Snow didn’t fall here at UCSC, or if it did I lingered too long this morning in bed to catch it’s overnight dusting. I didn’t get to dance in a swirl of white, wet flakes at the ocean’s side, and having just re-read my last post, I feel a need to explain that I actually happiness is a pervasive feature of my life. But recently, it can feels just beyond my grasp, though often I get close enough to grab it and feel at home in it again. But I’ll watch the news, or look in the mirror, or think about all the unknowns in my future, and feel despair about the world and my body. Joy ebbs away and I feel melancholy again. For me, there are connections I don’t quite grasp between my emotions, my body, my thinking about the future, and my belief in my ability to work effectively for social change.
I went to yoga last night after work, and though I definitely played the body-check game with every other woman there — who’s the thinnest? (the young, willowy woman next to me), who’s the oldest? (the one with the strong, muscle-streaked arms behind and to the right), who’s the biggest? (me) — I did it with a weariness I haven’t felt in a long time. Usually it’s just automatic and I’m not cognizant of the game’s insanity. But I heard something say in me, “You give other women the permission to take care of themselves.” And then I thought about when I weighed a lot more than I do now and I’d go to the gym to workout and long to see some other woman who was as big or bigger than I, braver too, who I could look at think, “If she’s overcome the fear of jiggling on the ellipitcal machine, then so can I.” But it was rare that I saw large women working out, so I was lured by alienation into to comparing myself to the thin, sweating, beautiful girls around me, compelled to want to be one of them. It turned my motivation for playing the body check game from looking for allies and heroines to seeking out all of my deficiencies, all of my body failures evidenced by these thick thighs, my lumpy midsection, my fleshy arms. And last night, as the old, familiar pathways in my brain were activated as women staked out their yoga territory around me, I didn’t want to play anymore. I just wanted to do yoga, reap the benefits of moving my body to the direction of a teacher, soak up the music falling like water over us. But my mind was going full steam ahead, and the only fight my tired mind could muster was that feeble, “You give other women permission to take care of themselves.”
These last few weeks and months, I’ve been aching for re-acceptance of my body as it is, and last night, in the war my brain wages on my self-concept, I stumbled and fell, tired of trying. But there was that one flicker of light, which hid so much more in it than only that I may inspire other, not-so-thin women like me to move their bodies in healthful ways. It also said: You have a purpose other than obsessing about your body. You cannot serve the world as fully as you would like wrapped up in concern about how you measure up physically or otherwise. Remember that your body is also your tool and you can use it, as it is, for good in the world.
After yoga, I went, late, to a talk about sacred activism at my church given by Andrew Harvey. I caught the last fifteen impassioned (though — I thought — overacted) minutes of his talk. He was intense and feverish in his appeal to grounded action, and despite the slightly off-putting package it came in, he was talking about things that spoke to me — how to remain grounded and hopeful and inspired in times of great upheaval and tragedy. Given my, at times, overwhelming worry about everything happening in the world and stuff happening or not happening in my life, I needed to hear what he was saying.
Hhe said something like, “To figure out which kind of lunatic you are, which is to say, which kind of practices you need more of to cure yourself from your own lunacy, you must sit down, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Am I the kind of person that falls apart and suffers heartbreak at personal, political, or human tragedy or triumph? Or am I the kind of person that walks through life with blinders on, tending to my own business, not preoccupying myself with the concerns of others or of our world? We need to ask this question of ourselves because both are forms of madness. Here in America, most people are of the latter type, we go around dispossessed of a fundamental sense of connectedness to every other living being and so you don’t act, don’t concern yourself with social change, and let the world devolve into the crisis we’re in. And that’s just madness when you can look it clearly. For those few of us who are the other type of lunatic, the kind that weep while watching the news or reading the paper, us sentimental, heart-sick liberals, we are mad, too. Because despair is immobilizing. And once you know which kind of crazy you are, you know which kind of practices to engage in. If your heart is on fire with grief over the state of the world, like mine, you need to do more cooling practices, like meditation. If you are detached from the world, you need warm, heart practices that will open you to connection and compassion.
Guess who needs to meditate? Back to the meditation square again, Square One, it seems to be. Every time I get to feeling fragmented and distraught, Life puts me somewhere where the answer to whatever question I or anyone else is asking is: Meditate. Cool down. Find peace.
Then go change the world.
I pray that, this time, meditation can become to me as automatic as the body-check game. I hope that with practice, I will be able to temper my worry and sadness and fear with quiet, thought-emptying time rather than feed the fire with my own insecurities.
A Happy Addendum: In the middle of writing this piece, snow began falling! I went outside, not by the ocean side, but in my backyard, looked up to the sky and revolved, feeling the icy snowflakes alight on my cheeks and melt, and joy seeped in.