Prompted by a dear friend of mine during the new moon, last month I set an intention to “clean my house.” This intention does, to a degree, involve the actual “house,” aka, apartment in which I live. Great—fantastic even, and no problem at all! I actually love to clean, particularly cleaning out closets, garages, cupboard or really, any space where junk can be hidden away, brought into the open, sorted and organized. I’m really not joking. I tell people this, and they laugh and say, “oh, I should have you come clean at my house.” Seriously—do. I am still waiting for several invitations.
But meditatively speaking and in dreams, one’s “house,” is often one’s self and one’s physical body in particular. This work has been a bit more challenging to me. As I shared in my January post, I have been working this year to “create a healthier relationship to food in at least one way,” which also involves creating a healthier relationship with my body altogether, physical, spiritual, mental and emotional.
One reason I began to practice yoga and meditation was so that I could learn to better care for my body. Feminism teaches me to reclaim embodiment and value physical bodies more, and yoga teaches me to incorporate what I learn in a highly physical way. In yoga, I also found a safer place to access what I consider sacred and divine by approaching it primarily in my body while my mind and emotions unlearned an abusive relationship to God. I have even searched my “house” once before through active meditation and visualization. It was extremely powerful. I fixed broken locks. I gave people back items I didn’t even know I had been storing for them. I also realized that I was not ready to open some doors. The process was fun and very rewarding, involving almost two hours of seated meditation.
Yet, I have also struggled to maintain this practice. I felt very disconnected from myself before the new moon last month and hadn’t wanted to meditate. I wanted a vacation from embodiment and myself. Embodiment, after all, often demands that we actually hear what our bodies are trying to tell us. Honestly, I don’t always want to listen. When I have too much work to do, I don’t want to know that I am tired. When I am anxious, I would rather feel in control. I knew, however, cognitively, that “cleaning my house,” would be good for me so I made myself set the intention. I pushed myself to carve out moments in passing during the day to focus my mind and tell me what I wanted to do. I then proceeded to have four powerful dreams in the week following this intention-setting, all related to my “house.” In the final dream, I spoke to me, literally. I faced myself and said very assertively, “You need to work with what you have.”
I need to work with what I have. Interesting. I wondered, when was the last time I accepted what I have in order to work with it? When I consider my relationship to my body, how often am I actually focusing on something completely outside of me: some unattainable oppressive fantasy?
I received two dominant messages related to my body growing up in a conservative, evangelical Christian tradition. One: your body is fleshly, and so, impermanent, of “this world,” less than spirit and a place for sin. And two: your body is a temple for God so don’t defile it. These messages were a little confusing to me at times. I never felt like my body was what it was “supposed to be.” I often felt powerless to change my body (which was sometimes true, and sometimes not), and believed with certainty that my body, particularly my weight, was my “fault.” Which is to say, I thought my body was something bad that I should feel bad about: that I was something bad that I should feel bad about. If I was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God (Psalm 139:14), it was me who was messing that up.
Focusing on “house cleaning” now, I know that taking responsibility for my role in my health is very important. But what I am learning is that there is a big difference between beings responsible for self-care and being “to blame” for one’s body. Actually, “blaming” oneself for one’s body—which feels like a crazy statement to even write—stands in the way of creating health. In a culture that says some bodies are more valuable than others because of their size, color, able-bodied-ness and/or gender, a belief that one is “at fault” for their body can often correspond to a belief that one deserves to feel or even, is unacceptable, unlovable or less valuable. Internalized oppressive expectations can lead to crippling shame.
To “clean my house,” I work to reject body-shame: I am not bad. My body is not bad or wrong. My body is something I have and is me. So what do I have?
I have a potential to be strong and fast, which I learned when swimming competitively. I can also be weak. I was reminded of this last week as I lay on the couch, sick, chills running up my back and lacking much energy to move.
I have large hands that help me to carry large objects, multiple grocery bags and my nephew; but I have small wrists that demand I make reasonable requests of my hands.
I have big feet that make for good flippers. I have knock-knees that make for awkward running. I have a big tummy that sometimes I hate, but during a meditation last month, made me feel like the goddess image that lives in my head. I never saw myself as so literally, or physically the goddess before that moment. Which reminds me: I have the potential to be beautiful. I also have the ability to be ugly, which I have seen when lashing out cruelly in anger.
I have a brain. I have a threshold when reading that I can actually feel. It tells me when I can learn, create or think something exciting if I push a little harder and release my mind. This is one of my superhera powers (thanks again for the term Barbara)!
Wait…I have superhera powers! This is something I realized that I left out of my post last month when I asked you about your super powers. I have them too, we all do.
When I take the time to think about it, I have a lot to work with.
Interestingly, and maybe obviously, to “clean my house,” I first have to recognize and accept that my body is the place in which I live. It is not a place I deign to live. Cleaning, I often focus a bit too much on what I need to get rid of, so much so, in fact, that sometimes my house doesn’t even look like me anymore. Throwing stuff out is important, but so is recycling, repairing, donating, reorganizing and seeing what’s already there and how it works.