I have a practice called Wild Writing. I learned it from the inimitable Laurie Wagner and I attend a Wild Writing group with her most Friday mornings. The group practice goes something like this:
1. Laurie reads a poem. A good poem. A grounded poem. Not an abstract, hard to deconstruct poem. A poem about dirty dishes in the sink or a poetic list of life regrets. Then she pulls one or two lines from that poem and offers it up as our prompt.
2. We use the prompt, or not if we don’t feel like it, and we write for fifteen minutes without stopping. The pen never stops. We write too fast for the inner critic or to sound smart. We just go. We try to find the vein of what really wants to be said. No performing. Just truth.
3. Then we go around the table and we share what we wrote. No one responds. We are just witnessed. Then the next person reads.
4. We repeats this two more times.
5. We go home cleansed.
Today was my first day back at the Wild Writing table in a long while. The holidays, a wedding, and political upheaval had pulled me away. I returned, as I often do, doubting whether I have anything to say or if I will even remember how to do this (despite it being so simple). Below are two of the pieces I wrote this morning. Unfiltered.
May they inspire you to get it out, write it out, speak it out. May they call forth the messy truth, the contradictions, and the part inside of you that knows what’s needed now.
Advice to Myself
Go the flea market. Spend $8 on clip-on earrings of mini bingo cards. Spend $3 on poster board for protest signs — have a wardrobe of signs at the ready.
Sew like your life depended on it. Sew like the world will come apart at the seams if you don’t stitch it up.
Measure the pillow insert and remeasure and remeasure and even though it says 19”, ignore it. Pretend it’s 20” in a world where facts are debatable. You can decide it’s 20” if you don’t mind a slightly oversized pillow case.
Pray to the light of cute babies and dinner parties where you pull animal spirit cards and share whose husbands have trouble getting naked and whose have trouble staying clothed. Pray to the light of French onion soup and a life free from wedding planning.
Pray to the light because you have no choice but to bury your fingers—no, your arms—in the blackest of dirst and dig. Dig like a chain gang. Each of us sentenced to hard labor for the foreseeable future. If you sit this out completely you’re a traitor.
Make granola. Toast the oats and the coconut and use the last bits of crystallized ginger, the sesame seeds, the sour cherries—the ones you bought in Germany for plane snacks but never ate.
Advice to myself: get on your fucking yoga mat. Your neck and shoulders and hips are a few of the most trustworthy sources of information there are right now.
Go out for thai food, slurp noodles in between glances of the basketball game.
Roll lettuce cups while too-calmly explaining that you’re just at the “impeachment” stage.
[This writing was inspired by Lousie Erdrich’s Advice to Myself poem]
What kind of times are these?
These are times of picking battles. These are times where so much that used to ruffle feathers falls insignificantly, weightlessly by the wayside.
It doesn’t matter that he needed one typewriter ribbon but ordered four to get the free shipping. Or that she’ll have to take a cab because you’re running late. Your weight doesn’t matter, it didn’t then and it really doesn’t now. It doesn’t matter that you have two turnips in your vegetable drawer that have been there since October.
Kellyanne Conway’s frizzy hair, the President’s tiny orange hands, or Mike Pence’s repressed homosexuality don’t matter.
No, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, eyes on the bloody Syrian baby, eyes on The Constitution, eyes on our community, eyes on what our dollars support, eyes on the times that we blindly checked the box for the incumbent or didn’t check the box at all.
What doesn’t matter is if the cleaning lady sees your vibrator or you forgot to eat a vegetable today, or this week. It doesn’t matter if you called your grandmother out of obligation or if you haven’t cancelled that unused gym membership yet.
No, what matters is the friend with seizures who may lose his health insurance. What matters is the sixteen year old who, like you, had sex with her boyfriend, and unlike you got pregnant. What matters is the life she wants to live. What matters is that, as painful as it is, we read the news every day. What matters is that nice white ladies put their bodies visibly out there in support of black bodies.
It doesn’t matter if people call you radical or you make a mistake. It doesn’t matter if the NSA taps your phone and hears you saying almost daily how comfortable you are with someone committing assassination.
No, this is a time of stark contrast and we must pick our battles. If we’re not fighting to protect what we hold dear, we don’t deserve it. We might not deserve it.
Is this boring? All this call to arms? Are we already jaded, already too overwhelmed, already too confused about what’s happening and who’s in charge and “How could he say that?” and “How could he not know that?!” Are we there yet?
What matters is that’s what they want: to exhaust, confuse, and lull us.
What kind of times are these?
[This writing was inspired by Adrienne Rich’s What Kind of Times Are These poem]
During extremely stressful times, our internal challenges can become magnified.
The current political crisis in America has lead everyone I know to react in a different way. Some are channeling their anxiety into activism. Others are burying their head in the sand — or the refrigerator. Some are circling their community for comfort — others are putting themselves on punishing exercise plans.
If you are struggling right now with your relationship to food and your body Feast will give you the tools you need to navigate this particularly uncertain moment in history: self-compassion, intuitive eating, effective emotional coping, and self-trust.
Every cell of my body is screaming “leave!” this morning. There is no where I want to be less than here. But I stay.
When I heard the news I ran to the toilet to throw up. I sat on the floor of the bathroom rocking back and forth, tremoring, breath shallow wanting so intensely to leave this moment, this world. But I stay.
My mind grips and grasps for me to run away to the future. To the what ifs. To the terror. To the tracing of all the steps in history that lead me and us to this moment. To the search for blame. To the desperation for salvation. My mind implores and beckons me to leave. But I stay.
As a woman, my body has rarely felt like home. For too long I didn’t live here. Here was not a place to trust. Here was not a place that I thought I could handle with my eyes open. But I found my way back and I stay.
Today the invitation I have for you may not be easy: stay.
Stay in your body. Stay with the tremors and the shaking. Stay with the pit in your stomach. Stay even as you notice yourself bobbing in and out. These feelings. This trauma. This fear and anger and sadness and confusion and despair cannot kill us. In fact staying is our salvation.
Stay in your body. Just sidle up next to whatever sensation is coursing through your flesh. Feel the pain. Notice the quality of your breath. Are you hungry? Cold? Perhaps the best way to describe here is ‘numb’? That’s all welcome.
The body knows and it has evolved over millennia to process trauma like many of us are experiencing. These processes require little effort on our part other than loving presence…other than staying with kindness.
In staying we can receive our bodies wise requests. Is it aching for companionship? Asking for quiet? Nudging us to put away the screens or put on a sweater? Now is the time to heed our body’s requests. Now is the time to stay.
There may not yet be answers to the questions in our mind but we can answer the requests of the body.
There will be a time in the near future that we act boldly, consistently, together and with steadfast determination but right now the impact has just happened, the car has just rolled, the fire just ravaged through, leaving our skin raw and our being bewildered. So right now our best action is to simply stay. Stay and tend. Stay and feel. Stay and listen.
Here is my call: let our response to this moment be deeper embodiment.
Why embodiment? What can embodiment do in the face such real-life practical threats?
Embodied women are resourced.
Embodied women are awake.
Embodied women are rooted.
If there were ever a time for women to be resourced, awake, and rooted this is it.
Let our commitment be to stay and to feel and then to act on behalf of those whose bodies are most threatened. And it’s all a threat to bodies isn’t it?
Marriage equality and LGBTQ rights? Human bodies.
Racial justice? Bodies.
Reproductive rights? Bodies.
War? ISIS? Bodies.
Affordable and accessible healthcare? Bodies.
Responsible gun control? Bodies.
The disembodied cannot support and protect the physically vulnerable nearly as effectively as an army of the deeply embodied.
Don’t move to Canada.
Don’t check out.
Don’t give up.
Don’t turn to your escape of choice.
Stay. Just here. Just now. In this hurting, reeling body.
All you need to is stay and when you leave, come back as soon as you are aware.
When all you want to do is leave.
When hopelessness nips at your toes.
When you don’t know where to go or what to think or how to proceed.
Just stay here in your powerful, vulnerable, sacred flesh.
The way forward will be found here and together, in our bodies, we will rise.
Before you read any further, head over to Facebook and follow Charlie Shipley’s The No-Diet Notebook where he shares the simplest hand drawn words in support of living a diet-free, body-loving life. They’re pure, bite-sized brilliance.
Here is this week’s entry from The No-Diet Notebook:
I shared this image with my current Feast cohort and one student replied: “I think having a fit body is an accomplishment. What am I getting wrong here?”
Her question is apropos given that the Olympics just kicked off and much of the world is celebrating the super-human feats of these athletes.
But is a fit body an accomplishment?
Let’s take a deeper look.
The first thing we need to do is separate out a fit body as defined by abilities (endurance, flexibility, strength, balance, etc.) and a fit body as defined by appearance standards.
The latter, a fit-appearing body, is not an accomplishment at all. There is nothing superior about a body that conforms to society’s narrow and incorrect standard of what a fit body looks like. Athletes of the highest caliber come in all forms. It’s a myth that you have to have a flat stomach or thighs that don’t touch or low body fat percentage.
At the height of my anorexia, strangers would openly comment on my body making it clear that they equated my thinness with health and fitness. “You must work out” they’d say when my reality was days spent in bed too weak to move from severe starvation.
My partner has a sturdy build, broad shoulders, and strong arms. He doesn’t lift weights ever. He’s of Polish descent and this is simply the body shape his genetics produce. Nevertheless, people make assumptions about him based on his appearance all the time.
Fit people come in all shapes and sizes. They have round bellies and thighs that touch. Strong people can come in bodies that look weak. Likewise, unfit people come in bodies that appear fit.
Bottom line: we simply cannot know from looking at someone if they are healthy or not and as such, appearing in a fit body is not an accomplishment.
Now if we’re talking about a fit body in terms of performance, it all depends on one’s personal values. It depends on personal values because physical fitness is not objectively (or universally) an accomplishment. It depends on what is important is to you and what your motivation is.
Personally, it’s not important to me that I can swim fast or lift large amounts of weight. It is important to me that I feel good in my body, am able to enjoy and live my life (go hiking, swim in the ocean, carry my groceries up my six floor walk up, etc). These are my values. Michael Phelps, Misty Copeland, and possibly the student who asked the question, have different values when it comes to fitness. That’s okay. It’s personal. If I don’t value these things I’m not less accomplished. I am likely accomplished in different ways.
Remember: all bodies are good bodies.
ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES.
We rank bodies for sport in our culture, but we don’t need to and doing so is violent. It’s okay to opt out of the body comparison game, as it’s a game that ultimately hurts us all.
It’s also important to explore our motivations for pursuing fitness. As I tell my student WHAT we’re doing doesn’t matter so much as WHY we’re doing it. Whether leaving food on our plate or asking for a second helping, running a 5K, or napping on the couch–why are we doing it? Are we doing it because it feels good to us and brings us joy? Are we doing it because we feel like we’re not enough? Are we acting out of fear? Are we doing what we want or what we think you should do?
I strive to act from a “wholesome” why. To move in response to self-awareness, embodiment, kindness, self-compassion, sustainability, a personal desire to feel alive, connected, and of service.
We could be the fittest person in the world, but if we got there because being fit is a way to compensate for feeling like we’re not enough or to be accepted, loved, or approved of–I question the blanket awarding of the label “accomplished”.
We also need to be careful when using a word like “accomplished” as there is an implication that one who is not accomplished is lacking, failing, and unfinished or incomplete. We want our language to make room for celebrating individual success while not shaming those who define success differently.
A final note: there are real life circumstances that can impede traditional fitness pursuits or results. They include but are not limited to poverty, mental illness, physical illness, physical disability, and serving as a caretaker. Having the time and resources to devote to fitness is often a luxury and privilege.
So is a fit body an accomplishment?
No, unless it’s important to you, available to you, and supportive of you. And even then, you very well might not look like the picture of fitness and that’s just fine.
“There’s No Morality in Exercise: I’m a Fat Person and Made a Successful Fitness App”
Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat (In particular this post and this post)
“Dear Virgie: ‘Why Does Exercising Feel So Complicated?'”
“How To Exercise Out Of Self-Love — Not Due To Fat-Shaming”
In the early months of my anorexia the praise I received about my appearance and weight loss served as fuel for a dangerous fire.
“You look great!”
“What are you doing? You look awesome.”
“I wish I had your willpower.”
“Wow, you have a great body.”
Friends, strangers, and even my parents, in the early days, doled out praise for what appeared to be a newly discovered commitment to health and the smaller pants I could fit into.
Approval was like a drug. It felt good, really good, when it started and it served as a motivation later on. When I didn’t want to go to the gym or I wanted to eat something beyond my ultra restricted diet all I did was think about what people would say if I gained weight and that was enough to keep me in line.
In a lot of ways I was addicted to praise. The high I got from others celebrating my physical form (and how it conformed) was palpable. The panic I felt when (I projected that) others judged my body negatively was crushing.
- Dependence on, or addiction to praise – causing us to do only those things that are likely to get us gold stars and others’ approval
- Avoidance of praise – not wanting to stand out from the crowd – even for positive reasons, which causes us to self-sabotage, to not do our best work
- Fear of criticism – which causes us to not innovate, share controversial ideas, pursue interests where we’ll be fumbling beginners or fail along the way, or do anything that makes us visible enough to be criticized!
She makes the astute suggestion to “always look at feedback as giving you information about the person or people giving the feedback, rather than information about yourself.”
Tara’s writings explores this topic mostly in the context of our careers and I want to take it further and apply it to praise and criticism of our bodies and food choices.
And unhooking in this realm is not an easy thing to do because we all want to belong. We all want approval. When we are praised it feels great. When we are judged or rejected it can feel devastating.
And yet, living at the mercy of the approval of others, striving to conform in our appearance or diets to what others or “society” deems good is the definition of disempowerment.
Being able to live our lives and make basic choices like what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat without factoring in what other people will think is essential if we are to feel free and unmasked—if we are to stay connected to the immense wisdom of our bodies.
Feeding ourselves is one of the most basic acts of autonomy. No one else should have a say in what we put into our bodies and yet for too many women, with each bite, comes a cacophony of judgemental voices—some real, some projected.
This happens when we get dressed too. Our minds run off with thoughts of “Does this make me look fat?” “Does this show my belly/thighs/arms/butt, etc?” “Will so and so think I’ve gained weight?” “Will they think I’ve given up?” Too often we sit on the side lines, skip the party, or spend more than we can afford on clothing just to mitigate the judgement we fear others will have of how we look.
But, as Tara so eloquently explains “the goal…is not to become impervious to praise and criticism. That would be impossible. It would also be inhuman, and would force us to deny an important part of ourselves….The part of us that wants others to receive us with appreciation, with enthusiasm – the part that wants to be loved by those around us? I think that’s a very tender, real, part of us, a part to honor too. The point is not to become disconnected from feedback, to have such a thick skin that we can’t feel it or hear it, but rather, to become “unhooked” by it, to not be run by it. The point is to be run by our own wisdom…The goal is to not have others’ ideas about us distract us, silence us, or take us on an emotional roller coaster.”
I agree. In the end it comes down to what we each, as individuals, decide is important in a meaningful life. Unhooking from praise and criticism when it comes to our bodies and our food choices is a life long practice. Each of us has an ego that is ready and willing to lure us back to that to the roller coaster. Getting hooked isn’t a failure.
So what does it look like when we’re unhooked from body praise and criticism?
It looks like this:
- Eating what we want, not more or less based on what other people are eating or who we are eating with, or what social function we have coming up on our calendar.
- Allowing photos of us to be taken and seen, knowing that a moment captured in 2-D doesn’t define us or tell our whole story.
- Not hiding in the ways we dress or hiding what we are choosing to eat.
- Letting someone else’s comments about our appearance be about them.
- Dressing and adorning ourselves for ourselves, with pride, and the body we have today.
- Observing the hurt or fear that comes from criticism and looking inward to where we may be holding self-judgement. After all, it’s much harder to be hurt by criticism we don’t agree with.
- Doing our best to practice non-judgement when it comes to other people’s eating and appearance.
- Sometimes consciously giving up the SHORT-TERM high we know we’d get if we went on a crash diet. We unhook when we choose long-term, internally-based sustainable happiness instead of short-term, external hits of power. This happens in small moments.
- When necessary, reminding other people that our body, appearance, and food choices are entirely our own domain—no outside contributions needed or welcome.
Unhooking is a practice, but remember, what I think of you, or she thinks of you, or he thinks of you, or your inner critic thinks of you doesn’t much matter. You are in charge. Your body is yours. Your reasons behind your food choices are personal and multifaceted and no one’s business.
Go to the party. Take the photograph. Put on whatever size clothing fits your body today and feels comfortable. Eat what you want, in public, in front of people who are still entranced by diet culture.
Have no shame for struggling, getting hooked, bumbling toward finding your way, or being a human who feels deeply—this stuff isn’t easy.
Ultimately though, when you can, remember that what other people think about your body and food choices only has as much power as you give it.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tara Mohr’s teachings on unhooking from praise and criticism check out her book Playing Big. It’s a game-changer.
You are not the bad guy in the story of your life.
If you read a novel and the main character made all the same, moment by moment, choices that you have, in the context of a life identical to yours, the result, I’m sure, would be compassion and empathy for that character—not judgement.
At every turn of your life from the day you were born you have first acted to keep yourself safe and soothed. This is primal. This makes sense. You make sense.
We don’t always have access to resources within ourselves that might steer us toward less harmful actions. Sometimes our actions hurt ourselves or others. And still this doesn’t make us the bad guy.
If you are carrying around a thousand pound boulder of guilt and shame, of belief that you failed in some way or should have done better I implore you to put the boulder down. Forgive yourself!
You are not the bad guy in the story of your life.
You have always always always been trying to survive.
That might mean that for thirty years you came home from work and binged on food you didn’t taste or enjoy.
That might mean that for a while you lived beyond your means, regularly buying shoes and other empty impulse purchases
That might mean that you’ve acted poorly, childlike perhaps, toward a friend or family member. Lashed out. Been selfish. Held a grudge.
No matter the scenario: you are still not the bad guy in the story of your life.
You are just the human—good, fallible, sacred—finding your way.
Forgive yourself. Please.
Your unnecessary self-judgement and shame only builds walls: between you and I, between you and your self, between you and life.
As you read back over the book of you, notice that it makes perfect sense why the protagonist made that choice and then, as they say, take heart that when you know better you will do better.
Related post: Doing your best.