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Sacred Imagination
March 2002 Column

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Dana's Current Column

by Dana Reynolds

A Message to my Readers. . .

There are times in life when the opportunity for inner growth presents itself through circumstances that are challenging and ultimately transformational. I am finding myself to be in just such a place. I am feeling called to take time-out while I go on an inner journey of healing and I will be taking a sabbatical from writing further columns until May or June.

When Valerie, the light source and creative editor of Soulful Living, suggested that I write a message to my readers, I intended to prepare a short notice that I would be away for awhile. "Keep it simpleÖ" I said to myself. However, as I begin to write this, I realize that there are many thoughts and feelings I have to express. . . so perhaps the healing journey I mentioned will begin here.

I am feeling called to share with you my personal story that has brought me to where I find myself today. I do this because I feel it is a story that is common to many women and as the saying goes, "When one person asks for healing, it opens the door for others to heal."

In 1980 I had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction with silicone implants. The diagnosis calling for such radical surgery came after several years of repetitive biopsies for acute fibro-cystic breast disease. At the time of the mastectomies I was classified "High risk, in a pre-cancerous condition."

Unlike women who undergo mastectomies accompanied with the diagnosis of cancer, I was fortunate to only have to deal with psychological/physical impact of the mastectomy itself. My life was not being immanently threatened by my illness. The operation I had is known as a prophylactic or preventative surgery.

The years passed and the implants hardened and became uncomfortable, and in 1995 I began to have migraine headaches and chronic joint pain. I was then diagnosed with auto-immune disease and fibro-myalgia. The diagnosis took place during the same time that class action suits against the manufacturers of silicone implants were making headlines. To be safe, I decided to have my silicone implants removed and replaced with saline implants.

When the old implants were removed it turned out that one of them had ruptured. There has been much reported discrepancy regarding the relationship between silicone toxicity and various auto-immune diseases that have plagued women who had ruptured implants. I intuitively feel certain that the silicone leakage has played a part in the decline of my overall health.

After the second set of implants were inserted, the years passed and the saline implants also hardened. Then, one week ago, the saline implant in my left breast ruptured.

Since the Sunday evening when I noticed a flattening of my left breast, I have been wrestling with the decision of whether to face a third reconstruction with the possibility of more ruptures in the future, or to remove both implants and remain flat-chested for the rest of my life. After consulting with my plastic surgeon and following long talks with my very loving and supportive husband, I have decided to have the implants removed without further reconstruction.

The process leading to my decision has been complex. I have been aware in the past several years of how our culture is fixated on womenís breasts. Itís a topic (the objectification of womenís anatomy) that has been raised in many of the womenís circles I have facilitated. Now that I have decided to become a woman without breasts, I seem to see breasts objectified everywhere I look, through the images in advertising.

The cultural messages through the print and television media impact not only the definition of what the ideal breast size and appearance should be, but also how important the breasts are to the overall sexual attractiveness and beauty of women.

This morning it was reported on the news that cosmetic surgery has increased 48% in the past year and that the majority of this surgery is for breast enlargement. This fact is statistically telling of how the culture and how we as women view the importance of not only the appearance but also the size of our breasts.

I feel itís important to admit here that I have always been one who enjoys and appreciates beauty. The aesthetics of my surroundings, as well as feeling comfortable with the way I appear to others is important to me. I believe that the beauty of oneís environment and good feelings about oneís appearance enriches the quality of life and comforts the psyche and soul.

Everyone knows how the heart is touched when we look at a spectacular landscape, observe a sunset, or gaze into the eyes of our beloved. Natural beauty is a holy thing. It takes us to a deeper place within ourselves. It opens doors to the numinous. It is sometimes described as, "Seeing the face of God."

Our cultural definition of beauty has grown far from the mark of the kind of beauty I am speaking of. In my opinion, the way beauty is currently defined needs serious re-evaluation. Not only the way beauty is defined, but also the importance that is given to "looking beautiful" in an airbrushed and stylized way.

During the past week I have been asking myself, "Why is it that our country is bombarded by the media to erase every wrinkle on the face, tighten every sag, build bigger breasts, suck fat from here and there, etc. How more unnatural could anything be?"

Can we fathom the healing that could take place if the same amount of advertising dollars that are spent to tell us how we should look were instead spent depicting images to enrich self-esteem and to affirm that aging and change are a natural part of life? What if magazines and billboards no longer displayed airbrushed bodies and faces but rather real faces with all their lines and wrinkles and life affirming character intact?

Iím referring to the kind of face that carries the story of the personís life as an etching. It holds all the complex layers of living, the inner truths of the individual, the intensity of his/her experiences, as well as the times of deep joy and pain, in other words, natural beauty made visible.

Unfortunately this kind of beauty does not fit the mainstream cultural definition of what is beautiful. Itís thought best not to see wrinkles or lines these are believed to be imperfections that can be erased with a laser, a cut and a stitch, or a magical cream.

Perhaps creating illusion is truly our cultureís obsession. Could it be that the idea of sharing oneself intimately and openly with others is simply too terrifying. For many people presenting a faÁade to hide whatís inside and underneath is an easier alternative than saying, "This is me. . See me for who I am. The shadow and the light."

How sad, how sad for all of us, for the one who must hide and the one who will never have the privilege of truly knowing the one who is hiding.

This past week I have been all over the emotional and physical map. Last Monday, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror naked and I cried at the sight of myself. I had a full-blown pity party over what I saw. My left breast appeared like a deflated wrinkled balloon. My right breast looked perfectly round and firm like a tennis ball.

At first I thought how can I not have more reconstruction. I wondered, "How will my husband feel about me?" And of course thereís the issue of going out in the world completely flat chested. Will I or wonít I wear a prosthetic bra of some kind if I decide to not have the implants replaced?

After the initial shock of being faced with these questions I began to really look at myself. I had to put the super model images that are a cultural measuring stick in a box inside my head and not compare myself to anyone else but rather to see myself as me. Now this is pretty scary stuff. I had to find a new way of seeing.

I decided that gratitude would be my tool of measurement and after a few rocky starts I began to see myself differently. I looked in the mirror with eyes of gratitude and I was grateful first and foremost that Iím alive and reasonably healthy. I can see. I can hear. I can walk. These gifts cannot be appreciated too much. The blessing of cultivating gratitude began to color my reflection in that mirror.

I said out loud to that naked woman staring back at me, "I am growing older." It was spoken as a declaration not a resignation. I realized on a visceral level that I have had the privilege of living nearly fifty-five years. Contrary to what the advertisers would have me believe. I canít cheat time. Hopefully I will continue to grow older still, then someday I will die. I believe that every so often I must remind myself of this fact in a conscious way. It certainly makes the day seem more important and precious and it encourages humility. My eyes continued to study the image in the mirror with gratitude as my anchor.

The stretch marks I wear on my stomach and thighs became beautiful when measured with a grateful heart. I have been pregnant twice in my younger years and I have two glorious adult children that bless my life in countless ways. Stretch marks are proof of my bodyís participation in birthing them.

I have had a double mastectomy and two breast reconstructions and the results didnít turn out so great. These experiences have scarred me both emotionally and physically. Thatís a hard fact. However, when revisited through the lens of gratitude I must say I am grateful for the lessons and gifts that I have received through these trials. I know I could not have received them so deeply in any other way.

I have countless other scars, one on my right palm from a childhood burn from a hot pan, another on my left wrist from a fall in the middle of a street while vacationing in Hawaii, and thereís an appendectomy scar that is a remnant from my first surgery when I was ten, and so on. I realized staring into the mirror that my body is a map of my life and for this I am truly grateful. I wouldnít want to erase any of it because as I grow older and my memory dims I might need my map to help me to remember who I am and where Iíve been.

I know I will have days after my upcoming surgery when I will trip into the "Why me?" place. I pray I will have the wherewithal in those moments to remember when the assessment of my body when measured with gratitude helped me to come to peace with my decision to have the implants removed.

I feel itís very important here to state that I am in no way suggesting that breast implants are wrong for all women. I believe reconstructive and corrective surgery for all types of physical traumas and abnormalities are a very positive thing and most often dramatically improve the quality of a person's life. We are blessed to live in a country where there are so many skilled professionals who can create miracles using their gifts and modern science.

The issue that Iím addressing is our cultural definition of beauty and how the current definitionís importance is tearing a hole in the fabric of our society. I would like to pose two questions. What does beauty mean to me and to you and will we allow ourselves to be "told" what beauty is, or will we each make our own independent soulful conscious decisions as to the nature of beauty? If we begin to define beauty according to our unique individual concepts and principles then perhaps we will be able to make choices for ourselves that stem from our own truths rather than allowing ourselves to be guided by the economic motives of advertisers.

I feel that having the implants removed, implants that for me have always felt uncomfortable and artificial will be liberating. I plan on doing an internal detox and cleanse in conjunction with the surgery as a kind of purification of all the silicone and other toxins that have accumulated through the years. I will buy some new silky camisoles and nightgowns to celebrate my femininity and I will create a ritual to bless my ever-changing body.

My dear friend and teaching partner, Kay Adams, sent me a gift this week. It is an image of writer, Deena Metzger. She stands naked with outstretched arms, head back, proud and open. Across her right chest where her breast has been removed is a tattoo of a tree branch. Written above the image she states:

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows. There is a fine red line across my chest where the knife entered, but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart. Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears. What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing. I have relinquished some of the scars. I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript. I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win. I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound. On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree. ĖDeena Metzger

I am deeply grateful to Kay for this gift and to Deena for her courage. Her words are a manifesto for me.

When seen through the eyes of gratitude, I see this time in my life as one of transformation. Isnít that what the natural course of life is...continual transformation. The oceanís tides come in and go out constantly changing the surface of the beach. Autumn follows summer and the leaves that were vibrant and green burst into new color before fading and falling away. People live, love, laugh, and cry and each life event etches the body with its story. We are a part of creation. The microcosm is the human body, a mirror of the macrocosm that is the natural landscape.

My implants will be removed on March 21st, in the spring, the season of new beginnings. My friend Prissy said recently that she takes comfort from the word, "Restoration." Restoration has become my mantra. I believe my surgery will be my restoration. I am on a healing journey to being restored to the truth of who I am. . . and I feel beautiful.

Copyright© 2002 Dana Reynolds. 


Read Dana's Past "Sacred Imagination" Columns:

February 2002 - "The Crafting of Relationship"

January 2002 - "Meditating with the Higher Self"

December 2001 - "The Prayer Cord"

November 2001 - "Explore, Express, Imagine"

October 2001 - "Seeking Sacred Alchemy"

September 2001 - "Invoking Your Muse"

August 2001 - "The Blessings of Daily Bread"

July 2001 - "Entertaining the Dream Visitor"

May 2001 - "Embracing the Whole: Choices for Conscious Living"

April 2001 "Nourishing the Souls of the Children"

March 2001 "Opening the Senses to Beauty"

February 2001 "The Eyes of Love"

January 2001 "Patterns of Authenticity"

December 2000 "Finding Peace in the Fields of Time"

November 2000 "Cultivating Gratitude: Heart-Hugs and Prayer Leaves"

October 2000 "Journey to the Center - The Sacred Mystery of the Labyrinth"

September 2000 "The Heart and Craft of Healing"

August 2000 "Transforming Lifeís Challenges into Beauty and Story"

July 2000 "Sacred Spaces Invite the Muses of the Soul"

Read Dana's Soulful Living Feature Articles:

Visual Prayers

Intuition and the Sacred Imagination: The Dance of Co-creation

For ten years, Dana Reynolds has been facilitating womenís spiritual presentations and retreats nationwide. Her work as a Spiritual Midwife, one who assists women as they birth their creative gifts into the world, is the foundation of all her endeavors. Her background as a visual artist and writer enriches her Spiritual Midwifery: Birthing the Feminine Soul workshops.

As the creator of an art making process known as visual prayer, Dana teaches women how to combine ritual with sacred intention to create altars, collages, spirit dolls, and other touchstones. The creation of sacred spaces is also paramount to the Spiritual Midwifery experience. Her web-site http://www.sacredimagination.com offers samplings of her visual prayer collages, poetry, and a workshop catalogue.

Be An Angel

Dana is the author of the whimsical and colorfully illustrated book, Be An Angel, a co-creation with illustrator and graphic designer, Karen Blessen, (Simon & Schuster). Her essay, Visual Prayers is included in the anthology, Our Turn, Our Time: Women Coming of Age, edited by Cynthia Black, (Beyond Words Publishing).

Our Turn Our Time

A trained labyrinth facilitator, Dana incorporates the labyrinth and other spiritual wisdom into her retreats and workshops. She recently traveled to Chartres and Vezelay Cathedrals in France to gather information pertaining to ancient sacred mystical traditions. She currently lectures on such topics as spiritual midwifery, sacred journal keeping, feminine spiritual wisdom, and the early Christian women saints and mystics.

Danaís life follows the spiral path from rim to center and back again. She looks for the sacred in forgotten places and openly embraces the great Mystery of life. Guiding women to the discovery of their creative inner gifts is the passion that fuels her soul.


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