To whom it may inspire,
I called myself ugly today. It isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I know the cues like an artist knows her hard; bright palette, a tired and scattered mind; the tendency to get frustrated at small, meaningless things and the need to distract myself with food or Instagram. They never occur linearly, but when they do occur you can bet that my ego, Crow, remembers how he used to enjoy telling me stories.
Today he dusted off one of his favourites entitled ‘A Series of Unfortunate Spots: An Ugly Tale of Josh’s Vitiligo’. It’s a long and heavy story that would take me years to tell and even more to explain, but it’s a story that Crow would whisper to me over and over for many years.
I used to go to grave lengths to cover my vitiligo. My mum and I would search for treatments, dyes and makeups. I would tell people it was a sunglass tan. I would stay out of the sun so that the skin that wasn’t affected by vitiligo wouldn’t get darker. I would wear sunglasses indoors. I was afraid that if it got worse, no girl would love me enough to stick around. I did this for years. I silently attacked myself for years.
However, through meditation, compassionate self-enquiry and supportive, loving humans, the story has changed. But every now and then days like today happen and I forget that my vitiligo is beautiful. I forget that I’m not my skin. I’m not what I look like or what I do for work. I’m not what I wear or what I decide to eat or not eat. I’m none of these things.
What I am is the compassion I show, the love I give and the happiness I create. I’m how I make those around me feel: welcomed, loved, inspired. I don’t always do this. I still stumble. I still forget. But I know it (my kind, loving, beautiful self) is always there—like the blue sky is always there, even when it’s behind a sheet of grey clouds. I just need a reminder.
For me that reminder comes in the form of my breath; an action I often forget occurs. But through meditation and the practice of noticing my breath and coming back to my breath, I’ve realised how this simple yet profound practice has transformed my life.
When I describe this transformation to people they often roll their eyes and dismiss my insight and experience. I understand their skepticism, I once held it and wielded it swiftly, too. It wasn’t until I was given this gift from the brave and beautiful, Viktor Frankl:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
My breath is that space. When I’m tired, catch my reflection and observe Crow getting ready to recite a negative story from my past, I stop, notice my breath, and say to myself, be here, not there. When I’m about to walk into an important meeting or presentation at work, and I’m feeling anxious and nervous, I stop, notice my breath, and say to myself, be here, not there. When I’m trying something for the first time and I start to worry about what people might think of me and become fearful of failing, I stop, notice my breath, and say to myself, be here, not there. Here is the wonderful, present moment. There is an illusion of the future that is influenced by my past.
This ability hasn’t come overnight. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. I’ve fallen off, grazed my knees and gotten back up again and again. And I’m still falling off, it’s just a little less than I used to.
If you’re reading this and you feel yourself slipping into an illusion of the future, I invite you to stop, notice your breath, and gently say to yourself, be here, not there.
Yours in love,
A-Space is a meditation studio that helps people around the world feel more present and compassionate with themselves and others. Visit www.a-space.com.au for more information.