I woke up this morning at 3 A.M., excited to start the day and looking forward to the weekend ahead. In 2 days I will marry the love of my life, a kind, generous, funny, handsome man who loves me for who I am. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for his presence in my life, and what a gift it is to be with someone who knows (many of) my imperfections and still loves me.
It is so interesting to me that many of us find it easier to love others than to extend love to ourselves. We beat ourselves up sometimes for mistakes we have made, for reasons why we should have been better, we should have said something different, we are not good enough. But we are all good enough. We are all worthy of love. Just by existing, just by being born into this world, we have the grace of being worthy of love. When I truly started exploring this idea and understanding it, I think that was the breakthrough that helped me really begin taking much better care of myself.
Having compassion for myself allows me to give the most love I can to everyone I know. Even though some religions may advocate otherwise, beating ourselves up is not an effective way to change our behavior, and this is borne out by neuroscience research. Being kind to ourselves is always the right thing, and yet we find it hard to do. Being kind does not mean indulging our every craving or fulfilling every desire right in the moment.
Being kind means being mindful of how we feel after eating something which may harm us, and knowing that even though it may taste good in a fleeting moment, it does not bring us energy and vitality. Being kind means giving ourselves copious rest when we are tired, and connection with others when we feel lonely. Being kind means taking a few extra minutes to sit and cuddle my kitty even when I have housework to do.
There are spiritual and scientific benefits to being kind to ourselves. This is the great knowledge that the great contemplatives have always taught to us – that compassion and love are the center to a life well-lived. I believe this is one great benefit to having struggled with weight in my life. It gives me deep compassion for my struggles and the struggles of others. It helps me see that this body is working so hard to support me, and allow me to live my life. Krista Tippett talks about a yoga teacher, Matthew Sanford, who, even though he has been in a wheelchair for 30 years, says “he’s never known someone to become more at home in his or her own body, in all its flaws and its grace, without becoming more compassionate towards all of life.”
I believe this is what my weight struggle has taught me. In Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, she talks about “if love could speak” and her words are so beautiful, I quote them here:
If love could speak, it would say, ‘Eat when you are hungry, sweetheart, because otherwise you would be uncomfortable and why would anyone want to be uncomfortable.’ Love would also say, ‘Goodness and loveliness are possible, even in something as mundane as what you put in your mouth for breakfast.’
When I consider that in eating more mindfully and living my live more mindfully, I realize it starts with being aware of what we do. It starts with learning to feel our emotions fully, not push them away. Maybe we did not learn to embrace our full range of emotions when we were young, or we had caregivers that were not comfortable with their own emotions, and therefore tried not to show them. They tried not to reveal their disappointments in life, or their grief or their struggles with anger. Did they embrace their joy, and their excitement? Positive emotions are so much easier to embrace, and we want to feel them all the time. But what if contrast is part of the deal?
Brooke Castillo likes to say that life is about half good emotions and half unpleasant emotions, and this is what helps us truly live a full life. Perhaps that is why so many of us suffer. We think we are supposed to be happy all the time. But what if life does not work that way? Our emotions may be a guide to help us lean in the direction of what gives us joy. And that is a beautiful thing, but it does not mean we will never experience sorrow, or pain or grief or anger.
We are human and to embrace all of those emotions, our full range of humanity is to realize the sacred in the mundane. Discomfort is a flag to us about something for which we need to pay attention. By ignoring the body, or viewing it as dirty, or somehow corrupted, while only the spirit remains clean, is a myth.
Unfortunately in many of our spiritual traditions, the body is denigrated. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is a tired phrase I have heard too many times. What if the body and the spirit were intertwined so closely that they worked together to keep us healthy, vital and alive?
When I truly care for myself, in eating good food, honoring my body’s need for rest, or movement or play, my spirit radiates outward to everyone around me. When I reach out for connection, instead of eating to dull my feeling of loneliness, I thrive.
When I go to my favorite yoga class and practice being fully present in my body, honoring it and noticing where the “stuck” parts are, or the tight joints or tissues feel uncomfortable, I come back to myself. I stop abandoning this glorious matter that makes up the collection of what I call “me” – body, mind and soul.
All of them are one, and we are this amazing trinity that is inseparable and yet we divide because that is how human beings understand our world. And there is nothing wrong with that, it is beautiful how curious and interested and insatiable the human mind can be. I certainly celebrate that aspect of my own personality, the ever-present desire to know more, understand how it all works. What a gift, our curiosity and creativity in the way we construct our own worlds in our imaginations.
So in coming back to my body, through yoga, through body awareness and compassion meditations, I have been slowly releasing extra weight (~1.5 pounds a month for the past 13 months) and learning what makes me feel good and whole. I have started eating much more fat in my diet and more vegetables. I am not vegetarian (though my spirit often strives to eat less meat) and I do not subscribe to one particular diet plan. I definitely minimize flour and sugar in my overall consumption because I have noticed that powdered and processed foods do not make me feel good or give me lasting energy.
Reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code, gave me a lot more scientific and clinical data for how our dietary choices can help us sustain weight loss. As a clinical researcher, I admit that the science always helps me to adopt certain practices. But as a practicing yogi and meditator, I know that I must trust only what makes sense for me. I must always to come back to my own body, to ground myself in my own truth.
This is why you will never hear me advocating one particular diet plan over another. I believe people have the wisdom within them that helps them discover what works for them. For some, it may be a need for more fresh air and time outdoors. For some, it may be to fast one or two days a week and skip breakfast while mindfully learning about their hunger signals. But for all of us, I believe a sustainable weight loss journey begins with love for ourselves. We are worthy. We are enough. We deserve to have optimal health. Those questions can be put to rest. Beyond that, as my yoga teacher Ruth likes to say: there is no hurry. I have been learning that as well. My own journey to know my body and to listen to it will evolve over time. I will continue to learn, and I will continue to practice compassion for myself, even though it is not easy.
Off I go now, wedding preparations are almost complete, and we will head to Two Harbors in about 5 hours. Happy weekend, friends, and many blessings to you.