Day 18: Interlude of Gratitude 

I just want to take time today to say thank you to all of the people who have been so nice to me throughout this project! You’ve been so incredibly kind, and thoughtful, and supportive. I feel totally held in love as I do this project, which is so amazing to me. Thank you, and thank you for letting me know that you’ve seen this and been interested. The sweet messages and encouraging words and good vibes have really kept me going when I was second-guessing myself. 

I have to say that many apologies have crossed my mind since Day One, but I made up my mind at the outset not to give in to the urge to apologize. I felt very embarrassed foisting my bare belly on the unsuspecting public (of Facebook especially–people I may have to actually see!!) and like I needed to say I was sorry. I decided, though, that constant apologizing is one of the habits of self-judgment and self-consciousness that I wanted to practice breaking. I understand if anyone doesn’t want to look at this–and I respectfully invite them to not look. 

On the other hand, I feel like if any one person out there may have been helped by this blog, or may stumble upon it in the future and find that it says something that helps them, I’ll be pleased beyond measure. And from what people around me have said, I think that’s possible. 

Ultimately, though, it does have to be for me. Reflecting on my belly in a public venue with words and pictures–it seems a little crazy to me–but also like there’s some magick in it, some alchemy. Being out on a limb is a very spacious feeling. Anything can happen. 

What strikes me again is how powerful it is to be confronted with myself in these photos. Sometimes I really recoil, I’ll be honest. I don’t associate this face, this body, with beauty. I wonder, “what’s wrong with me?” And I put it out there anyway, because what I need to resist is the impulse to hide myself from myself, to be in a state of denial, to make my body into a frightening and demonized specter by pushing away from my consciousness something that is so integral to my being as my physical body. Just forcing myself to look shatters my long-held belief that I couldn’t bear to look. I CAN bear it, and I need to, for the sake of my happiness and peace. 

  

This is me laying down in a bunch of flowers that I just couldn’t resist. I wanted to press myself against the ground. Once I was down there in the dirt I could feel my energy being purified by the earth and the leaves. My stomach looks like a yeasty loaf of white bread, but you can see I’m smiling; in fact, I can’t stop. 

It reminds me of Whitman on more than one level:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself, 
And what I assume you shall assume, 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. 

I loafe and invite my soul, 
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.


Being in the grass restores me. So does facing my fears. And so does the love of my friends. 

Thank you, thank you, and Blessed Be!

Day 17: Sun Belly 

 

Today all I could think about was sun worshipping. 

Huh, so that’s what I look like when I’m doing that. 

Looking at myself in this position is interesting. Through this picture project I’m learning to see myself — where before I would always look away, even when looking at myself. I’m building acceptance. I still feel mixed about what I see. But I’m beginning to appreciate the power there, a little more. I’m trying to stand in that power more. 

Looking at my belly through pictures has made me more aware of my posture, too, and my habit of attempted self-effacement through slouching. I remember to straighten my spine a little more and I stop apologizing so much for being. I’m letting go of my fear of being too much, too wide, too loud, too obnoxious. Resisting probably only makes it all the more so. I’m starting to try to just let what wants to flow through, flow through. 

And let the sun shine in!

 

Day 16: American Belly

I remember the moment when I first understood that there is a whole sector of the economy based on making perfectly wonderful people hate themselves, and more specifically, their bodies. It was my sophomore year in college in Intro to Women’s Studies. Up to that point I had not been convinced that feminism had anything important to say to me. Then I saw Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women

For sheer change of mental direction, this was one of the films that influenced me most in my life. It’s not like it told me everything I would ever want to know or anything, but just the way it strung together SO MANY examples of conscious campaigns to instill self-hatred for the purpose of monetary gain — well — I just felt personally upset and angry on a deep level about this.  I mean, it is not ok to make people hate themselves and want to destroy themselves so that a corporation and its owners can make a profit!!! What is WRONG with our culture that we not only allow these practices but defend them above the lives of the people they hurt???

The practice of willfully convincing young people that there is a hierarchy of acceptable physical appearances, and that not having one of the top body types both leads to unhappiness in life and is a reflection of personal failure — I guess it bothers me just as much now as it did then. 

It’s become practically a cliché to point out that the models don’t even look like that, that the standard held up is not actually possible. Most people I know probably wouldn’t admit to being appearance or size prejudiced. But educational and economic discrimination based on weight or size is quite prevalent — and that’s to say nothing of what I think is much sadder, which is the persistent messages teaching young people, who don’t yet have the capacity for sorting propaganda from helpful survival information, that their bodies are bad and that they are bad people for having bodies like that. 

How can we seriously live with the consequences of those conditions?

I guess for me, when I thought of this as a corporate project, and thought of how much pain and isolation I’d experienced up to that point in life in connection with my body, and how much those experiences had shaped me as a person, my thoughts and feelings toward myself, and my beliefs about my possibilities for success or happiness,  I just got so enraged — and I guess that anger still hasn’t left me yet. People are harming themselves over this. It is not ok that we as a society let it stand. 

When I started realizing how very much of our economic system is built on people’s suffering, purposely caused, sustained, or exacerbated in order to get people to give away their resources, or be stripped of them — Of course this goes far beyond the beauty industry. It’s so deeply interwoven into the American economy. 

I sometimes think that what we need in America is a revolution in morals. We need to reach a place, as a culture, where we value caring for people and the planet over profit. I dream of seeing a time come when we can no longer in good conscience allow huge corporations to promote incarceration over freedom, chronic diseases over wellness, poison over true nourishment, and destruction over innovation, all in the name of extracting all possible resources from a targeted group. I wonder if we all just have to want it more — and I wonder what it would take to get us there. Please let me know, because whatever it is, I want to do it. 

So that’s what I meant when you said that if I could free my mind from this particular set of beliefs — if I can ever actually get there — it will be free indeed. 

May that day come. 

America, I do still love you and believe you can be better.

Day 15: Belly in the Garden

Day 15: Belly in the Garden

It’s funny–I love plants and trees so much, and I identify so strongly with them as both friends and wisdom teachers, but despite my years in the greenhouse management program in high school, I am no good at getting them to grow. There is, however, one aspect of horticulture at which I really do excel: Clearing out the dead shit. 

Today I spent the whole afternoon in the perennial garden of the house I just moved into, taking out all the old brown leaves, sticks and stems, last year’s growth. It was amazing. There were all kinds of shoots under the thick mat of dry brush — even flowers that couldn’t be seen, they were so thoroughly covered. As I worked my way through the garden, I could almost hear the new spring plants taking deep breaths as they stretched up for sunlight. Wow! I was stretching up with them!

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My belly overfloweth

Well, here’s how that gardening is like my project of self love. My brain is so full of negative talk, of self-criticizing thoughts, it sometimes gets so that nothing else can breathe in there, nothing else can grow. Indeed, like some of the flowers I found today–there could be all kinds of beautiful possibilities in there, but I haven’t been able to see them through all the dry, dead, thorny branches of judgment.

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I don’t even know what this red guy is, but it’s awesome!

Even though it’s not the right season, I kept hearing this Samhain song in my head as I pruned:

As the trees give their leaves to the chilly autumn breeze,

I too shall give away the things that I no longer need;

As the trees give their leaves to the chilly autumn breeze,

I too shall give away the things that can no longer feed me …

It was last fall, actually, when it occurred to me that if I could liberate my mind from negative beliefs about my body, then my mind would be liberated indeed. (More on this tomorrow.) And it was then that I started trying to sing from all the parts of my body that I disliked the most–the fat parts, i.e., all of them. I did this in zikr and found … that there were sounds in there that I hadn’t known existed. 

For as beat up as I got today when I waded in to the garden and started pulling stems, and for as long as it took me to clear out the patch I was working on, the process of clearing deadening thoughts out of my mind is far longer and harder. And in fact I begin to think I can’t do it without grace. 

 But luckily, there is grace. 

Last spring (was it really only a year ago?) my now-housemate hosted an Oestara ritual in which we painted eggs with our dreams for the year and “planted” them in a corner of the very garden I was digging in today. Here’s the egg I buried:

Art and Flow, the two energies I wanted to nurture.  

Two sides of one egg

 

Art, like a tree, is still growing slowly but steadily in my life. And flow–well, you know that when we release things, we create space for other things to come in, things that are more aligned with our highest good in this particular moment

Today I release a bunch of old, dead sticks. I put them in the compost pile. I let the sun and rain break them down so that their richness can return to the earth and nourish that which is ready to grow NOW!

Day 14: Belly of Spring

Spring is solidly here in the Front Range. Life force energy is friggin’ PULSATING through every atom and molecule, organic and inorganic, attached to a sentient being or not, in my vicinity.

Green things and brown things are occupying the same space at the same time. The now and the past can be seen side by side. Winter feels like something I survived — and like something that could still throw another punch. But the seeds we blessed at Imbolc are undeniably sprouting, growing, alive.

Well, blessed be!

I do have arms. They are behind my back.

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Just another reason why I heart Colorado.

Day 13: Shadow Belly 

 

Belly as through a glass, darkly

 

This past year, I encountered the Enneagram for the first time–it’s a tool for, among other things, understanding human personalities, motivations, and life lessons. My type is 7. According to the book The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Ross Hudson, this suggests  that the core fear that drives many of my actions on a subconscious level is the fear of not having enough. 

This explained so much for me, so many themes — why I struggled so hard with jealousy for so many years, why I can’t drink alcohol, why I so often order more food than I actually need. It was just that combination of chagrin and relief that the authors said would mark the recognition of something true about myself within that particular body of wisdom. 
So I overconsume. I’ve done it ever since childhood. And I have indeed had, for as long as I can remember, an underlying anxiety about not having what I need to be happy. I deeply fear not having enough — friends, love, free time, money, pizza, education, songs, attention, life experience, just about anything, really, could trigger this fear in me. On the other hand, having an enormous supply of anything (oatmeal, nails, socks, paper) has always been a great comfort to me. 

It was actually quite helpful to have this pointed out to me. I did feel shame when I first saw myself in those terms. But I also felt the healing sting of letting some part of my shadow self come into the light. Yes, many of my most embarrassing moments arose from me being driven by this fear. Oh well. That’s part of who I am. It’s both part of my past and a potentiality of my present. To acknowledge this is sobering and also hopeful: once I allow myself to become conscious of my shadow, once I own it, I maybe start to choose something other than mindlessly acting it out. 

On some level I have long thought of my belly as basically the evidence of my weakness or gluttony. Of course the feeling associated with thoughts like these is shame. 
But it also occurred to me today that the belly is also a symbol of abundance. 
It can remind me that whatever I fear, I HAVE been provided for throughout my entire life.  I’ve never been homeless or friendless or without access to food. Seeing this, maybe I can relax a little, slow down a little, and celebrate my blessings a little, or a lot. 
In fact, the older I get, the more I understand how much power I have to create my own life. I become more and more convinced that my highest happiness lies in being aligned with Divine will for my life, and that as I come closer to the right balance between action and surrender, I’ll receive absolutely everything I need to fulfill my soul’s purpose, nothing more and nothing less, exactly the perfect amount. 
Yay belly! What a great teacher! 

Day 12: Love Belly

Love belly

I talked in my post yesterday about doing scary stuff and how it’s good for me because it helps me to do other scary stuff. I do often push myself to go outside my comfort zone for that reason, so in some ways I’m used to myself doing that, if that makes sense. I sometimes don’t actually even recognize what I’m doing as scary. I have a really high (some may say unreasonably so) standard for what I SHOULD be able to do, and as long as I’m within that “should zone,” I can’t even begin to see myself as courageous.  It’s like, if I did it, it can’t have been that hard, right? 

There gets to be almost like a layer of denial between my thoughts and my feelings about what I am doing. 

Head says: That was obviously no big deal. Even YOU did it. 

Heart says: Wait a minute, hey, that was really hard! And I don’t know how I feel about it! I probably need a hug now!

Head says: Shut up, Heart. You’re wrong. It was too easy. Now go back to the drawing board and figure out something REALLY scary to do.

Heart says: Oh … Okay … … …

But I guess my post yesterday actually was scary enough to make my heart’s needs crack through that force field of repression, and all the challenging stuff I have been doing lately finally caught up with me emotionally. A little while after I posted it, I realized I just wanted to go curl up in my bed and cry. 

It wasn’t like anything bad had happened — I’ve gotten nothing but love back about this blog series. And I’m so grateful! But I think the anxiety and fear and vivid memories of past rejections and hurts that I have been stirring up from the depths of my heart by taking these pictures and sharing these words just got agitated enough so that they had to spill over into my consciousness … and then, apparently, out from my eyeballs. 

And thank God it did, too! Otherwise I might never have realized that I needed to give myself some TLC! I had a good old cry and I held myself in love and appreciation for the fears I’ve faced. And I felt so much better — all clean and shining again. 

I didn’t know what I was going to do for today’s picture until I was at my usual Wednesday night activity, that is, gospel choir practice. I noticed that without thinking about it, I was singing with my hands on my belly; that I was just lightly and tenderly holding it. And then it came to me that I needed to make that love conscious, I needed to let myself be in that self loving space for a little while. It’s certainly been rare enough for me over the course of my life — but this project is about changing that old habit of putting myself down. 

When I started this series, I was afraid to have my face in the pictures. I was like, ok, I’m forcing myself to look at my belly — looking at my face too is just more than I can handle! But as I’ve worked on accepting my belly as it is, by default I’ve also become a smidgen more comfortable with my face as it is. So here’s the full version of the photo above:

Belly with face

And because I know you want to see what awesome art is hanging behind me in the Wesley Fellowship bathroom:

Look how the light bulb makes that amazing crescent moon!

In the words of one of our choir songs:

We let the love wash over us,
We let, we let it be.