Tag Archives: love your body

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…

 

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It is safe for me to be here.

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The Grounding Tree

“…Come to the root of the root of yourself. Molded of clay, yet kneaded from the substance of certainty, a guard at the Treasury of Holy Light—come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

Once you get hold of selflessness, you’ll be dragged from your ego and freed from many traps. Come, return to the root of the root of your Self…”

Rumi

MY MIND PLAYING TRICKS ON ME

For years, I interpreted the feelings of being grounded as sadness.  Naturally,  I avoided them as much as possible.  I ran from them, chased them away with anything I could get my hands on.

Eventually, I began to see trees spinning around in meditation.  I tried to make myself believe that it was there to teach me a lesson about symmetry and the non-duality of existence, but deep, deep inside, there was a panic.  I knew that a tree couldn’t grow, let alone produce fruit, if it didn’t have soil to sink its roots into.  It must be grounded.

I had a sense of panic because I didn’t know how to fix it.  I couldn’t be in my body. So many many bad things had happened there.  I couldn’t go inside.  Its like there was a band around my throat that kept me in my head and away from the place where I could be hurt so deeply.   Away from the place that made me so particularly vulnerable. I wanted out of my body. Off of this ride. Away from this planet where there was so much pain and suffering.

This thinking took me in to a depression that almost killed me.  Strange how running from groundedness filled my blood with lead…

Its like my body was doing everything in its power to lead me to water and push me to drink.  The more my head tried to find a way to jettison me out of my existence, the heavier my blood became.

Caring for the Inner Child

LIFTING OUT OF THE PIT

The things I used to get myself out of the pit I was in are the things I use with my clients now: inner child work, grounding in daily life, sending small, perpetual messages to my self/body/being that I’m glad I’m here and I’m worth caring for.

Simple things like:

Making my bed when I wake up in the morning.

Getting dressed in the morning, even if I’m not going anywhere.

Keeping my house tidy even when there’s no one coming over.

Cooking healthy meals for myself even if no one is eating with me.

Taking 5 minutes to straighten up before I go to bed at night so that when I come down in the morning the house looks nice.

Using baby oil after my shower to keep my skin soft.

Getting outside every day.

They’re small things.  Physical things.  Many things a mother does for a small child.  They ground me in my body and my world by demonstrating that I care.  Saying I love my self and my body isn’t good enough.  I have to show it. Daily.

In writing this morning to further process what we covered in last night’s Mood Management Monday class on the root chakra, I realized just how important these practices are- how closely aligned they are to the affirmations for the root chakra:

  • It is safe for me to be here.
  • The Earth supports me and meets my needs.
  • I love my body and trust its wisdom.
  • I am interested in abundance.
  • I am here and I am real.
  • I trust my Higher Power fulfills all my needs.
  • My life is full of prosperity.

ROOTING IN THE BODY

Imbalances in the root chakra show up as anxiety and fear, disorganization, financial difficulties, trouble in your career, greed, fear of change, clinging to security, weight issues.   Physical neglect or abuse can cause issues.  It undermines our feeling of safety in the world and our bodies and we disconnect.

Disconnecting is a very natural response to abuse and neglect.   Yet, staying disconnected makes us miserable.  The body, in its wisdom, tries to get us to connect again.  We, in our folly, don’t always recognize the signs.

Eating is a root chakra activity.   Its one of the first ways we bond with our mothers when we’re born.  If that bonding didn’t happen fully, it makes sense that we would turn to eating in an attempt to get the Mother’s Milk we’re craving.  When we convince ourselves that what we need is outside of ourselves, it makes sense that our bodies would hold on to food and metabolize it as slowly as possible to make it last.  Maybe we won’t find anymore for a while! We better make this last!

Clinging to the past, clinging to memories as if we won’t have anymore– it gets in the way of our present relationships.   Likewise, the body clings to calories and gets in the way of being able to do that yoga pose or whatever else it is that we’re beating up our body for when its actually our head fixing the game.

“FEEL THE CHAIR SUPPORTING YOU…”

During last night’s meditation with Tibetan singing bowls to get connected with our root chakras, I felt tension melting away from my jaw area.  Then I felt it dripping away from my shoulders.  Just this weekend, J had remarked about tight my shoulders were.  “I’m worrying a lot about money.” I told him.  I’m just starting the second year of my business.  Stability is not yet the name of my banking game.  At ecstatic dance Sunday morning, Cheri set the intention on forgiveness, and my body took me to surrender over and over again.  Showed me how much I fight gravity– how much I fight What Is.  Sitting in my chair as the sound of the bowls washed over me, I wondered how many of my fears and resentments, worries and frustrations stem from feeling unsupported.   The addictions that occur when the root chakra is imbalanced are all tied to feeling supported: food, gambling, shopping, work.  They’re all ways to try to gain support and security.

I have all these stories about being unsupported.  Stories about why I wasn’t supported.  Stories about why I’m not supported.  Stories about whether I’m worthy of support.  Stories about what support costs.  Stories about what support means.

So there I am, with my body supporting my life, and the chair beneath me supporting my body, and my house supporting the chair, and the earth supporting my house, watching all these stories about being unsupported run through my head.

The problem is not lack of support, the problem is not seeing the support.  The problem is being afraid to receive the support all around.  The problem is the way these stories drip their poison over the soul over the years, and how our eyes, ears, and heart closes as a result.

I’d spent the height of Sunday morning’s dance wave spiritually wretching.  Leaned over heaving with all I had to get out the poison I’d been fed.  I realize now what it was I was purging.  How my body knows before I do what it is I need!

To close out last night’s work with the root chakra, it seemed natural to do a fire ceremony to echo the root’s fire energy.  We tossed our physical and monetary fears into the flames to transform them into the acceptance and abundance that comes when we connect to how our bodies, the Earth, and the Universe are supporting our every need.

How much resistance do you have to the root chakra affirmations listed above?   Why not journal a little bit about each one and see what you discover?

Start the revolution: Love You Now

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I spent all day yesterday not writing this post.  I twiddled with my website instead.  A grand procrastination tool- do something “productive” instead of doing what you know you must.

It didn’t work very well, though, since tooling around my website just brings the issue back up again.   It left me agitated and unfulfilled.  When J asked how my day had been, my lackluster response got him asking more questions- but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Not really.  Or I wouldn’t.

“I’m having a hard time cutting lose the academic coaching stuff.” is what I told him instead, “I hid it from view, but I didn’t delete it.  I don’t know why I’m having a hard time letting it go.” I said.  But truth be told, I do know. Letting it go means I’m making room to fully move in another direction with my practice.  Its positioning myself to fully commit to working with loving our bodies and healing our distorted images and perceptions of our bodies.  I’m scared to do that.  There are many things that feed my fear:

My story with my body and all the ways it didn’t fit– regardless of how trim and fit and healthy it was or wasn’t–is a long one that I’ll write more about in another post, but the foundational lack of acceptance I felt as a result of that makes things scary.  I do them anyway, but I’m scared while I do it.

I’ve seen people that look totally normal to me get ripped to shreds for daring to speak about the unspoken when they’re supposedly carrying 20 extra pounds.  I’m carrying far more than that.  I’m afraid that speaking up about loving our bodies from the inside instead of judging them from the outside is going to draw this intense judgement and hatred.  How dare I love myself even though I don’t look like a photoshopped image from a magazine?? How dare I take up space for anything other than pubescent sexual fantasies?

Who am I to talk about loving this body I’m in when its so far from the beauty ideal?

How can I say I’m friends with my body when I have all this extra weight to carry and the strain that puts on my knees and hips?

I’m frustrated by the shame and fear I feel at the double-bind that western women are in: that we are only allowed to occupy space– especially public space– if we are adhering to ridiculous and imaginary standards of beauty and desirability.   How often are women’s ideas and work minimized because of looks?  “Aw, why listen to that fat-ass?”  “Who cares what she says- she’s ugly/old.” (as if they are the same thing for a woman)

Yet if a woman is beautiful, the assumption is that she’s stupid, so she’ll have to work equally hard to be taken seriously.  Fatima Mernissi spends quite a bit of time on this western separation of beauty and brains in her book Scheherezade Goes West. Around page 90 she spends time with Kant and his ideas that beauty and intelligence shall never in the same vessel reside. It is a shocking revelation to this Moroccan feminist, since in the Arabic cultural paradigm, a woman cannot truly be becoming unless she is intelligent.

Added on top of that is the danger we’re in if we meet the beauty ideal.  Its a lose-lose-lose for women.  I realized last night that my resistance to this has been passive-aggressive.  I have used weight as a shield to keep me safe.  Since all those that molested me as a child and assaulted me as an adult cited that I was “just so pretty [they] couldn’t resist”, then it makes sense that my body has clung to weight regardless of my exercise and eating habits.  I’ve known this for years.  I hadn’t acknowledged before how passive-aggressive this form of resistance/protection is, though.

What so much of it boils down to is this: I’m afraid of being shamed for loving myself just as I am.  In the realm of the Taliban, a woman with a book threatens the societal order.  In ours, its a woman that truly loves herself– and her body– just as she is.

And the double-bind is itself in a double-bind.  Those that deny women’s continued oppression will be angry at me for speaking of it.  Those that recognize the oppression will be angry at me for feeling shame and fear around it.  Both sides will tell me I am not allowed to feel vulnerable.  My shame and fear, once spoken, is somehow a threat to them.

Yet part of loving myself fully is recognizing the shame and fear and allowing it to be there.  I know that doing this means it is no longer operating the car of my life from the backseat.  Recognizing that its there, allowing it to be there, understanding that its there and having empathy for myself for having it- despite my academic training and all I know about how it shouldn’t be there and how I should be over it and how as a strong woman I shouldn’t let it effect me, it is there and I’m not sure how over it I am, and it does impact me.  I will love and honor myself anyway.  Maybe even because of.

It was a huge relief to speak this out last night, and as I drifted off, I knew I had to write this today.

This morning, I awoke to an email from one of the World Academy members in China.  The WAFW is showing the film Girl Rising on the SIAS campus right now, and she was deeply inspired by the film and wants to visit her old school and encourage students to continue their studies (instead of dropping out to get married or go work in a factory).  Though she finishes by telling me that she feels she needs to improve herself more before she can help others improve themselves.  The “No, no, no, honey, no” that wells up in me is so strong and immediate, there is no mistaking that the words are for me as much as they are for her.

“This idea is a trap.  If you do it right, you’ll be improving yourself your whole life.  Don’t wait until you’re done to start helping others.  That implies that you’re broken and need to be fixed.  You’re not broken.  The issues you’re dealing with will be the ones that will give you the deepest insight to help others. There will always be people ahead of you on the path that can help, there will always be people behind you on the path that need help. Get the help you need, give the help to others that they need.”

Time, again, to follow my own advice.  And in keeping with Mercury in Retrograde and the oil I’m working with this week, time to release– release these fears’ hold over me.  I learned in China that my fears don’t mean much.  Those that came true were insignificant in light of the work that I was doing, and the ones that I was the most afraid of were so ludicrously detached from reality as to be meaningless.  Its time to release them.  To forgive myself for the ways I’ve held on to them.  For the times when I sat still because they told me to instead of rebelling against them and doing what my heart called me to do.  Time for me to release the resentment and forgive those that have fed those fears in me.  Those that have and would punish me for not being ruled by them.

So I’m moving through the fire of my fear, and its burning off my clothes and leaves me standing here naked before you.  Judge me if you will, and people will, but know that that same fire has made me stronger, and hatched some dragons that take my protection–and my blooming– pretty seriously.