6 Principles for Befriending Yourself: Part III

June 8, 2019

6 Principles for Befriending Yourself, Matt Licata, Jeff Foster

 

Enjoy this third and final installment in our new mini-series of Befriending Yourself, written by Jeff Foster and Matt Licata. Ready to go deeper? Check out their new monthly online community! Get all the details here. 

 

In our previous excerpts (which you can view the first installment here and the second installment here if you missed it!), we discussed the first four principles of befriending yourself:

  1. STOP TRYING TO BE HAPPY (happiness is not something you can “do”)
  2. TRUE MEDITATION IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK (it’s what you are)
  3. “ONE MOMENT AT A TIME” (this one idea could save your life)
  4. SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL (but sometimes pain and grief are inevitable)

 

Here are the final two principles on befriending yourself…

 

 5. WORDS ARE MAGIC SPELLS  (so cast them wisely!)

We can get so tangled up in concepts and words, especially heavily weighted spiritual and psychological concepts such as “awareness,” “ego,” “integration,” and even “healing.” We forget that words – no matter how subtle and profound – can never, ever capture our first-hand embodied experience. Words always come after the fact. Concepts are general and abstract, and not subtle, nuanced, specific, or concrete enough to match the sheer uniqueness of what you are experiencing in one here-and-now moment.

Does the word “flower,” the idea of it, really capture the sheer inner mystery of a flower? Does the word “anxiety” really begin to capture the sheer LIFE surging through the body in a given moment?

For example, rather than saying to yourself, “I’m anxious,” (or scared or angry or lonely or bored, etc.), as an experiment, try dropping the word, and attuning to the actual lived experience you are encountering in the moment, which will be very unique for you. In other words, come out of the mind and its thoughts and ideas and judgements and stories and negativity about anxiety, and come back to your body in the present moment. Be a beginner. Meet the moment as if you didn’t know anything about anxiety, but wanted to connect with it for the first time. It is this “Beginner’s Mind,” as they say in Zen, that is the wellspring of meditation.

Ask yourself, “How do I know I’m anxious? What is my lived experience of anxiety? Where do I feel what I call “anxiety” most strongly in my body, RIGHT NOW? What is happening in my belly, chest, throat, head, RIGHT NOW? Can I begin to bring attention to the raw sensations in my body, without judging them, without trying to get rid of them, without trying to escape them or make them go away?”

What kind of sensations do you notice? Are they fluttering, pulsating, throbbing? Are they moving fast or slow? Do they feel shallow or deep in the body? Are they warm or cold? Are they intense or gentle? Are they moving in straight lines, circles, zig-zags? Are they sharp or dull? How far under the skin are they? Do they change when you bring awareness to them? Do they become more intense? Less intense? Do they expand or contract? Do they start moving around in the body?

Can you become curious about all this life in your body, without trying to fix or change it? Feel or imagine your breath moving into the sensations, so you are bringing the warmth of your presence and the gentleness of your breath to this contracted, aching, sore place. Perhaps this is just a part of your body that is starved of attention and oxygen. Breathe into that place that feels tight, contracted, bound-up. This is an act of love.

Say to yourself, “These are just sensations. They are just the intelligence of the body. They are not dangerous. They are just LIFE. They are not hurting me. They are not working against me. They are not a mistake. They are not a sign that there is something wrong in this moment, or that I have failed in some way. They are just parts of me longing for love and kindness. They are the abandoned parts, the parts I need to take care of right now..”.

Scientific research over the last couple of decades in the area of mindfulness and self-compassion suggests that courageously bringing curious, accepting, non-judgemental present-moment attention to sensations in our body, even if they are intense and uncomfortable (and therefore “unwanted”), can soothe our nervous system’s more urgent fight-or-flight response and help us to access the slower, empathic circuitry of the prefrontal cortex. Slowly, over time, we can build tolerance for difficult experience, come to discover its ultimate workability, and eventually use our hooks, triggers, and activations as invitations into deeper holding and compassion for ourselves and others. We can come to realise that feelings and sensations in our bodies are ultimately safe, even if they feel unsafe.

What is happening inside you is unique, unprecedented, vast, and majestic, and will never be captured by experience-distant concept words like “unworthy,” “anxious,” or “ashamed,” which – if you think about it – are all other people’s words, given to you when you were young, or by the medical community, or by a culture who has fallen out of touch with the wisdom of raw experience. There is a world before words, before the mind itself. And in that world, you may find the peace and wholeness you seek.

Even if the intensity of sensation does not diminish with our kind and curious attention, that intensity begins to occur in a much vaster space, in a larger context, one that is warmer, more open, and safer than we imagined. Instead of being caught up inside a feeling or mood or bundle of sensations, we recognise that these energies are actually caught up in us. We are actually bigger than any thought, sensation or feeling. We can begin to hold our fear and boredom and sorrow, so they don’t hold us. We are not the victims of our anger and confusion, we are the space for them, the vast open sky in which they can come and go. Some call this space Awareness, but we could also call it Love. Or Who You Really Are.

 

THE SECRET OF “HOLDING, NOT HEALING” (“negativity” as a call for love)

Imagine or visualise a difficult thought, feeling, urge, or emotion as a child knocking at your door. Allow your challenging present experience to take form, imaginatively, as a young child (or other figure) that you can enter into a relationship with.

If you are feeling sad, for example, imagine a sad child arriving at your door and knocking, wanting to come in. Perhaps they are cold, confused, shaking, and exhausted from a long journey. They have not come to harm you in any way, but just to be held, to be allowed back home, into the warmth of your heart. Once inside, we can sit with them and have a conversation: Why have you come? What do you need? What do you want to show me? We can listen to the wisdom they have to share, and help them to release any burden they have had to carry on our behalf.

How would you respond to this frightened little one when you opened the door?

Would you slam the door in his or her face and distract yourself with TV or food (or even spiritual beliefs and practices) and try to forget them? Would you lock the door? Would you look sternly at them and state that they are welcome to come in… once they have changed? Once the sadness has been transformed to joy, the anxiety to calm, the uncertainty to clear-knowing… ah, then yes you can enter?

Or would you allow this one in to the living room of your own heart, Now, where you can listen and tend to them with curious, loving awareness? Would you open your arms wide to them, and let them come home?

It can be helpful to turn a difficult thought, feeling, memory, urge, or impulse into a figure with which you can dialogue or have a conversation. Doing so allows us to open our hearts to our pain, our emotions, and our experience rather than relate to it merely conceptually or from a distance. It’s not easy or natural to cultivate a caring, interested, warm relationship with a concept, such as “grief,” “shame,” or “rage.” But to meet a grieving child, or figure who is ashamed or enraged, we can more naturally move closer to them, listen to them, open a dialogue with them, and bring movement into our experience where maybe it had become stuck. Rather than becoming flooded or swallowed up by this energy, imaginatively allow it to form in front of you where you can ask it why it has come, what it needs to show you, what it wants. This is how you can begin to reclaim your power in the face of a scary, uncomfortable, unknown, or difficult energy. See it as a lost and helpless and forgotten part of you, looking for your help, seeking love, not an enemy or a dangerous force from outside of you.

“Befriending” is not as much about “healing” as it is “holding.” In true befriending, we do not have a heavy agenda to change, shift, fix, cure, transform, or, surprisingly, even “heal” this energy. From this perspective, we are never “unhealed” or “untransformed”, really. We are not a project to be improved, but a mystery coming into form, moment by moment. We are always whole, even in moments of intensity and discomfort. We were never not whole (healed).

By “holding” our experience in any moment instead of rushing to try and fix it or run from it, we are inviting relationship with the present “visitors” – the thoughts, feelings, images, and impulses – that have come in a moment of activation, without falling into the extremes of either denying or repressing them on one hand, or becoming fused with or flooded by them on the other. We disentangle a bit from them so that we can enter into loving relationship. We can practice a certain kind of intimacy with them, but without fusing or identifying, or drowning in thoughts, feelings, and sensations. We can dialogue with them and even have boundaries with them, letting them know of our intention to move toward them, but only in a way and at a pace that works for us. We can take back our power from the ‘dark’ material within.

In our own unique ways, through experimentation and curiosity, we discover a sacred middle place between repressing a thought or feeling, or habitually and unconsciously expressing it or acting it out. In this middle place, this third possibility, we slow down, and breathe, and infuse the visitor with curiosity and loving breath:

“I am here to meet with you, to hold you, to listen to you, to care for you. But not to be flooded or fused with you. Let us be true friends. I trust that you are just a part of me, needing love. I want to get to know you, moment by moment. This is a beginning, not an end…”

Remember this image of holding in moments of activation and overwhelm, in both its personal and transpersonal dimensions. We can hold ourselves and parts of ourselves when we are triggered and hurting, but we can also relax into a kind of Sacred Holding that is always, already happening through something greater than us. We are holding and we are already being held – by the Earth, by the sky and the mountains and forests and oceans, by the Universe itself, by the Loving Mystery that is every living thing.

Even in the moments we feel we cannot “hold” ourselves, we are already being held by Life. Even in the moments the present moment feels “unbearable,” Life is bearing us. This is the true definition of surrender. It is not something we can understand with the mind.

 Ultimately we do not “do” healing. Healing is “done” to us in the moment where we stop struggling against life and our own thoughts and feelings and relax into the Mystery.

As we let go of the inner war with our experience, soften into this instant of life and open our heart and being to what’s here – even if what’s here is uncomfortable, raw, scary, and intense – we are no longer victims of the moment, but become the infinite and victorious Power that allows the moment to be, the Calm in the midst of life’s storm.

Our power lies not in refusing the moment, but softening into it. There is strength in our vulnerability, power in our willingness to open our arms to whatever the moment brings.

 

Thank you for reading this series on the mysterious dance of being and befriending! Our words are intended as “fingers pointing to the moon,” as they say in Zen. You will find your own way into the vastness and sheer mystery of your experience. May you honor your wildness, your individuality and eccentricity, as you take your own unique journey to the Home you never left. We hope these words have helped point you in the right direction… one that leads back to YOU.

As Rumi reminds us…

 “There are hundreds of ways

to kneel and kiss the ground.”

 

We hope you enjoyed our new mini-series of Befriending Yourself, written by Jeff Foster and Matt Licata.Ready to go deeper? Check out their new monthly online community! Get all the details 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

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

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

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

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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