The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.
—Ashley Judd, from her commentary for The Daily Beast's Women in the World blog
No wonder this piece has been taking the media world by storm. It’s a powerful commentary, one that lets no one off the hook and reminds us that we’re all culpable of this type of thinking. I’m a father of two boys, and I’ve got some real work to do.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Embracing the Beauty of Genetic Difference
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Former fashion photographer Rick Guidotti has been taking pictures of people with genetic differences for over a decade. His organization, Positive Exposure, celebrates “the spirit of difference” and “the joy that comes with self-acceptance.” He’s committed to changing how people with genetic conditions all over the world see themselves, and, in turn, how they’re perceived within their communities.
Guidotti is adamant that his work isn’t about illuminating inner beauty. “This is beauty,” he insists. “This is the real deal. These kids are gorgeous, and you see the beauty there exists. We just haven’t been allowed to see it.”
Photographing people with albinism has been central to Guidotti’s efforts with Positive Exposure. In recent years, he’s photographed some of these young women and men in villages in Mali and Tanzania, where the social stigma can lead to ostracization and sometimes life-threatening consequences, and in South Africa at a school for the blind.
When we sat down at a conference in Minneapolis, I asked him to tell me the stories behind some of his photographs, which we’ve included in our narrated slideshow at the top of this post. You can also download the unedited interview (mp3, 29:21) to hear even more of these stories.
Most of us have probably harbored negative feelings about our physical appearance at some point in our lives. When these feelings lodge and fester, they deplete our spirits. I see Guidotti’s images as a visual reminder to be kinder to ourselves and more generous and joyous in how we construe beauty in all its manifestations.
Living with Yoga
Kate Moos, managing producer
I went to my first yoga class in eight weeks last night, and remembered that we are broadcasting our program with Seane Corn this week, which we originally produced about a year ago. At that time I was in the local Bikram yoga studio three or four times a week, sweating and smiling at the instructor’s injunctions to “struggle harder!” I love the arduous athleticism of Bikram practice.
But I had foot surgery over the summer, and am still nursing it eight weeks later, my right foot three sizes larger than the left. It’s healing nicely, but it takes a long time, and the Bikram heat just isn’t the right thing for a swollen, healing appendage. That has meant no yoga for the first few weeks, and then being restricted to some basic stretches and breathing execises at home. I miss the community, the sense of building on other peoples’ energy and strength that I get in group practice, and I was nourished to join the teacher and two others holding long, slow, challenging poses in an extended floor series last night.
During my hiatus, people told me to do any yoga I could manage — even if it was just mindful breathing at my desk at work, or listening to recordings of asanas while lying still on my mat. One tool I turned to was this video of Seane Corn, which I watched in my early recovery, when I could barely hobble to the kitchen.
Corn reminds us that the yoga we do on the mat is only part of the story, and that yoga is not only for beautiful, young bodies. That’s a message also underscored by our program with Matthew Sanford, who was rendered a paraplegic at the age of 13 after a car accident. His unique experience of the mind-body connection, and the lessons about inhabiting his entire body, is related in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence.
Even a temporary disability like the one I am now impatiently enduring has an effect on one’s sense of self, of one’s personal power, and one’s vulnerability. The “spiritual technology” of yoga, these teachers help us understand, gives us a way to be more fully ourselves, whatever our physical strength or limitation might be.
What’s your practice? How do you bring body, mind, and spirit into alignment?
As We Age, Do We Turn Our Backs on the Elderly?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Last week I retweeted an article about the booming industry of cosmetic surgery in Saudi Arabia, and whether it’s halal or haram. And then, last night, I watched a roast for the 76-year-old comedian Joan Rivers on Comedy Central. Almost all the comedians focused their acts on her many facial reconstructions and sundry plastic surgeries. Yes, the barbs were brutal, but it jogged my memory about Rabbi A.J. Heschel's words about our growing vanity and narcissism and how it separates us from others, from ourselves, and even from God.
As we focus increasingly on ourselves, who do we leave behind, abandon? Heschel reflects on this in his essay “To Grow in Wisdom,” which was initially delivered at the 1961 White House Conference on Aging (yes, they still occur). It knocked me out in the first several paragraphs, talking about the idolatry of youth and the disregard for the elderly. His words couldn’t have been more prescient, and personally challenging:
"I see the sick and the despised, the defeated and the bitter, the rejected and the lonely. I see them clustered together and alone, clinging to a hope for somebody’s affection that does not come to pass. I hear them pray for the release that comes with death. I see them deprived and forgotten, masters yesterday, outcasts today.
What we owe the old is reverence, but all they ask for is consideration, attention, not to be discarded and forgotten. What they deserve is preference, yet we do not even grant them equality. One father finds it possible to sustain a dozen children, yet a dozen children find it impossible to sustain one father.
Perhaps this is the most distressing aspect of the situation. The care for the old is regarded as an act of charity rather than as a supreme privilege. In the never dying utterance of the Ten Commandments, the God of Israel did not proclaim: Honor Me, Revere Me. He proclaimed instead: Revere your father and your mother. There is no reverence for God without reverence for father and mother.
In Jewish tradition the honor for father and mother is a commandment, the perfect fulfillment of which surpasses the power of man. There is no limit to what one ought to do in carrying out this privilege of devotion. God is invisible, but my mother is His presence….”
Heschel’s book of essays, The Insecurity of Freedom, contain many of these kinds of reflection. It’s a wonderful introduction to his thought and poetic approach to life and faith. If you’ve been wanting to read him but were daunted by The Prophets — or even if you’ve never heard of him before — I highly recommend revisiting his relevant outlook on the society he saw developing before his very eyes.