Thursday, October 24, 2013

Miss Understood

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone who referenced my comments on Facebook regarding an article I shared.  She said it was no wonder I was having trouble with a former colleague.  I was telling everyone to get larger while he wanted everyone to come in to the gym to get smaller.

Wait - what?  I don't recall saying that.  I do recall saying I would never again apologize for the space I take up and if you didn't like it you could move your ass over.  But telling everyone to get larger?  What?

In her defense I know she was just kidding around.  But it got me wondering if perhaps I'm coming off the wrong way.  When I say that I'm not going to make myself "small" anymore do people think I'm talking about my size?  Because I'm not.

I don't give exercise advice here because it's no longer my job to do so and you can find just about anything you want to know on the internet already written by smarter people than me (and some not so smart).  In addition, what's right for me is not necessarily right for you.  Same with nutrition.  I'm not going to tell you what to eat.  I'm not going to write a specific diet out for you.  Because, frankly, I don't believe in that.  I once had a trainer try to give me a diet to follow that seriously listed items such as: 4 raw green beans, 7-9 almonds, 6 pieces raw broccoli, protein shake.  Are you fucking kidding me?  What I eat may not be what you want to eat and I'm not about to tell you to eat something you don't like.  Seriously - have you met me?  I firmly believe food should be pleasurable.  I do have some pretty definite feelings on both issues and if you ever wanted to really talk about it I would be happy to give my opinion but that's not what this blog is about.

From the beginning of this blog I have been about one thing - making peace with my own body.  Whether that leads me to wearing a smaller size someday or not, that is my goal.  It was my entire bucket list in my last blog.  But maybe people aren't smelling what I'm cooking here.  Maybe I'm not making any sense. Maybe I've become a misheard lyric.

Oh my God.  I'm Tony Danza.

Body Acceptance.  That's what I'm talking about.  But I'm starting to wonder if people think I'm talking about Fat Acceptance instead.  There is a movement online that's gaining momentum for Fat Acceptance and I think it's a fabulous thing.  I think the pain, harassment and prejudice that people of any size larger than average endure is unacceptable.  I think people should not be ashamed of their weight and deserve to love their bodies. But I'm not actually talking about Fat Acceptance because my feelings go so much further than that.  I don't care if you are overweight or underweight.  I know for a damn fact that you have battled body shame at one point or another in your life, regardless of weight, and every single one of us can benefit from Body Acceptance.  Every single one of us.

But what does Body Acceptance mean?  I think for many there is a belief that if you accept your body as it is right now that you are admitting defeat.  You are giving up.  You are lazy.  You are unmotivated.  You are making excuses.  But I'm about to lay down some truth on you and tell you why they're wrong.

Before I do that, you should know that I struggle sometimes with really slowing down and meditating on things.  I think it's because I get way too emotional.  I like to lift heavy stuff and I like to box.  I have not really connected with yoga yet and that's probably because the whole two classes and one meditation I've been to made me bawl like a baby.  Today I am going to get all Zen up in this bitch.

I've considered learning more about Buddhism many, many times.  I've been so turned off by religion from lifelong experiences that this "philosophy" really appeals to me. To lead a moral life; to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions; to develop wisdom and understanding.  I can get on board with that without all the traditional religious dogma.  However, aside from the fact that I'd probably get kicked out of both branches of Buddhism for continually repeating this entire scene from Caddyshack by heart, I didn't get very far in much of the teachings.  It seems the first of the Five Precepts of Buddhism is to avoid killing or harming living things.  Houston, we have a problem.

Imagine my surprise while trying to do some research on Body Acceptance that one of the most fabulous things I came across was a Dharma talk by Tara Brach, author and leading western teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening.  Her talk, Genuine Acceptance, is definitely worth a listen on your own but I'll share some of the information that I found most beneficial.

First, let's talk about what acceptance is.  Tara defines genuine acceptance as "recognizing the truth of this moment without resistance.  With openness."  She says acceptance is an active, engaged process - not passive.  It's not lazy or giving up. It's an intention.  "Acceptance is in this moment how you are relating to the reality that's right here."  Essentially a state of heart/mind with absolute non-resisting presence.  The opposite of acceptance is "any moment that we are trying to manipulate our experience."

Tara goes on to say that there are three major archetypal challenges to acceptance that we are programmed for.  Fight-Flight-Freeze.  When we fight acceptance we push it away, we judge or blame.  Fight is full of "shoulds".  How do I apply this to the idea of body acceptance?  We judge ourselves for our own bodies or we get mean and spiteful over other bodies. (No one does the latter better than a woman.)  We "should" ourselves into a long list of restrictions and demands to try to change it.  And we beat the tar out of ourselves, emotionally and physically, in an attempt to get smaller.  Flight, in regards to acceptance, is about ignoring, denying and tensing against it to avoid pain.  I think this is where we distract ourselves with whatever method of pain relief we have. Mine is often food.  It's where we avoid truly looking in the mirror and going out and living life.  It's where we skip big events in our lives for fear of what someone else will think of our weight gain.

Freeze is more difficult for me to put a finger on.  She says that it's a "doormat in the guise of acceptance".  It's pretending acceptance when we've really just stuffed it under.  Perhaps this is where I was when I thought I had it beat and had it all figured out.  At my lightest weight and highest muscle mass and teaching classes and training clients all week and being a "role model" and "inspiration" for obesity turned fit.  Maybe that whole time when I thought I had all my shit figured out I was really just frozen.  Must have been. "If you push it under it always comes out sideways." Indeed.

Tara says that the Buddha's inquiry when life happens or when we struggle is how to find that liberating quality of non-resistant presence so that we can respond, not react.  The basic teaching in the spiritual tradition is that "wise behavior arises out of an accepting presence".  What's the difference between responding versus reacting?  Take for instance a child who has just gotten into trouble. (Not that I would know anything about this.)  I had an opportunity just this week to sit down with my child after getting a call from the school and discuss some serious topics.  Keep in mind that I had several hours to process everything and deal with my emotions but I can tell you that responding to his issue from a place of love and acceptance - knowing that maybe what happened was just merely a result of him not having all the pieces to put together in his mind - rather than reacting from a place of anger and judgment made all the difference in the world to the results we got from him.  He understood.  He responded and he was willing to change.  Parenting for the win!

In relation to the body, can you imagine how it feels to come at yourself from a place of rejection and reacting solely to that emotion.  Of course you can.  We all do it.  Sometimes even daily.  Now imagine coming at yourself from a place of whole-hearted acceptance and then responding. Of really taking in where we are in this moment, staying with it and feeling it, without judgment and thought, until we can respond with love and inevitably heal.  Doesn't that sound like a better method?  If are willing to treat our children that way why can't we approach our own selves in that manner?

Famous psychologist, Carl Rogers, once said, "It wasn't until I accepted myself just as I was in this moment that I was free to change."  Acceptance is the precursor to true transformation - accepting ourselves in this very moment.  Resignation is quitting or giving up - feeling defeated.  Don't confuse the two when I say I am working on body acceptance.

Am I able to make this change to acceptance all at once?  Of course not.  I struggle daily.  It's an active effort to steer my thoughts and feelings in the right direction and be at peace with who I am in the present.  I resist on those days I run into someone at my new gym who knew me at my lightest and I feel like I have to explain myself.  I resist when my clothes don't fit anymore or when someone talks about a certain clothing size being their "OMG I can't go back to that" size and it's the size I'm wearing right now.  And I freeze sometimes when looking in the mirror and wonder why I let myself get to this point again. (All of these things have just happened in the last few days.) But I make the intention every single day to come at myself with love and acceptance for who I am in this very moment.  It's all I can do.  And I make a little progress each and every time.

Tara Brach says that in it's purity, genuine acceptance "is no different than love.  The space that accepts is a loving space."  She doesn't say that it's easy, however.  It's going to be difficult because we are programmed to fight, flee or freeze.  It's going to take tremendous effort to arrive in that place.  That sure doesn't sound like giving up to me, though.  Maybe my pants size is larger than it used to be and maybe I'm not working out 6-7 times a week anymore but I'm not giving up.  What I am trying to do is not pretend acceptance like I did before, only to have it wreak havoc on me again.  This time it's for real and that's why I am not preaching about how you should move or what you should eat or how to get smaller.  I believe that if you truly love yourself in the form of absolute acceptance then you will RESPOND by caring for yourself in the healthy manner in which you and your body deserve.

We are all born loving and accepting ourselves just as we are.  Life changes that in so many different ways but I have to believe it's still inside me and I can find it again.  The American spiritual teacher, Gangaji, wrote, "Opening to whatever is present can be a heartbreaking business. But let the heart break, for your breaking heart only reveals a core of love unbroken."  I'm going to find that love again.

Since beginning this blog and it's Facebook page I have repeatedly used the phrase, "Love first, change second."  If you keep up with me you'll see it again. It's still my mantra. Who knew I was so fucking Zen already?

Dorothy, you've had the power all along.

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