Leave it to Stephen Sondheim to eloquently summarize what I mean:
Trouble is, son,I don't think any one of us overweight/obese people got this way because we were blissfully happy with the trajectory of our lives. For most of us, there was a moment when life got way too real with us, and we just weren't prepared for it (nor should have we, in many cases). Though I'm not an expert, I'm willing to bet that 80-90% of obesity is brought on by some trauma (emotional, physical, mental, sexual, etc.) of varying degrees on the Richter scale.
The farther you run,
The more you feel undefined
For what you've left undone
And, more, what you've left behind.
Either the trauma was beyond our ability to control or beyond our ability to understand. Instead of holding our ground and confronting it, we just started running from the world. For many people, that was the only way to survive. I want to make it clear that I am in no way judging picking "flight" instead of "fight." For many people, including myself, "fight" could have yielded dramatically bad results.
But seeing as we are human and can only run for relatively short distances (versus the world's unlimited endurance), pretty soon the world caught up and consumed us whole. We lost the important boundary of knowing where we end and the world begins.
Just as the world begins consuming us, we begin consuming the world. I mean that both in a literal and figurative sense -- we let our feelings of hunger and desire be the main tool for expressing our feelings. When we give our physical feeling of hunger a say in our lives it is much easier to quiet all of the other emotions and physical cues that need a voice. Hunger is a very accessible feeling for most people to express without having to deal with the nitty gritty of their lives.
We also begin to consume the world in a more figurative sense -- we begin to assume the burden of the world. We put the world's cares and worries before our own needs. If the state of affairs in the world is in the forefront of our mind, we are able to distance ourselves from ourselves.
In both ways we become very estranged from the instincts we were born with and what we naturally learn as we grow. As babies we were very capable of expressing our displeasure with the world around us, just as much as we show our delight. We were also capable of expressing our needs.
Like I posited before, for many of us (the obese more than the casually overweight) there was a trauma that made us forget both our instincts (i.e. how to regulate our hunger, our body's natural athleticism) and our needs (to feel safe, to feel cared for, to feel worthy, etc.). A large part of being able to change our lives is not just relearning the tools of health (how to be a mindful and intuitive eater, or how to enjoy exercise and our bodies) but confronting the trauma of our past and being able to say that it is no longer welcome to the piggy-back rides.
This is not easy work, nor is it work that many of us can do by ourselves. While the diet/exercise bit might be rather straightforward in figuring out, the emotional complexities of our disordered lives often requires the delicate hands of a professional. It also requires a great deal of compassion and forgiveness. Jack Kornfield once wrote "forgiveness means giving up all hopes of a better past." We can confront our pasts but ultimately we cannot change them.
I don't know about you, but that was a huge realization for me. I wanted to hold the past accountable for my present state of being. And just as I had consumed the world, I wanted to hold the world accountable for the results of that consumption (in as much as I tried to figure out if i was fat because of a medical issue). When I was done confronting that which was easy, I had to confront that which was hard. I'm still doing it.
But this is the transformative moment: If we are able to realize where we end and where the world begins, we no longer let the world encroach on our space, our needs, our thoughts, our feelings. It requires a very clear idea of knowing who we are and/or who we want to be, and placing everything else outside that boundary.
There are those that might say this is not very Buddhist of me* -- as the aspiration to be one with the world/universe (or belonging to the universe/world and not your temporal body) is so high on the list of things to do. However, I think it is much more meaningful to be one with the world, and at peace with it, when the world doesn't take you by force.
I could also say the same for love and relationships -- isn't it much more meaningful to give yourself to another person when you know the quantity and quality of that gift versus a broken pile of junk they need to put together with a flimsy hex wrench and no instructions?
I hate to end yet another post with advice but I can only hope to help someone by offering it: Stand up for yourself in a way that is appropriate and meaningful for you. Take on yourself when you make disparaging jokes at your own expense. Stand up to other people when they don't give you the basic respect of your own space, your own thoughts, and your own opinions. And if you're strong enough, stand up to the world. Draw a line in the sand and say "no more." You are not Atlas, and the world has always found a way to take care of itself.
When you have stopped running, be as still as possible. Let the love you have for yourself repair the cracks and chinks in the surface. This new feeling you may be feeling is not selfishness, egocentricity, or conceit. This is not the barrier that prevents you from interacting with the people and the world around you. This is you -- a whole person. You are no longer less than yourself. There is no more need to run, hide, or shrink from life.
* I thought about it last night/this morning -- and it's actually very Buddhist -- in order to become a good Bodhisattva (enlightened person) the first connection that we seek to make is with our very own breath, with our very own body. It is our portal to the world and the universe. But I still contend that this is a choice we have to make out of free will, not force.