“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’.”
I’ve spent a lot of my life wishing I had a different body, or maybe no body at all, so when themes like “embodiment” come up in the CEC rotation, I usually let other teachers lead the way. While meditation has helped me to appreciate the cool things my body can experience, it can still feel like a separate entity, a thing my consciousness reluctantly drags around.
As a child I wanted to be a boy. I looked, dressed and “acted” like a boy. The idea of gender fluidity was a few decades away from reaching my world, so tomboy was the name for people like me. My particular gender expression wasn’t ever talked about, but was at least tolerated in my home and small elementary school environment. I was friends primarily with boys, though I didn’t quite feel like one of them, while definitely not feeling like one of the girls. I’d make new friends outside of school and have to confess at a certain point “I’m a girl”, usually after they unwittingly shared some sexist joke or comment. I’d get sideways glances in public restrooms, comments about being in the wrong place. There was shame in that “otherness” feeling, not fitting in anywhere, including my own body.
Puberty brought different complications. I no longer could, nor wanted to “pass” as a boy. Any previous aspiration was replaced by a desire to blend in as completely as possible so that I might survive middle school and the vicious social hierarchy of 600 tweens under one roof. I willed my hair to grow out more quickly from sixth grade’s buzz cut, traded sweatpants for jeans and tried to look “normal”. The goal was to fly under the radar between the bullies and the bullied, and above all avoid being called a loser (that’s now the biggest word in my negative self-talk wordcloud – thanks lord of the flies junior high!). Eventually I found my style, mostly oversized black clothes from thrift stores and shirts with band names or political slogans. It was more than a “look”; it was a shield that covered my body while proclaiming the identity I wanted to project.
In my early 20s, my body began to betray me in a different way. I’d be excited about something, a date or a job, and then get so physically nauseous I’d have to cancel. I’d start feeling better when it was too late to attend. I now know that was when anxiety first appeared in my life, manifesting as physical illness in my body. But at the time I had no freaking clue about what was happening to me. I went to doctors, got tested for a whole host of things (IBS, parasites, colitis…), and got no satisfactory answers. Whatever it was, my body became something to be managed, kept in check by limiting stress and excitement and fun and pleasure in order to “function properly” on the daily.
This changed dramatically when I finally got the mental health support I needed. It took until my mid 30s to get there, but through talk therapy I learned to name the anxiety and understand the pattern and its roots. Therapy brought me to meditation, which gave me the tools to recognize and mitigate my anxiety so it no longer had such a powerful hold. This was, and still is, a gigantic gift.
Old habits die hardest, though, and lately I’ve noticed I can use practice as another way to shield my body from being seen and felt, this time from myself. Where once I wished to change, hide and control my body, now if I’m not careful I can use meditation to avoid it altogether.
Like many meditators, I’m drawn to practices that transcend this body. It’s enticing for me to take refuge in the sounds around me, observe the colour and form of the natural world, spread my awareness out into the vast reaches of space. It was a revelation that meditation could chart a path away from the stuck places, but now that it has, I need a way back in so that I can heal them. It turns out the long-avoided embodiment practices are the ones I need most right now.
For me this requires gentle, persistent effort and a whole lotta loving kindness. On my last silent retreat I spent almost the entire week lying down, trying to get the outer shell of my body as relaxed and still as possible so I could hold sustained, kind attention on its inner workings. What I found there felt like a jumble of intertwined knots of physical, emotional and energetic tension buried deep down in my belly. I practiced sitting patiently with those difficult sensations, observing their subtle changes, separating my invented story about the feelings from the feelings themselves, and pouring compassion into the stuckness. It helped. It is helping.
Because this is ongoing work, cultivating a friendly, healthy relationship with the body through every stage of life and their corresponding physical shifts. I’m over here still trying to untangle these ancient wounds, the difficult feelings in my body and about my body accrued over a lifetime. While also meeting the new spreading and slowing of my middle aged body, and all the hormonal changes that peri-menopause is throwing at me. WhileSTILL living in a world that’s still too rigidly gendered (though the younger generation is making such inspirational strides in normalizing a gender identity as a spectrum!), a world that targets bodies not fitting into a narrow beauty standard for ridicule or erasure, a problem to be fixed.
Yet now and then I catch a glimpse of what my body is when it isn’t a problem. A source of pleasure, a conduit to adventure, something deserving of care and nourishment and rest. An integrated part of me, of the world. Worthy of existing. Period.
More of that, please. We’ll spend this month at CEC bringing kind and gentle awareness into our bodies, ourselves with practices that explore the wonder and wisdom within.
*Erin teaches meditation and Executively Directs the Consciousness Explorers Club. Her focus is on meditation for self-care and emotional well being and she loves to infuse her teaching with a sense of play and creative exploration. Erin is passionate about the confluence of meditation practice and social justice, and using mindfulness in the service of caring better for oneself and others.