As my process is moving further along, the contrast between how I feel about myself at times and the reality of things becomes more obvious to the point where, if in the past the insidious self-denigrating thoughts would manage to sneak under the radar of my awareness, now the radar is setting off a deafening alarm and demanding that I’d do something lest I can’t really move on to attend to the rest of my life. I think this is supposed to be a good thing!
One big area in my life where I tend to feel bad in particular is around my physicality and especially around my weight. I know many women struggle with that due to the internalized messages from the society. For me, my already complex relationship with my body was further complicated in my teenage years by an adult in my life that decided to give me his unsolicited commentary on how I put on some weight.
I recently gained a few pounds after losing a bunch of weight and my recent decision has been to do nothing about it accept to keep eating healthy (at least for now). For one, I’m tired of having food take up so much of my attention, never knowing when and how much to eat so I’m not hungry but also not gain weight. But more than this, I see the feeling of being “too fat” as a great opportunity to practice the idea of unconditional love for myself.
Unfortunately I’ve discovered that just saying I’m ok to myself doesn’t always cut it. Fortunately, however, I’m learning that there’s something else I can do which does have a transformative power, only it’s quite uncomfortable.
This morning as I was getting dressed I was noticing how my thighs are much bigger than I’d like them to be and from there things started going south as you can imagine, Not only was I feeling bad about my looks, I also started to get worried that I’m going to have a crummy day because of how I’m feeling about myself, that I wouldn’t be able to get anything done and that I can’t be there for others. It was obvious to me that I had to stop everything and nip this downward spiral in the bud.
So I sat down to meditate and after I anchored myself in my breath I let myself watch my thoughts. Then, I decided to go directly towards the raw feelings underneath the thoughts and to see if I can let myself experience them fully instead of pushing them away. What I found was pretty heavy shame and humiliation, there was also plain hatred.
The way I worked with these very painful feelings was: I literally breathed them all in right into my heart and then, with the out breath I imagined creating more and more physical space around them. After doing that for a while my throat started restricting so I tried vocalizing my exhales, which brought on some emotional release of some deep sadness and grief, which led to a sense of relief and of coming home. I felt like the next step would be to move all of this out but I had to go on to the next thing. At that point it felt like something already shifted.
Allowing myself to feel the pain full out resulted in me being able to see things with more clarity; it felt like I was breathing in some kind of ancestral burden which I somehow inherited and wasn’t mine inherently. I had a body memory of being quite young and feeling totally uncomfortable in my skin. It’s as if I always wanted to be somebody else and that something about me is not right. The way it was manifested was very physical: I didn’t have the right skin, the right hair, the right nose. This makes a lot of sense when you come from a long line of people who were targeted for destruction. If I had to name these set of feelings i would call it The Embodiment of Internalized Hatred.
Opening my heart and feeling the pain directly allowed me to bring compassion to my suffering. I was able to think of individuals that would love me no matter how I look like and Imagine myself going back to my younger self to say that she is quite intact and quite right. I was also able to have more of an outside perspective and see how much as a teenager I seemed to think that how I looked was The most important thing, as if that was the only determining factor for being loved and accepted.
The timing of all of this is quite amazing given what I just heard from my Rabi in his Yom Kippur sermon. It was about how this holiday is all about love and arriving at a place where we swim in self love with no doubts, like fish swim in water and never question the water as its natural environment. That the way to arrive at this place is by opening our heart and experiencing in full the places that we feel least loved. Just allowing ourself to let go of resistance and sit with the discomfort. To cut right through it and cry about it if necessary. That there’s no way to feel authentic compassion towards anyone else in the world unless we can find heart for our own struggles.
I know my sharings can be pretty revealing at times but I find courage in the hopes that you can feel a little less alone with your struggles and maybe even inspired to use my discoveries when you feel like you are in a similar situation. That when you feel anything but love for yourself, you can sit down and find the raw feeling underneath and breathe the pain right into your heart. That following that you breathe out lots of spaciousness to make room for all of it.
I know that the only way to heal humanity is if we all find a way in to our soft spot in our hearts as individuals. For me this time of year in particular calls for this practice.