I have taught many classes over the years on various aspects of life-management. I usually start by asking what issues people are struggling with the most. What I have noticed is that a greater number of people are requesting help in the area of how to deal with suffering -- self-inflicted suffering they experience at their own hands, how they perceive their own body image. For many women, and an increasing number of men, feelings on this subject range from mild emotional discomfort to outright self-hatred every time they look in the mirror.
Being a female in 21st-century America, and being in my 50s, I can honestly say in the spirit of "been there, done that" that there is nothing I fail to understand about hacking oneself to pieces with an overly critical eye. I suspect every female over the age of 12 knows from personal experience something about this painfully slippery slope where self-identification and self-worth become grotesquely morphed together into one irreconcilable mess.
You can blame the media all you like with those beautiful, thin supermodels on television and in print ads, but the real underlying problem starts from within. Seeing who you really are through the filter of body image is like trying to get a clear picture of yourself in a funhouse mirror. The lens itself is bent and twisted, rendering everything in its reflection a misconstrued version of reality. Like all other issues that originate with perspective, the problem is a symptom of an inner distortion: a bigger picture misunderstanding where truth has gotten overshadowed and lost along the way.
The most essential pattern that needs to be addressed is that we think we are our bodies. We take bad hair days personally; we see body weight as an all-out war we wage on a daily basis; we imagine we look unattractive in almost everything we try on. The old saying, "We have seen the enemy and it is us" has never been more appropriate. We intellectually understand that we are not the physical trappings of this world, but we don't live it. We know on some level that we are not our bank accounts, yet when there is not much money in the checkbook, our self-esteem and self-confidence get as low as the dollar figure. So it is no surprise that the physical packaging, what we carry with us everywhere we go, gets the same or a heightened sense of myopic self-absorbed, misplaced self-identification. After all, what is more "in your face" than your face? And what is more "up close and personal" than the body you experience yourself inhabiting?
The classic Eastern forms of self-healing and philosophy, such as Buddhism and Taoism, remind us that we are not our bodies. We have a body, but what we really are is beyond the body. We are a form of consciousness, a form of spiritual wisdom and intelligence that existed before we came here to the planet earth and took a body, and will continue to exist long after we have discarded this modus operandi and moved on to our next evolutionary step.
Knowing that the truth shall set you free, here are the keys these ancient systems of self-knowing advise you to incorporate to release the perpetual perceptual chains that bind you. The body willingly agrees to this one-sided relationship unconditionally. The body agrees to go through aging, illness, injury, birth defects, surgeries, cellulite and unfashionable haircuts because the body loves you that much! Shocking isn't it. Just take a moment and let that sink in. How many people do you know that would unconditionally agree to grow old for you? Gain weight for you? Lose hair for you? Be crushed in car accidents or be blown to pieces for you? The body is the greatest, unconditional lifelong love affair you will ever have.
Imagine there was a person standing next to you your whole life. And this other person shoulders all the health consequences, all the hormonal transformations, organ transplants, bad boob jobs and hair replacements. This other person carries the burden of all the poor choices you make -- excess weight from lack of exercise, health issues due to fast food. Would you treat this other person the way you do your body, violently screaming that they are an idiot, stupid, unlovable, uncooperative, ugly and repulsive? Or would you be cheering them on with loving words of gratitude, support and encouragement for their selfless devotion to your evolution?
I can answer that from personal experience. I have lived with incredible physical pain at times for years at a stretch. What helped me to heal was to thank my body for taking this process on for me. I became the body's best cheerleader by always reminding it that it had the wisdom and ability to recover from anything, and I loved it with all my heart. I discovered that when I acknowledged the body for its unconditional love, I was able to move through the pain without being crushed by it. I was able to focus on the health results I wanted without taking the difficulty of the journey so personally that it crippled me.
Whether or not you embrace what Buddhism, Taoism or Vedantic philosophies have to say about the human experience, here is the bottom line: Pay attention to how you feel when you engage in an abusive rant, accusing your body of ruining your life and making you miserable. Is this the relationship with the body and mind you want to continually invest in? When has criticizing and despising the body ever solved a single body image problem? Has it made them all worse? Would you be indifferent to other people treating you in this way? Of course not. So why do you tolerate your own unjust behavior when you have the power to stop it? Look around at your friends and loved ones. Would you practice unleashing that kind of cruel hostility on the most irreplaceable relationships in you life?
You have the power to transform this relationship into the greatest love affair you will ever know. It starts with learning how to love and respect your way to success, because if a lack of self-acceptance and resentment were going to solve your problems... It would have by now.
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