True Beauty

IMG_4208A few weeks ago I met with two women from my spirituality group. They had never been to my home, and as we stepped onto the deck to begin our meeting they both remarked on the beauty of our land. I found myself qualifying and explaining about the dirt and weeds: “It was a lot more beautiful before the flood,” I said. But they both replied with, “You can feel the beauty. It’s still here.”

These are both women with a strong spiritual practice, which to me means that they have learned to see beneath the surface of things and tap into the underground river that informs and connects the invisible layers of our lives. While my husband and I look at our yard and see what was destroyed by the flood – the beautiful flower gardens, the luminous green lawn – they’re seeing the whole picture, feeling with their hearts into the energy of our land. When I looked through their heart-eyes, I saw/felt it, too.

In our image-based culture, we learn early to see through the lens of what is apparent on the surface. We’re not taught culturally to see essence, to breathe into the beauty that runs deeper than externals. And yet we’ve all had the experience of being bowled over by true beauty. It’s what we see you come across a woman, regardless of age or shape, who truly inhabits her body and her being. The wrinkles around her eyes or the size of her butt… they don’t matter. What you see is the true definition of beauty, which a woman living truthfully from her essence and radiating the light of her heart into the world.

This reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson that I discovered in my early twenties. As I read back on it now I see that even then I was tapped into the underground river where truth and beauty are one, where the physical image is a reflection of the heart of truth:

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

I recently received a copy of a magnificent book, “The Book of Mother’s Bodies,” by Jade Beall, which contains raw, untouched photographs of women’s post-baby bodies and a short essay in which each woman shares her struggle to embrace and accept the changes. These bodies are real: round, fleshy, skinny, asymmetrical breasts or nipples… and gorgeous. I have pored over these images and essays, drinking from the same underground river that we never see in this culture around women’s bodies. And when I place these images next to the airbrushed, so-called “perfect” bodies of fashion models, the models appear two-dimensional, boring and lifeless. The real women’s bodies tell a story.

It’s the same with a common symptom of relationship anxiety: not feeling attracted to your partner. If we take the symptom at face value we can easily jump onto the cultural bandwagon of alarm: Oh no! You’re not attracted to your partner! Time to jump ship. I often wonder how many thousands if not millions of solid, loving relationships have ended because the person didn’t know that lack of attraction is a symptom of lack of connection: of being disconnected from the Truth with a capital T that allows you to see yourself, your partner, and your relationship through clear and loving eyes.

When you’re seeing through these eyes you naturally and effortlessly see essence. You see what is enduring and sustaining, not the shifting, changing externals that respond to the passage of time. You see yourself as whole and worthy of love and you see your partner through this same, forgiving lens. If you’ve fallen into the grip of dissecting your partner’s face or “checking” to see if you’re attracted every time he or she walks into the room, ask yourself these questions instead:

1. Am I connected to myself? Am I seeing myself through clear and loving eyes?

If you’re judging yourself or holding yourself to an impossible standard of perfection, it’s quite likely that you’ll project this unloving lens onto the screen of your partner. Likewise, if your disconnection is a result of overwhelm, not enough internal space, or hormonal surges/imbalances, you may be looking at your partner through a distorted lens.

2. Is my partner connected to him or herself?

When your partner has fallen into his lower self, he’s not going to look as attractive. This is true of everyone. I’ll never forget the time my son said to me, “Mommy, sometimes you look really ugly.” I was taken aback, of course, but had enough curiosity to ask, “When is that?” To which he so astutely responded, “When you’re mad.” People don’t “look ugly” because they’ve gained weight or haven’t taken a shower in a few days; they look ugly when they’ve fallen into habitual patterns of anger, negativity, complaining, and victimization. Conversely, people look beautiful when they’re connected to their own essence, shining in the authentic strength of standing solid in who they are.

3. Are we connected to each other?

Marriages, like individuals, endure dark nights of the soul, times when the third body of the marriage encounters a crisis point and you’re both asked to shed and grow or become more calcified in your unhealthy patterns. When you’re traveling through these dark tunnels, neither of you are likely to be operating from your highest self. Paradoxically, however, if you embrace these crises as the opportunities that they are, you’ll both be stripped down to your most vulnerable essence and may find, to your surprise, that you feel more attracted to each other than ever. But invariably the disconnect will return, as it always does, and that’s when you remind yourself that love and attraction ebb and flow, just like everything else in life.

Sometimes a period of disconnect can last a day; other times several months. Regardless of the length of time that you can’t find yourself or each other, know that during these stages you may feel less attracted to your partner or find yourself perseverating on the theme of attraction. This is normal. And the more you know this, the less you’ll need to fan the fire of the intrusive theme and turn the attention of your focus where it needs to be: toward reconnection.

If you’d like to learn more about how to grow your love and cultivate a mindset that will foster real attraction, please join me for the next round of Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, which will begin on September 13th, 2014.

28 comments to True Beauty

  • Ashley

    Thank you for this article Sheryl. It came at the perfect time for me and I’m so grateful.

  • Rachael

    Thank you for these beautiful words Sheryl. My husband and I have a nine month old who wakes frequently at night, are in the process of moving into our first house, and I have been feeling a real disconnect lately. My first instinct was, “Why am I moving into a house with someone I’m so irritated with??” After reading this, I realize this has more to do with me and how I’m feeling than to do us. We are sleep-deprived and currently have a lot of stressors. I hope to be able to use your words and reflect upon myself before I see problems elsewhere.

  • AT

    Sheryl,
    Thank you for yet another timely and deeply moving article. I think sensitive people are particularly hard on themselves when disconnected from self or other and beat themselves up using whatever outer-circumstance reason fits the bill at that time (I see myself do this all the time). I love your equation of truth with beauty– Pema Chodron might argue that the way to live most truthfully is fully experiencing our energy as an opportunity to practice love/acceptance, no matter what it looks like on the surface (external thoughts/images).. our inner life as beautiful, and “normal,” as you mentioned, however it flows.

    What my discomfort looks like on the outer surface lately is: “I’m not as beautiful as my partner’s last partner. I can’t compete.” (Other “what-if” thoughts came up once I realized we really chose each other) Beauty as conscious connection to ourselves makes any concept of competition null. I feel most connected to my (loving) partner when I hang in there with this unsettling energy and remember it’s a normal, beautiful part of my growth, my commitment to myself and to him.

    Thank you for sharing your beauty with the world!

  • A guy

    Thanks for this. I am struggling desperately thru a midlife crisis and have somehow lost my way into repetitive negative thoughts where I am distracted by my wife of 20 years true beauty thru my superficial judgment of her external features. I’m so terrified of not being able to get past this horrible reaction of analysis ing and comparing her to other women. The crazy thing is she is far from unattractive and can often look stunning but I return again and again obsessively to the least flattering photos and then look for comfort in the more appealing ones. It’s crazy , and it’s making me so unhappy and I really don’t want to lose her or live alone because of this , I am so hoping with every fibre of my being that your course can help me, I love her so,so much but have carried the seed of this anxiety for so long I fear I may be incurable.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, another great and inspiring blog!! As you know I have come along way from experiencing debilitating anxiety to a more relaxed person. I do journal nearly everyday which has helped a lot. This week I’ve been feeling Desensitation.. That’s the only word I can describe how I’m feeling? Is this part of the anxiety and journey I am on? Do other women experience this as well? I’m keen to know?

  • Jake

    To a guy

    I’m the exact same I compare my wife to every other woman. I make her unattractive in my own eyes when really she is not. I pull her apart every time I see her. It’s getting to a stage where I think I should maybe leave because it’s driving me crazy. I have also had this for years which is so annoying

  • A guy

    Jake,

    I’m finding that meditating and watching my crazy thoughts is helpful.
    And writing it all down as it glows however horrible it may sound helps.
    I’m trusting that for now leaving is not a good idea , I can’t believe it’s the
    Answer but I’m afraid of a life feeling compromised.
    I just keep
    Commuting again and again. I hope it gets better.

  • A guy

    Committing! Not commuting!

  • Kat

    This has really resonated with me today! My wedding is fast approaching and I am doing my very best to resisit the perfection trap. However, everyone around me keeps talking about things being ‘perfect’ and I just feel like I’m having to work against that to not aim for perfection, as I’m being conditioned to, but to work for a day that is meaningful and has truth at its core.
    xx

  • Jake

    To a guy
    It’s a horrible feeling that I would wish on anyone. I feel like the only thing to do is leave I keep constantly thinking that if I’m doing this then I don’t love her and even start questions if I ever did.. I am trying to step away from this thrash thinking but it is consuming me I feel

  • A guy

    I believe it’s all projection jake. I’m feeling terrible today. Going to a counsellor soon, I hope you find peace , I’m crying and working thru this everyday. I know I love her, she’s deep inside of my heart, the only person who really knows me. I feel terrible that I question everything this way. What’s wrong with me?

  • A guy

    Jake , here’s my strategy now – focus on what’s working . Give my heart and soul to what’s working but stop
    Questioning if I love her . Just gonna try that until the course starts. I hope we can make it to a better place!

  • Jake

    To a guy
    I don’t know what is up with me either starting to think I’m going crazy. I was very content but something has just come over me and shut me down. It’s affecting my general mood at home and work it’s making feel awful the way I am looking at her and constantly judging her in a negative way

  • A guy

    Jake , I dunno if it’s any comfort that there’s two of us feeling the same way.
    It must be pointing to something deeper , a panic or fear about something.
    It’s made me so miserable I can’t tell you, life is short I don’t want to feel this way.
    She deserves better than this too , have to look for why she’s such a good person ,
    Her soul. That connection that keeps us together.
    I hope the course helps.

  • Kim

    This is all so true. And when you do have that moment of connecting essence to essence it truly is magical. I would have given up my relationship if I had listened to what society has convinced us is ‘real’ attraction.

  • Jake

    To Kim
    What would you recommend did you go through it yourself? I feel so down over this I’m convincing myself I never loved her at all. We have 2 youngs kids and everything I wanted but all I want to do is run away and keep saying she deserves better and I would be doing her a favour I the long run by leaving

  • Jake

    Do we stick at our relationship? Do we go against our gut instinct? Are we just settling to be in a relationship that is not good?

  • A guy

    Jake –
    I guess the question is are the fundamentals good?
    Do you respect and love each other, support each other etc?
    For me , I have that and I know she loves me so. I know it’s down to me
    To find my way back from questioning everything. Getting past my doubts and
    Daydreams of another fantasy life and settle into this real life we have built together.
    I’m still full of fear and doubt and questions but I’m hoping giving it 100% as much as I can
    Will give me the answer . I hope and have to believe we can find a way back from
    This hellish questioning to acceptance and comfort in what we have.

  • A guy

    Sometimes my gut instinct is bad for me in that it’s a gut reaction to fear and I have to feel that fear and do it anyway.
    There’s no bad choices really with this but I rather go against the flight instinct and fight at least for now.
    I hope the course helps too.

  • Jake

    I think I have had this all my life with all my partners. It’s soul destroying for it to be happening me now with kids ECT involved. I look at all photos and think she is ugly.. Who do I think I am?? I’m starting to fear there is no way back and this has me consumed. Is this all a front that I am not with the right girl?? As I said I have had this in stages throughout my whole relationship/lifetime

  • Jake

    This is making me so unhappy. I’m starting to doubt that I even have anxiety and its just down to my relationship. I feel if I was on my own all my troubles would be gone

  • A guy

    For me it’s getting better. I just think I need time for the negative thoughts to subside
    And to replace them with love and good memories.
    And think of her heart of gold all the time .

  • onedayatatime

    So beautiful and I see it more and more now, that our culture is so focused on the outside layers. Of course I have believed in this also and fall prey to this often and think “I’m not pretty enough or as pretty as her, I don’t look womanly enough or the way she does”. I, sadly do this with my partner and compare his outsides to others, thinking it reflects the whole being of someone. But I know this isn’t true because in other moments I see his beauty and his attractiveness which usually involves his whole being and his soul. You know what? It even feels ugly to get caught up in the superficial beauty but I find it so hard and then over analyze my own thoughts and actions about this. For example shopping: if beauty isn’t about the superficial and the outside why bother buying nice clothes? Shouldn’t it not matter? Or is it okay to use clothes to express yourself and feel good about the outside? I imagine of course it’s a balance and about the intention. So its not about using clothes to feel good and validate the inside (which I do). I also often buy things, while in the back of my mind, wondering if it will be attractive enough or if others will approve and feel uncomfortable if I don’t think I am dressed ” appropriately”.

    • onedayatatime

      Obviously this is huge for relationship anxiety so I don’t mean to get off topic but I find I ruminate on the clothes topic a lot lately. I can see that this can be part of the projection in the importance of finding “THE” dress for a wedding. So how do you find the fine balance? Is it okay that I like to buy clothes and want to look attractive in them? That I enjoy trying on and wearing new styles or get dressed up to go out?

  • Jake

    I feel so flat towards my partner I can’t stop projecting on her it’s ripping me apart. All I want to do is leave and be on my own but I know I will miss my kids and maybe my partner (maybe) I think I will be at peace if I leave. Is there any point in doing this e course? Can you force feelings back?? I’m so miserable over this I don’t know what to do

    • What I can tell you is that nothing will shift unless you commit to addressing your thoughts and actions every day. You won’t shift by ruminating about it and you won’t shift by seeking reassurance from others. You have to be willing to DO THE WORK, which isn’t easy but will yield in much benefit in terms of getting to know the fear-walls that are keeping you separate from your partner. This is the point of doing the course: it will give you the tools, information, and support that will help you gather insights and take essential actions. From there, continuing the work on a daily basis is up to you. There’s no magic pill, Jake. There’s not one thing anyone could say that will “fix” this for you. If you’re willing to dive into learning about what this anxiety and blockage is here to teach you, then the course is for you.

  • Jake

    Thanks Sheryl I am going to sign up to the course as I need to wise up. I constantly look for reassurance off people but no matter what they say I still want to run. Am I just being a coward by not ending my relationship?