I wore heels to church last Sunday, the kind which ‘clop’ on hard floors. If light clothing is visually taking up space, then these are the aural equivalent. I’ve always liked the idea of wearing heels, they seemed so grown up. But I’ve found that to wear them takes more confidence than I often have.
The first time I owned heeled shoes, I was about 13 or 14. I needed dress shoes for orchestra and concert band performances, and somehow, I managed to convince Mum those particular shoes would be good. They looked so grown up, such ‘adult’ shoes. But as I wore them and walked around my school halls, I realized that I may have made a mistake. Clop, clop, clop. The sound echoed off the walls, announcing my presence to everyone nearby, to anyone around the corner who I couldn’t even see, let alone know they were there.
I’d spent years practicing moving silently around my own house, prizing myself on avoiding creaking wooden floors. I still love that skill. It allowed me to move around without being noticed, to assess a room before my movement announced me, gauging situations so I knew what I was getting into. It allowed me to disappear (like an audio-ninja!).
But it wasn’t really something I did to be cool, it was originally designed as self-protection. It seemed the height of rudeness to impinge on someone else’s space, aurally or physically, but maybe that was because I was so self-protective of my own self and space.
And here I was, clopping loudly down the corridor, shouting out my presence and encroaching on audio-space needed for conversation, or at least polite silence.
Heels, became for me, an aural form of taking up space, of announcing and pronouncing one’s presence. No quietly taking in a social environment now.
But last week I wrote about wearing light colours, and how this visually takes up space. Saturday found me op-shopping with my daughter to find some things for a school project, and I found myself picking out a few light tops for myself. It felt like a dipping of my toes into the water.
So, Sunday morning, I dress in one of these new tops – a pale pink. And the only shoes which would go with my outfit were, of course, a pair of heels. I clopped out to the car, painfully aware of my footfalls, and as I bent to open the garage door, I remembered that heels don’t just take up more aural space, they also make me take up more physical space too: I’m taller.
It seems so obvious, but when I last wore any heels a few months ago, I noticed myself slouching, trying unconsciously to minimize the added height. I had felt awkward suddenly being a different height than I was used to as I talked to people, and it kept distracting me as I tried to make conversation.
I wondered if anyone else noticed I was a different height. Probably not. Half of the women are probably a different height every week. And why would it matter anyway?
But I don’t like taking up space. I’m used to minimizing my presence, sitting with legs tucked up beneath me, often speaking too softly for people to hear, doubting my own value to be heard.
And here I was, daring to enter into a social space (without even ‘practicing’ at home first), not just in black heels, but in a pale pink top as well. Daring to take up space, to have presence, to Be, without squashing myself down.
Initially I focused on keeping myself relaxed, but it surprised me how easy it was: To be unabashedly taking up space for myself. To own my own presence. There was no fanfare, no comments, just an abiding peace. To be myself, to own being myself, felt comfortable – even when I clopped. And that’s not something I take lightly.
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My new scarf lies coiled around my neck in shades of charcoal-grey fading to almost white. These days lately, as depression hangs close, I’ve been hungering to wear black, grey. The dark, dim, colourlessness leaving me free from the confusions and mental conversations which wearing colour means. I don’t feel like I need to combat what I am wearing to simply be. I wonder, seeing the lightness in this scarf, what it would be like if I was to wear all white, if I could cope with the bold brightness of it, if other people would cope with me in it.
Perhaps it is not so much the cacophony of colour I am avoiding, but the revelation of myself. Perhaps my wearing darkness is not to match my state or to calm my mind, but to dim myself. Perhaps I sense, in my muffled depths, that I myself don’t know how to handle the bold and bright light which is within me.
The idea of avoiding dyes, of which I know black is the most toxic to our world, does appeal. New Zealand fashion is well known for its moody blackness, its love of texture and shape combined with the dark and dim, the gritty edges of the colour wheel. I have long relished this, embracing the subtle detail over the splash of colour. But a few years ago I began to wonder about a wardrobe without the earth- and water-poison of dye and bleach; I began to imagine dressing in the natural tones of the fibres I wore.
But at the time, the pain in my wrists and hands interfered with everything, and I was trying to remake my life away from the fashion industry I had originally trained to join. A depression came, riding in on the coat-tails of giving birth, swamping me with the desire to disappear into the shadows.
And so, I wore black.
It gave me the mental space to be aware of how my body was feeling, to discern what my mood was, without feeling forced into being bright and cheery. In black, I could just be.
But now, as I deliberately choose to embrace the darkness as part of me, as I learn to be unashamedly myself, no matter the context, I’m wondering again. How might I act differently if I was wearing light? How might it influence my mood and state of mind?
In the past, when I have chosen coloured pieces, I’ve gone for bold reds and purples, avoiding pastels, besmirching white. A few years ago, some lemon yellow snuck in. I’m not quite sure how, but now they hang in my wardrobe amidst a sea of black, their very lightness challenging me to try something different.
Dare I? Who might I be, dressed in light?
I’m so used to the darkness. But I feel a new softness growing in me, not the softness of deep purple velvet, but the softness of pale cotton voile with the sun streaming through, light and airy. It buoys me up. It dares me to hope in new ways. And all because of a scarf I found for $1 at an op-shop. Perhaps where I saw charcoal-grey, my soul saw a chance to bring some balance, a chance to counterweight my darkness with light.
I’m not used to welcoming the light. But I’ve been leaning into discomfort, willing to bear it for the hope of what might come.
Do I dare stand out that much? No, the question I should be asking is: Do I dare to be so fully myself, so fully revealed?
I’m not used to not concealing myself, not holding back, not being unabashedly myself. I would will have some unlearning to do. Darkness has always been a comfort to me, dare I enter into the discomfort of the light? Can I find my peace there?
I once had a vision of myself: older, wiser, gentler, and dressed in soft light – white, soft grey, pale barely-there hues. Natural, gentle, just resting as I am, open and at peace. I would like to work towards that. I would like to be that woman: strong and confident enough in her strength and her self that she could be gentle. Sure enough in herself and her being that whatever others brought to her presence did not faze her, did not shake her.
It feels like an unfolding, an opening, a blossoming into fullness and peaceful joy and rest. I will need to learn to peacefully exist in my fullness. At the moment, it is constrained by vulnerability, fear. I seek safety in concealment. Existing in the light, open in my fullness, does not have room for that. I need to grow used to being in fullness, secure and confident in myself, or it is not maintainable. Ego must soften, not try to protect itself, because I am already enough.
So maybe I was right: it is not about the clothes at all. It is about putting on my true self and living in open authenticity.
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‘I trust myself.’ That’s what my daily affirmation says. And that means in the darkness, not just in the light. You’d think after spending so much of my life here, that it would be familiar territory. But the panic claws at my throat, and the old fears swirls too close around me. Dare I call it an old friend? Will it somehow see less menacing if I do?
“What do you want? What are you so afraid of?”
But it’s like yelling into a strong wind, and my words are thrown away, hastily batted aside before they can be answered.
How can I trust myself when my heart is racing and my thoughts and emotions spiral out of control? It wasn’t so many years ago, that I tried to impose control from the outside, when I used my body against myself. But I know better now. I know I must seek the calm within. It feels so deeply buried today, yet I know it is there, somewhere; I have found it before. Frantic digging will not find it; it must be approached with a gentle mind. So, I close my eyes. And I breathe, in and out, trying to smooth ragged edges, and to let my lungs take control.
I ignore the whirl of my mind, and listen to the hypnotic breath of my lungs. I tune into the cool breeze ebbing and flowing in my nostrils.
Slowly, my body stops fighting against itself; my legs unfurl, my shoulders drop.
And slowly out.
The breathe provides a base rhythm for my pattering heart, and it, too, slows, steadying my body.
I draw awareness to the way my body is anchored in this chair. I feel the texture of its fabric pressed against my skin. My weight sinking lower as I slowly breathe.
The darkness is still here, I can sense it around me, but it is kept at bay for now, unable to reach in and snap against my mind.
Our breath sustains us, steadies us, anchors us. Our breath ties us, to our surroundings, the place of our existence, and to the Divine – the One who first breathed Life into us, fresh and new.
It stills me. Centres me. Anchors me down once again.
Body and mind, loosened, slowed; reset into the simple rhythm of the breath, the simple rhythm God has given us for our existence:
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