Growing Roots (A Series): Part III

“Where do you feel that in your body?”

animal-autumn-cute-21259.jpgIt’s a simple question but one that tends to leave people perplexed for a minute or two. The head tilts, the brow furrows. This question was first introduced to me by my own coach; I then learned more about it, and about the criticality of body awareness to my own sense of being rooted in this life.

I’m afraid. I’m angry. I’m lonely.

Where do you feel that in your body?

The truth is that when we are consumed by our emotions, we are usually not paying a bit of attention to the body. In that state we are all about the mind and the story about how we are feeling, what caused us to feel that way, our chances for feeling differently, and what we can/should or can’t/shouldn’t do about it.

We never stop to see how we really FEEL. The body can do that for us. It gives us an expression of our emotion that is tangible, concretely experiential without the mental torment of all of the analysis that goes with upset. We can feel the vibration of the emotion in our bodies, observe and experience AND, perhaps with some practice, let it pass through without acting on it at all.

This allows us to experience how we really feel without all of the double-torture of the resistance to it and the suffering that comes with our mental stories about it. In this way we can enter into a conversation with how we feel instead of being in a screaming match with our emotions or constantly playing jailor to the things we wish to avoid.

Unfortunately one of the things many of us wish to avoid is how we feel about our bodies, so its really no wonder that we’ve distanced ourselves from them so thoroughly. I spent years moving with lightning speed from shower to bathrobe to avoid seeing my body in the giant mirror right outside the shower stall.

I couldn’t bear the intense self-criticism that accompanied that moment, the cataloguing of flaws, the harsh assessments of my efforts to get/be/and stay fit, the listing of the shifting physical realities that barred me from enjoying the fitness I had once achieved before arthritis, before twin pregnancy, before I had so very many other responsibilities. So I avoided her, that woman in the mirror.

In truth that act of avoidance was a condemning judgment all its own, a shame-filled retreat into bathrobes and baggy clothes.┬áThe price for all of this shame (as if shame weren’t bad enough all on its own) was excruciatingly high.

It turns out that we can’t lob criticisms on just one part of ourselves without feeling it in a more universal way. Our ego responds to those barbs with efficiency. In my brain, if I wasn’t fit enough to be seen by myself in my own bathroom, I was certainly not ready for primetime in any part of my life. I couldn’t feel confident with other women. I couldn’t’ take steps forward with my career. Every path would eventually be blocked by this sense of being so wrong, this overwhelming discomfort with the very fact of who I physically am.

In distancing myself from my own body, I stunted my own development and growth in ways that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. I didn’t know that the care of the body, the relationship with the body, the willingness to experience myself through the body were all part of a way of being rooted, of having an incredibly strong foundation, of staying steady enough to grow.┬áThe body is a channel for deep rooting that our self-judgment and societal pressure has, for many of us, shut down.

The good news is that you have control over that channel, and rooting through the body is something that one can do intentionally by taking specific and concrete steps.

First and foremost rooting through the body requires a certain level of physical awareness, an in-touchness with physical sensation that can be fostered by simply allowing and lingering on the way that we feel in the body (cold, hot, relaxed, tingly) at any given moment, noticing and taking that in.

blur-body-care-161608Once we increase a sense of body-awareness (which really is more like body aliveness), it is infinitely easier to sort out what helps us to feel deeply good – what creates sensations of pleasure, of comfort, of wellness, of connection.

When we are paying enough attention to those sensations, we can actually change the way that we do things – small things like which socks we wear and bigger things like what we choose to eat – out of a clear sense of what feels best to us.

It sounds simple, perhaps too simple, but it was something that never occurred to me. I made most of those decisions based on a need to be efficient, practical, or a need to discipline myself in some way.

Approaching self-care as a way of responding to the body’s signals sends a deep message, a message that says: “You are worthy of attention. You are worthy of care. I am listening.”

THESE messages, just like avoidance and self-criticism don’t go ignored by the spirit. They are messages that inspire confidence, that allow us to imagine that we can have and do what we want, that we can be trusted to care for ourselves and others. They also create a relationship with the body that empowers it to experience our emotions so that we can stop stuffing them down or discarding them as unimportant. We can learn to be ourselves.

These messages of worthiness, capacity, and trust; these practices that affirm us both physically and emotionally can give us strength and courage to root us, to help us reach higher, spread out and claim our place in this world, to unfurl and feel the sunlight.

The body is a glorious channel, a conduit for growing roots. Are you listening to her?

 

Fighting With My Body

I’ve been fighting with my body lately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started. I sense that it has been a progression, a slide into rather than a snap change.

animal-canine-dachshund-1139797You see there was a long period of fighting with my body in the past: thinking horrible things about it, avoiding looking in the mirror, being angry about its failure to perform or serve me as I deemed perfect. I thought unkind thoughts. I sent unkind messages. I treated it poorly.

I worked really hard on all of that and I really did overcome it. I knew I had really gotten somewhere when I noticed that instead of jumping into my terrycloth robe after my shower I was taking my time drying off in front of the mirror before donning my robe and that on warm days I would take the robe back off as soon as it had helped suck up the drops of water I couldn’t reach. Just kind of parading around in my bathroom in my birthday suit, even with HUGE mirrors around. That never would have happened.

And then I happened on a series of physical mishaps and biological realities. Discomfort made itself known in many ways. It’s a long and boring story, but there was a series of ailments. And I began to sneer. I began to roll my eyes at my body. I began to put “stupid” in front of body parts that weren’t behaving the way I wanted them to. I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I didn’t notice until just today when I realized that I felt heavy – not in terms of pounds, but physically heavy, like carrying myself around was a burden. As I went up the steps to say goodnight to the kids, I cursed the pain in my foot. I sighed at the stiffness in my hamstrings. I grimaced at the tightness of a T-shirt I wore proudly last month. Every noise, every gesture, every irritation an insult aimed at myself, the most concrete, tangible part of myself. Hurling punishments for bad behavior like some kind of stereotypical evil foster parent in a after school special movie.

What on earth am I doing? How did this happen? I know how it happened. I forgot. And things got stressful. And stuff didn’t work the way I wanted it to and instead of answering all of that with tenderness, I got pissed off and resentful and I took it out on myself, my favorite target. Now because you are reading me rather than hearing me speak, you may think it sounds like I’m all kinds of mad at myself, like I’m scolding myself. I’m really not.

I admit I’m a little frustrated with myself, but really it’s just part of a trend I’ve noticed.

I “know” that compassion is the only answer when things get tough, but that muscle needs more exercise: gentle, sweet exercise. I know that compassion is the best answer when things get tough, but I’m still learning and there’s a lot of programming that I’m undoing. It will surface. The old beliefs, the old habits, even the ones that aren’t good for me, they’re the ones that show up when I’m stressed.

adventure-blue-sky-cape-town-920038And so here I am, seeing the change. Here I am noticing and, because I’ve worked on it and reflected on this relationship so much in my coach training, I see the effect those insults have on me. I see the heavy feeling. I see the sadness growing. I see the impatience with every imperfection showing up. I see my impatience with everything increasing. I see my lack of compassion with myself reflected in my impatience with everyone around me. I am literally connecting all of these dots as I type these words with my bum finger, my achy foot, and my distressed belly. I am connecting these dots and remembering how far we’ve come this body and I. I am remembering everything this body has done for me, on my feet, with my hands, even with my poor old mommy parts (full-term, full-size twins is not a small thing). I am remembering that I love me, even when things aren’t perfect and that I deserve to feel that love, even in my creaky knees and arthritic joints and tempestuous middle-aged mommy parts.

bath-blur-brush-275765And I’m tearing up a little bit. I’m a little sad for myself and a little sorry for these parts of me that have been calling out for love. I need to pause and remember what that looks like. I need to apply love bodily. I need to use ice and heating pads and take long, hot showers. I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and that I’m eating things that make me and this body feel great.

It is the week leading up to my 49th birthday (holy shit when did that happen). This is a week of promises to myself, covenants of self-love, self-respect, and devotion. It’s also a week of awareness, seeing what’s going on, noticing the patterns, and gently moving in the direction of love because that’s the only direction this body and I want to go.

Eff My Fitbit

Years ago, after my twins were born, I bought a pedometer. It was just a simple thing that I attached to my clothing so I could keep track and I committed to myself to increasing my activity level, in hopes of speeding up the return to my pre-baby weight. I think my first goal was 5,000 steps. Over the years since then I’ve graduated from that simple pedometer to my Fitbit which, in addition to tracking my steps, let me know how long I was sleeping, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really pay attention to. I used the Fitbit to keep track of my progress toward that 10,000/day goal. I enjoyed that Fitbit when we were in Rome clocking 20,000 every day surrounded by ancient architecture. Here at home I kept the dog and I moving in precise ways for specific amounts of time to meet my goal.

This relationship with my weird watch seems pretty reasonable if we make some basic assumptions. The first assumption that we have to agree to is that more activity is always an inherently good thing. The second assumption that we have to agree to is that measuring is the way to get that to happen. The third implied assumption here is that if we didn’t use some device to spur on a competition with ourselves, there would be no change.

self-love for weight lossThese assumptions make the Fitbit just one more in a long line of devices and strategies used by women to make our bodies “better,” “right,” “more beautiful,” which means: “smaller.” The goal of being smaller is assumed. We agree that measuring (and shaming) is a good way to get there. And we are certain that without some sort of external discipline giver, there will be no change. We will be hopeless.

I had bought in. I’ve judged myself in the mirror based on size. I shuddered at the “big boned” title I bore in earlier years. I have been an external discipline-giver extraordinaire. I’ve used all manner of measuring (how many steps, how many miles, how many calories, how many inches, what size number, what BMI, what heart rate). I’ve created a variety of rules for myself (no fat, low fat, high fiber, no meat, clean meat, whole grain, no grain, less sugar, no sugar, no dairy, no soy – no these weren’t all at the same time). I’ve assumed that if left to my own devices nothing would ever change.

What I didn’t realize is that I was never actually left to my own devices because I was not paying attention to the best device I had. I was not paying attention to how I felt. I was not paying attention to how foods felt in my body. I was not paying attention to how different kinds of exercise felt to my body (hello bone spurs and surgery). I was not paying attention to the good feelings I got from healthful foods and stopping eating when I was satisfied. I was not paying attention to the energy and lightness of being that I felt after exercising.

tracking steps for weight lossI needed the external device because I wasn’t paying any attention to the guidance I had all along. I needed the external device because I was determined to look how I “should” and I was sure I couldn’t be trusted to handle that mission.

As you can guess if you’ve been following along for a while, things have changed a bit. Now the internal guidance IS the device. It is where I turn for instruction on how to take care of this body. It is where I turn to hear the signals and feel the signs. It is where I turn to take note of what works and doesn’t work. It is where I turn to decide what weight feels good, what exercise feels good, what kind of food feels good.

THAT is what being left to your own devices can be, if you learn to listen.

I was still wearing my Fitbit until a couple of days ago, mostly out of habit. The toggle button had fallen off a while back, so it’s functions were more limited, but I kept on charging it up and putting it back on. I would occasionally look at it while walking, but more and more often I noticed that I wasn’t using that information to make any decisions.

More and more I was using my own feedback and considering factors like the weather and the capacity of my aging canine friend. We go longer on good days, shorter on bad. The pace and the path are determined by what I and he need. Whether I listen to a podcast or not is determined by whether or not I need quiet. My other exercise has been figured out by trial and error – what makes me feel strong and capable, what makes my body feel good, what leaves me feeling energized and satisfied.

And so a couple of days ago I took that Fitbit off. I set aside its measurements and its task of inspiring me to compete with myself (and others). I set aside the ugly band that I hated seeing. I set aside its online awards and graphs. I am left to my own devices and boy does that feel good.