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“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’” ~ Nayyirah Waheed
I have never been thin.
Chubby. Large. The sizes I wore, when my Mom ordered clothes for me, were only available from the Sears catalog.
I still remember the teasing and hurtful taunts I endured, especially in grade school when we were all trying to find our path; they are too painful to repeat, but they bring tears, even now.
The fat girl nobody wanted to date in high school.
My partner Steve and I have been living in a renovated school bus for a few months now—there is no full-length mirror. As long as my clothes still fit, I don’t pay any attention to my weight. However, recently we’ve been house-sitting for some new friends while they travel—there are mirrors here.
There are mirrors in the bathrooms.
Every time I shower and open the curtain, I see most of myself in the mirror above the sink. Every time I see myself naked, I am shocked: sagging skin and everything is pale, wrinkly, and droopy. Imperfect breasts that were never quite the same size. Varicose veins that, I suppose, were a gift from my biological mother.
I look at this body that has allowed me to live for 56 years and I am ashamed of it; I am ashamed of myself. I have no desire for anyone to see these parts of me. I can no longer live in a world of self-delusion: where my body is close to perfect, proportional, and beautiful; it’s right there in front of me with no place to hide except behind a turquoise towel.
Shame—my only friend at times. Shame loves to snuggle with me when I see this image in the mirror, and the voices in my head tell me how worthless, ugly, and unlovable I am. Shame holds me close, as only she knows how to do so well.
Brené Brown is well-known for her research on shame. According to Brown, body image is the number one shame trigger for women. In her book, Daring Greatly, she states:
“Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal we’ve not lived up to, or a goal we’ve not accomplished, makes us unworthy of connection.”
Yes, I have failed to live up to the ideal of having a perfect body, and though I have tried many times, my body refuses to get below a certain weight. Failure.
I can show kindness to strangers. So, why can’t I show kindness to this body, just as it is, that has been my home for the past 56 years? I want to be my body’s best friend.
How can I get past this shame that I feel and move toward maitri? Maitri is described as loving-kindness toward ourselves and others. I want to show love and kindness to myself—all of me—physical and otherwise.
Pema Chödrön brings equanimity into the picture, she says:
“Equanimity means we are able to be with ourselves and our world without getting caught in ‘for’ and ‘against,’ without judging things as ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ without getting caught up in opinions and beliefs and solidly held views about ourselves and our world.”
The key is meditation. Pema describes the process as such:
“Meditation is a patient process of knowing that gradually over time, these habits are dissolving. We don’t actually get rid of anything. We are just steadfast with ourselves, developing clearer awareness and becoming honest about who we are and what we do. In basic sitting practice, we befriend ourselves and we cultivate maitri toward ourselves.”
We befriend and cultivate maitri toward ourselves. My sweet body longs for this—as do I. Tears fill my eyes just thinking of it.
I have tried meditation practices many times throughout my life and the habit just never seems to stick. I need the peanut-butter-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth kind of stick this time. I need to commit to giving myself this gift, my total self.
I participated in Deepak Chopra’s 21 Days of Abundance program last month. I found myself craving the daily meditations, sometimes listening to them multiple times throughout the day. The program was enlightening and I highly recommend it. However, the program ended and my meditations shortly thereafter.
Pema states that these qualities of maitri are created when we meditate: steadfastness, clear-seeing, experiencing our emotional distress, and attention to the present moment.
Each time I feel shame from this moment on, I am committing to stopping, taking a few deep breaths, and focusing on something beautiful around me: the trees waving in the wind, the love in the eyes of my dogs and cat, the birds, the water. I will let these surround me and help me find the beauty in myself.
I am going to start a regular meditation practice again, and if I miss a day here and there, so be it.
I will love all of myself, without shame.
Cheers to a melting heart—full of maitri—less shame and becoming best friends with my body.
If this is, also, a struggle for you—I invite you to join me in this journey.