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:
“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?