Skin Deep?

I saw something yesterday that set me to thinking. It was something I really did not ask to see. Well, let’s put it this way: it was something I would rather not have seen. It was something that having seen it, I still do not understand. I was in the dressing room of our local health club when I saw it. What “it” was- was thong underwear. The wearer was a woman of perhaps 45. The scene was not pretty. I mean, if she had had a mirror at home that could have shown her a back view, it is clear to me that she would not have worn them in the privacy of her home let alone to the health club. And what is the point of them? They have got to be uncomfortable. A cleavage is one thing… if you are the type who has one and wants to use it for some sort of advantage. After all, one can see a cleavage from a distance. It might be what attracts a man to a woman and ultimately what enables him to learn what a fascinating, educated person she is. But thong underwear??? The only person who is likely to see it is one who’s already pretty committed to the process and by then it really shouldn’t matter.

And then I started to think of all of the dumb things that women do to make themselves “attractive.” They style and color their hair, they buy expensive clothing, they get tummy tucks and facelifts and breast augmentation. They put on makeup and perfume. They learn how to be “beautiful” by reading magazines like “Glamour,” “In Style,” “Shape,” “Vanity Fair,” and “Allure.”

And then they complain that men only want one thing! That no one appreciates them for their brain!

Well, people, I have a proposal. Let’s start over again. Let’s revalue women in a different way. Let’s talk about real human values. How about kindness? compassion? caring? creativity? How about understanding? concern, selflessness, optimism? Why shouldn’t women develop their ability to understand, to teach, to experiment, to invent? How come we don’t emphasize that our daughters learn to nurture, support, encourage, and achieve? And… why can’t we teach these things to our sons?

Why aren’t there magazines that tout the values that are the least susceptible to the ravages of time and accidents of nature, those that reflect the essence of the human being? Can a disabled person act in a beautiful manner? Can an old person have charisma? Can a terminally ill person give the gift of kindness?

In the realm of real values, worth is timeless and non-contingent. In a place where there is humanity to be shared, those with character can share it. In a place where comfort is needed, it can come from old and young, wise and slow. Beauty, then is much much more than skin deep. Beauty is taking our Divinely given soul and developing it in ways that will help others and improve the world

Strength from pain

I currently am teaching another class of wonderful women who are in the first phase of acquiring professional stature in the field of family therapy. Many of these women have been working informally for years as advisors and counselors and teachers. Many simply have the insight and will to help others.

This week, they completed an assignment I had given them in which they had to assess themselves in terms of what they were bringing of themselves to the therapy relationship. All of them were candid and open to discovering themselves. Virtually all of them understood something that is little understood elsewhere, but should be. They understood that many of their greatest strengths came from the adversity they had suffered. Their ability to withstand the challenges they had been given enabled them to become stronger. Their having lived through adversity enables them to understand others who are enduring or who have endured similar challenges and to be able to understand the complex web of feelings that pain and suffering activate. They understand that one can feel hurt and angry and embarrassed and ashamed and frightened and abandoned and worried– all at the same time. That tangle of emotions is what makes people unable to express themselves because it is all so confusing. My students understand that having gone through such tangles of feelings, they are sensitized to others’ feelings and able to understand them and provide the support that others need.

Many years ago a doctor (who neglected to read an x-ray report that the radiologist had written that identified the pain in my hip as a stress fracture) and had sent me for a bone scan, became convinced that I had a tumor and sent me for a stat CAT scan and an MRI. He explained that if it were a tumor, it would be secondary to cancer somewhere else in my body. I naturally believed at that point that I was looking at the last of my days. I began to see the world differently. I realized how future oriented speech is and how detached I already was becoming from the world of people whose futures stretched out ahead of them. I remembering passing a cemetery where a funeral was taking place in the rain and thinking that soon I would have my day. Somewhere in all of that, I remember thinking that if it turned out that I was OK, then I was having the most unbelievably enriching experience because from then on, I would know what it feels like to think that one’s days were ending.

The results were, of course, good. It was only a couple of years later when I was transferring my records that the original radiologist’s report fell out of the large x-ray envelope and I saw the cause of my pain. However, because of that experience I was able over the years to relate in a more relevant and compassionate way to people who had terminal diagnoses.

One of the paradoxes of life is that adversity can build understanding and compassion and that having suffered pain becomes an asset in terms of bringing caring and kindness to the world.

My students are all lovely women. They will go out into their communities and bring with them not only their enthusiasm and caring, but their deep understanding of others and most important, the knowledge that adversity often builds strength.

Music hath charms

I am sitting here, still endeavoring to get over my jet lag and there is beautiful music playing in the background. It is music that we bought in China with the haunting sounds of the flute. Many of the traditional Chinese instruments are different from those we have in the west. They use stringed instruments and woodwinds, chiefly. and some percussion. There is a calming feeling that this music evokes in me. As soon as I hear it, a beautiful garden appears in my mind’s eye.

There are so many experiences that remain with one far beyond their actual duration in time! How many times do we recall the excitement of our wedding and the profound joy at the birth of our children! These beautiful milestones in time remain in our memories to be called upon to lift our soul.

How lucky we are to live in a world that encompasses such beauty and so many opportunities for joy. How important it is to be among those who are privileged to increase the goodness in it!

Back from China!

We have returned from China. Our experience on this Shai Bar Ilan tour was once again fantastic! We landed in Beijing and hit the ground running. Each day was filled with beauty and wonder. From the Summer Palace to the Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City, we saw Beijing’s wonders, stopping for a most welcome foot massage. We flew to Xian and saw the wondrous Terracotta Warriors, thousands of them, each different from the others, no two the same. We flew to Chengdu and were lucky enough to see a number of pandas up close, including a look into the nursery where four baby pandas were lying in their cribs. We went to LeShan and saw the world’d largest sitting Buddha. We flew to Kunming and marveled at the beauty of the Stone Forest. Later in Guilin, we saw cormorant fishing and traveled to Yung Shuo to cruise down the Li River and see the magnificent scenery. We traveled up a 1.5 kilometer chairlift to the top of a mountain overlooking picturesque Guilin and then went on to Hangzhou to see a tea plantation and the beautiful West Lake and then we went on to Suzhou to see the production of silk and a The Master Fisherman Garden. In Shanghai we saw yet another beautiful garden, the Yu Yuan Garden. China consists of some 55 minority ethnic groups with the majority group, the Han, making up 92% of the Chinese population. We got to meet some of the people who are members of the Zhwang group (the largest of the minorities) and of the Yao group. Each group has its own language, customs, land area, and crafts. We enjoyed Chinese dance, music, and art. All in all, it was a dream vacation and one that restores one’s love for beauty and one’s sense of transcendence.

You can see my pictures at this location.