The woman in the mirror

Here’s another New Year’s post from my archives. Since I posted it two years ago I hit the big 60 and have fully embraced New Kadampa Buddhism as my spiritual practice.

What changes did you make this year? Please share in the comments below.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change — Michael Jackson

The beginning of the year is always an introspective time for me, though not for the reason you may think. Yes, there are the usual New Year resolutions and intentions, but, for me, January begins the inevitable descent to my next birthday, which is in April. Throughout the years, that descent has generated a myriad of emotions, particularly if the upcoming birthday was a major milestone. For example, 25 was rough, just five years away from the Big 3-Oh. It made me realize that I didn’t want to work in retail forever, so I went back to college. In this case, my impending birthday spurred me to take positive action, but that wasn’t usually so. Most of the time, the milestones just reminded me that I wasn’t “where I was supposed to be” and didn’t have “what I was supposed to have” by that given age, leaving me feeling sad and hopeless.

This year, I will be 58, just two years away from the Big 6-Oh. I will admit that seeing that in writing is rather jarring. But it doesn’t fill me with dread the way that some previous — lesser — milestones have. And I attribute that to liking the woman I see in the mirror.

Some of it is about externals, the reflection of my physical self. When I was younger, I wouldn’t leave the house without applying my makeup. While I still love cosmetics, I have come to believe the adage that “less is more,” so being “made up” doesn’t mean what it once did. I even go to the gym without a stitch of makeup on without feeling the least bit self conscious.

Speaking of the gym, taking care of myself now includes working out six days a week. I’m beginning to see — and feel — muscles that I didn’t know I had. I’m slowly losing weight that was totally resistant to diet alone. I’m not where I want to be, yet, but my body is more compact and my clothes are looser.

Since I work from home, I practically live in workout clothes. When I go out, I wear clothes that I believe to be flattering, that please my aesthetic. My waist-length hair is thinner than it was due to age and medication, but it suits me and I wear it in a variety of updos despite common wisdom that “mature women” should have short hair.

Some of liking the externals is due to the acceptance that comes to most of us with maturity. At a certain point, we realize that railing against what we were born with is pointless. Wishing that I were a tall, willowy, blue-eyed blond isn’t going to make it so. It’s far more productive — and self affirming — to look into the mirror and appreciate the strength of my average-height body, the green in my hazel eyes and the shine of my reddish-brown hair.

But I believe that the core reason that I like — even love — the woman in the mirror has nothing to do with externals. Rather, it’s the result of decades of hard work on my mind and spirit. It entailed a year of therapy, which prepared me for 12-step recovery. There, I was encouraged to ask the question, “What do you need God to be in order to recover?” Answering that question was one of the hardest — and scariest — things that I have ever done; I truly thought that God would strike me dead for daring to ask. But He didn’t, so I continued to ask questions, starting with “Why do I believe what I believe?” I found answers in books, in churches and temples, in prayer, meditation and introspection.

In time, I ended up with the faith system that I call eclectic spirituality, which is an amalgam of what I consider to be the better parts of each of the religions that I have studied and practiced. It is uniquely tailored to my spiritual needs and utterly true to who I am and the person that I want to be. It has little to do with the afterlife and everything to do with how I live my life, how I treat others…and myself.

How do you feel about the person in the mirror? Is there anything that you’d like to change? If so, remember, it’s an inside job.

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