Barbara: Love Thyself

I’ve been reading Mary Oliver lately. Her poetry is grounded in the natural world, and the wisdom that conveys.  One of her most beloved poems is Wild Geese, which begins:

Sweet peas from my garden

Sweet peas from my garden

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

Sometimes when I read this, it makes me cry.

I have a friend I meet for coffee after church most Sundays.  We’re both metaphysical adherents, and we go to Unity in the Rockies, which my son Miles calls “hippie church.”

Anyway,  a few weeks ago, Heather and I both wearied, all at once, of the endless push toward “bettering” ourselves.  You know, trying to be wiser, kinder, more prosperous, skinnier (me), and have a better job (her).  So last week we agreed to embark on a program of simple acceptance.  I won’t divulge her goals, but my only task was to accept myself as I am, right now, in this very minute.  No making resolutions, no giving up all the bad foods and drinks, no battering myself to go to the gym even if I didn’t feel like it or go to bed early or get up early or anything else. 

I also took weighing myself at home off the slate.  It suddenly seemed a very cruel thing to do to my beloved self to—FIRST THING EVERY MORNING, before I drank a sip of tea or settled in for my cozy ritual with the cats and dog and beloved, to read email and watch the morning news—weigh myself.  Hoping for a good number, hating myself for a bad one.

Accept myself. Simple.

Here is my report: it was hard.  Much harder than I expected. Making the resolution to be accepting of myself meant that I actually heard the chatter of self-talk in my head constantly telling me how unworthy I am.  One day, I happened to see photos of myself at the conference, and hated the way I looked so much that the voice was really, really mean and punitive.  (The Bad Wolf, I suppose it is.)  It was hard to shift focus back to kindness, until I realized that my garden was right there—I could go there and refocus.

It worked.  Within ten seconds, I’d forgotten about my shame over my body  (enormous! Disgusting! Horrific! Shameful! ) and fallen into wordlessly absorbing the delicate, fleeting beauty of the sweet peas, bending over to yank out weeds and peer hopefully at the new carrot patch.  By the time I came back in a half hour later, I’d forgotten to be mean.  I felt hungry and made a sandwich and ate it with a fresh peach, then got back to work.

I don’t have to walk on my knees for a hundred miles repenting.

The funny thing is, by the end of the week, I realized I was feeling much nicer toward other people, too.  More forgiving of their foibles, less likely to feel irritated.  If I am imperfect and willing to accept my imperfections, then—huh—I’m not so judgmental toward others.

One moment is oddly clear. I went to the gym for Zumba on Saturday morning.  I actually adore Zumba and would do it every single day if I could, but it’s just too hard on my knees at the moment.  That morning, it was with my favorite teacher, a voluptuous creature who loves hip hop, and she asked if we wanted to go long, so we danced an extra 15 minutes.  By the time class was over,  even my sweat was sweating, and I had a great shower, put on an easy wear summer dress that always looks nice (thanks, Eddie Bauer) and went to Target.  As I was walking up to the doors, I was trying not to look at myself in the reflection of the glass, and then I remembered—no, no, it’s okay.  Just for today, I am accepting myself as I am, and I am happy to be here, in this body, in this day.  Other people don’t care if I’m plump. They have their own stuff.

I felt this soft, quiet puff of relief, a release of the judgment that was so heavy and limiting, a sense of happiness. I noticed my hair was shiny in the reflection, and my ankles are trim, and I was walking that post-gym confidence walk.

Acceptance.  It was almost a miracle.   And my body said, More of this, please.

What if I just say this is beautiful me at this stage of my life and give myself a big hug? What if you do that, too?  What happens to us? To the world?

What would happen if you gave yourself a week of perfect acceptance of yourself just as you are?  Do you love your body, just as it is? 

22 thoughts on “Barbara: Love Thyself

  1. There are things I love about my body and things I hate about it. My bodies ability to ward off disease is amazing. As is my strong back.
    My self talk is so weird sometimes. I will catch myself telling myself that I’m tired or something and realize – it’s a lie. I’m not tired or whatever.
    I have to laugh at myself a lot.
    btw I love Mary Oliver. I have a post it on my bathroom mirror that says: “I believe in kindness. Also in mischief.”

  2. Kieran says:

    And as Geneen Roth says, when you love yourself just as you are now, all that angst/shame/loathing goes away and you can truly begin to nurture yourself. Stay in the present moment and you can’t go wrong.

  3. I really love this blog. I’ve been trying this lately. My friends laugh when I declare “My Pollyanna is strong!” That inner Polly is where the positive talk comes from, and it really does work.

    I’m very close to joining the local rec center, but not because I feel I have to, but because I want to. That’s a nice shift. I have been longing to work out. To get my body back into a less painful state. I’ve done it before with pilates and low impact workouts. I can do it again. The only time it worked was when I did it for me, so I just need to embrace that head space and do it.

  4. Micki says:

    “Other people don’t care if I’m XXX. They have their own stuff.” This so true, and I’m so glad you said it. I took out the plump. I want to put in another word, like “messy” or “behind in my hobbies” but I guess I’m not ready to accept those things right now. I don’t care if people care if I’m messy, but right now, *I* really care. And since I’ve got the time to do a little something about it . . . .

  5. Argh, there seems so much to accept about myself right now: not creating anything, barely moving around, still overweight (although less so), difficulties going to bed earlier (so I can easily get up earlier), eat more healthily, practice meditation and healthful thinking … I could go on.

    But I love how you describe the effects and I want that. So I intend to practice it, starting now. (Hell, I even had a dream where I wanted to wear a cool, body-skimming dress, but didn’t want my sticking-out tummy to ruin the line!)

    So, self-acceptance. It sounds like a beautiful thing!

  6. I adore the sweet peas. Mum used to grow them outside my bedroom window. Damn, now I want to go home, but I have to wait until the end of the year.
    So, yeah. I tell myself it’s okay to let go and just be me. If I put on a few pounds, whatever, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter to me, but whenever I have to be in a big public setting (like RWA conference) I get intimidated and think that others are thinking things like damn she’s gotten old, or, look at that chubbiness, or man, she limps. I start fretting a month or so before national.
    So this year, I got sick and missed almost the whole thing and somehow I came away with a different understanding. I looked and felt like crap and none of my friends ran away. Next year I won’t fret so much, because thruthfully, I think people like us for who we are and not what we look like and when we let go of our preconcieved notions of what we should look like they see the real us. Maybe next year I’ll cut my hair short and go gray. Now there’s a plan. ; )

  7. Carol says:

    A good exercise in body acceptance. I will try it. Right now I only like / love parts of my body. Others parts, not so much.

    Love the poem. Going to find more of her poems.

    Thank you.

  8. JenniferNennifer says:

    Both this and Krissie’s post today are so inspiring!

    This one reminds me of an exercise in the 7 habits of highly effective people (or something like that). It had an exercise where you imagined your funeral and thought about what you would like people to say about you. I realized many of the things the bad wolf was always after me about wouldn’t make the list. I didn’t want anyone saying “Her house was always so clean and neat” but “I always felt welcome in her house”

    Because of this post, I have new ones – not “She worked hard at being slender” or worse “She was plump and complained about it all the time”. Instead I would like them to say “I always think of her spirit and interest in life, rather than her appearance, no matter how good she looked.” So thanks for this one – a much better touchstone than what the scale said this morning.

  9. The sweet peas are my pride and joy this summer. I finally found a spot they love and they’re going crazy–big sturdy vines with big sturdy flowers. They smell heavenly.

    I’m still so sorry you were sick at the conference.

  10. I love Unity. I haven’t found a church in so long that I enjoy. I’ve had two that I loved. One was in Huntington Beach and was Science of Mind which is a little more well sciency than Unity. The other was this great Unity church down in San Diego. It was the only thing that I regretted leaving when I moved back to Los Angeles.

    Lately, I’ve been swimming and then afterwards showering at the gym. I’ve been watching all of these bodies – naked female bodies – that range from large to thin, young to old and finding beauty in them all. What’s been interesting to me is the side affect. I’ve become more accepting and loving of my own body, of its imperfections which make it uniquely mine. In watching these other women with no judgment and simple acceptance of the whole and the various parts, I’ve become more centered and anchored into my own body. It’s been a most fabulous journey.

  11. This week, I’m at Son’s, looking after Grandboy while DIL is in performance and Son is busy with research for his PhD. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own grandmother. She was OLD, although if I do the math, currently I’m the same age she was when I was in my early teens. I just remember that she never got on the floor and played with us as I’m doing with Grandboy. She didn’t build towers out of blocks or chase me in the grass or play trucks on the sidewalk. She read to us, which was lovely and Grandboy and I are doing that too, but the face of grandma has changed. I’m happy to be a round Nanny who doesn’t let her size interfere with her ability to play with a toddler, and my ample chest is the perfect place for a little boy to rest his head while we read “Brown Bear.” I’m a strong and healthy big woman…thanks, Barbara, for reminding me that accepting myself reflects love for all of life…that’s what I want Grandboy to see in me.

  12. Lois says:

    Wonderful post. Just this morning someone sent a picture her husband had taken of me. She said it was a great picture and I thought hhhmmm if this is great I must really look awful! This picture shows the weight and age that I can ignore when I just use the picture of myself I have in my head. I like that picture. I guess this is why I dislike photos of me.

  13. Carol says:

    I love this post! I”m going to try this – one week of perfect acceptance. It probably won’t be perfect, which I will accept. 🙂

    Funny aside: I’m two weeks post foot surgery to remove the bone chip that plagued me so, so still in the boot, walking with a cane… And yet I found myself looking at reviews of running apps last night, not because I’m thinking, “I’ve gained so much weight since the injury and I’ve got to take it off,” but instead, “It’s been two weeks since I could do significant exercise and I am so jonesing to start!” That’s one for the self-acceptance column.

  14. Oh no. I think what it is is that we are our own worst critics. Your friends see that picture and remember the laughter and the love you’ve shared. They think of the joy you bring into their lives. Each of us is so much more than our double chins, cellulite thighs, fallen arches. We are our laugh lines, and the love we share and create. If you can photo shop someone’s face onto that picture of you – just their face – and then look at it again, you’ll be amazed at how beautiful you are.

  15. Working on this. Also trying to be kinder to everyone, including myself. Gave up alcohol because I’d woken up at 2:30 in the morning with a hangover one too many times, and I was ashamed. So I’m feeling better. Still not quite able to look in the mirror and love what I see, yet. But I’m taking baby steps to getting there. HUGS Barbara!!!

  16. Redwood Kim says:

    Haven’t been posting much, but I finally got the gallbladder out, and I’ve been recovering. Working hard on accepting the weakness that comes along with healing. Looking forward to getting back in the gym. Enjoying the fact that my new smaller pants still fit. And all of this gets back to being kind to myself. Do I love all the pictures that I see of myself? No. But I love more of them than I used to.

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