Category Archives: Beauty Found

1000 Days to the Perfect Marriage

Self Honeymoon in La Fotuna, Costa Rica

Self Honeymoon in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

This is the story of a courageous journey that began about 1000 days ago, when I realized my husband would never full love me, because I didn’t fully love me. On that day, I stepped onto an unmarked path, hoping to reclaim lost parts of myself from attempting to seek the approval of my husband. I began my Reclaiming Beauty journey.

My older sister told me it took 1000 days to heal from a divorce, and during those 1000 days, I went on a journey from feeling the violent dividing by force from another, to a falling in love with myself. Discovering the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine parts of myself, these parts found balance and harmony, and ultimately, union within myself.

This journey was not easy, and led me through some dark places. One of the scariest places was the realization that I had some inner work to do in order to be fully aligned with the Reclaiming Beauty message of self-love and body love.  Shining a light inside, I realized I carried some buried judgments about my body and myself I had to heal in order to be in full integrity as a messenger of Walking in Beauty.


+ It began with COURAGE, LETTING GO and HEALING. It requires summoning courage over and over again to face life experiences that lead to disconnection from our beauty, to LET GO of these experiences and to HEAL. During this stage, the heart stays opens when you allow yourself to fully grieve the losses.

+ During the next stage I shifted into fearlessly seeking SELF-APPROVAL. In this process, I regained my POWER through self-approval. I learned to notice all the places where I was giving away my power through seeking the approval of others, and began taking this power back. A place where I found the most healing with this skill was in working with Rick Hanson’s, definition of the word VIRTUE:

Virtue simply involves regulating your actions, words, and thoughts to create benefits rather than harms for yourself and others.

+ RECLAIMING MY NAME – When my divorce was finalized, I moved through some anger in the grieving process. Anger is an essential emotion to honor in any grieving process to set boundaries, honor boundary crossings and to support severing the ties. Through the process of changing my name back I nicknamed myself  Heidi Lynn “Hot Lava” Andersen, in honor of the volcano images that supported my anger. Luckily, there was only one or two Jerry Springer worthy episodes in this part of the process between my ex-husband and myself, due to my VIRTUE practice and seeking my own approval through regulating.

+ COOLING DOWN WITH FORGIVENESS – Thanks to the timely discovery of Hóponopono, an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and reconciliation, I was able to cool down the erupting volcano with FORGIVENESS practices – towards my ex-husband, myself, and my body.  At the end of this season, I wrote my ex-husband a love letter, genuinely thanking him for the lessons the marriage offered me to support my growth process. I also thanked him for the greatest blessing of our marriage, our beautiful son.


In Bikram yoga, a practice that has supported my healing process these 1000 days, the teachers reference “the perfect marriage between the heart and lungs” every time we practice Triangle pose. In this pose, the yogi has a firm foundation with her legs, and stretches her arms from her heart – one towards the Earth and the other towards the Sky. The foundation is strong, the heart is open, and the breath is in full support of the expression of the pose, all working together to create the union of masculine and feminine energies within the practitioner.

During these 1000 days, my Triangle pose became stronger and stronger, this marriage between heart and lungs more solid. I felt the clouds clear in my mind, my body, and my heart. As a result, my understanding of Walking in Beauty became clearer to me…

I always ask my clients in sessions and workshops to answer this question… What does it mean to you to walk in beauty?

For me it means: To allow your True Self to be seen, to be in balance and in flow, to be in harmony with nature, your Self, and your relationships, to be accepting of yourself and free from judgments, to be kind and compassionate, to offer your gifts in service to the world.

Here, as I am beginning my next Reclaiming Beauty journey, my heart is at ease. I feel fully prepared to offer my gifts in service to the world, gifts that come from my own deep, healing journey.

Last week, I celebrated my perfect marriage and took myself on a Self Honeymoon to Costa Rica! This week, the final details are being completed on the book cover and layout for the Reclaiming Beauty Journal and Wisdom Deck by Kudzu Branding in Black Mountain. By the end of the week, I will be placing an order for the first run of this offering! Very soon, I will be planning a party to celebrate the release of this project and YOU ARE ALL INVITED!

So, here I am, on the other side of my 1000 days. I am now invoking the archetype of The Fool, which in the Tarot is the symbol for New Beginnings, the first step on this next Reclaiming Beauty journey, where I offer the gifts of my journey with all who are open to receiving.

Thoth Tarot Ceck

Image: Thoth Tarot Deck

I am in deep gratitude to my family, friends and the community who has supported me on my Reclaiming Beauty journey. We are meant to be walking in community to find our way to our True Selves and our true meaning in this world. If you are feeling a call to your Reclaiming Beauty journey, please consider working with me. It would be my pleasure to serve as a guide on your journey. For more information on Reclaiming Beauty Counseling services, go to the Work With Me page.

I honor the beauty in you from the beauty in me.

Walk in Beauty,

Blog Post Signature



You Can Be Anywhere When Your Life Begins



Skills: Beauty Found

From Contributor: Lindsey Parda

Tattooed above my ankle is the phrase: “You can be anywhere when your life begins.” It’s my favorite line from the movie Crazy Beautiful, which I saw for the first time while I was in residential treatment. I got this tattoo recently, with some of the women I was in treatment with. To me, this is more than just ink on my body; it is a reminder of my journey to life this past year. You really can be anywhere when your life begins. Life with an eating disorder is not living; it is existing, and sometimes just barely. It is making it through days, weeks, months, years; consumed with thoughts over food, exercise, and restriction. Life with an eating disorder is a life spent missing out on all the beauty and adventure the world offers every day, because you’re so far in the darkness of the disorder. It’s being so out of touch with yourself that you don’t even notice the beautiful life you are wasting.

For me, my life began when I jumped out of a moving car. My tattoo is about being scared to death, crying and begging to be left alone in a cold parking lot one Friday night when I chose to end an unhealthy relationship. I did not feel like my life was beginning- I felt like it was ending. I knew that night I would never be the same, and I wasn’t, but for that I am so grateful, despite the pain.

My life began when I walked through the doors of The Renfrew Center to have an eating disorder assessment done. My tattoo is about being faced with the harsh reality of my illness that day, which I chose to minimize as much as I could until I thought I would break from the weight on my shoulders. It’s a strange feeling to have someone tell you that you’re sick and need more help than you’re willing to accept.

My life began when I moved eight hours away to start a travel nurse job just 2 weeks after I had gone to Renfrew. My tattoo is about my life beginning in the most unexpected place, when I started meeting with an outpatient team for eating disorder treatment. It is about the people I have met here who have become family, and the love I have that I finally believe I deserve. It is about sitting here a year later, looking at where I never imagined I would be, and being so blessed that has been the case.

My life began during the hours I spent in outpatient therapy. My tattoo is about the amazing people who have helped open my eyes, despite how hard I was kicking and screaming and digging in my heels in resistance. I did not feel like my life was beginning- it felt like I was always in pain, mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is about letting myself be strong enough to ask for help and remembering that I am worth fighting for.

My life began when I told my parents about my eating disorder. This was one of the single hardest things I have ever done, especially in dealing with the aftermath and hours of family therapy that followed. My tattoo is about discovering that I am unconditionally loved and supported, even if it was a rocky road to get there. It is about strengthening that love and support each day.

My life began when I got a phone call from Melissa’s Voice Foundation, telling me that I would receive help in paying for treatment. My tattoo is about completely trusting someone I’d never even met to basically choose a place for residential treatment- and it proved to be the absolute best place I could have gone. My life began when I met this generous founder of the organization, who hugged me and would not let me go upon meeting. My tattoo is about one women’s passion that gave me a second chance at life.

My life began at residential treatment. My life began as I walked through the doors into a house full of love and healing. I have never been more scared in my life. Words cannot express my thankfulness for the people I met there. My tattoo is about letting others help me change my thinking about myself and the way I live my life. It is about enduring hours of therapy and meals that had me in tears. It is about having times where I cried for most of the day. My life began when I learned to stop being afraid to live. My tattoo is about the incredible women I went through treatment with, who will have a special place in my heart always.

My life began when I drove away from residential treatment for the first, and what I am sure will be, the last time. My tattoo is about Holding On and knowing Pain Ends. It is about having the courage to leave the safest environment I have ever been in, and truly stepping into my life for the first time.

Now it’s your turn- Where were you the last time your life began again? Please tell us in the comments below.

lindseypardaAbout the Contributor: Lindsey Parda calls Nashville, TN home, and has spent the past year as a travel nurse in North Carolina. She is a recent Tapestry Treatment alumni. Lindsey enjoys music, Bikram yoga, photography, and being outdoors whenever possible. She also loves to travel and watch Nashville Predators hockey. Lindsey is currently involved with You Part Two, a pro-eating disorder recovery organization, working to share her experiences and story. One day she also hopes to travel to Haiti and other countries to be able to use her medical background to help others.

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Slogging through the Swamps of Rejection: A Veteran’s Guide


Skills: Beauty Lost, Beauty Found, Emancipate Yourself, Make Beauty Not War, Self-Compassion

from Contributor: Laura Eshelman

The past 18 months of my life have not been the kindest.  In the wake of failing to find employment, several fallouts with friends, and getting dumped like a sack of potatoes, I’ve spared no efforts to exorcise the residual “owch”iness of rejection.  Although writing a few letters mean enough to make Stalin cry and stubbing lit cigarettes through photos of my ex provided temporary relief for a while, I am still reticent to say it’s done a darn thing to help me move on.  Whether it’s a romantic partner, a best friend, school or a job that’s told you, “Peace out,” rejection can easily become its own beast to battle long after you stop caring about its source because we too often interpret it to mean we are inherently undesirable, or inadequate.  The harshness of the last year forced me to evaluate a lot of the unhealthy responses I developed to mitigate and protect myself from the pain of rejection—and I maintain that there’s little pain out there that compares.  So, here’s a seven-point plan to help others out there.  It might not speed up the process, but you might save some money on cigarettes.

1) Don’t feel obligated to minimize it Not to be confused with re-evaluating your perspective.  Getting stuck on ancillary details about your rejection, such as how long/briefly you held a position or knew the person (or people) who blew you off, does not help you lurch forward.  It can be hard if it followed a long-term and personal commitment, but it can also be surprisingly painful sometimes even without that, and there may be a temptation to harp on yourself for how challenging the situation feels when it “shouldn’t”.  Whether you were fired from a peon-type job that you held for a week versus a career several years in the making, there’s no biological rule for how much pain one individual to the next is “supposed” to feel as a result—no matter what we hear from third parties (and there’s plenty of those, with mouthfuls of nothing useful to say).  Regardless of how much sense your feelings surrounding a rejection make, acknowledge them without judgment…and once you can do that, it’s time to move on to problem-solving.

2)  Do something amazing One of the most awful things about getting dumped, fired, snubbed, etc. is the sense of sheer worthlessness that you’re often left with in the wake.  If you find yourself questioning your intrinsic value or even struggling with guilt, take a detour before you get to Wallowsville.  Learn a skill, discover a new area of expertise, or get involved in something civic.  Taking up a new or unique hobby doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, especially if it’s volunteering—and that goes for any Good Samaritan act, whether it’s an afternoon at an animal shelter or helping a friend move.  Recently, I began volunteering with a local organization that works to reduce HIV rates by distributing contraceptives and other sanitary materials in low-income communities.  In addition to having fun and meeting people who express gratitude for outreach, it’s also forced me to count blessings I usually overlook.  It’s hard to sulk when you realize how lucky you are to be able to afford a simple box of band-aids.

3)  Do something crazy Sometimes the best therapy for going crazy is more craziness.  Be careful with this one if you are emotional and/or prone to rash decisions (perhaps review them with a more level-headed friend first), but I’ve found that doing something like getting a dramatic haircut, a piercing, a pet, or going on a random vacation can cleave some distance between you and the origin of the rejection while waiting for time to do its job.  This tip is the equivalent of a rebound after a break-up, because it can either be very good or disastrous, which is why I stress wariness surrounding spontaneity.  But when craziness is carried out with a little measured judgment—contradictory though that sounds, I argue it is possible—it can be a great mood-lifter.

4)  Build a pillow fort This is both a literal and a metaphoric suggestion.  Literally speaking, pillow forts are never bad ideas, especially if you are feeling at odds with the universe and/or have little money for entertainment.  Symbolically, they represent a cushioned safety-zone from harmful elements, and a return to simpler times.  Nothing makes me want to turn into a kid more than when the ‘real world’ shows its ugly side, and what kind of heartless element shuns a child?  Sometimes this is a good method for self-acknowledgment when we’ve gotten distracted by something that causes us to put our own preferences on the shelves.  The “pillow fort” strategy doesn’t have to necessarily involve childhood nostalgia, either—namely, it’s about re-affirming that you still deserve to feel comfort, no matter what has precipitated a rejection.  Rediscovering lost, forgotten-about pleasures is my own preferred go-to.  Watch an old favorite feel-good movie that you’ve forgotten the lines to, hit up a longtime friend who you haven’t talked to in a while, find an empty playground to take over, or drink something soothing from your favorite mug (as long as what you’re sipping doesn’t compound your problems).

5)  Find meaning in this Remember how Marty McFly’s hand started to disappear in Back to the Future after altering his parents’ pasts almost costs him his own existence?  Not the most pertinent example, since that more to do with plutonium politics and magical DeLoreans than coming to terms with rejection, but I use it because most of our most treasured experiences and relationships come from delicate circumstantial happenstance.  Take a moment to think about the people and opportunities that have sprung up in the wake of being ditched at some point in your life.  Some of the richest friendships in my life are with those who offered allied support after others unexpectedly flew the coop.   It’s a cliché adage, but doors don’t close without opening one or two others on impact.  Sometimes in retrospect, rejection becomes less of a door slammed than a bullet dodged.

6)  Be patient with yourself.  At all costs.  To anyone’s knowledge, yelling at an injury to hurry up and heal has never, ever worked.  But nursing it can be especially hard if you feel you’ve gotten the short end of the stick, and some wounds are particularly prone to infection.  If you’ve been laid off or fired from a successful business, or your old flame starts dating someone else, the temptation might be to decide that the world is out to screw you and to add an extra shot to your mug-of-something-soothing.  I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy to secretly hope that your rejecters fail at life (and for your sake, I sure hope they do), but preoccupation with revenge fantasies or those abstract “why me”s definitely prolongs harm, like repeatedly picking at a scab.  The best result you’ll get is a scar, and who wants a constant reminder of lost dignity?  Which brings me to point seven…

7)  Fake it ‘til you make it This one sucks.  Point blank.  But eventually, after trudging through one day after another, going through the motions, and doing whatever necessary to keep your head propped upright, there will be a morning when you wake up and don’t immediately think about this latest rejection.  Before you know it, there will be another morning like it.   And another.  The time lapses may seem long and arbitrary at first, but they will pick up succession until you can usually count on feeling normal and out of pain.  Rest assured, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you again down the road, but always make sure that the people who leave you are the ones missing out while those who support you are cashing in.  For instance, executives at Decca Records Company dismissed a small-time band in 1962 by stating, “They have no future in show business”; unfortunately for Decca, the band called themselves the Beatles, and that quote is now one of history’s most laughable. Living well is the best revenge of all—and it doesn’t have to be a fantasy.

mauiAbout the Contributor: Laura Eshelman is a 2008 UNC Asheville alumna with a BA in mass communication.  She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice from UC Denver and holds a master’s certificate in domestic violence studies.  Laura is an avid writer, political junkie, and an advocate for various social justice causes; at present, she is an intern with Witness for Peace Southeast and volunteers with NC Harm Reduction.  She enjoys travelling, cooking, hula hooping, and long walks up steep mountains.

Image: Leah Joy

I’ve Got the Power

Peacock Power

I am now in the last month of my Hanged Man growth cycle year and have been reflecting on the breakdown/breakthrough opportunities this year brought me. As I shared in the post SPARKLE = POWER, I realize that this process of breaking and releasing stuck patterns, although it can be challenging and painful, leads to freedom and reclaiming power. Power is a major component in my personal definition of beauty. Here are some ways I claimed my POWER this year:

+ Bikram Yoga 3 times a week = has helped with my health,  my energy level, my back pain, feeling strong and POWERful in my body, and creating more and more flexibility and openness physically and emotionally – not to mention feeling strong and powerful in my body also helps me feel hot and sexy!

+ Chiropractic = chronic back pain resurfacing served as an opportunity to heal the patterns in my spine… I committed to a healing process with Dr. Jennifer Liming at the end of April and this month was featured as her Patient of the Month due to my success (read my testimonial here to learn how Dr. Jennifer can help to turn your POWER on: Dr. Jennifer’s testimonial)

+ Seeking my own approval = in June I took the brave step to separate from my husband (healing love to him) whose inability to deeply value and desire my beauty created internal questioning of my worth physically, emotionally & spiritually, leading me deeper into my own reclaiming beauty process

+ Sitting with aloneness = rather than dwelling on the perceived rejection from the breakdown of my relationship, I have been working on deeply loving and accepting myself in my aloneness, recognizing that in order to stand POWERfully in intimate relationships my next lover needs to be ME

A POEM that has been guiding this process for me:


Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game.
To play it is purest delight;
To honor its form–true devotion.

– Jennifer Welwood

And a SONG  that is my current MANTRA and has been guiding this process for me: I’ve Got The Power – by SNAP

Another song from my POWER playlist… oh, Kanye, you are so very pompous, but we could all use a bit of your CONFIDENCE: Power – by Kanye West

Today I stand with confidence that I am doing the challenging work of walking my Reclaiming Beauty talk with integrity. I can be a testament to the truth that this process of Walking in Beauty is hard, but so worth it.

I would love to hear ways you have been claiming your POWER this year. In the comments below, please share some of your power wielding inspiration.

If you are interested in learning more about your tarot PERSONALITY/SOUL symbols and your current GROWTH CYCLE YEAR, send me an email. I am currently offering tarot readings that will include this information on a sliding scale.

In the words of Kanye… At the end of the day, I’m killing this sh%t!,

I’ve got the power!


Image: Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson

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A Velveteen Rabbit

Skills: Beauty Found, Beauty Lost, Defining Beauty

from Contributor: Mountain Selkie

Fifteen years ago, I was sexually assaulted by a boy that I had dated off and on throughout high school. On that humid summer night, my world-view seismically shifted and left my heart, mind, and soul in a schism that has taken years to begin to reconcile. Reflecting on the idea of beauty and what that means to me is something that has had my mind reeling for months- ever since Heidi first asked me to write an entry for the Reclaiming Beauty website. I know now that my understanding of beauty and what that means to me is intricately tied to the transformation, or perhaps, reclamation, of my heart and mind after that tragic experience.

That summer, I graduated high school and was excited about attending college in the fall. Growing up, I had been loved by, nurtured, and provided for by two loving parents and a large extended family. I was surrounded by friends and sweethearts. I had a very naïve concept of what it means to be beautiful, or even what beauty really meant- my view was one that was force-fed by mass-consumerism, teenage pop culture, and the fundamentalist, rigid Baptist Church that I attended throughout my childhood. Like most teenage girls of my generation, I thought beauty was primarily grounded in appearance and a specific attitude that required being sweet, shallow, superficial, and flirtatious. I wanted to be beautiful. In hindsight, and I now know now that I was. Stunning even. But at the time, I mostly thought that I was ugly- I hated my feet, my hair, my body, and my height. I hated that my eyes weren’t blue or green, just murky. I even hated my short pinky finger and my knees. Though I was athletic, trim and muscular, and wore a size 8, and that I was 5’8 and weighed a healthy 135 lbs, I thought I was fat and I would starve myself and binge and purge. I longed for that thin, lithe body that I was never genetically pre-determined to have, short of famine or complete malnourishment. However, the opposite sex still found me attractive. I didn’t go very long spans of time without having boyfriends, potential love interests, and crushes. Though I inwardly hated so much of myself and struggled with anxiety and depression, most people remember me as someone who was outgoing, friendly, goofy, and easy to be with, most of the time. My family might remember me during my teenage years differently and acknowledge the tough time I had growing into a person who feels deeply and struggled with most aspects of life. While my life wasn’t perfect and I had my personal struggles, I was blissfully ignorant of the potential tragic repercussions of being innocently beautiful. I was preoccupied with being “wanted” and “desired” and enjoyed the frequent attention that I received from boys, feeling like this gave me power and a sense of purpose.

All of this, of course, led up to the date rape. That night, I was so scared and afraid that I went into autopilot, never consenting and repeatedly saying “no,” and crying throughout the whole experience. I have blocked out aspects of the rape and cannot recall the penetration. I was horrified and I remember shutting down and withdrawing into myself. Even though I rejected him, I was also too afraid of what could happen if I fought him off of me. He was a track star and could have outrun me in a heartbeat. I learned after getting in the car with him that night that he was on some kind of drug and that he wasn’t himself. I feared for my safety, and submitted to his force so that it would be over and done with, retreating deep into myself in hopes that it was a bad dream.

That night, my childhood ended. Date rape is no way to lose your virginity, or your childhood. That time period is almost a black hole for me- but just as a rotting corpse eventually becomes amazing fertilizer, it played a huge role in the more sensitive, aware, and passionate person I have become. The very next day, though, the monster had the nerve to call me at my parents house and asked me if he could see me again. I screamed at him and told him to go to hell, but he kept saying that he was sorry, but he just couldn’t help himself- he said that “he wanted me so bad, that I was so beautiful, that he had to have me.” Shaking in fear and outrage as he said this to me while I was home alone, I screamed at him and told him that what he did was rape, and that if he ever wanted to see me again, he’d have to apologize to me in front of my father and let him beat him to an inch of his life. Those were the last words I ever said to him. I puked my guts out and smoked pot until I was oblivious, fighting the growing ongoing panic attack that was becoming my life.

And then, the anger, the self-loathing, and the shame really began to sink in. I truly believed him, that it had to be my fault- if I hadn’t been so beautiful, so friendly, so trusting… I really believed what he had said. I believed that it was my fault that he did what he did- it was what I had coming since I had teased him and rejected him and left him helpless. I was consumed with fear and anxiety. Only two weeks after this happened, I started college and left home, struggling to make sense out of this nightmare but also too afraid to tell anyone. For months, I told no one what had happened, not even my best friend. Coming home at night, sometimes I would see his car parked at the church that I would have to pass by to get my parents house, knowing he was waiting to see me again. My blood would curdle and I would want to scream- instead, I’d smoke pot in my room with the exhaust fan in the window and try to get over my fears. Six months later, there would still be calls to my parents’ house where no one would speak and I knew it was him. In fear of him being on the other end of a call, I wouldn’t even answer the phone unless I was specifically expecting to hear from someone. I was afraid that he would hurt me again, afraid that he hurt my family, and afraid that if I told my parents, I would have to get the police involved. If I told, I was sure that my family, friends, and the police would all confirm what I already believed: that it was my fault. I was so afraid of him, of myself, and this kind of thing happening again with someone else. I was paralyzed with fear- the only way to numb my pain was abusing any substance I could- pot, alcohol, snorting painkillers, and one time, even cocaine… but by far my most dangerous drug choice was food. Food provided not only a comfort, but also a vehicle that could drive me out of this body that I believed had seduced a rapist and had betrayed me. My own body, my femininity, my beauty could not be trusted – it could not be unleashed, lest something worse would happen. I could no longer trust my own self and was quietly imploding with debilitating panic attacks and spent nights sleeping in my closet or embracing reckless behaviors to take a break from myself.

As years went on, my appetite for self-destruction with drugs and alcohol waned. I was gaining weight and feeling safer with a barrier of what I perceived as undesirability. I still believed that my body could not be trusted- it had betrayed me, “asking for it” and could not be trusted, but I was getting wiser and stronger. I desperately tried to rewrite the story of my sexuality – I thought that maybe I just needed good sexual experiences to erase the rape. Sex with friends and partners still required alcohol to prevent me from crying throughout sex, and it didn’t help. It only added to my sadness. My body, my sexuality, my power… it all became a weapon that I used against myself and I was secretly imploding. I punished myself with sex I didn’t want and food that I couldn’t stop eating, booze I sometimes couldn’t stop drinking, or pot that I sometimes couldn’t stop smoking, and of course, with whatever other weapon available to reek havoc on myself that was available at the moment.

There were times that I thought I could put it all behind me and just chalk that night up to just “being all in my head,” and lying to myself, saying that “maybe it didn’t really happen,” and all sorts of other self-destructing thoughts that denied my desperation and my need to make sense of this so I could heal. I began talking about it, even as early as six months after it happened, but mostly with a detachment that created a false illusion that I was “strong” and a “survivor.” I never really allowed myself to feel anything but disgust with myself, often masked with bitter humor and more and more weight gain.

Then, at some point, I decided that I would really have to be fat, if I was ever going to trust someone I wanted to spend my life with. That way, I would know that he loved me for who I was and not what I looked like. Becoming “real,” like a velveteen rabbit, somehow became an obsession for me in this process. I believed that I could not be beautiful and real at the same time. Maybe I still don’t, deep down. But I got this idea that I would be “real” no matter what it takes and I would love fiercely and boldly. No matter what. A velveteen rabbit for life.

My weight still increased, but my heart opened back up. Most of my college years were misspent with ill-suited relationships and friendships that were, for the most part, not genuine and short-lived. I poured my heart into my pets, a few sacred friendships, and into my studies in hopes that I would be a head and a heart that could transcend a body. During graduate school, I met a man who would later become my husband – a man with his own hardships and struggles who had a tough time with loving himself and being vulnerable to others. He, too, had a fun-loving spirit who wanted to be loved and cherished, and after a long tenuous courtship, he was willing to try again with me. Finally, I had a relationship with a man who understood me. A man that would appreciate a healthier-bodied partner, but decided to love me for who I am, who I was, and who I will be. This love healed many of those broken parts of myself, but the healing didn’t entirely come from the love that came from him – primarily, it was the love that I felt, that I made, that came from within me that has done the healing. Being loved so well has allowed me to begin to love myself as well.

Fifteen years later, I could say that I have transcended- that the wrinkles and the grey hairs that keep emerging and the pounds that I have yet to shed have all helped me realize that real beauty comes from within. I have learned that beauty is truly about “being real,” or at least about striving to be real even when it hurts and doesn’t appear to be the wisest or most self-preserving way to live. To me, choosing to be present and remain with an open heart in this life requires that one tries to embody the life of that dear little velveteen rabbit from my favorite childhood story – knowing that only loving and believing in yourself that you are worth it can make you real. These days, I believe that true beauty comes from an inner power that can be so fierce it can shoot love lasers out of your eyes and make your enemies quake in their boots. I am no longer vulnerable or worried about him hurting me. Well, most of the time. Often, I dream about having a conversation with him that involves him asking for my forgiveness and me granting it, knowing that I would likely have a much less-meaningful life if it hadn’t happened. Sometimes, I feel sorry for myself and believe I missed out on having the reckless fun in my youth that can only be shared by the innocent. But mostly, I pity the guy – he has to live with what he did to me and other women that I have learned about in later years. I, too, have to live with it, but it has given me a rich opportunity to become real through pain and sadness. Regardless, I have learned that true beauty has so very little to do with what you look like, but everything to do with what you exude. Beauty is, at the core, an inner power that is rooted in a sense of justice, that is compelled by love, and driven by an understanding that we are all connected. That beauty comes from being real.

“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day… “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
― Margery Williams BiancoThe Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real


Reclaiming Beauty Queen

Beauty Found Collage Card (2011)

Last week we finished up the Fall 2011 Reclaiming Beauty Playshop with a ritual designed to share our Beauty Found stories and commit to self-compassion (being our own Inner Mother). It felt good to come around full circle from our explorations of Original Beauty and Beauty Lost. In honor of Kore’s (and our own) transformation to Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, we ate pomegranate seeds and celebrated the gifts of the Underworld.

I loved engaging in the process with this group. My Beauty Found card incorporated an image of the Queen of Wands from the Thoth Tarot deck. The Queen of Wands represents mastery of Self-Knowledge. Here is what Angeles Arrien says about this symbol in The Tarot Handbook:

The Queen of Wands is the knower of the Self. This symbol represents self-mastery and the process of self-reclamation. Her process of transformation and self-actualization can best be described by the story she represents of a woman who, before she knew who she was, had black hair and walked with a panther by her side. As she began to discover more of who she was, her hair turned brown and the panther changed to a leopard. When she fully realized who she was and began to manifest who she was in the world with her pine cone wand, her hair turned fiery red. At this stage of self-knowledge, she pinched the growth marks of the leopard to prevent it from transforming into a beautiful lion that would have matched her self-knowledge because she wanted a reminder of the dark places from whence she had come (the spots of the leopard). This myth represents the process of self-discovery and the splendor of awakening to the deepest essence of who we are (the radiant crown).

I firmly believe that my time in the Underworld led me to the person I am today. I love how this card honors the dark places we have been in our lives as the fuel for awakening to our essence – a process that for me represents reclaiming connection with our beauty. Included in my image are the words “beautiful strength” to represent the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual strength that is a part of my beauty. I also included a reminder to “be satisfied.” From my study of the Enneagram and learning about my Enneatype, Type 4, the Individualist, I have been able to cultivate mindfulness of the habit of my mind of looking for what is missing. This focus of attention ultimately leads me to dissatisfaction and depression. Through a practice of shifting the focus to the blessings of what is in front of me everyday (without abandoning skills in getting my needs met), I have been able to challenge the perceived emptiness of dissatisfaction. Yay! for self-knowledge to help emancipate (myself) from mental slavery  and celebrate the beauty surrounding me in my life.

I also included the Om symbol to represent the role of my yoga practice in my healing journey.

A shout out to other factors that continue to lead me to Beauty Found:

my husband, son, sisters, parents, friends who mirror my true Self qualities back to me every day ~ making meaning out of my struggles by being a light for others ~ forgiveness of myself and others ~ music ~ the beauty of nature ~ creativity ~ moving towards better health everyday ~ love

What are the “spots of the leopard” in your life that have led you to deeper Self-Knowledge? What/who do you want to honor that has helped lead you on a journey of reclaiming a sense of your own beauty? Create your own Beauty Found collage card and share it with us!

I hope that you will consider joining a Reclaiming Beauty Playshop in the future. The next one will most likely start in February 2012. Stay connected through this blog, on facebook, or through subscribing to the newsletter to keep updated of the latest offerings.

I honor the beauty in you from the beauty in me,

~ Heidi

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Remembering Original Beauty

Beauty Lost Collage Card (2011)

The Fall 2011 Reclaiming Beauty Playshop is going strong! This session we are using the myth of Demeter and Persephone to explore Beauty Lost/Beauty Found through Persephone’s fall into the Underworld and eventual rising up as its Queen. We recently did an expressive arts exercise using Collage Cards. One card was to depict our personal fall into the Underworld – our Beauty Lost. The second card was to depict our essence before the fall – the beauty that was part of our childhood innocence – our Original Beauty.

I was glad to have engaged in this process with the group as it helped me deepen my understanding of my own Reclaiming Beauty process. The original Beauty Lost exploratory questions include: “When did you stop singing?” For me, that question goes straight to the heart of my journey because as a musician/songwriter that is exactly what happened to me from losing a sense of my own beauty – I stopped writing songs, stopped playing my guitar, stopped singing. As I depicted in my Collage Card, silence was a way to avoid the pain of the grief, sorrow and suffering from my life experiences.

In 2006, when I was first exploring the Beauty Lost questions, I wrote the following in my journal which I titled “Reclamation Proclamation.” (always have had a flair for the dramatic – it’s part of my original beauty!)

My essence is orange. I know it is. Fiery orange, yellow, red, swirling with aliveness. These questions, even just speaking them, make me feel a sadness in my heart. I think of my dad, my family having breakfast in Rhode Island, during a time where I was feeling very disconnected from who I was. He was looking over at the young girl, about 5 years old, at the table next to us. She was on the edge of her seat, eating voraciously, she could barely sit still she was so in awe of the delight of life. She would let out one burst of glee after another. And my Dad, looked over at this little girl, and looks at me, and says, ‘Heidi, she’s just like you were at that age…’ And tears filled my eyes because at that moment I remembered who I was, and how disconnected I felt from that being inside my heart… I can feel so deeply, and for years I was consumed with only melancholy. A heart-breaking thing, then,  to be reminded of who you truly are, a delight-filled being of joy. The 20’s were a journey for me, and I know at what point in my life I stopped singing. And forgiveness of myself and others will free that delight and creativity. And my baby, by my side, opening myself back up to the flow of creativity that is who I am when I am at my best – the Princess of Wands with the wisdom of the Queen of Wands – that is my what’s happening now. Oh little Heidi… you are still a part of me, and the wisdom of my 30’s, and the groundedness, will be the synthesis, the integration, the Art of my being. 

Original Beauty Collage Card (2011)

my essence is fire, delight filled, delight full, oh… please come out and play

thank you for seeing me, dad, helping me to be and to remember

thank you to yoga for reconnecting me to delight every day

even if you can’t hear it, my heart still sings its’ love songs to life

(2/22/06 – age 30)

What are your experiences with remembering/reconnecting to your Original Beauty? Please comment to join the conversation.

Try the Collage Card process: Beauty Lost and Original Beauty. Then please share them with the Reclaiming Beauty community!

I leave you with a wish/a prayer that my Mom offered me in my Senior Yearbook –

May there always be a song in your heart,

~ Heidi

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My Fiesta

Skills: Beauty Found

from Contributor: Jane Lawson

originally published in Western North Carolina Woman magazine

Windows on the Body
The Church says: The body is a sin
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
– From Walking Words by Eduardo Galeano

My journey in this lifetime has taken some interesting twists and turns. My body and the way I treat it, live in it, feel about it, view it, and think about it have utilized more of my physical, emotional, and mental energy than practically any other topic. My identification with it and belief that it is who I am has caused me to do some pretty strange things over the years.

As a young girl, I didn’t give my body a whole lot of thought. I was just living in it, and it was pretty wonderful. I had energy to burn and spent my days playing freely and just being. I was a tomboy and especially loved playing tennis. In fact, I played tennis all day long during the summer, and I loved winning.

The ease of this time came to a halt around the age of 12, when puberty hit. Suddenly, I found myself crying for no reason, and my body was changing beyond my control. My family moved, and I was in unfamiliar territory. I started losing tennis matches. My body became The Enemy. I hated myself and didn’t feel at home in my own skin. Thus began the roller coaster of gaining and losing the same 15 pounds over and over again for years.

My self-esteem was inversely proportional to my weight. When I was heavier, I felt defeated, depressed, and unlikable. When I was lighter, I felt happier, more confident, and attractive. Yet I was always fearful of gaining the weight back and thus could never really be present with myself. I developed elaborate routines and rituals around food and exercise. I tried every diet known to man and fasted on a regular basis. My appearance and how others viewed me was central to my self-concept.

As a young adult a couple of things happened that helped me get a healthier perspective on my body. I moved to the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina and lived a “back-to-the-land” lifestyle for several years. This was liberating in many ways and gave me an opportunity to experience myself in connection to the land. I felt I was a part of the earth and could begin to feel the rhythms of life vibrating through me. My body size literally began to carry less weight in my self-concept. I also began dancing. This helped me to discover that my body could move creatively and express deep feelings without having to adhere to rules and winning, as in competitive sports. I felt like I had found myself again.

I became a dance therapist. This wonderful avenue helped me to resonate with my body and also gave me the opportunity to encourage others to do the same. I found myself drawn to working with women who were suffering from depression and low self-esteem. Many had eating disorders and body image distortions. Through years of working in this way, I became more and more convinced that many women in our culture live with varying levels of anguish regarding their bodies. I discovered that even the women with “perfect bodies” are not necessarily happy with themselves, and so many buy into the never-ending cycles of dieting, cosmetic surgeries, and shopping addictions in a desperate effort to feel better.

In the worldviews of many, the overwhelming desire to lose weight and look young and thin overrides everything else. I found that counseling and movement therapy work was helping these women address the issues underlying their problems and was making a dent in the armor of the self-hatred and depression. However, over the years my inner voice kept telling me there had to be a way to help people connect more deeply with their true self.

In the last few years, another great opening has occurred in my life that has shifted my perspective on this issue in a much more profound way. My inner experiences while practicing meditation and yoga have helped me to discern a great understanding. It is the growing knowledge that we are so much MORE than our bodies; that our bodies are really our vehicles for enlightenment, for knowing who we really are.

Our bodies are the gift we have all been given to experience the energy that flows through everyone and everything. When we are in touch with this fact and then nurture ourselves so that we can feel more of this joyful energy, things just seem to make sense. This shifts us into another realm of consciousness, into embracing and opening to the sacred energy that is so life giving.

As I try to write about this I realize that words can convey only so much. Eduardo Galeano’s poem “Windows on the Body” says it better than I can. I guess it must be experienced to be understood. I do know that from this perspective, it is essential to cherish our bodies as manifestations of divinity, to nourish them with healthy foods and healthy activity, to aim for balance in all of our endeavors, and to open ourselves to the formless and boundlessly compassionate energy that pours through us. It beats the heck out of worrying about carbohydrate grams and wrinkles.

About the Contributor: Jane Lawson, MEd, LPC, MBA is a psychotherapist and energy healer in private practice in Asheville, NC. She also founded Hickory Nut Forest, a sustainable eco-community in Hickory Nut Gorge and Laughing Waters Retreat Center.

Image: from the We’Moon Calendar, Artist Unknown

The Girl Who Lost Her Twirl

Skills: Beauty Lost/Beauty Found

Contributor: Crystal Mays

There once was a girl
Who had forgotten her twirl
and spent most of her time
caught in a mind-made whirl.
Where her house sat
and all around that
the forest grew densely
blocking out the light immensely.
So dark was this place
not even a bear showed it’s face.
The air didn’t stir
nor did the songbirds dare sing.
This was not a place
for a girl to twirl.
For many a year
she had known only tears
to express herself
and all her sorrows.
She always wished
for a better tomorrow.
One day as she stood outside
and thought about all she had cried
she glanced down
and began to frown
wiggling her toes in the dirt
she swore she felt an overt
under her soles.
It wasn’t the moles
digging holes,
but something else
a pulse
a humming
a drumming
a beat
under her feet
urging her to move
shimmy and shake.
Willing her feet to find that jiving groove
She set about moving her move
As she got lost in the motion
She felt within herself a new emotion
a pitter pat pat
she hadn’t imagined that
her heart began to flutter.
to skip a beat
to tumble and fumble
and then…
a rumble emerged
and urged
a sound
so deep
so profound
to seep out
as a shout
blurting out
Taking a breath deep into her lungs
She found one of her songs
yet unsung
and flinging her head back
she belted out a melody
of fierce melancholy
her journey
thus far
of loneliness
and sorrow
and wishes for a better tomorrow.
Spinning around and around
as her sound
died down
her body sank at last to the ground.
Lying into the soft grasses
her mind went molasses
turning gasses
and masses
gobbly gook
taking one last look
around her
she allowed the sleep to come
and drum
her soul
again whole.
The girl dreamed a dream
of many images streamed
and woven together in a tapestry
of such mastery.
The shimmering threads
over time and space spread
and showed to her the true
and history
of life on this planet,
this situation
of creation
When she had seen all she was to see
she began to remember at last
her forgotten decree
to live free
as a bumble bee
in a fir tree
or as potpourri
to a lesser degree.
She awoke with a start
and felt deep in her heart
something very old depart.
It’s leaving was relieving.
Understanding now
the weaving and deceiving
of the mind’s perceiving
she felt into her body
the sensations of life
without strife.
Piercing through the veil
she knew now
love would prevail
and allow her to sail
over land and sea
and follow her glee.
To be worry free
and live as a banshee
under a cork tree
or sip ice tea
with Mr. McPhee
Dipping her head to the earth
she thanked the Great Mother
for this miraculous rebirth.
Leaping to her tiny feet
she felt again the heartbeat
of the earth beneath her.
A rustle of air
fluttered through her hair
Whispering into her ear
for only her to hear
Dear heart
who you are.
You are a most precious shining star.

About the Contributor: Crystal Mays makes beauty every day as a dancer, an artist, a musician and a fabulous hair stylist. You can find her on the web at (re)Vision Hair Salon.