What gives any woman charisma? The Chanel suit she wears? The car she drives? The way she has been taught to use her body or speaks her words? Not really. For stylish or charming as these things may be they are ultimately externals - things put on from the outside. As such they offer a woman little more than the appearance of charisma. And like pastiche, appearances never deceive a discerning eye. What are the characteristics of real charisma? Where does it come from? How to you get it? And what is living with it all about?
Charisma - the real McCoy - has certain characteristics: expansiveness for instance and energy, joy and creativity. It is not only a way of being which calls forth all the powers of a woman - from the pragmatic to the inspirational, the intellectual to the intuitional. It is also a way of relating to yourself, to those you work with and play with - even to the planet itself - through all of these modes. That is why at its core, charisma is both disarmingly simple and immeasurably complex - neither more nor less than living day by day from a full and honest outpouring of your own individuality - the spirit which is unique to you.
This unique nature, which each woman has but most are still trying to discover, can be expressed in a myriad of ways from the most simple and playful to the most profound - in the colors you like best for instance, in the way you choose to have your hair cut, the kind of make-up you wear (or prefer not to wear). It is also explicit in the way you think and talk, and in the kind of deep values you embody, the dreams you dream and the things you create whether they be works of art, intellectual or physical feats, or simple day-to-day ways of being. Charisma is also evident in the rhythms and fluctuations of this energy. How different you are for instance on the tennis court, than when you hold a child in your arms, produce a piece of work, get involved in an intellectual discussion, or embrace a lover. Yet in each of these circumstances provided you are true to yourself you will have charisma - the originality of your spirit will shine through.
Contacting that unique spirit, coming to respect it and having the courage to live from it is what gaining charisma is all about. Sometimes challenging, frequently exciting, this process can be a lot of fun too. As it takes place the externals - the clothes and make up you wear, the way you move and how you relate to your world cease to be arbitrary, like things you pick up with uncertainty to carry around with you. Instead they seem to unfold and develop beautifully and mysteriously - almost organically - from within as ever more honest and potent expressions of who you are. Whatever forms or shapes your individuality takes, one quality tends to permeate every facet of charisma as it unfolds: aliveness. That is where health comes in. Health is right at the core of charisma.
Being healthy is a lot more than not being sick. It means having access to all of your energies from the physical stamina you need on the tennis court through the depths of your sexuality and creativity to an expanding awareness of how your mind works via the complex interface of your body's endocrine and nervous system. Such an awareness which can not only help keep you healthy and free from the ravages of premature aging but, according to advanced research may even give you the ability to alter your external reality by choice.
The more fully and honestly your unique nature shows itself, the more charisma you will have. Simple? Nothing could be simpler. Yet in our society in this last decade of the 20th century, it would seem that our every encounter with the world around us - from breathing increasingly polluted air to interacting with a media intent upon selling us things we don't need or don't want at prices we can often ill afford - contrives in one way or another to interfere with the process. That is why another aspect of developing charisma is the process of gaining a strong awareness of ones own values and of finding ways of separating them from those which we are all constantly being sold by the exploitive 20th century urban world in which we live. (This by the way is every bit as important a part of health and beauty as the kind of food you eat for breakfast and the kind of creams you spread on your face.)
Health, like charisma, also comes from within. Yet health needs a lot of support from the outside too - in the way you eat, exercise, deal with stress, look after your body and learn to listen to its prompting so that your potential for energy and aliveness can be maximized. For most of us this doesn't happen automatically. We have to learn how to create a high level of aliveness and to become wary of all the things which can impede it. Take toxicity in your body for instance. The build up of waste products in the cells restricts metabolic processes and depletes energy. It can also result in a great variety of unwanted conditions - from cellulite to poor skin, and anxiety and depression to degenerative conditions such as arthritis, obesity and cancer. Yet in an urbanized polluted environment all of our bodies tend to build up more waste than they are able to eliminate efficiently. Such a build up impedes aliveness. So part of developing charisma means sorting out a lifestyle for yourself which encourages continual detoxification. It can also mean learning about specific techniques from daily skin brushing, to special breathing methods, or hydrotherapy tricks which you can call on for periodic spring cleaning.
To live with charisma in the fullness of ones being, to live with charisma, each of us needs continually to break down barriers, to bring to consciousness the self-imposed limitations we have been living with and to open oneself to new possibilities whether they come in the form of physical beauty - hair, body, skin, nails and all the rest - or new passions and ideals.
It is a funny thing about self-expression. We in the Anglo Saxon world tend to think of it as something rather self-indulgent or self-obsessive. We have been brought up in a culture that affirms the value of altruism and insists that one should forget oneself in constant service and self-sacrifice to others. This is particularly true of women, many of whom spend their whole lives in one way or another denying their own needs and worrying about others or following a career path which society's values (not ones own) have imposed upon them only to wake up at the age of 45 to find that they feel lost, empty, and that life appears without meaning.
The truth is that at the heart of serving others, as well as at the core of nurturing life lies charisma - an ability to express the totality of one's being. For only then can you bring to whatever else you are doing the full impact of your aliveness through beauty, intellect, enthusiasm, compassion, creativity, fun and joy. The pathway towards fullness of being often lies through a tremendously exciting exploration of such very personal and supposedly self-indulgent things as the kind of eyeshadow you wear or how best to look after your skin or make yourself look more beautiful. It is only when the pursuit of beauty becomes a thing apart from the expression of one's individual nature (like the notion so many women have that they will not be acceptable unless they wear designer clothes or paint their faces perfectly in order to be 'acceptable') that it goes all wrong. This is because beauty treated only as an external has sad repercussions for your own sense of self-worth. Like the old mechanistic world view which has blinded us to what we have been doing to our planet, it can imprison you within false images and limitations which make it impossible to live creatively or bring the joy of your own unique energy to those around you.
So forget fears of narcissism and self indulgence. Each woman is unique and the charisma which celebrates that uniqueness can not only lift her to new levels of joy and energy and accomplishment but also enrich the lives of all who know her. Perhaps most important of all, through the expression of that uniqueness in her feelings, thoughts and actions, it can enable her to play the unique part she has to play in the future of her society and of the planet itself. Sounds revolutionary? It is. But this last decade of the twentieth century the astounding is becoming commonplace and the impossible a daily occurrence. Who would have thought the Berlin wall would fall?
Let's get down to the nuts and bolts of charisma - the seemingly superficial trimmings such as make up, hairstyle and fashion which can help you explore who you are and feel good about yourself. As you will discover, when you select these trimmings and trappings from core impulses and desires the results are anything but superficial.
The first step in developing your own brand of charisma is to get to know and make friends with the many facets of yourself. Each facet is like a character just itching for the chance to play a role in your life. When you encourage your characters to find expression, your reward is not only a great deal of pleasure and fun, but an abundance of core energy.
THE CHARISMA DETECTIVE EXERCISE
The following steps can reveal clues to characters inside you which carry energy for you. Answer each question as fully as you can in your journal. Also make a note of any feelings (good or bad) that come up as you do the exercise. You might like to work with a friend, one of you asking the questions and noting down the answers while the other allows her fantasies to run free. Whether you work with a friend or on your own, let yourself play at it. Although the issues that arise are important ones, exploring charisma above all means having fun.
Choose a Photograph
Find a photograph of yourself that you like. (For some this may not be easy, but you can at least find a photo that you prefer to others). Ask yourself why you have chosen this picture. What do you like about the person you see? What qualities does she have? How is the person in the photo the same as, and how is she different from, the person you feel yourself to be now?
Scan Your Wardrobe
Make a note of any item or items of your wardrobe that you really love - things you feel good in, for example a dress, a pair of shoes. (It could be something from your past or even something that you once borrowed.) Now ask yourself what it is you like about the thing. What qualities does it express? How does it make you feel? What image/character does it suggest?
Pick Your Accessories
Make a note of accessories, past, present or future, that you particularly like. Include jewellery, scarves, belts, hats, gloves, glasses, the lot. What is it about the accessory that you like? What does it remind you of? What part of you does it express?
How About Your Hair?
Ask yourself what was your favourite haircut or hairstyle/hair colour ever? Why did you like it? How did it make you feel? What aspect of you did it express?
What Is Your Make-Up Look?
Ask yourself is there an item of make up that you particularly like? Or more than one? What do you like about the way they make you feel? What part of you do they help to express?
WHO ARE YOUR CORE CHARACTERS?
By the end of this exercise you should have an idea of the types of images that are inspiring and hold power for you. See if you can group the images under a character or several characters that can serve as reference points for you. For instance, if you are inspired by a pair of bright red shoes because they make you feel bold and daring and suggest the sort of woman who dances on table tops, your character reference point might be "The Flamenco Dancer."
Here are a few examples of characters which may help you to find labels for your own:
- The Romantic
- The Shaman
- The Seductress
- The Amazon
- The Athlete
- The Artist
- The English Rose
- The Witch
- The Gypsy
- The Glitzy Power-Broker
- The Princess
- The Anarchist
- The Nature Spirit
- The Earth Goddess
- The Clown
- The Gamine
- The Executive
- The Sophisticated Lady
- The Country Lady
- The Medieval Maiden
WRITE YOUR CHARACTERS TO LIFE
If one or more of your characters is particularly exciting, get to know her by writing her into existence. Describe her as fully as you can. What does she wear? What is her hair like? Her make up? Her nails? How does she move? Where does she go? What does she do? How does she speak? What does she say? What does she like and hate?
Although simple, this exercise is powerful and can evoke a lot of different feelings, thoughts and memories. Whatever comes up for you, acknowledge it by writing it down, no matter how insignificant or stupid it may seem. Anything can be a clue to helping your charisma unfold from the core. Commonly women feel a sense of hopelessness and longing. They may have an image of a character who seems to be everything they feel they are not. Then, instead of inspiring them, the image overwhelms them. If this is the case remember that your character carries energy for you because she reflects an important part of you. No matter how far away from the you which you know she may seem, you can begin to live her right now. Obviously if your character is a waif-like wood nymph and you are 3 stone overweight it will take time to adjust this difference. Nevertheless it may be that by rearranging your hair or wearing a colour that the wood nymph would wear you can begin to draw upon her as an inspiration and start to tap into her quality of energy. Let these images inspire, not discourage, you. The best way to deal with a sense of discouragement in the face of anything that seems impossible is to begin by making a tiny step in the direction you want to go. We have learnt over and over that the way to climb a mountain (either physical or metaphorical) is just to put one foot in front of the other.
Crack the Codes of Convention
In exploring charisma it can be very freeing to break the rules and try something completely new. For instance, if you always wear make up to work, dare one day to go completely bare faced. One of us (Leslie) used to frequently go to work as the health and beauty editor of a magazine with a naked face. She found it immensely freeing to break the rules and discovered it gave her a fresh sense of herself.