In the war against ourselves, is there ever a winner?

I've written before, in passing , about psychologist/Buddhist practitioner Tara Brach and her book, Radical Acceptance .  I just wanted...

I've written before, in passing, about psychologist/Buddhist practitioner Tara Brach and her book, Radical Acceptance.  I just wanted to take an opportunity, on this Mother's Day eve, to talk a little about it in the context of how we care for ourselves.

The book starts out with an anecdote about how her friend was learning to be "her own best friend." Tara had a visceral reaction to this: 

A huge wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing.  I was the furthest thing from my own best friend.  I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, relentless, nit-picking, driving, often invisible but always on the job.  I knew I would never treat a friend the way I treated myself, without mercy or kindness.  My guiding assumption was "Something is fundamentally wrong with me," and I struggled to control and fix what felt like a basically flawed self.
 Strikes a cord, right?
When we experience our lives through this lens of personal insufficiency, we are imprisoned in what I call the trance of unworthiness.  Trapped in this trance, we are unable to perceive the truth of who we really are.  [ . . . ]
[B]ecause our habits of feeling insufficient are so strong, awakening from the trance involves not only inner resolve, but active training of the heart and mind.  Through Buddhist awareness practices, we free ourselves from the suffering of trance by learning to recognize what is true in the present moment, and by embracing whatever we see with an open heart.  This cultivation of mindfulness and compassion is what I call Radical Acceptance.

[Radical Acceptance] is the necessary antidote to years of neglecting ourselves, years of judging and treating ourselves harshly, years of rejecting this moment's experience and our life as it is.  A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. 
(1) I'm not trying to sell you Buddhism, and (2) I didn't mean to quote half of the prologue;  however, I do think that each and every one of us have had moments where we feel that "something is fundamentally wrong with me" and if you've ever picked up a magazine or watched TV, that message has been reinforced with a bit of "something is fundamentally wrong with you."

Marketers LOVE to prey on this insecurity.  I love the story of how Listerine made halitosis a household word, and not the other way around.  Think about how many other products prey on the insecurity of "ZOMG my breath must smell bad and offend everyone around me!"  Cosmetics companies sell the paranoia that we are being scrutinized (oh noes! fine lines! blackheads!), so we must use harsh chemicals to strip the natural, protective oils on our skin and hair, and then cover it up with some unnatural oils, and then, in the case of women, put on a mask or dye (there's a big difference between "enhance" and "cover").  Our natural scents are offensive and so we must prevent and/or neutralize it (antiperspirant/deodorant), or completely mask it with a perfume, cologne or body spray.

We're sold apparel to make us look taller, thinner, younger, fitter, with bigger/anti-gravity boobs, bigger butts, bigger packages, etc.  How could we possibly attract a mate if we showed up looking like our natural selves?!  How could you possibly feel good about yourself leaving the house looking like that?

The food industry sells us this idea as well as the exercise/gym world.  Not only are they homogenizing our food resources (corn! soy! fake sugars!), but they sell the idea of one vision of health -- the thin, flexible, young (usually white) woman, and the beefy, unnaturally muscled/tanned/oiled man with the perfect head of hair.  Until we look like mirror images of them, something is wrong with our bodies -- we should seek improvement immediately!  We are told that our insides are toxic and so we must detox and cleanse them.  We're told (ahem, Biggest Loser/Bob Harper) that we should restrict calories and increase activity to achieve aesthetic ideals, which is very different than educating people on how to make a healthy choice for themselves.  Just scare the bejeebus out of them by telling them something's wrong with them and that you have the cure.

I remember getting a pamphlet when I was 10/11 telling me that this magical thing was going to happen to my body, and that it would be marked by "secondary sex characteristics" (i.e., not just the joy of my "monthly friend"):  arrival of body and pubic hair; boobs and hips would get bigger; etc.  But from the onset, I was taught to be ashamed of these things:  my mother insisted on a bra that would compress my breasts; and though leg and underarm hair was a sign that I was becoming a woman, I was to remove all traces of it.  As an adult, I'm aware of a whole industry surrounding the insecurities that women feel towards their own vaginas and pubic hair (and shame on you men and lesbians for compounding this insecurity by asking/insisting that your lover be shaven/waxed -- it's up to her and her alone, just be happy that you were invited to the party).  

**deep breath**  I'm rambling, aren't I?

The whole point of what I'm trying to get at is that whatever it is that anyone of us may or may not be doing to improve our health should (1) be an expression of the love that we have for ourselves at this very moment, (2) not a result of fear, insecurity, or perceived unworthiness, (3) not come at the expense of our whole self.  We should not introduce behaviors, people, or products in our lives that seek to undermine that love with fear or insecurity.

What would you have to put aside to call a truce with your own body and mind?

I was talking with a friend the other day about our shared anxiety disorder, dermatillomania and said:  The hardest part of the work, for me, is trying to get it through my thick skull that black heads, white heads, ingrown hairs... etc... all have a way of working themselves out -- that if I just wash with soap and water, my body will take care of the rest -- that I don't need to play doctor and fix it.

What an amazing concept -- I'm not something broken that needs to be fixed.

I am loveable, worthy, and beautiful just the way I am, even if that's moments after stepping out of the shower, without makeup, without my contacts, without clothing that reverses the effects of gravity, or even without brushing my teeth.  Even if I didn't go to the gym that day, even if I split a donut with a friend, even if I popped a pimple, even if I just farted, I'm still worthy of loving my beautiful self.

**sigh of relief**  

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2 comments

  1. Aaaah, sigh of relief...it has felt so good just to start accepting myself, my actions, what I eat, what I like...all those things as just being part of me. To learn more about myself, what makes me happy, what is comforting, what is engaging. Its so weird how this ties back into food and my EDs. The first step was accepting myself and not labeling myself or my food as good, bad, etc. I even practiced Radical Acceptance this weekend. "I don't have capris or shorts that fit, I need to buy some, that's a fact, this is my plan of action..buy 1 pair of each"

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  2. Very good point -- there's no benefit from moralizing our food choices, to badmouthing our bodies. There's so much peace in just being able to say "I'm okay with who I am, no matter what that means."

    Well done on the capris and shorts!

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<3 Robby