspiration and passion is bringing more humanity to business. Be. is a personal empowerment book at its core. Simply put, Be. is a study in the power of authenticity. 

Authenticity is a unique superpower that we all have. It’s a practice in you simply being you, inclusive of all of your shadows, sh*t, failures, weaknesses, AND all of your successes, triumphs, talents, and unique gifts. That’s what Be. will really challenge you to own—your fully unapologetic YOU.

My book is far more than what meets the eye. I hope you pick it up and learn that you, indeed, have a brand and that this simply means that you have something worthy and meaningful to share with the world. Personal branding, at its core, is an act of service. It is about what we are here to give versus what we are here to get. And when we architect a personal brand from that place, we come alive.

The world needs your light.

The world needs you to shine.

Every one of us has not just the privilege but the responsibility to step forward and simply be.

Don’t let us down.

With love and light,

Jessica Zweig
Bestselling author of Be.
Founder & CEO, SimplyBe.

 

Jessica Zweig is the CEO and founder of the SimplyBe. agency, a personal branding company that helps millions of people worldwide. She's been named a “personal branding expert” by Forbes, a Top Digital Marketer to Watch by Inc., one of 2020’s Most Notable Entrepreneurs by Crain’s Chicago Business, and the 2018 and 2019 recipient of the international Stevie® Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year. She's been featured on FOX, ABC, NBC, Thrive Global, Business Insider, and more as an expert on how an authentic personal brand is the key to a more successful career. For more, visit jessicazweig.com.

Jessica Zweig is the CEO and founder of the SimplyBe. agency, a personal branding company that helps millions of people worldwide. She’s been named a “personal branding expert” by Forbes, a Top Digital Marketer to Watch by Inc., one of 2020’s Most Notable Entrepreneurs by Crain’s Chicago Business, and the 2018 and 2019 recipient of the international Stevie® Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year. She’s been featured on FOX, ABC, NBC, Thrive Global, Business Insider, and more as an expert on how an authentic personal brand is the key to a more successful career. For more, visit jessicazweig.com.

Author photo © Lindsey Smith

 

 

 

 

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  • Anonymous says:

    How do you define the authentic self and what would be its opposite?

  • clapetri says:

    Awareness, consciousness and the opposite believing thoughts and acting on it

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