Jennifer Pastiloff’s book, On Being Human, resonated with me so much that I could hear parts of it repeating in my head. At one point, she recounts her mother saying to her, “If you keep doing what Jenny Jen P has always done, you’ll keep getting what Jenny Jen P has always gotten.” If you want something different, the big question is “now what?” Her book is about finding the ways to be ready to see where you are stuck and being inspired to make the changes for your challenges.
My senior year of high school, I remember being asked to write my obituary and it felt odd. We were meant to imagine if we met our future goals by the time we died. I had never been to a funeral and it seemed like that would only happen so far in my future.
But for Jennifer Pastiloff, it was not foreign. She spent much of her young life thinking about death and obituaries. Her father died when he was 38 years old, and ten years later her step-father, Frank, died when he was 39 years old, days before she was meant to graduate from high school. She never expected to live long enough to make it past 38.
It would be decades before she opened herself to her grief, and along the way she struggled with depression, anorexia, chronic ear infections, distorted hearing and hearing loss. She was constantly told to “pay attention,” but no one asked why she wasn’t.
She shares this journey in her book explaining, “I have spent my whole life trying to hide who I was, trying to hide my clinical depression and my hearing loss and my swallowed grief and the fact that I was a college dropout and that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.” In her workshops, there is no hiding. She asks everyone to show up, be fall-in-loveable and be themselves. She questions at every session: “How do we find light when we think we belong to darkness?”
I loved when she said: “We are not our bullshit stories, we are not the size of our thighs, we are not things we spoke as a child, we are not our depression, we are not our disabilities, we are not the lies other people have told us about ourselves. We are love.” In order to move forward, we have to stop listening to our fear.
I remember when I showed up to go sky diving as part of 50 challenges I did before I was 50 and talking to my tandem-instructor about scuba diving with sharks. He told me that was far too scary and he would never ever do that. I looked at him in shock. I said, “You get paid every day to jump out of a perfectly well-maintained airplane.” It was the first time I realized what Pastiloff talks about “how we’re all scared of something… How so many of us can do what we thought was impossible. We can start over. We can heal. We can feel. We can live with heartbreak.” Depending on what is familiar to us and our experiences, different things are scary to different people.
Through her personal stories of years of awful jobs and terrible relationships, hearing loss and food issues, Pastiloff shows her bravery to want something more. She asks for help and starts a yoga teacher training class. She is willing to take a risk and leads a yoga retreat in Mexico. She sees a therapist and starts to take anti-depressants.
Pastiloff draws from other cultures including Japan, where “there is a custom for repairing broken pottery called kintsugi. The method emphasizes fractures and breaks instead of hiding them. I began to think of myself as that pottery. Maybe I wasn’t ruined.” As she realizes she has value and can take up space, she thinks about “Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? Because no one is just a mom, just a waitress, just a girl, just a yoga teacher.”
Pastiloff asks each of us to imagine that we are already whole and believe that our dreams can come true. I loved when she talked about how “the moon is never missing any of itself. We just can’t see it. People are like that, too.” It appears throughout the month that the moon disappears but it is always still there.
Whether she was teaching at Canyon Ranch or on Good Morning America, she often had to be fearless-ish. She did not know if she could do something new but she felt scared and did it anyway.
My favorite thing that she talked about was to “Give Yourself a Fucking Medal (No One Will Do It for You).” As Pastiloff explains, “My whole life I had been waiting for permission, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be acknowledged, chosen, given permission to take up space. All my life I had been waiting for someone to tell me I was enough. But you have to do all the hard work of loving yourself yourself. What will you give yourself a fucking medal for?”
We all want to be fall-in-love-able and fearless-ish. We want more. The way to have courage is to ask for help and to allow yourself to receive it.
Pastiloff recounts a story of a yoga teacher who did not understand her hearing issues and says, “I knew that you could never know what’s going on with someone. How many times had people judged me because they thought I simply was not listening when really I had an invisible disability? How many times had I judged someone in the past? I promised myself to not shame anyone for looking around too much and “not being present” when in reality they might be deaf. I wish I had said to the teacher, “Will you help show me the way? Or shame me for looking?”
What will you choose in your relations with yourself and others? Will you give yourself a medal or hide? Will you stay stuck refusing to recognize your limitations or find ways to shoot for the stars?
During COVID19, mask wearing presents new challenges for Jen Pastiloff, so now her mask says, “I read lips.” What if we all wore masks that showed the help we need. What would your mask say?
Learn more about Jen Pastiloff‘s upcoming two-hour “On Being Human” workshop. You will write, listen, move, and open your heart. You will not only find your voice but also use it! What will happen? There will be gentle movement, inspiring writing prompts, meditation, illuminating conversation with a little bit of magic, and a lot of humor.