Tag Archives: emotional process

My body is not a problem to solve.

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When I was still living in Memphis, there was a woman, Barbara I met through the International Education  department that I bonded with immediately.  Neither of us were stick figures, and often complained to each other about the unsolicited “helpful advice” we got from strangers.  Both of us ate healthily and went to the gym at least 5 times a week, yet people made assumptions and felt compelled to shove metaphorical pamphlets in our hand about eating and exercise like those fundamentalists that stand on the corner on Bourbon Street and tell people the error of their drunken ways.  

One of my friends, T, never got such advice, though she was one of the most unhealthy people I knew.  I parked in the farthest parking lot so I could get at least a mile in just walking to and from my car, while she got several parking tickets a month for trying to park as close as possible to her classes.  She would have driven her car into an elevator if they’d let her.  She smoked 2 packs a day, had double cheeseburgers for dinner regularly and never exercised.  But she was a size 5 or something, so no one ever gave her a lecture about how they were “concerned for her health”… she met the beauty ideal, and that was all that mattered.

 

One night at a party, someone started their health-preaching at Barbara and she replied, “My body is not a topic of conversation.” When they kept on, she walked away.  I was stunned. And in awe.  How did she do that???  As compelled as people were to give me health advice, I was compelled to tell them all that I already did– far more than they suggested.  I did not sit on my butt all day eating twinkies, as they seemed to think.  It is not a simple formula- bodies are complex and far more goes into metabolism than most people care to think about.  

It bothered me deeply that people walked around thinking I was lazy.  That they insisted on holding on to simplistic ideas that don’t really work in the real world.  That they were judging me unfairly– based on a beauty standard that is only attainable with photoshop, rather than the health concern bullshit they claimed was their primary motivation.  It really, really REALLY bothered me.  So I was stunned that Barbara could shut them down that quickly and not set them straight.  That she could take her body off the table completely and not even engage in the topic.

As much as I resented that my body rather than my writing, my painting, my cooking, or my intellect were the focus of so many people’s view of me, I couldn’t drop it any more than they could.  I didn’t know how to take it off the table.  Three years in hijab would teach me how many years later, but that’s another story for another post.

What Barbara understood all those years ago that I’ve just picked up recently is articulated beautifully by Michele Lisenbury Christensen in her work on the elements of Masculine and Feminine Power.  To listen to her speak on the topic, check out the Shero’s School for Revolutionaries.   Regardless of our sex (or gender for that matter) we need a balance of the masculine and feminine to be healthy and truly functional, yet our society is heavily swayed towards the masculine.  

One of the paradigms she discusses is Providing  (masculine) & Nurturing  (feminine).  This pertains to the way we relate to others.  I would add that it also applies to how we relate to ourselves.  In explaining, Michele asked: “Do I hold you as a problem to be fixed, or a person?  

“Are resources needed here?  Or listening? Holding?

She went on to discuss how distorted Providing is that mean voice in our head that provides perpetual commentary, criticism, and “suggestions for improvement”.  I realize that it was my full identification with that mean voice in my head in my 20s that compelled me to engage with people in a topic I didn’t think should be brought up to begin with– my body.  Interesting that for the decade I was in The Netherlands–where its considered incredibly rude to talk about someone’s body or presume about their personal habits– no one talked about my body and weight came off.  I no longer felt fat, I no longer focused on the fat, so the fat went away.  I often wondered- in this land where I was on the short side of average instead of a looming Amazon woman 3 heads taller than most other women– if I’d grown up there if I ever would have developed the body image issues that led to the weight gain.  I thought I was fat, so I eventually became fat.  A little weight gain in my pre-eclampsic pregnancy, and others began to agree with me.  I took that on, and the weight came on even more.  The harder I worked to get rid of it, the more my metabolism slowed and the more stubborn the weight was.  Like the child told they will go nowhere losing all ambition, my body resolved to the fat label put upon it. 

 

We are so trained to do something.  All the time.  With everything.  We have great difficulty just being with something.   It bleeds into every area of our lives, and damages our relationships and erodes our peace of mind. Our Puritan heritage preaches that its not okay to let things just Be.  Its lazy.  Its permissive.  Its the door to chaos.  Anarchy.  Society will totally crumble if we’re not ever-vigilant.  If we don’t judge often and quickly, and condemn accordingly.  The papers are full of it, the news is full of it, and our heads are full of it. 

Thing is, its a lie.  A big fat hairy puss-filled seething boil of a lie.  It doesn’t make us better.  It deepens our shame and makes us worse.  It is the thing that takes us away from what we want directly into what we say we won’t tolerate. Pounding on a treadmill because we think we’re fat will keep us fat.  Loving our body and moving it in ways that bring us joy will bring us to Health.

Its work learning to be with your body.  Learning to be with your emotions.  Not analyze, not fix, not work on or improve, just Be.  Whether or not you were raised in a religion, bad churching has informed every part of our society.  We have this idea that if you’re doing it right, life will be easy.  If your life has difficulty, then you must have done something wrong.  I don’t know how that idea came from a religion with a guy being persecuted by both the fundamentalists of his own religion and the colonialist government in place to the point of dying the death saved only for traitors and terrorists, but it did.   So we pathologize all sorts of things that are perfectly normal, and in fact necessary for our development.  We think if we’re uncomfortable, there must be something wrong.  We numb by analyzing, diverting attention, eating, drinking, -holicism– anything really to avoid just being in our bodies and just feeling our emotions. 

Its caused a deficit of empathy in our society.  We don’t want to feel bad, so we default to distorted Providing instead of Nurturing.  We view everything and everyone– including ourselves and our emotions–as problems to be fixed rather than creatures to be held.  Its backwards.  Maybe there is a problem, maybe resources are needed, but if the connection isn’t made with the Being first, then the solutions applied will be oppressive rather empowering, and they will eventually backfire. 

My body reminded me of this in its latest letter to me.   Its voice is the exact opposite from the voice in my head: its loving and supportive.  There is a gentle strength that is so soothing and enlivening. Though I was raised in an environment where we went to church 5 times a week, my relationship with my body is my first real experience with agape.  At the time of the letter, I’d been focusing too intently on the symbolic meaning of things and it was getting stressful as I strove to figure it all out. “I appreciate your commitment to listening to me and learning my language” she said, ” but I am not a puzzle to be solved.  I am not a problem to be fixed.  Just love me. Listen to me, and we’ll figure it out as we go along.  You’re smart and you’re listening.  Don’t worry that you’ll miss it. I’ll let you know.”

Remember the same in your own walk and development.  As you’re learning to listen and working on the relationship you have with your body and your emotions, release the drive to do something with what comes up– create space where it can just be first.  So often, just allowing it to Be is the solution…

 

“On the horizons and in themselves”

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Found this post from June 2010… these days, I’m asking where I plant bombs in my own marathon-  then, I was looking for the gash in my soul that poured toxicity into my ocean

 

There’s a verse in the Qur’an that speaks to the connection of all things and the expectation that we’re to examine those connections to bring our development forward: “and they shall see the signs on the horizons and in themselves”

As I watch the oil gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, and become increasingly frustrated at what seems to be a criminal lack of action following a criminal act of negligence, the feelings of anger and powerlessness and anger at my powerlessness work themselves into a full frenzy.

Deep within, my own Pele screams for accountability, and though I hear the chorus calling for accountability growing all around me, the call seems to be falling on deaf ears. Is it possible to be a lone chorus in the desert wailing about a gushing gash in the sea?

I feel the tension in my body. As if a hand has entered the back door of my heart and bears down. My jaw is tight. Anger stiffens the muscles up my neck and into my head. My brow is twisted. Feelings of anger, frustration, powerlessness bubble up from the deepest part of me and sour into fury. I want asses kicked. I want heads to roll. I want Justice.

I want Vengence.

Every picture of an oil-soaked bird, every report of what the toxins are doing to the wildlife, every thought of those whose livelihood is ruined are a pump that hauls this inky sticky dark murderously coating flammable toxin to the surface, knocking through my stomach, tearing through my throat, scouring over my teeth growling on my tongue…

There is a gash in the floor of my soul’s sea- the rage seems endless. It pours forth at astonishing rates and shows no sign of stopping~

Taken aback at the realization of the oil spilling forth within me, I stop and feel. I watch and listen.

Its just like when…
yes. of course.
The memory-feelings of injustices past are flooding through me. The fudged safety inspections, the bad deals, the ways my self-respect was bargained down for a short-term gain (or fear of a short-term loss)
yes, they too never faced accountability. They too ran and spun and lied when confronted-

but that’s not where the gash is- that’s not the source of this rage, of this anger…

No. Its how I didn’t hold them accountable. Its how I confronted, but didn’t require responsibility. Its how I did not take steps to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, and thus let it happen again. This gushing gash that bleeds toxins into the sea of Grace inside of me- it was caused by my own lack of accountability.

(!)

I’ve devoted much thought lately to the differences between shame and guilt,
how they work inside of me, and how they obstruct or facilitate forgiveness,
and thus affect Change.

Guilt is incident-specific. I screwed-up. I can make amends. I can change what needs to be changed so that it doesn’t happen again (or at least an arc of improvement is begun). Guilt is a trouble-shooting system that finds a problem, then finds a solution. There is no attack on my foundation, my character. Shit happens. Guilt lets me know that it just did so I can get the clean-up crew on it.

Shame builds a case against me. I didn’t just screw up. I AM a Screw-Up. Immutably so; and here’s the laundry list of crimes to prove it. Shame is a judgment against who and what I am at the core. It is a track that leads to despair, for there is little that can be done. The clean up crew is left helpless- this is a spot that won’t scrub out.

As the stench from the fumes pulsing from the gash inside me waft up, I recognize that Shame will stretch the the breach farther open- whether that shame is directed inwardly or outwardly. I see how shame blocks me from being able to forgive. From being able to let go. Shame grips me by the neck and holds my face down- suffocating me, rendering all my movements impotent. It dredges up on my shores, it weighs down my cranes so they cannot fly, it suffocates the marine life within me, polluting my water thoroughly.

Responsibility and Accountability liberate me. They pull me out of the blame game that keeps my face so close to the dung pile. They are my path to the surface, my lungs full of fresh, clean, air. This shift has plugged the leak inside of me. The torrent has ceased, and there is only the rocking motion of the moon-pulled tide. As I roll up my sleeves to clean up the mess this Shame-Spill has unleashed in my internal ocean, I am relieved. Grateful.

“For evil in the world is nothing other than evil from our hearts that’s been let out”, Yann Martel writes in Life of Pi, and now I know where to look inside of myself to make sure I’m not contributing to this natural disaster.