Body as Enemy – Body as Ally

One of my greatest heroes, Isadora Duncan.
An Isadorable Dancer, Anna Duncan, exhibiting the amazing beauty of the human form in the 1920’s.
Some of my best thinking happens in the shower. The warm water and steam seem to open up my mind to possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t occur to me.  The other morning it was a question: Am I being an ally to my body or am I my own worst enemy?

This led to more questions. How in alignment with the body do I feel on an average day? How often do I direct thoughts of appreciation, love and wonder towards my body? This marvelous vehicle of consciousness that allow me to feel and experience so much? Conversely how often do I send feelings of impatience, frustration, or even loathing towards myself?

What about you? How in alignment with your body do you feel?  What are the overall vibes you are sending to yourself every day?

The body is a venue fraught with self judgement and all of the shame fallout that goes with it. Especially for women, but I think for men as well.  Here in the strangely puritanical/immodest USA there is no safe place to rest our feelings about our bodies.

Our self talk rumbles on in the subconscious with some pretty ridiculous ideas. “Should I be more sexy, i.e. a slut, or less sexy i.e. proper?” “Of course one ought to be Thin and Perfect, regardless. Perfect defined as Toned -while retaining just ‘Enough’ curves, and smoothly lacking in adult body hair – Oh! and maintain the look of a 22 year old in perpetuity.” No problem. Right?

My body at age 25 - amazingly I was quite judgmental of myself at the time.
My body at age 25 – amazingly I was quite judgmental of myself at the time.
No wonder so many people feel discomfort inside their beautiful amazing miraculous bodies. There is literally no possible way for us to be in alignment with our ideals for “enough” let alone ever attaining “perfection.” I have come to identify these internal dialogs and assumptions as a sort of puppet radio that plays in the background of life influencing  many of my choices.

The resulting negative feelings lower resistance to serious illness, while at the same time making said illness our fault. As always the elephant in the room is that environmental toxins are probably the most significant contributing factor for all cancer, and probably others conditions as well. Even so all the self hate makes illness seem like our “fault.”

While reading about what helps people to heal,  I came across various versions of the power of Self Love.   This helped me during treatments.  I was able to see that my cancering cells were actually trying to contribute to my wellbeing, to “help” the common goals of my body ecosystem.  However, because those cells were broken they were inedvertantly causing trouble. Inspired by what I had read I decided to just love those cancering cells.  At that time I engaged in visualizations of love and acceptance for the cancering cells in my body.

I have also seen that the Self Love concept can simply adds more points to the shame game for the uninitiated. “If I wasn’t so filled with self loathing, I wouldn’t have gotten X, and if I could just get over myself I could get well.” An untenable situation at best. It can be a set up in which our ability to love ourselves has a win-lose outcome. I myself grappled with this shadow version of the power of “Self Love” in the years prior to my cancer diagnosis, when I was struggling with extreme debilitating fatigue. I see now that what I was doing then was not self love, but more in line with the kind of encouragement bullying offered by a junior high gym teacher.

How is all that self love rolling since the end of treatments?  Ironically I have found many ways to be dissatisfied with my healthy cells. When I notice some weight gained in my belly, well time to be disgruntled with my belly. Word retrieval not what it once was? Well frustration with my brain is justified for that.  In fact it is possible to criticize every iota of my body for not being adequate. Or to react to any discomfort with suspicion, fear, or my old favorite, anger. Persistently, casual dissatisfaction has somehow crept back in.  At moments I have come to see that my body is truly amazing in so many ways, what made me lose track of that?

I smell puppetry.

I am noticing that I have definitely been listening to the criticism Musak that plays on puppet radio, expressing dissatisfaction for my lack of “perfection.”  Sometimes it is necessary to do some reparenting of the self. In my case right now to make an effort to notice the many ways I am grateful to my body, to help counteract the puppet effect. This includes acknowledging the dissatisfaction, and then reaffirming love.

One thing Joe and I learned from parenting is the importance of catching our children when they were doing something right.  Celebrating their successful efforts, not only pointing out their mistakes.  Focusing on celebrating their efforts with them, allows them to be more open to hearing the difficult critiques.  When we have veered into being overly critical they started to shut down, and behaviors we were lamenting increased.  Feeling accepted and loved is the foundation for any change at any age.

Soaking in the last moments of having two breasts in March 2014.
Soaking in the last moments of living two breasted in March 2014, ironically a highpoint in body self love.
Since the shower epiphany I have realized that what is called for in this situation is to love my puppets in the same way that I once loved my cancering cells. It is time to parent some puppets. Because hate is not on the road to self love and wholeness. There is no way to criticize myself into a state of “enough”. The key is to realize I am already there, in all my imperfections, I am perfect. And so are you.  When I do that it is like tuning me inner “radio” to a new station, one really worth listening to.

You might be asking, Just how did I come to love my cancering cells in the first place? This is still somewhat hard to explain, as I know that many people view their body with a sense of betrayal when they are dealing with an illness, especially the “Cancer Monster.”

I remember the moment during a meditation that I realized that: a) my cancering cells were still me, and b) they were actually my allies.  In that moment I realized that those cells were utilizing every bit of the creative power that is inherent in humans to try to keep going. Those cells were motivated  to keep contributing to the whole that is my body.

Because I was on a sabbatical, and had created time and space in my life to attend to healing at that time, I feel that I was very successful at maintaining a new practice of sending deliberate loving thoughts towards those broken cells.  To consciously midwife them towards apoptosis, programed cell death. What I didn’t do was continue to apply that in regards to the rest of my cells after treatments.

Now lest you start to think that I think that my stage 3C cancer melted away via some sort of new age kumbaya ninja move – let me assure you of a few things:

#1. I pursued a multifaceted approach to addressing my cancering. I have no way of knowing if everything I did was window-dressing except for ONE thing, say the Herceptin. Or if everything I did contributed to a synergistic miracle.  (Which is what I tend to believe.)

#2. There are many many case studies presented in both modern peer reviewed scientific papers, and in ancient religious texts that document spontaneous curing. Therefor it is always a possibility that needs to stay on the table.

#3. What adds up to create healing or even a cure for one person may well be very different than what is helpful for another person.  (Always keeping in mind that Healing and Curing are separate processes.)

#4. There are mysterious forces of grace involved in the universe. We do not always have a wide enough perspective to determine what the best possible outcome to any given situation might be.

#5. It is always the work of healing to cultivate love, compassion, gratitude and acceptance. By cultivating these things life is improved for both the self and others.

So while I believe that miracles of curing happen, and while I am a huge fan of cultivating self love, I do not subscribe to any equation in which illness is a punishment for failing to have enough self love.

The idea that cancer might be a result of a lack of self love is enough to enrage most people. Though this is understandable, it also encourages us to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rejecting practices of  self love, gratitude and openness to positive thinking, prevents a person from exploring the many benefits of cultivating a positive mindset. Benefits which may or may not include influencing the body’s ability to reset itself to health.

Learning to separate the goal of self love from the goal of living cancer -free eliminates a lot of problems. The goal of self love is self love, not to cure cancer. Self love is its own reward.  To love my entire self is squarely in the camp of healing my life.  At the time I was loving my cancer cells I was simultaneously trying to practice non-attachment towards the outcome of all of it.  I wasn’t trying to love my way to a cure so much as love myself to loving myself.

That being said our thoughts and emotions definitely influence our physical bodies. If you have ever had butterflies in your stomach while feeling nervous, you have experienced that. Whether that influence extends to creating life threatening disease over time is not far fetched, and is actually likely.  We know for instance that people who experience childhood trauma are much more likely to experience serious illness as an adult.

Now back to the shower epiphany. If I was able to cultivate self love during the crisis of cancering treatments, and yet have somehow let that self love erode since cancering, I need to take notice.  Perhaps why I am so quick to judge my body again, is that I simply didn’t set up sound habits around appreciating my whole body. It is definitely time to attend to things.

Especially paying attention to my self talk. Especially looking for cues from my puppets on what parts of me need love and healing. It is time to recommit to being my body’s ally. Which means looking at my puppets with more loving eyes, and assuming that they are trying in their own way to keep me safe. What If I start applying that concept from parenting to my feelings about my wondrous body? What if I make a point of noticing all the ways having a body makes my life wonderful. The many ways my body works beautifully all the time.

Our inner puppets sometimes prevent us from playing and being silly.
Our inner puppets sometimes discourage  us from playing and being silly. Basically making life less fun.
There is an old maxim to “Fake it till you make it” This means to deliberately enter the world of make believe in order to practice something until it feels more natural. This is why training often involves role plays. This is why doing affirmations is so popular.  Change is hard because we feel lost in the new way of doing things. We like the familiar. When we are working to change something in our life we need to create a clear path to that new place, and then build familiarity with that new way. Play is one such avenue. When we engage in playful activities we can try out things that our puppets might otherwise resist.

Self love is related to the company we keep.

When I had the shower thought “Am I my body’s enemy or ally?” I definitely felt a wave of warm feelings and appreciation towards my body. I am happy to be alive.  I know all the work I have been doing for the last few years around self love is the source of that. One of the reasons I started to slip may be related to the many people I am around on a regular basis who are not filled with love towards their bodies.  I think it is contagious.  Because conversely, when I spend time with others who are living more in the land of infinite possibilities I feel both happier in my skin, and supported in attending to my own self love.  Love is also contagious.

When I hear someone criticize themselves it can sometimes seem like a cue that maybe it isn’t okay to feel good about myself.  When I am around people who seem to have genuine self appreciation it can either turn up my self criticism or remind me that my body is pretty amazing too. The latter happens more reliably when I have been practicing self love. What this tells me is that self love starts within, and then begins to be reflected back.

One of my favorite things I do with a few trusted friends is to help each other reframe things in our life. We also strive to both catch each other when one of us is modeling healthy behavior, and to gently call attention when we witness less life serving behaviors/habits.  We have started thanking each other when someone says “No” to something that isn’t a good fit for them in that moment.  “Thank you for modeling good boundaries.” Calling attention to it helps us solidify our new practice.

We are also able to talk to each other about our puppet  insights,  and celebrate together when we notice places we have made progress. We help each other mourn when we observe how a wounded puppet radio broadcast is contributing to one of us being mean to ourselves.  Play with a trusted someone helps the puppets come out to be recognized, an opportunity to offer those parts love and appreciation.  Feeling safe enough to be vulnerable with each other in these ways is a priceless gift to me.

It is time to up my game on the body self love front. To solidify habits of appreciation for my body. Time to call in the help of those in my life who are struggling with the same thing so that we can start to trellis each other towards a healthier place. As per usual in this long game of healing there are always surprises. Perhaps my moment of awareness in the shower will lead to a community wide self love transformation as we work together to make body love a common habit.

It is very motivating to imagine how healthier choices might start to move in all around me, reflecting back a kinder gentler world. A world where we take good care of each other.  Not to mention how operating from that place solidly built on self compassion, will support all of us do an even more amazing job of co-creating this world to reflect best what we most love and value.

Choosing to ally my body is like tuning in a really sweet radio station, one recruiting for the love revolution. Wanna join too?

 

 

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