APPLIED EMPATHY: WHAT TYPE OF BUSINESS EMPATH ARE YOU?

A new book, Applied Empathy, says it’s time for feelings to flow into the workplace. What type of business empath are you?

“Empathy” is where we are at in the Now Age. Thanks to social media, we have more contact and communication with people of all different backgrounds, cultures, and POVs, than ever before. And never has it been so important to cultivate an understanding of ALL the different perspectives, experiences, and needs, of the people we are on this Cosmic journey with.

Cultivating empathy—literally the ability to understand how life looks and feels for others—is an essential component of creating future solutions that cater to the true diversity of the human experience. But when it comes to doing business, one arena where these innovations have the power to take root, empathy is often a dirty word. A “weak” word, since it’s associated with “feelings” and “intuition,” versus profits and progress reports.

But feelings and intuition are the hallmark of the kinds of leaders we need now. It’s what we teach in Moon Club, and it is a core tenet to lean into as we set about manifesting the matriarchy. It’s also the subject of a new book, Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership, by Michael Ventura, founder of NYC branding agency Sub Rosa.

You can read more about Michael in Alexandra Roxo’s interview with him, HERE. Below, in an excerpt from his book, he shares the role of seven different empath styles in the workplace. What type of business empath are you?

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1// The Sage
Be present: Inhabit the here and now.

We discovered the Sage when we realized that deep insight can emerge when we are fully present in a space together. During one project, we had a few ground rules that helped us to remain fully present in our SoHo space: no phones, no computers, no cross talk. Those simple behaviors led our team members to be respectful, contemplative, and fully in the moment with one another. We saw how those simple behavioral adjustments created an environment in which deeper understanding could be attained.

The Sage represents wisdom and the ability to be fully in the moment, sensing truths about the mind, body, and surrounding space, examining what is brought into the moment and what is meant to be taken away. Look to the Sage when a situation becomes untethered from the present and disconnected from reality. Relying on this archetype will help you bring people and their ideas back to the here and now.

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2// The Inquirer
Question: Interrogate assumed truths.

The Inquirers on our team are deeply curious question askers who don’t stop at the first response but probe deeper, looking for more complete understanding. We saw this emerge in an assignment when we began asking why hospital examination rooms were so cold. By asking this over and over, going deeper down the rabbit hole, we eventually reached an opportunity for improvement that was a key to our success.

The Inquirer is one part reporter, another part therapist. This archetype challenges preconceived notions and pushes for deeper, more authentic truths. Inquirers neglect small talk in favor of “big” talk: deep questions that demand contemplative responses. Always intrigued by the “why” behind each answer, Inquirers dig and dig until they reach the root.

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3// The Convener
Host: Anticipate the needs of others.

The Conveners on our team knew that establishing a sense of community would bring out the truth from everyone with whom we interacted. Everything from the furnishings to the food and drink was selected to inspire a sense of safety, security, and comfort. That provided all of our colleagues the comfort they needed so they could drop into deep conversation quickly. From that we got loads of information—both verbally and nonverbally—that helped us design a better overall experience.

The consummate host, the Convener understands the importance of space and space holding. Recognizing that every detail is critical, the Convener creates a purposeful, appropriate setting for the work at hand. The space we share is an active member of the experience. The Convener anticipates what you need before you do and brings the space surrounding you to life.

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4// The Alchemist
Experiment: Test and learn at all costs.

The Alchemist emerged in a project where we built waiting rooms and prototype exam rooms. They were spaces where we were able to experiment and test different ways in which women experience a mammogram. Such behavior is prevalent in many of the projects we analyzed in developing the empathy archetypes and is a powerful tool often used in many innovation and design firms. The willingness to test and learn is an empathic behavior that delivers powerful understanding and impactful solutions.

Never afraid to fail in the pursuit of knowledge, the Alchemist tests everything, confident that the best work comes only from countless hours of experimentation. The Alchemist is curious, persistent, and patient, takes a chance on a new approach, and closely studies the results. Turn to the Alchemist when the only path to a solution lies through the brambles of resistance.

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 5// The Confidant
Listen: Develop the ability to observe and absorb.

Creating a sense of confidence is paramount to the work we do. The space we work in is covered by the Convener, but we still need to show up in the space and listen. Our team brings a sense of patience and a willingness to open up. We listen fully and absorb every ounce of information shared with us. In many ways, this is a strategist’s first and primary skill: to shut off the inner dialogue and purely listen.

Your trusted ally, the Confidant hears to listen—instead of simultaneously planning what to say next. The Confidant embodies stillness; listens, observes, and absorbs. Keeping what you hear safe on behalf of another is what gives them a sense of integrity and strength. Look to the Confidant when asked for advice or when others need to share something of importance. The Confidant provides emotional security and comfort.

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6// The Seeker
Dare: Be confident and fearless.

Seekers are daring. They are confident and fearless. The Seeker gives us the assuredness we need to take on a daunting challenge and be unafraid to do things differently. I have discovered in my own self-work that I often operate from this archetype. Entrepreneurs are inherent risk-takers, and they must dare in order to be successful.

A boundless explorer, the Seeker bravely sets out on new adventures. The Seeker lives outside his or her comfort zone, acts with confidence and self-assurance. Embody the Seeker when embracing new experiences and daunting challenges, knowing that unfettering your pursuits will eventually lead you to the answer.

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 7// The Cultivator
Commit: Nurture with purpose and intentionally grow.

Cultivators have powerful vision. They understand that we commit to things today as a way of getting what we want in the future. Most people get so caught up in the day-to-day that they lose sight of the long game. The Cultivator remembers to maintain a state of empathy for the point he or she is working toward, even if it’s far out on the horizon. In our work with GE, we constantly reminded our team that the work we were doing was bigger than selling more machinery. It was about improving the overall patient experience and potentially having an impact on the lives of those involved.

The Cultivator is committed to developing ideas and is intentional about every action. Through the Cultivator, you can connect everything you do to the development and maintenance of your thoughts and work. When something feels daunting and protracted, look to the Cultivator to provide perspective and leadership. Naturally gifted at seeing the greater purpose, the Cultivator knows what it takes to reap what he or she has sown.

**Excerpted from Applied Empathy by Michael Ventura. Copyright © 2018 by Seed Communications, LLC d/b/a Sub Rosa. Excerpted with permission by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

 

EMPATHY AND THE ART OF CONVERSATION

Want less small talk and more real talk? Show up naked, and equipped with vast reserves of empathy. This is the art of conversation, says Ruby Warrington

For the majority of my adult life, preparing for a “deep and meaningful” conversation with somebody meant stopping off en route for a bottle of wine. As if to go into the more shadowy, less well-trodden, and perhaps more vulnerable parts of our experience, some kind of anesthetic would be required. An “invisibility cloak” to keep the demons at bay, even as we sought to befriend and integrate them.

But putting on a mask and dressing up in bluster and bravado is not the best way to make friends. It’s better to show up naked.

Naked of expectation. Naked of judgement. Open to the possibilities. Armed only with our trust in own truths, and equipped with deep reserves of empathy.

These are the kinds of conversations Michael Ventura wanted to spark when he created Questions & Empathy, a 50-card deck designed to help move us swiftly beyond the small talk and dive right into the real talk. What can also feel like the scary, naked talk—and which is the talk we all secretly want to be having. All the time. No hiding, and no numbing. 

Also the kinds of conversation we don’t get too much practice at. Which is why we themed our next Club SÖDA NYC event The Art of Conversation, and invited Michael along to curate a special evening of deep connection and REAL TALK.

You can discover more and sign up HERE, and read on for more about communication and the application of empathy …

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RUBY WARRINGTON: How would you define “the art of conversation”?
MICHAEL VENTURA: All art forms, when at their best, come from a place of intuition and knowing. Conversation is no different. When we take the time to slow down our inner monologue, often confronting and attempting to subdue our ego in the process, we can get to a place where our true and authentic self begins to take charge. When in this state, conversation happens naturally. There’s a balance of listening and speaking. We connect. We see each other’s essential nature and there, in that moment, is where deep, meaningful connection is born.

RW: What was the particular situation or realization that made you want to dive deeper into this subject?
MV: For the past several years I have studied the idea of empathy, and more specifically, the application of empathy as a means to build rich understanding that can be used with intention. In this exploration, it became clear that there wasn’t a “process” or “framework” that was readily available. Very few of us receive a formal education in empathy. As a result, the ability of an individual to be empathic varies widely. I wanted to try and change this—creating tools and lessons that would ultimately help more of us build a comfort with this critical behavior.

RW: Why must we “apply” empathy in our interactions with others? Are we forgetting how to be empathetic? Why?
MV: I think about empathy like a muscle. If we don’t use it regularly, it can atrophy. It can become harder and harder for people to truly step outside of themselves and connect with another person if they don’t put in the work. I believe we are all born with the ability to be empathic, it’s just that some of us don’t work that “muscle” enough.

RW: What was your process for creating the “Questions & Empathy” card deck? What is the theory behind them?
MV: My colleagues (at my company Sub Rosa) and I began to develop Q&E by starting with the creation of 7 key “empathic archetypes.” Think of these like the major arcana in tarot. We wanted to identify certain forms that empathy takes and the behaviors associated with them. The cards utilize these archetypes—providing different empathic perspectives you can “try on” and work with. Unlike other personality tests (e.g. Meyers-Briggs), I believe each of us actually embodies all 7 of the archetypes—just not in equal measure. The point of the cards is to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and then work with the questions in the deck to ultimately “limber up,” giving you more dexterity and comfort with each one.

RW: What are some of the different ways the cards can be used—and how do you use them in your own life?
MV: There are lots of ways I use the cards. In workshop settings, we utilize the cards to help participants discover what archetypes they identify with the most / least and then work collaboratively with each other to improve their empathic skills. On a more informal basis, I’ve heard of people using them at dinner parties or as a more contemplative alternative to games like Cards Against Humanity.

Personally, one of the ways I think you can get the most out of them is to create what we call an “empathy journal.” On the first day, you’ll define empathy in the journal—describing your personal take on the topic and how skilled you believe yourself to be. You’ll then ask yourself a question each day, ultimately progressing through all 49 cards in the deck. On the 50th day, we ask that you reflect back on the process and re-define empathy from this newfound perspective. It’s a powerful exercise that can expand and empower you to be more comfortable with this valuable behavior.

RW: How have you seen people transform using the cards—over the course of an evening, or in the wider context of their lives?
MV: At the end of the day, the world needs empathy now more than ever. These cards aren’t a silver bullet, but they are a great start to the process. Using them brings new awareness to our empathic gifts and will undoubtedly aid you in not only understanding others better, but perhaps more importantly, understanding your truest self.

Michael Ventura has designed special exercises for you to practice the Art of Conversation at our next Club SÖDA NYC event. Monday November 13 2017, The William Vale, 7.30pm. Info + sign-up HERE. The Questions & Empathy card deck will be available for purchase on the night.

HOLY F*CK: HEALING THE CORPORATE WORLD WITH MICHAEL VENTURA

Think you have to drop out of the mainstream to tap into soul-deep healing? “Real world” mystic Michael Ventura chats with Alexandra Roxo about infusing the corporate landscape with cosmic creativity …

“Yes, I’d have a hard time smudging the conference rooms of some of our clients without getting some serious side-eyes, but we can ‘smudge’ in different ways … ” – Michael Ventura  

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During the height of my Saturn Return at age 29, I felt like the world was caving in on me and I sought a LOT of healing assistance. Peyote. Ayuasca. Reiki. These were dark days for me, and served as my own initiation into the underworld, into becoming a healer myself, and as a woman.

When I stumbled upon Michael Ventura during this time, I had no idea what to expect. I went into this dark ad agency late at night, empty except for a treatment table and a tall bearded man.

In the years I worked with Michael, he helped heal my own relationship to masculine energy, and my grudge against the patriarchy and my own dad, in addition to giving me courage to see myself as a healer and step into that path.

Michael models something I preach about in Moon Club and aspire to myself- by day, he runs a creative agency in the “regular” world, and by night he does magical healing work on the top floor.

Through these double worlds, he’s helping to create a new world where instead of us all quitting our jobs to become healers and yoga teachers, we bring conscious healing work to all the industries that need it.

I sat down with Michael to chat empathy, healer archetypes, and changing the corporate world from the inside out …

Alexandra Roxo: You are the CEO of a creative agency that works with mega brands and you are also a healer! What are your thoughts on the different types of healer archetypes that are awakening within so many people as they bring those practices to a diversity of industries?

Michael Ventura: One of my teachers once told me, “We don’t need more monks in monasteries, we need monks in our cities.” I’ve always loved this notion and have hung onto it.

I wholeheartedly believe that as our own intuition and gifts are awakened, we have a great opportunity to help bring our full self to the communities we serve. For me, bringing myself to a board room is no different than a treatment room. I am the same person. I have the same tools in my toolbox.

Yes, I’d have a hard time smudging the conference rooms of some of our clients without getting some serious side-eyes, but we can “smudge” in different ways. With different tools. As we learn and increase our capacity to work with energy, to work with people, and to work with the elements, all of this becomes part of our daily expression of our self.

As the saying goes, “not all heroes wear capes,” and to the same effect, not all healers need candles and sandals to work their magic.

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AR: I always describe your work as energy work that combines Reiki, shamanism, and Chinese medicine. What kind of traditions and modalities did you study?  

MV: I often refer to my work as “indigenous medicine.” My practice has roots in both traditional Chinese medicine as well as the Mesoamerican shamanic traditions of the Nahuatl indians.

But what’s also true is that part of my work is derived from that which is most indigenous to my own spirit. As I have refined my work over the past decade, I have come to trust my oldest, innermost voice, and to use that trust to help expand the work I offer.

Whether we are in the mountains of Peru, the river lands of China, or simply in the depths of our own spirit, there is powerful medicine waiting to teach us. We don’t always need to travel around the globe to find ourselves. Sometimes, our true self is right here beside us, waiting to open up and teach us something new.

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AR: I used to be very private about my spiritual work while working in the commercial directing space, but now I’m more open. How do you bring your energy work into the advertising world?

MV: Interestingly, what’s happened a lot over the years is that a mutual friend of mine and the client’s will come and see me for a session and then share their experience with the client in casual conversation. I often then get an email or text that says something like “I’m with so and so and they told me you do energy work. I want some!”

To me, those are great moments where worlds collide. And that’s how it should be. We are all living in a real world and have real lives and are trying to not just get by, but to thrive. If I can be of service to someone in that way, I can sleep well at night knowing I did something right with this existence.

More practically, I also find that some of the work we do for clients allows us to bring a sense of integrity, wellness, mindfulness, or simply kindness into their brand. And while some organizations just aren’t ready, I encourage our team to use those projects to help put more fuel in our collective gas tank to do more with the communities we serve. In some long karmic loop kinda way, I have to believe that it’s all worth it in the end.

Michael’s Applied Empathy Card Deck

AR: Do you think everyone has an inner “healer” archetype that wants to come out? Or just some of us?

MV: Everyone is a healer. 1000%. I have no doubt. It is just that many of us lose touch with – or never explore that side of – ourselves.

The capacity to heal comes from YOU. I’m just a pair of old jumper cables helping you to get your car running smoothly again. I recently read a quote from a Chinese medicine practitioner who said that he calls everyone he treats his “student.” He said that every session is an opportunity for them to learn more about themselves, for them to learn how to heal themselves. I loved this idea and think it’s absolutely true.

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AR: You’ve created a beautiful deck that displays what you call the “archetypes of empathy.” How did you create these archetypes and how do we embody them?

MV: Over the span of about 6 months, myself and a group of colleagues here at Sub Rosa (my design firm) explored behaviors that allow us to understand each other. We looked at our own habits as well as those we worked with and admired.

We started to see a variety of themes emerge. Once we felt like we had found a strong group of seven behaviors, we utilized a spectrum of questioning called the “whole self” that’s based on the chakras, among other things. These archetypes explore the physical self, the emotional self, the aspirational self, and others.

Each archetype helps us see the world from a different vantage : 

The Sage: Be Present. Inhabit the here and now.
The Inquirer: Question. Interrogate assumed truths.
The Convener: Host. Anticipate the needs of others.
The Alchemist: Experiment. Test and learn at all costs.
The Confidant: Listen. Summon the ability to observe and absorb.
The Seeker: Dare. Be confident and fearless.
The Cultivator: Commit. Nurture and intentionally grow.

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AR: I’m feeling a personal move from the “alchemist” archetype (major curious human who will try anything) to something new. Do you think we move through different archetypes as we grow? 

MV: Actually, I believe that all of us embody all seven of these archetypes – just not in equal measure. Some we feel very comfortable with, but others are daunting. That’s the point. The cards and the questions within them are meant to help you “limber up” a bit and stretch your perspective in order to make you a more well-rounded empath. Your desire to shift to another archetype is totally normal. You are all of them. Keep trying different ones on and you’ll see how all of the perspectives start to emerge from within yourself over time.

AR: What’s the role of self-work in your healing practice? What does being devoted to your path mean to you? 

MV: In the past decade, I’ve observed that more and more people are realizing that the best service they can provide to others is to start with healing themselves. Years ago, many people would be mortified if others knew they were seeing a therapist or a Chinese doctor. People’s reactions would immediately go to “what’s wrong with them that they need someone like that.” That era is long gone and self-work is no longer taboo.

But the pendulum can also swing in the other direction. It’s not uncommon for me to hear about someone doing an ayahuasca ceremony, followed by a week of intensive Rolfing, then doing a 10-day cleanse of some kind, then this, then that. It’s important to walk the spiritual buffet line from time to time, see what’s on offer and what you’re called to, but it’s also important to commit and focus on the things that work. To go deep and not be tempted to just try the next thing that comes through the door.

For me, the balance of freedom and discipline in all of this self-work is where the real medicine resides.

Listen to Michael and I chat more on his podcast Applied Empathy, buy the cards for your next date or dinner party, and book a session with him in NYC here!

JOURNALING BY SIGN FOR THE CANCER NEW MOON

Deep, sweet healing is available under the July 4 Cancer New Moon—on a personal and a collective level, says Ruby Warrington. PLUS a New Moon journaling exercise by sign…

 

 

Buckle up, bust out the tissues, and get ready to feel some serious feelings under the cashmere blanket cover of the July 4 Cancer New Moon. But rather than a hair-raising roller-coaster of emotion, forming part of a tender, loving trine to Neptune in Pisces and a newly direct Mars in Scorpio, this feels more like a loving embrace of the most sensitive, idealistic aspects of our beings—both individually, and as a collective.

And MAN does the world need this all-enveloping, watery hug right now—which is not here to drown us, or invite us to get swept away on on a tide of sentimentality. Rather, here comes a clarion call to see past the drama, the blame, and the collective pain so many have been experiencing, and simply feel all that is ready to be healed.

The Moon is at its most potent in its home sign of Cancer, the nurturing care-taker of the Zodiac, where it is being charged by the life-force energy of the Sun. Joined here by PR planet Mercury, and Venus, planet of peace, love and beauty, not only is this stellium sending us a beam of pure hope; voicing our vulnerability and caring so much we cry won’t look weak during this Moon cycle—it will reveal us at our most beautiful.

Cosmos willing, we’ll see the same from our world leaders too—since the Cancer New Moon, along with her stellar backing singers, is opposite a retrograde Pluto in Capricorn, shining a light on just how ugly things get when it becomes all about the power plays, at the expense of truly empathetic, authentic leadership. A taste of which we’ve been getting already.

And so the bigger opportunity now is for us all to use whatever influence we wield—in our own lives, within our family constellations, and with whatever voice we put out in the world—to transmute anger and defensiveness to pure, unadulterated compassion. To an mother’s unconditional love. And from this place, to harness the fiery power of Mars direct in Scorpio to assist the downtrodden in rising, Phoenix-like, from the ashes.

Oh, and you know that expression about drinking your cares away…? Not even the most kamikaze-strength cocktails will be able to mask the outpouring of emotion (that which we care about) that must accompany this healing process. If anything, we can all expect to be crying into the guacamole way before Monday’s Cancer New Moon rises.

And so instead, we invite you to turn your back on the BBQs and the inevitable, albeit beautiful, public crying this July 4. To carve out a day for some Cancerian self-care, to retreat into your shell, and to engage in the below journaling exercise—which is designed to help each sign plumb the depths of what personal healing is available beneath the benevolent beam of this Cancer New Moon, and during the next two weeks of this Moon cycle.

If you find yourself stuck drop back into your gut—using the keyword as an anchor for your musings. And above all remember to feel it all, to keep feeling, and then to feel some more.

ARIES :: ARIES RISING
My deepest family or ancestral wound is… The personal power I have access to when I move beyond this is… So, what healing modality is my intuition guiding me towards this Moon cycle? What shift could this create in my career, and in my being a role model for others? Keyword: Mother

TAURUS :: TAURUS RISING
What am I most reluctant to voice right now? To whom? How might my connections and close relationships move forward this Moon cycle if I could just find the courage*? What wider impact could these honest conversations between me and my collective have on the world? Key word: Vision
*NB you can

GEMINI :: CANCER RISING
What do I value the most about myself? My greatest talent is… How can I bring more of this to my day-to-day during this Moon cycle? Of what service could this ultimately be to others? What new levels of depth would this bring to the legacy I am imprinting on the world? Keyword: Abundance

CANCER :: CANCER RISING
The creative project I am ready to invest in this Moon cycle is… What is the love note I need to receive from myself this week to get started? Why is it difficult to write? How does this shift when I see myself through the eyes of my dream lover? When I express my creative gives, how does this shift my relationships with others? Key word: Vitality

LEO :: LEO RISING
Where and with whom in my tribal system do I need to exercise more compassion this Moon cycle? This will also be healing for me because… What are the limiting beliefs I hold about my my personal power? Seeing beyond these, how am freed to be proactive in doing my dharma? Keyword: Integrity

VIRGO :: VIRGO RISING
My role in the group currently is… To what extent does this allow me to flourish as a creative being? And what part of myself is being stifled? The conversation needed this Moon cycle for me to express my true gifts begins with… In what ways might my relationships, in love and business, flourish as a result? Keyword: Innovation.

LIBRA :: LIBRA RISING
My greatest ambition for 2016 is… How can I expand on this vision to also be of service in the world? What limiting belief am I holding about my capacity for attracting financial abundance? Who in my family tree am I most inspired by career-wise? This moon cycle I will connect to their energy by… Keyword: Reputation.

SCORPIO :: SCORPIO RISING
Five new ways I can find creative inspiration this moon cycle are… My dream travel location would be… What does my highest self find so fascinating about this place, and its culture? What emotional need does this speak to in me? Speaking from this place, my message for the world is… Keyword: New horizons.

SAGITTARIUS :: SAGITTARIUS RISING
The great mystery I am being called to investigate this Moon cycle is… Five ways shining a light on this area will improve my family relationships are… What in my own life could be healed as a result? This will make me feel more confident in my ability to experience abundance because… Keyword: Obsession.

CAPRICORN :: CAPRICORN RISING
In my close relationships I am always the one who… How can I experiment with being more authentically myself this Moon cycle? Three things I would like people to know about the real me are… In what positive ways might this shift the way I am perceived by the people in my life? Keyword: Respect.

AQUARIUS :: AQUARIUS RISING
I have been neglecting my overall wellbeing lately by… How has this impacted on my ability to truly value myself? What ambitions have I achieved in the past as a result of instilling healthy habits and routines? What new way can I find to connect to my higher self this Moon cycle? Keyword: Efficiency.

PISCES :: PISCES RISING
When I am in my creative flow I feel… But the limiting beliefs I hold about my creative self are… What actions can I take this Moon cycle to challenge myself creatively? In an ideal world, in what ways would this transform the way others see me? Keyword: Play.

TEMPLE OF VENUS: BEAUTY IMAGE BEAUTIFUL

In her latest Temple of Venus column, Elyssa Jakim discovers that even among spiritual circles, body image issues persist…Images: Karis Wakeling-Farren 

Beauty. Isn’t that a gorgeous word? Look at how it sits on the page: regal with all those vowels. I’ve always adored words with lots of vowels: elegant, exquisite, gorgeous, pleasing. Beauty is such an angel word.

Recently in a meditation, I heard the message: “You are more beautiful than you think you are.” This message struck me—it brought a sad little pang to my heart. When I thought more about it, I realized I’ve been experiencing one of those periods where I look in the mirror and think I look weird. Where I’m breaking out more than usual, where I don’t feel particularly connected to my sensual side, where, I don’t know, I just don’t “feel beautiful,” you know?

And I know what it’s about, really, this denial of beauty. I’ve been dancing with body image issues since I was thirteen. There was something wrong with my belly! Why did it stick out from my body like that? Why was I the only one with a strange belly like this? At 17, when other stresses kicked in, I acted on these thoughts and began dieting. I struggled from compulsive dieting for the next eight years.

I had grown up wanting to be an actress, famously a profession of body image perfectionism. When I was 19, I spent my summer as an apprentice at a theatre festival. I recall hanging out in a circle of about 10 women, and the conversation turned to food and dieting. It became clear to me that all these young women who wanted to be actresses had struggled with or were struggling with eating disorder.

All these gorgeous women who I knew as gorgeous because of their insides, their passionate outlook and fearlessness on stage, were folding themselves in one way or another in order to feel included in an exclusive industry: in order to feel included in their own dreams. It was the first time I realized how much I wasn’t alone in this “bad body image” compulsion. And, of course, it’s not just actresses who go through this. It’s all of us.

As years have passed, I feel better about me. A lot. I’m no longer dieting, and I feel I can accept whatever it is I have chosen to eat. However, I now find myself in many other women’s circles that mirror the above one. Healing circle. Meditation Circle. Brunch table. And to tell you the truth, even though these are circles of loving, empowered people, I’m often still worrying about the size of my belly.

The tendency toward self-blame is always there lingering in the background—and I’d like to posit that it is for many of us. It’s an elephant in our yoga studios and sound baths. We’ve had so much programming about how we’re supposed to look for our whole lives, that body anxiety just feels like a channel many of us have been set to. Especially if you live in a trendy city, and the street suggests fashion putting your body on show.

In groups and even just among friends, I’ve started paying attention to when my body image insecurity comes up. I get in touch with my inner knowing and I ask, “Is this mine?” Often, I hear “no.” It belongs to a peer. It belongs to a friend. Doing this has helped me understand, once again, that I am truly not alone in my insecurity. That it is SO MANY OF US who feel not right in ourselves.

Everyone, everyone has that something: “I’ve got a great body, but my skin sucks.” “I love my hips but my eyes kind of cross sometimes and I think I look messed up.” “My face is weird.” “I should look more masculine.” “I should look more feminine.” We compartmentalize ourselves and obsess over our “wrong” thing. So of course, even if the thought is usually not mine, it IS mine too. It’s all of ours. And we “empath” it back and forth to one another.

At this point, I’d like to bring up that this is the ego’s favorite myth, that: “There is something wrong with me.” Psychologist Tara Brach brilliantly describes this concept in her book Radical Acceptance:

[T]he universal sense that “something is wrong” easily solidifies into “something is wrong with me.” When I look into my own feelings of unworthiness, sometimes I can’t point to any significant way I’m actually falling short. Yet just this feeling of being a self, separate from others, brings up a fundamental assumption that I am not okay…Believing that we are separate, incomplete, and therefore at risk, is not some malfunction of nature. Rather, this perception is an intrinsic part of our human experience—indeed of all life.

Brach makes it clear: it’s our sense of alone-ness that makes us feel wrong. The great irony of course is that we’re all together in feeling separate. And there is nothing wrong with you or me or us. There may, however, be something wrong with the society we live in (“The universal sense that something is wrong…”). There may be something wrong with the messages that we ingest and unknowingly propagate.

The author today

But what is the gift of these insane societal standards? What is the gift of the insecurity?

Disagreeing with the ego’s unloving ideas strengthens the mind and soul. When you choose to say “no” to this habit of self-attack, when you choose love in favor of compulsion, you are growing. You are claiming your worth. You are getting stronger each time. Whenever we actively proclaim the Truth to the unloving self, we are paving the way for freedom.

Choose an affirmation today for your unloving habit and resolve to challenge it in order to gain freedom. Mine is: “I know that these fears about my body are untrue. I know I am so much more than this body. I surrender these fears to love.” This can, of course, be applied to any flavor of compulsion, not just body perfectionism. And of course, whenever we free ourselves, we free our sisters and brothers, too. The grip of group insecurity relaxes, we’re all getting spiritually lighter together. Which, in my humble opinion, is way more important than physical lightness. This is a spiritual workout!

These hurts also build empathy and compassion. How could I, Elyssa, help others love their bodies if I hadn’t run the whole gamut of fear and love in my own thinking? Thus our misfortunes become our miracles.

I told a friend about my meditation, the one in which I heard, “You are more beautiful than you think you are.”

“What do you mean by that?” He asked. “Physically?”

“Yes, physically.”

“Go to your heart,” he said. “Go to your heart. That’s where beauty lives. Focus on the feelings inside your heart and you will know you’re beautiful. Then your whole self responds.”

I love this. And, it is true. And when I talked to Venus, Venus told me: “You are all beautiful. You are all divine. You are all so much more radiant than you know.” Go to your heart. Find the beauty and resilience there. “Heart.” That’s got a nice vowel assortment too.

PS: This post marks my one-year anniversary of writing for the Numinous! From Spring to Spring, I am grateful for all of the gifts.

Need more Venus inspiration? Check out Elyssa’s last Temple of Venus column on the practice of receiving.