Pushing Beauty


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While I was living on Maui in 2011 my brother, Matt, and I were Skyping. He had a big smirk on his face the whole call. After an hour of this I finally told him to cut the shit and tell me what the giddiness was about. “OK, but don’t tell anyone,” he said. A long dramatic pause and then laughing, “I’m a minimalist.” I love this moment because an idea changed his life. But, what changed more than selling and donating most of his things was his relationship to life. He began to look at his relationship to objects differently. His context for living was no longer based on them—the trends, the fitting in, the being good enough—but on himself.

This year my brother is on a six week tour with two guys, Josh and Ryan, who call themselves The Minimalists. They’re creating a documentary to give people insight into what minimalism is. Last week they stopped in Los Angeles giving me the opportunity to hear them speak at one of my favorite venues, The Last Bookstore, and spend some quality time with my brother. Matt and I have talked at length about how people perceive minimalism, and it’s one of the reasons he’s so passionate about creating this film. Our minds are always looking to define things. We need to know the rules and how we fit in. What does it really mean to be a minimalist? Is that what I am? Does being a minimalist mean I have to get rid of all my things? What about my books? My photos? My shoes? But…I like my shoes. The truth is that these are not the important questions. The important questions are the ones about our lives. Like, am I really happy? Do I fill my life with things because I think they make me happy? Who would I be without the clothes, home, gadgets I identify myself with?

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy things; it means that we don’t allow things to hold power over us. We can lose objects in a fire—even photographs—and it will all still be ok. We realize that it would suck to have lost those things, but we wouldn’t have really lost anything important. It wouldn’t destroy us. I think this points to the great truth of life: nothing is permanent. We have to let go of everything at some point. If not now, we’ll be forced to do so in death. I think our attachment to objects is actually a very deep desire to feel safe in this world. We’ve become a culture identified with our things, and I think partly because we‘re avoiding the truth that everything disappears at some point.

To me, minimalism isn’t about the things we have or don’t have. It’s about our relationship to things. It’s about realizing that these objects don’t actually hold value—even if the world around us tells us they do. The things that hold value are intangible. It’s in our relationships, in our love, our laughter, in our moments with each other. Josh and Ryan ask themselves one simple, yet profound, question:

Does this bring value or joy to my life? 

The key here is getting real with yourself. This isn’t about not having things. It’s about being more conscious about the things you do have. Ask yourself why you have it. Question what you put value in. At the end of our days the things that really meant something won’t have been our objects; they will have been our moments with people and our moments with ourselves. No one finds out they have a terminal illness and thinks about all of the dresses that are hanging in their closet or run out on a shopping spree. We think about the people we love and the people who love us, the beautiful sites of the world we’ve seen, the moments that made every bit of pain worth it. And I bet you anything not one of those memories has a thing to do with a thing.

Minimalism brings a lightness to life. That’s what I saw on my brother’s face over three years ago. He found some secret to all this craziness that made him joyful. I’ve never seen that expression on the face of anyone receiving an object. It’s not a feeling that can be attained by a thing. It’s a knowing of a deep truth—that the things we thought that mattered actually don’t and the things that actually matter are the “things” we’ve had all along.


Photo Credit: Matt D’Avella, Catalyst

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clouds“The seat of human emotion should be the liver,” Doc Homer said. “That would be an appropriate metaphor: we don’t hold love in our hearts, we hold it in our livers.”

I understood exactly. Once in ER I saw a woman who’d been stabbed everywhere, most severely in the liver. It’s an organ with the consistency of layer upon layer of wet Kleenex. Every attempt at repair just opens new holes that tear and bleed. You try to close the wound with fresh wounds, and you try and you try and you don’t give up until there’s nothing left.” —Barbara Kingsolver

I wrote this quote down after reading Animal Dreams in high school. It resonated with me then, but only now, at 30, do I feel I’ve experienced it. Every time I go through a gap in writing I’m typically going through a life transition. This time I’m going through a breakup. Or maybe I went through it. If it ends with the pain then I’m still in it.

The good news is that I became deeply depressed. I say it’s good news because I think we’re only able to feel as much pain as we’re able to feel love. I loved a man so deeply I felt really depressed when I lost him. Makes sense. I’ve been depressed before, and those times I knew I could cover it up and feel better soon. This was different. This time I sat in it. I let myself feel everything I needed to feel. And I went deep down to a place I’d never been before. I’m an eternal optimist, someone who deeply loves life, and I couldn’t care less about anything.

That wasn’t scary to me. What I realize is scary is that we can hide from love. I didn’t know I loved as deeply as I did until it was over. I was living in my head instead of my heart. This must happen to a lot of people because, you know, you never know what you got ‘till it’s gone.

Well, why the hell don’t we know? 

Because we’re cut off from our knowing, from our intuition. I’ve gone through all of the cliches—and that shit becomes cliche for a reason. We all have the same human experiences, and when you love deeply and then it’s gone everyone feels the same thing: pain.

The beauty about being human is that our states aren’t static. We’re constantly moving. If you’ve ever watched your emotions you know what I’m talking about. Even a somewhat consistent person, like myself, can have a variety of emotions throughout a single day. I would wake up depressed, brush my teeth complacent, make a smoothie feeling a hint of optimism, talk to a client and feel presently sane, go to yoga and feel rejuvenated, talk to a friend and remember how amazing life is, walk the dog and miss the shit out of my ex, bump into a friendly neighbor and laugh, and on and on it goes. Sometimes we’re happy. Sometimes we’re sad. Sometimes we’re in relationship. Sometimes we’re not. Nothing stays the same. Truly.

So through all of this pain I decided to focus on healing myself. I started doing breath work (amazing!) every week, process painting classes, zentangling, photography, yoga, writing (in secret), design, communicating with friends…everything that feels important to my soul. I’m healing. I can feel it working. I can feel the painful days spread further apart. But, then a moment or two pop up that feel really rough, and I realize my heart is in my liver. I thought healing was in a direction, that once I felt good I couldn’t go back to feeling not good. Right? No surprise that it isn’t that simple. It’s not just time. It’s not just moving forward. It’s allowing yourself to be with the things that feel bad. It’s letting it be ok that I still miss his heart a shit ton. It’s forgiving myself for all of the ways I could have been better. It’s letting everything be just as it is. It’s letting myself feel like shit sometimes.

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Right now is a new moment.
This one, right here.
And this one now.
And the next.

Try to remember that.
It’s easy to forget.

The truth of each moment is this: It’s new.
I don’t think our minds truly grasp how profound that is
or how capable life is of being utterly transformed in a moment.

Right now is a choice to hear the truth if another’s intention
a chance to forgive yourself
a time to become who you actually are
a space to exist completely
a moment to see the world a little brighter
a blank slate for anything to happen
a veil to lift
a new sight to see
without changing your vision.

Try to remember that your mind distorts the truth
to learn to let it go
to not take yourself too seriously
to have fun being you
to like yourself
but most importantly to love yourself
then to wholeheartedly love others
to hold up no barriers to love
to sink into the pain when your heart aches like nothing matters
that beauty is in all things, and pain is no exception
that being human is an incredible experience
that there will only be one of you in all of time
that life can and will be incredibly confusing
and that it’s all ok.

Possibilities are the true evasion of the mind.

It’s all within our grasp
all that currently exists,
all that has existed,
and all that is to come.

The magic is that nothing has to happen outside of yourself
for the entire world to transform.

Here’s not only to a New Year,
but to a moment,
a moment that is truly new,
a moment in which our world transforms.

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A few months ago I had a dream that I was standing on a beach on a remote island. I stared into the deep blue sea as it produced a gorgeous tsunami that rose far above my head. The dream was reminiscent of video games where you know it’s not actually possible to make that leap, but you do it anyway and it somehow works out. I’ve had dreams about death, escape, and survival for as long as I can remember. When I was five Big Bird chased me with a knife. My dreams have since become more sophisticated. A few months ago my mind played out the complex scenario of opposing military in the middle ages; I embodied soldiers on both sides as well as a princess held captive by another princess who decided to torture me until my death. As my body attempts to rest at night, my mind believes it’s on the verge of extinction and races to figure out the solution. As you can imagine, these dreams are incredibly stressful, and they all revolve around solving the problem of my imminent demise.

And recently, in the Philippines, thousands of people faced their mortality without the grace of time to cradle the struggle of their acceptance. So often we find ourselves fighting against the behavior of other human beings. But, in times of natural disaster it can leave you wondering if there’s a fight to be had. I imagined what it would feel like to have cool water from 20 foot waves wash over my body in ostensible rage or how I’d watch the darkness fall as the walls of my house caved in on me. The feeling is almost unimaginable, but if you allow yourself to go there the human experience of finality is available. Three words sum it up:

This is it.

This is the last moment of my life. There’s no escape, there’s no miracle, and the only thing left to do is accept what is—willing or unwillingly. It’s what I’ve been fighting with in my dreams, what every human being feels in their core: the desire to live. And while none of us wants to die, the truth of our reality now is that our bodies will perish. Maybe the leap to be taken isn’t one in a video game inspired dream, but a leap to accept and surrender to what is.

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Yes, I am perfect. And so are you.

There’s no such thing as a flaw. To be flawed means there’s something about you that isn’t perfect, that’s not ok as it is. We think to be human is to be flawed. We define ourselves in this way. We say things like, “I’m a flawed human being.” We know we’re not perfect because we think that would mean that we do everything right, we have all the answers, our skin is taught and blemish-free, our bodies are slender and toned, and people laugh generously when we joke and listen intently when we offer insight. Being flawed means that something doesn’t work just right. It’s dysfunctional. I think what’s really flawed is the way we think about ourselves.

Our bodies are manifestations of biology, and we cover them with nice clothes and makeup to create the illusion that we’re not animals. Our minds are a tool of evolution, conditioned by our past, our family, our culture. These things do not make us flawed.

They make us beautiful creatures that have developed the sad condition of self-judgement.

To consider ourselves a flawed species means that there’s something perfect outside ourselves that we’re comparing ourselves to, and it’s not God. We’ve created a cultural image of what perfection is and whatever doesn’t fit within that box is labeled flawed. We allow others to make judgements of ourselves that we adopt as truths. Those truths destroy our sense of self. They leave us with the belief that who we are isn’t ok, that something with ourselves is wrong. If we continue to reject who we are there will only be more division between ourselves and others. There will only be more dysfunction which we’ll inevitably project onto others. The only way to grow as individuals is the only way our culture can grow. We have to accept ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made, to embrace the features of our bodies for the mysterious shapes they’ve formed. We have to find love for the unibrows we pluck away, for the short height that men hide with platform shoes, for the faces women conceal behind layered masks, for the truth of who we are. We have to love all of the things about ourselves that culture has taught us are wrong.

What if, instead, we looked at ourselves as magic? This universe that we’re all a part of is mysterious. Our minds and culture may have done a good job at tricking us into believing we’ve got this thing figured out, but we don’t. There’s so much going on that we’re unaware of. As Brian Swimme has said. “This is the greatest discovery of the scientific enterprise: You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.” That is magic. It’s mysterious, amazing, awe-inspiring, magical…And if we can really be in that awe we can begin to see how beautifully perfect everything is—just the way it is.

I’m not talking about the egomaniacs that walk around flaunting their amazing attributes in order to hide the sad truth that they are unbearably uncomfortable with who they actually are.

I’m talking about seeing the undeniable beauty of the human species, a part of this awe-inspiring universe. Maybe if we spent more time in awe of our bodies and minds and less time in opposition to them we’d have a healthier society. The key in having a process perspective, I think, is that you have to recognize the truth that there is perfection in each moment and who you are in this exact moment is exactly who you should be. It’s just too easy to get caught up in the unconscious belief that who you are right now is not ok. And this belief is poison.

So I hope you’ll let go of any of the so-called flaws you think you have. Love those things about yourself instead. Realize that this body is an amazing living thing and, in its natural form, it has nothing to do with culture. Allow yourself to reject culture’s idea of perfection. If we can begin to see ourselves as whole maybe we’ll be able to see that flaws don’t really exist. We’re a part of a gorgeous process that is full of magic and beauty. Nothing has to change for it to be good enough. It’s perfect just as it is. And you’re a part of that. So, that means you are perfect. Imagine that. Really. Imagine it.

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Chills for days watching this one.

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Someone I never knew died. Yes, it happens all the time. Only this time, her name was Mitzie and she was my boyfriend’s mother. In June, a month after we began dating, Ricky’s brother, a sweet 29-year-old, gave the gift of his own kidney to his mother. Both patients went in and out of surgery optimistically. Only Ken bounced out of the hospital in days while his mother fought viruses and infections for weeks. Tragically, she fell into a coma and passed away in September. The surgeons are unsure of exactly what happened, and her sons are left in the dust of it all wondering the same thing. Most of us go about our lives expecting our parents to live to see our big moments. Girls expect their Dads to walk them down the aisle, we expect our Mothers to be there to answer the phone when we need reassurance, and we trick ourselves into believing that will be so—until it isn’t.

I had the privilege of being there, with Mitzie and her family, in her last days. I have to admit, there’s an awkwardness in being part of someone’s final days who you’ve never known. But, that only comes from the mind, and the strange feeling that you don’t belong is overridden by a deep compassion for a fellow human being, a woman who meant so much to so many, a person who made her mark in the world and was now stepping off stage. I didn’t have to meet Mitzie to know she was vibrant. I could feel her energy popping off photo paper, shining through her wide smile, forcing you to look right at her even if there were several people in the photo. As I sat at her bedside looking from her photos to her resting body I felt so many things, but what I felt most was the fragility of life. Life is so, so delicate. Our interactions with one another, the way we treat ourselves, the things we do with our time, it’s all so enmeshed that it’s hard to believe we live in a world with such perceived separation. What I say, do, and think makes something in the world different. As I sat at the bedside of another human being whose body was dying and whose soul was fading from this lifetime, I felt how frail we all really are.

A woman who had a life, just as I do, is in the process of ending hers. And just as this is for her it will be for me.

At Mitzie’s funeral, the Reverend read a letter from Renyo, a 15th century Buddhist monk and scholar, called White Ashes:

In silently contemplating the transient nature of human existence, nothing is more fragile and fleeting in this world than the life of a person…Whether I go before others, or others go before me; whether it be today or it be tomorrow, who is to know? Those who leave before us are countless as drops of dew. Though in the morning we may have radiant health, in the evening we may return to white ashes. When the winds of impermanence blow, our eyes are closed forever; and when the last breath leaves us, our face loses its colour.

Though loved ones gather and lament, everything is to no avail. The body is then sent into an open field and vanishes from this world with the smoke of cremation, leaving only the white ashes. There is nothing more real than this truth of life.

The impermanent nature of life brings about a variety of emotions. There are times when I laugh about it, and there are times I feel deep sadness. But, I have no other choice but to accept this truth. I remember sitting with my cousin over dinner in high school as we realized that I’d either be attending her funeral or she’d be attending mine unless, we laughed, we died together on the drive home. The belief that this truth was so far away from our presence made it easier to laugh at. Our minds keep us distracted from the deep truth that our bodies will one day stop functioning and life as we know it will end. We stop and go through life. When we’ve lost someone we suddenly stop, look around us, and think, “What is going on here?” Then the services end and we go back to hiding under our veil of safety. If we don’t think about death we don’t have to feel uncomfortable.

But to not feel something that is part of the human experience is a bigger tragedy than death itself.

If we’re not deeply feeling pain when life calls us to feel it, are we really capable of feeling deep joy? It’s true, what Alfred Lord Tennyson says, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” If we mourn because we love, then that pain, that grief, stems from love and cannot be separate from it. So, the times we mourn are actually not so different from the times we are in love. They all occur in the present, just as our own death will. The moment it occurs it will no longer be a future event to come, but the vividness of life will be at our fingertips. That’s how I’ve come to realize that to truly live I need to feel whatever I’m feeling, deeply, in the present.

The human experience is full of a spectrum of emotions. The joyful ones are not good. The painful ones are not bad. They just are. When I’ve mourned, when my chest heaved with heavy sobs, when layers of tears caked my face, when I ached in every inch of my body, it was beautiful. There is beauty in pain as there is beauty in every bit of life. To feel deep grief means that you’ve loved deeply,and there’s nothing more beautiful than that.

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I’m giving away 2 Manifesto prints this month. Here’s what you gotta do:

1. Sign up for Pushing Beauty’s newsletter here.

2. Tweet this: Pushing Beauty’s giving away 2 FREE prints! Enter to win one here: http://www.pushingbeauty.com/2013/09/27/free-manifesto-poster/ CC: @michelledavella

3. If you don’t have a twitter account post this on Facebook and tag Pushing Beauty: Pushing Beauty’s giving away 2 FREE prints! Enter to win one here: http://www.pushingbeauty.com/2013/09/27/free-manifesto-poster/

Winner will be announced on October 11th.

You can find details on the poster here.


Please note: You must live in the US.


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