Thursday, July 25, 2013
Recently I held a focus group to go more deeply into issues of aging and self-identity. I’m grateful to the women who took part, we had an amazing evening of unexpected experiences. They had followed my request to bring an item from their closet: an accessory or piece of jewelry (something that could be exchanged despite differences in age or size). I asked them to choose something that had had meaning at one time, and now symbolized a part of them that no longer existed. It had to be an item they were ready to release.
We shared the stories of the objects and how they’d come into their lives. Many spirits moved through the circle. There were children who’d grown up, relatives both living and dead. Occasions and events were named as part of the stories connected to the objects on the altar. We talked about the feelings that come with letting go. There were phrases like, “it’s just not me, now”, “I just don’t wear it any more”, “I kept it because of the connection to the person who gave it to me, but that person is no longer in my life.”
I talked a little bit about how the things we own, especially the things we wear are the costuming of our movie. And without stopping occasionally to consciously check in with our values and personality, our own reflection can deceive us, when we’re dressed up as the person we used to be.
The objects were placed on the altar, and I asked them to write answers to a few questions, one of which was: What does releasing this object open for you?
Then each woman chose one object to take home with her. I asked a few more provocative questions, and after the writing period we opened the discussion and they shared their answers. The connections to receiving a new possession were as interesting as the releasing. One thing that will forever be true, those objects will never be meaningless. They will always vibrate with the stories and energies shared that night.
One woman, for example chose a hat. When the hat had been placed on the altar she learned that it had once belonged to a woman who’d been courageously fighting a debilitating illness nearly all her life. The hat seemed to symbolize courage and fortitude. When our group member put it on, I said, “Now you have a power object. You can wear it whenever you need courage.”
Each person revealed things about herself that she hadn’t put into words before, or just hadn’t had the right time to name. We talked about the power of wearing certain colors, and how our tastes had changed as we’d matured.
At the end of the evening, I was surprised that they all said they’d like to meet again. I hadn’t anticipated that. When I asked why, I heard things like: “I feel so supported”, “I hadn’t stopped to think about these things,” “I have so much stuff to let go of still in my closet, and I’d like to keep this consciousness process in my mind.”
Some did clear closets and drawers on the following weekend. Others just cherished the evening’s experience. The work will continue from here. If you feel you’d like to take part, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my website (www.yourcreativelifecoach.com) there is a page called In Your Fashion, dedicated to coaching as a path toward truthful self-knowledge and self-appreciation. Often, it takes illness or a milestone birthday to stop us in our tracks, realizing that our self-identity is not completely intact. If we don’t reflect regularly on our actions and mental habits, it’s easy to find that life has swept us along, demanding our attention for problem solving, family needs, and work issues, and left us devoid of a solid self-identity. But regular contemplation and time out for ‘soul searching’ seem to be luxuries we can’t afford. Then a son graduates from high school, or a daughter has her first child, and “OMG! Who am I now?” At those moments the clothing we wear informs the way we see ourselves, and it's easy to identify as the person we were five or ten years ago when those clothes were right for us.
When I was fourteen I had a revelation in Algebra class. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to be a costume designer. (Okay, I probably wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.) I won’t go into how that vision was washed out of my brain, but recently, I realized that it is still with me. The costume designer’s point of view is still working from the recesses of my mind. I realize that I see life as the big movie, and clothing is far more than what keeps us from getting arrested, it is the costuming of our movie. My years studying Method Acting may be playing a part in this, too, but it's true that when a new character comes into our life, we scan for all available clues to learn about him or her. Take a moment to think of the first time you saw your beloved. How he or she looked gave you a hit, a moment of really seeing someone. (Remember Ilsa when she first walks into Rick’s place in Casa Blanca.) Clothing and grooming are not just part of the first impression, they are part of the overall picture. And it’s not just what is worn, but how it is worn, and what condition it’s in. The next time you watch a movie, pay conscious attention to how you read the characters. The costume designer chose each piece of clothing purposefully, and the actor wears a posture for that character.
Of course, people read us, too. When we throw on an old pair of jeans for Thanksgiving dinner, or wear a dress that’s fifteen years old, we may be saying something about ourselves that’s very unflattering, or we’re revealing a truth we think we want to conceal: the occasion’s not important to us, or we're mad at our family. Sometimes there’s only one aspect of self-identity that deters us from holding onto old clothes: our weight. If we can’t fit into that dress or those jeans, we're forced to deal with a change, but HERE IS THE POINT: buying a bigger size is not the same as knowing and respecting the new person we’ve become.
This isn’t about fashion. That’s why the page is called “In Your Fashion”. This is about letting go of the past “you”, and expressing the new “you” through conscious choices. We’ve all had a certain piece of clothing that stands out in our mind because of how it made us feel: self-confident, attractive, smart, powerful, seductive. Imagine having a closet full of those garments. Not that we must have such a wardrobe, but we can eliminate all things that fail to elevate our sense of self-confidence and self-worth. Wear things that connect with all the aspects of who you are. It’s your movie, and we're costuming you for your high school reunion, every day.