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Nicole Ayers: “Going for silent walks”

Whether I’m chatting with my inner child, doing self-forgiveness work, or increasing my financial literacy, I have a gorgeous journal and felt-tip pen nearby. I love the scritch of a colorful pen in a journal with thick paper. Choosing writing tools that delight me adds an element of play into my self-excavation practices. I discover […]

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Whether I’m chatting with my inner child, doing self-forgiveness work, or increasing my financial literacy, I have a gorgeous journal and felt-tip pen nearby. I love the scritch of a colorful pen in a journal with thick paper. Choosing writing tools that delight me adds an element of play into my self-excavation practices. I discover my truths on the page. Writing has always been the way I process life, so it’s really no surprise that I ended up publishing body-positive books that encourage others to write their own stories.


As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Nicole C. Ayers.Nicole C. Ayers is the award-winning author of Love Notes to My Body and its two body-positive companion books. She’s been invited to speak about the importance of women accepting, respecting, and loving themselves by local and national media, and she invites women to disrupt the narrative that tells them they — and their bodies — are not enough, just as they are.


Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

Thank you so much for having me!

I began my first career as a teacher and spent summers and weekends working with a National Writing Project affiliate. After having my daughters, I struggled to balance being an amazing teacher for my students and being an amazing mom for my children. I wasn’t adept at setting boundaries, and I often found myself stressed and irritable. Finally, I left the classroom to focus on my family for a few years.

During that time, new print-on-demand technology created seismic shifts in the publishing industry and made book publishing available to many more people. As more authors chose to publish independently, they had a need for editors who would help them create high-quality books. I opened Ayers Edits, an independent editing company, and began to teach authors how to write books that people want to read.

A handful of years later, I received a nudge to publish Love Notes to My Body, which began as a personal journaling practice as I learned how to make peace with and accept my body, just as she (my body) is. Now it would be hard to convince me there’s anything better than sharing my own stories.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

I’m diving deep into the Love Notes to My Body movement. Currently, I’m writing a new blog and gathering women in creative ways to talk about our relationships with our bodies. Making peace with ourselves leads to us making more peace in the world.

There’s so much potential and so many possibilities to explore as I continue to get these healing books into the hands of as many women as possible. I’d love to eventually publish a Love Notes to Our Bodies book where women contribute their own body love notes, and I’m curious about how to make this content accessible for our younger women and girls. I want to go deep with this project rather than zipping on to something entirely new.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

When I began to awaken to the self-hatred I was holding, a friend encouraged me to write my body’s story. I filled pages and pages with all the ways I felt betrayed and hurt by my body. Traumas that I’d denied or buried began to pop up in random moments throughout my day. I was spinning and overwhelmed.

One night during this difficult period, I had a powerful dream that shifted my perspective. In the dream, I was a mother who had just given birth to an unresponsive baby. No one seemed concerned that the baby wasn’t responding, and I was infuriated. I had an epiphany that the baby was me and that I was going to have to save myself. I crouched in a powerful pose, held my arms high, and roared. The baby immediately began to cry, and then I woke up.

I knew it was going to be up to me to reclaim my voice and heal myself and my relationship with my body. And with the power of dream-me’s roar still reverberating in my bones, I knew I was capable of doing just that.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

The beauty and diet industries spend billions of dollars every year to inundate us with messaging that says we need to change our bodies, that they are not okay unless they fit into an ever-shifting “ideal.” There’s so much pressure to work on ourselves, to strive for that ideal by any means necessary. We miss out on vital personal connections because we hold ourselves back from genuinely enjoying our lives.

And if we happen to fit into the current “ideal,” there’s immense pressure to maintain that image. Again, to the detriment of our health, finances, and relationships.

Staying focused on how we look also doesn’t allow much time for other sorts of introspection, such as how we feel. Exploring our feelings and letting them flow through us can be challenging and uncomfortable, and it can be easier to opt into the more familiar discomfort of controlling our bodies to avoid having to be honest with what’s happening inside us.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

While self-love is a beautiful thing, start with self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-respect. Our bodies are our lifelong companions. We’ll be together always. How miserable it not to accept ourselves. Self-acceptance also allows us to stop judging others so harshly and frees us to focus on things outside of ourselves. Self-love can take time to cultivate, much like love in any other important relationship.

Now to answer why it’s so important to love ourselves: Self-love creates peace. And joy. We learn to appreciate the experiences we have. We learn to trust ourselves. Knowing that I have my own back is liberating.

And as I begin to experience freedom from things like people-pleasing, I have more energy and capacity to share my peace with others. And to care about everyone else’s liberation too, not only from body-image issues, but from much more nefarious systems of oppression, like racism.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

I think people stay in mediocre relationships for a few reasons:

1) They don’t grasp their worth. They don’t believe that they deserve something better, or someone who will be tickled by their mere presence. They also can’t see what a gift it may be to their partner to let them go to find someone who would be delighted to be in a relationship with them.

2) It can seem easier to stay than to leave, especially when finances and friends and family have become enmeshed. To leave may mean not just leaving the relationship but leaving everything comfortable, including a home. Not only does that take gumption, but it can cost a lot of money. And time. And heartache.

3) Finally, I think fear, particularly the fear of being alone, is the prime motivator as to why people stay in a mediocre relationship. Our society tends to reward people who are coupled. We’ll be “failures” if we leave. If we decide to be alone with ourselves, then we have to be alone with ourselves! This is so frightening because we often don’t know who we are at our core or what our most important values are. What if we don’t like who we are? Then what?

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

A few questions to ask yourself:

· In what area(s) of my life do I want to experience more ease?

· What am I trying to control? And why?

· Where am I trying to be “right”?

· What do I need to forgive? In my self? In someone else? In a past event?

· What am I ready to change? How could I begin?

I began this sort of excavation into my own self a handful of years ago. I was experiencing dissatisfaction and rumblings of anxiety. I wasn’t “right,” and I wanted things to be different. I just didn’t know what I wanted to be different.

I decided that meditation would ease this dissatisfaction, so I went to a workshop to learn how to meditate. I ended up working with the instructor, an intuitive medium, for a year and a half in her signature “Love U” program, which did teach me how to meditate, along with a host of other important tools. What I realized during that journey was just how little I liked myself, particularly my body.

I was horrified as I began to wake up to the terrible ways I treated myself, the impossible expectations I tried to hold for myself, and the nastygram narrative that I let run through my mind all day, every day about how ______ I was. Fill in the blank with ugly, mean words.

I began a journaling practice to write love notes to various body parts because I reasoned it was hard to hate something you were sweet-talking. And I was right. Through those written conversations with my body, I was able to shift the ways I thought of and treated myself. In time, when I realized the power of this practice, I decided to share it with the world. Hence, my body-positive book, Love Notes to My Body, and her companion books were born.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

I crave time alone. I grew up as an only child, so I learned to find solace in my own company from a young age. I’m so grateful that I learned how to hang out with just myself because I think it’s important to cultivate this relationship. I am, and always will be, my own steadfast companion.

As an introvert, I also need time alone to restore my energy and let my creativity flow.

Being alone with myself, without distracting myself or practicing numbing behaviors, allows me to process what emotions arise and to explore why I’m feeling a certain way. I’ve learned that I’m safe with myself, and this time lets me heal on a deep level.

But I get how this is difficult and scary for folks who aren’t used to spending much time alone. There are days when I resist the deeper levels of introspection that occur when I’m alone. I want to soothe myself with something easier, like books or TV. And there are days that I crave the company of others. It’s about listening to what I want and need on any given day and honoring myself as best I can.

The reality is also that I have a family. There are times that I physically can’t be alone, even though I’m craving solitude. That’s when I have to get creative about finding minutes (rather than hours) for myself. Otherwise, I don’t have the energy to show up for my daughters and husband in loving ways.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

Learning about myself, all the nuances and complexities that make me Nicole, and then choosing to accept myself, even love myself, has allowed me to deepen my love and compassion for those closest to me, as well as for people in general.

Self-love improves my relationships because I make clear what my boundaries are. I respect myself and can give with love and generosity, rather than out of people-pleasing or resentment.

Loving myself deeply also allows me to be vulnerable and to show others more of myself, which of course, deepens our connections. Being vulnerable shifts me away from the judgment of myself and of others. And being gentle with myself, and realizing I’m often doing the best I can, reminds me that most of humanity is doing the best they can too.

Demonstrating my self-love also serves as a permission slip for others to love on themselves. It’s a beautiful ripple effect.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

A) I employ many introspective practices to better understand and accept myself, just exactly like I am. This is a continuous practice because I’m always growing and changing. A few examples of activities that help me:

· Going for silent walks: I’m the only person I have to chat with, so I spend time talking to myself. Or singing. Or hunting for little magical miracles on the trail.

· Meditating: Finding ways to clear my mind with my breath or a mantra or moving my body makes space to just “be.”

· Courting myself: Similar to the time I spent falling in love with my husband, I took a similar path to learn to love myself. I treat myself to little gifts or a delicious meal. I write love notes to my body. I’ve taken myself on a mini vacation. I sing and dance alone. I ask myself: Do I like this? Is this something I want to do? And then I honor my answers.

B) As a society, we need to normalize getting to know ourselves. We need to allow for more flexibility in our schools and workplaces. We tend to have ideas about what success means and looks like, and when an individual chooses a different path, we scoff and shame them, or worse, we cast them out of our circle.

There are so many tools we can explore to know more about ourselves (interest inventories, the Enneagram, Human Design, Astrology, the Love Languages, etc.), but very few of these tools are widely accepted or promoted as ways to deepen our self-understanding or our relationships with others. In fact, they’re often discounted as “woo woo” or make-believe.

Or, if they are used, some folks accept the findings as dogma, without allowing room to be unique or even to change as we experience more of life.

I’d love to see more widespread acceptance and encouragement for folks to “find” themselves as they grow. To try on identities and play with personalities to see what fits as well as what doesn’t. Sometimes we get to the heart of who we are by figuring out who we are not.

What if we were all encouraged to interview ourselves once a year with questions, such as: how do you work best? Rest best? Unwind best? Get motivated? What makes you feel loved? How do you share your love? We’d be so much more self-aware as individuals and as a society.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

1. Journaling: Whether I’m chatting with my inner child, doing self-forgiveness work, or increasing my financial literacy, I have a gorgeous journal and felt-tip pen nearby. I love the scritch of a colorful pen in a journal with thick paper. Choosing writing tools that delight me adds an element of play into my self-excavation practices. I discover my truths on the page. Writing has always been the way I process life, so it’s really no surprise that I ended up publishing body-positive books that encourage others to write their own stories.

2. Music: I created the “Nicole’s Love Grooves” playlist when I first began to write Love Notes to My Body. The songs soothed, inspired, and empowered me to be vulnerable in the manuscripts, and they allowed me to drop immediately into writing, rather than fiddling around with distractions. Sometimes a song tapped into a wounded bit of me that needed to grieve and cry, and other times a song would fill me with so much energy I’d have to dance.

This playlist has inspired me beyond writing though, and now it feels like a loving friend is nearby, encouraging me, whenever I want to challenge myself to shine my light.

3. Movement: My body needs to move. I’m not much for exercise, because, unfortunately, I experienced exercise as punishment rather than pleasure for too many years, but I love to move. Practices that feel good to me are long walks, impromptu dancing, and Wild Soul Movement, which is a gentle embodiment practice that incorporates movement and breathing and mantras, created by Elizabeth Dialto.

In fact, I love Wild Soul Movement so much, I’m in teacher training to faciliate classes. It’s such a healing movement practice, and it dovetails beautifully with my passion to gather women to have loving conversations with our bodies.

4. Encouraging Self-Talk: The nastygram narrative that used to run nonstop in my mind has mostly been silenced, but occasionally that ugly little voice pipes up and tries to shame me for something. Now I catch that behavior so much faster and replace those lies with something much more affirming. I repeat the affirmation as many times as I need to reframe the situation.

For example, I’ve had four knee surgeries. So many times I’ve berated my knees for “failing” me, and I’ve been embarrassed by my limitations. A few months ago, I went on a challenging hike with my family. Near the end of our adventure, I jumped down from a tall rock, and because my legs were already tired, I tweaked something in my right knee.

I was forced to walk slowly and ask for help. Immediately, I began to mentally castigate myself: You always get hurt. You can’t do anything. Now you’re slowing everyone down. I’m sure they wish you hadn’t come.

I recognized that mean voice and was able to remember that it lies to me. I paused and took some breaths. Then I began to say true things: There is no rush. I am loved. I am not a burden. My body is strong and capable, even when injured.

After a few minutes, not only did my demeanor change, but so did my family’s. I was able to receive their generous help with the love they intended to give it, and we were able to enjoy the end of our hike and the drive home.

5. Time Alone: At least once a year, I try to get away for a few days by myself. There’s a special place in the mountains I love to visit, and the ocean calls me loudly. But in times like the COVID-19 pandemic, I try to get creative with alone time. Sometimes, I tell my family: “I need to be alone. Only come get me if you’re bleeding, vomiting, or on fire.” Other times, I slip onto my front porch early in the morning, take a warm bath before bed, or, when I’m feeling heartbroken, I’ll crawl onto my closet floor and cry in the dark. A little bit of time to myself is always better than nothing.

6. Hugs: I know you said five, but I couldn’t resist sharing this bonus activity. I hug myself often. I just wrap my arms around my body and squeeze. If I need a little something extra, I’ll close my eyes and sit in my hug for a moment. And I say, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” It feels so good.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Books:

I Am F*cking Radiant: A Self-Care Journal to Help You Ditch the Face Masks, Quit the Bullsh*t, and Actually Feel F*cking Better by D. A. Sarac

Sarac’s journal had so many wonderful prompts and thoughtful questions that encouraged me to think about what my actual needs were. Its sweary presentation made me chuckle even when the questions were pointing me to difficult terrain and allowed me to answer honestly.

The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor not only dove deep into why I (and so many others) struggled to love myself, but its “Unapologetic Inquiries” encouraged me to explore my specific issues with my body and the “Radical Self-Love Tools” were actionable items I was able to implement immediately to practice more self-love.

Podcasts:

Embodied Podcast with Elizabeth Dialto

I’ve been an avid listener for years. Dialto explores so many topics with depth and integrity about how to love myself more deeply. I consider her a mentor and teacher.

Good Ancestor Podcast hosted by Layla F. Saad

Saad’s transformative book, Me and White Supremacy, forced me to acknowledge the many insidious ways white supremacy has colored my life experiences and relationships. It was an uncomfortable and necessary read. Saad’s podcast continues to challenge me to explore where and how I can dismantle racism.

People to Follow: There are so many wise individuals sharing their expertise on Instagram. Here a few of the folks I look to for guidance, inspiration, and encouragement:

· Morgan Harper Nichols (@morganharpernichols)

o Nichols’s poetry and art is soothing and permission-giving.

· Jessi Kneeland (@jessikneeland)

o Kneeland dives deep into the reasons why we struggle with body image and self-hatred.

· Allyson Dinneen (@notesfromyourtherapist)

o Dinneen’s notes to herself, torn from notebook pages, often resonate with my own experiences.

· Dr. Jaiya John (@jaiyajohn)

o John’s words feel magical and healing. I’ll read one of his sentences and feel like I just received a divine hug.

· Alexandra Elle (@alex_elle)

o Elle’s transparent sticky notes and journal prompts around self-care and my inner child invite me to take care of myself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

Ripples of self-love are the movement I’d most like to inspire every individual to begin. How changed would the world be if we each practiced self-love? How much less would we judge one another? In what ways could we begin to honor our neighbors if we honored ourselves?

Here’s a gigantic permission slip to everyone reading to accept, respect, and love yourself!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? 
 Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

“How would someone who loves themselves and knows their worth respond? Embody that.” ~Maryam Hasnaa

This affirming quote reminds me to walk my talk of loving myself even in the most challenging circumstances. When I read it, I close my eyes and picture a moment when I was steeped in my own fabulous worth. I let the memory of that moment flood through my veins.

It’s also a reminder to never abandon myself, no matter the cost because that’s what true self-love looks like. And it’s a nudge reminding me that others are looking to me to see how they too can choose themselves. I need to shine my light and share my words because I never know who needs them.

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

You’re so welcome. You have my gratitude for your thoughtful questions.The world needs so many more conversations about how we can love ourselves better. Thank you for this one!

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