Saturday, April 3, 2010

Self Discovery

I think that each day is an opportunity for self discovery, however small or grand that discovery may be. About oneself, and about others in our lives.

Self discovery was the main reason I returned to London, and Amsterdam most recently. I mostly travel for the sake of business, but also, most importantly, to discover. I look at everyone in the world as my own personal sage. Whether it is a person on the train, plane, a beggar, a friend, a lover, and all sentient beings. Everyone and everything has something to offer, and is put on this planet to teach. If we only could listen better--that is the challenge.

Of all the virtues in the world I value most in myself and others, are patience, an open mind, an open, kind, compassionate heart, forgiveness, and finally, acceptance, which leads to the ultimate virtue, unconditional love. Of all these virtues, forgiveness is one that I find to be the opposite of acceptance. To forgive, the premise is that someone has "wronged you", or violated you in some way. I would far rather accept someone for what he is than to forgive him for what I perceive is a wrongdoing against me. The way I see it, let people "be" and things "be" as they are. One cannot be violated if you allow it to just "be". I find I must learn to understand and not judge another's actions as a personal attack against me.

When I was living in Den Haag, Netherlands, with Saskia, I lived the lifestyle of a hardcore bodybuilder. We ate, slept, and trained bodybuilding. We did not go anywhere, so it would not disrupt our training or eating schedule. While I enjoyed the rigor and discipline, it was at the expense of living life more fully. At that time, Sas was about to make her pro debut in NYC. Nothing would impede her success on stage--we both made damn sure of that.

But, as time went on, we both became more reclusive toward each other, eventually, on completely different training schedules and diets. I can remember sneaking in yogurt and macadamia nuts in my backpack so she could not see them becasue I knew it was not on her diet. At night, I would take care of emails and perform on webcam, only for her to wake up in the middle of the night, craving Coke Zero and a cigarette. When you diet or are deprived of something, anything, you become that much more keen for it. She swears she could smell my macadamia nuts, but really, she just heard the paper wrapper. It was sheer torture to her. On top of the rigorous diet, the politics, and all the other things that go along with bodybuilding shows, it proved to be an unhealthy lifestyle in the end.

It has been two years since I last saw Sas, and I knew that she had paid a heavy spiritual, emotional, and physical toll, trying to become the best she could be. It pained me to see her go through this. But, it was just something she had to go through, and see for herself, with her own eyes, and experience it.

When I went back to visit her a few weeks ago, ever so briefly, we had a great talk about our lives. We walked the dogs on the beach, and talked for a long time. I was glad to see her, and see that she was happy. She no longer trains as a hardcore bodybuilder, even though she could step back on stage at anytime. She has disassociated herself from all the behaviors and ties with the bodybuilding world. It made my heart happy that she now enjoys her life, and her friends. It was the Sas that I always hoped would emerge from the darkness. And, I was glad to see her smile again.

As I drove around the old neighborhood and my old haunts, it was interesting to note that not much had changed. In Sas's house, I found a lot of my old clothes I forgot about, and my makeup, which was in situ, just how I had left it. The old program from the Opendag with my notes scratched on it was just where I had left it on the vanity where I used to get ready every day. It was odd to observe relics of my past.

We laughed and joked around about our lives and how some things have not changed, while other things have changed significantly. I went back mostly to make sure she was okay, and to close that chapter in my life, to turn the page, shall we say. When I am friends with someone, I make friends for life, and I always care about their well being. Before our visit, she was not ready for me, for her own reasons.

I am glad to know that she accepted my visit, and we are moving forward in our lives, and discovering ourselves in a new way every day.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


This photo was taken by Bill Dobbins at Red Rock State Park, Las Vegas, Nevada in 2003, just a week after my first bodybuilding show. I entitled this post "Reflection", not only because it is appropriate for the photo, but what we all need to do from time to time in our lives. And not just superficial thinking, but deep reflection.
When I reflect upon my life, I think about it as a journey and the many paths I have taken in my life. Each one, ever so carefully chosen. I used to get anxiety about the direction I am going to move in next, and what I want to do. I think it takes maturity and confidence to move forward in life and have the confidence that whatever direction you choose, you do so with courage and zest. Particularly when it comes to change. As much as most humans are creatures of habit, and do not like major lifestyle changes, it is inevitable. Even if that change has perceived negative outcomes, or even glaringly bleak outcomes, one must overcome and even embrace the change. Initially, change is painful and undesired. However, over time, one can become acclimated to the change. And, in the end, it's not so bad after all. Change is the natural course of life, and, in fact, the only thing that is constant in our lives. We are not the same person we were 10 years ago, yesterday, or even five minutes ago. That is why I find it interesting to look back at old photos, my writing, and even reflect back to old thoughts in my life. Have you ever looked back at a photo of yourself or something you wrote, and thought, "What was I thinking back then?" I also like the nostalgic component to these artifacts. And, to know the journey I have taken from where I was to where I am now, and embrace and even fantasize where I will be.
A year before this photo was taken, I did my first photo shoot with Bill, in the desert of New Mexico near my home. I competed in NABBA Figure at that time, a scaled down version of bodybuilding. As Bill peered through his lens at me, he exclaimed in a nonchalant manner, "Amber, why don't you just compete in bodybuilding?" And that was that, I was sold. I replied, "Sure, why not?" Sage advice from the premier womens' physique photographer and world acclaimed leading authority on womens' bodybuilding does not come easily. As I got to know Bill over the years, I learned that he does not lavish anyone with compliments.
So, this photo is symbolic of my journey into the future. When I look into my eyes back in 2003, I see there is desire, and hunger. I remember how eager I was to make my way in the bodybuilding industry, and make my mark. And, it was not to just become the best competitive bodybuilder on stage. It was more about the evolution of my body, mind, and spirit. And what an amazing journey it has been. While I was never uncomfortable in front of a camera lens, particularly someone of Bill's stature, I do remember feeling somewhat awkward about nudity in front of the lens. As I learned more about my body, posing, movement, and body language, I gained more confidence in my posing style. I now know that often times, when a pose feels really strange, that, oddly enough, it turns out to be magnificent on film. It's all about not having fear of what something is going to look like, and having the confidence to contort myself in seemingly strange ways. This was the journey of self discovery for me, and Bill certainly showed me the way and gave me that inspiration.
This bodily contortion also gave me the inner confidence to know that even if something feels awkward, it can be beautiful, in all areas of my life. So, getting out of that comfort zone is important, and not getting stuck in a rut. While there is merit in repetition, routine, and regimes, as this builds consistency and discipline, we also must know how to make minor changes to these things to enhance them to make our lives better.
Since this photo was taken, I talk to Bill from time to time. We reflect on our lives and the paths we have chosen. And, I always thank him for inspiring me to become what I have always dreamed of, and capturing my essence on film in a way that I only fantasized about.