"Your website needs to better reflect you. Let's change it!" my then-webmaster, Bill, cheerfully announced. Such a proclamation seemed to me if not blasphemy at least out of the blue. I thought my website was just fine. Hadn't we spent countless hours getting it just right? "It can better capture your practice and personality," Bill continued. "New images and softer lines will better suggest your appreciation of multi-culturalism and the gentleness of your approach."
Bill's sensibilities ultimately won out over my stubborn resistance to change.
This whole "image thing" got me thinking, though. Like many Americans, I have been unwittingly enraptured by the "makeover" trend that is so ubiquitous on television lately. Home and Garden Television remodels a room or two every half hour. Flip open any magazine and you'll find endless products to make you more appealing.
Now don't get me wrong. Search enough and you'll likely find a tube or two of whitening toothpaste somewhere in our medicine cabinet. I like to buy a new shirt as much as anyone. And I am thrilled that the Fab Five helped de-mystify gays throughout Middle America.
But in the long run, does it matter if my couch fails to coordinate with the rug, if I'm wearing the wrong color, or if there are a few crow's feet near the eyes?
I am reminded of a client who after years of dieting finally dropped that last 10 pounds only to find that he still didn't feel attractive enough for dating. Another came to me after cosmetic surgery changed the size and shape of his lips but failed to erase the pain of childhood memories of being teased. Another was convinced that once she had the perfect leather couch she'd be happy. And it worked-for a few days.
Dawn Holman, a former hospice worker, writes of sitting at the bedsides of dying patients. Many were riddled with regrets, "[o]ften because they gave up their lives trying to prove themselves to the world. Constantly looking for ways to make themselves look good on the outside to feel good on the inside. Never realizing that all the while they were always 'enough.' That strength grows from the inside."
Our culture promotes the quick fix-external, material means of addressing inner problems that are actually psychological, emotional, or spiritual in nature.
When tempted to touch up the gray hair or buy that new stereo system, how about checking in with your inner self. How do I feel about myself? How lonely am I? Address the underlying need, and perhaps you won't need surgery or an expensive decorator.
My meditation teacher would likely suggest remembering those in need, a fitting suggestion in this season of giving but not limited to the holidays, of course. After wintering in Florida, my parents, for example, return to Michigan renewed in their commitment to help others. Each weekend they trek 45 minutes to inner-city Detroit, volunteering at a church and soup kitchen.
Admittedly, inner work and volunteering can take far more time and commitment. But many more lives are improved. And the results last a lot longer.
A peaceful environment, a good haircut, and clothes that feel right can support your vitality. But these of course are life's icing, not the cake. I say let's get to the cake of the soul. It's one dessert that's always good for you.