“There comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.” ~ Barbara Brown Taylor
I remember visiting with my mom in the nursing home, during one of the last years of her rich and complicated life. She was an accomplished artist, a gifted musician, a summa cum laude intellectual. She birthed seven children and created a home full of vibrant color and music. Still, with all of this as her legacy, she lay in her bed, unable to walk, wishing out loud that she could lose a few pounds. Actually, more than a few. I don’t recall any time in her life that my mother was ever comfortable in her own skin. And I remember thinking that day as she again voiced her unhappiness with her physical body, “I cannot and will not do this to myself.”
At what point in our lives do we surrender to loving ourselves? And are we even aware of the sweet liberation, the pure joy that simple act can bring? I went through years of anorexia and starved myself down to a bone, quite literally, and it wasn’t enough. I wanted to control, to shape, to have power over something and that something was my body. The more I exerted control, however, the more I grew to hate my body, even as those around me showered me with praise for how much “will power” I had and how flat my stomach had become.
Yesterday, I went to the Fremont Solstice Parade in Seattle. This annual parade kicks off with hundreds of naked cyclists, their bodies adorned with brilliantly colored and fabulously creative body paint. Always curious, I had wanted to attend just for the sheer spectacle of it. As the first few cyclists made their way down the parade route, I will admit to being amused and focused on their lack of clothing. But as the number of cyclists increased–painted as animals, super heroes, Rubik’s cubes, politicians, and even Canadian Mounties–I found myself exhilarated by their ease in their own skin. No one was flaunting anything and there was nothing even remotely sexual about any of it. No airbrushing and very little, if any, silicone enhancements. Just hundreds upon hundreds of round and slim, fleshy and firm, old and young, joyously colorful, naked human beings wishing us all a blessed Solstice.
They inspired me.
I remember hearing someone once refer to our physical bodies as “variations on a theme.” I love that so much. If you immerse yourself in popular culture and little else, it is very difficult to believe that any “variation” on the ideal human body is acceptable. We are inundated with images of (mostly) young women that have very little basis in reality. Every women’s magazine cover is a contradiction in messages–“Love and accept yourself!” “Flatter abs in five minutes!” Five-page spreads on the latest and greatest Diet To Happiness interspersed with ads for Cheetos and Haggen Das. We obsess over and criticize our own bodies with our girlfriends over coffee and then cluck in judgment over the latest celebrity’s weight gain. WTF? We talk of ourselves in terms of “being good” as it relates to what we have eaten that day, not, sadly, how we have treated others or lived our life. If you ask me, shame does not happen when I eat an extra cookie; I feel shame when I lie, cheat, or hurt others.
I am a yoga teacher and by virtue of my chosen profession, very focused on my (and other’s) physical body as it relates to the practice of yoga. It is impossible to hide on a yoga mat. But my yoga practice has never asked me to be perfect or to lose weight. It only asks me to show up and breathe into my tightness, whether that tightness is in my hamstrings or in my need to control. Yoga has given me the priceless gift of unconditional love. Yoga has helped me become more comfortable in my own skin. I am no longer the insecure, bony skeleton I was in my early twenties. I have curves and roundness that in an earlier life I would have condemned. And although sometimes in a deep twist or a challenging arm balance I am still prone to wishing there was a few less pounds of me to ease into my effort, I no longer berate myself for being who I am on any given day. I am healthy and grateful. Here I am.
At what point do we surrender to loving ourselves? At what point do we abandon the obsession with perfection (or those last five/ten/fifteen pounds) and instead begin to show up in a much bigger, more valuable way with big thoughts and big ideas and big love? It makes me sad beyond sad to know that my mother, with all of her gifts to this world, was never able to to look at herself and say, without shame, “Here I am.”
I love it when life surprises me in a delightful way. Yesterday morning, I left for the parade curious for the spectacle. That afternoon I returned inspired. Hundreds of bare-skinned strangers, each one of them colorfully shouting from their bicycles, “Here I am. This is my soul’s address.”
Happy Solstice. Amen.