Tools of the Trade is a two-part feature in which a spiritual practice is introduced and explained. Paul then performs the practice for one month, and writes about his experience. You can read the first part here.
Know Thy Enemy
In the last Tools of the Trade I wrote an open letter to my body that described my intention for what was supposed to have been thirty days: I would be nicer to my body. Drink more water, eat better food, be more active, that kind of stuff.
When I first started, I could feel myself taking it too far. As with any form of lifestyle change, the main thing you have to think about is sustainability. In the first few days I saw myself making choices that were, ostensibly, the proper choices. I avoided the vending machines, drank only water, and tried to make smarter choices with my food. If it would have ended there, it would have been fine. But my head was a mess.
I’ve been large enough long enough to know I was treading familiar territory in the Valley of the Shadow of Diet. Like other attempts at health I’ve made in the past, I found my mind began polarizing itself against my body. “My body is the one that craves all the things that are terrible for us. My body is stupid. My body is the enemy. Listen to me, I know what’s best for us.”
The whole point of this exercise was to be kind to my body. Instead, I was traveling down the same paths I had carved out before that left my body shamed and alone while my mind tried to steer us toward whatever it felt was best. I didn’t want that to happen again, so I cut my mind off at the knees: I would take away all the vestiges of this thing I was doing being a diet so my mind would be forced to blaze a new trail rather than travel down the same dysfunctional one.
An Apple a Day…
I decided that I would start by doing just one nice thing for my body every day. I wasn’t going to starve myself. I wasn’t going to work out until I achieved full muscle failure. I wasn’t even going to ban the food my body craved. But I would drink plenty of water. Or I would go through a yoga routine. Or I would eat something chock-full of vitamins and nourishment. Just one thing.
Reframing my intent around doing one good thing to my body every day was enough to cause the angry, embittered, body-hating part of my brain to shut the hell up. It recognized that I wasn’t after a hate-fueled personal trainer, so it receded back into its lair.
With him out of the way, I was free to recognize my body for what it was: Perfect.
I just stared at that sentence for nearly five minutes because I wasn’t sure if “perfect” was the right word or not. You know why? Because I’m still holding my body to the standards we’ve been indoctrinated with since our youth. For years, I’ve listened to and believed what the rest of the world has said about my body. I listened to the kid at the pool who told his friends to laugh at my boy-boobs when I was seven years old. I listened when I had to take the walk of shame back through the line at King’s Island when they couldn’t close the safety bar on the roller coaster. I’ve listened to stores that refuse to sell clothes big enough to fit me, despite the fact that 30% of the US population is as big as I am or bigger. I’ve listened to Hollywood tell me that fat guys can be the best friend, but never the leading man. The message has been loud and clear and I completely bought into it: My body isn’t good enough. I’m just too damn big.
NOT JUST IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
What the hell was I thinking? Who are they to tell me that my body isn’t good enough? It’s bad enough that models are a tiny portion of the world’s population and are held up as the standard of what we’re all supposed to look like… But it’s not even real. Because I don’t look like an airbrushed, photoshopped inhuman freak of nature I’m supposed to go through life feeling ashamed of my body? I’m supposed to to wear shirts when I go swimming and wear baggy clothes in the hopes that, what? No one will notice I’m fat?
Goddamit, I was eleven pounds when I was born! Body, listen to me: THIS IS WHO WE ARE, AND THAT IS OKAY. Do you hear me, Body? You’ve got nothing to apologize for. And me? I’m done trying to prove that I’m worth the world’s attention despite my size. Bitch, I’m smart, I’m funny, and I’m fucking larger than life. You’re going to give me your attention because I’m the fire the universe crowds around.
Fuckin’ A, Body. We’re going to have to start working out out because I’m about ready to kick down the doors and wreck some shit up.
So why is this post almost an entire month late? Because thirty years of conditional programming is hard to undo. Even doing just one good thing for my body every day proved difficult. It was hard to remember, and harder to make a priority. I held off writing this post because I didn’t want to come back and report my failure, but you know what?
It doesn’t feel like failure anymore. Every step matters, no matter how small. I don’t feel like I’ve learned to fully inhabit my body just yet, but I feel like I’ve opened a dialog with it. In time, who knows? Maybe my mind will finally start to believe all the great things my body has to say.