Separatism and dualism do not usually serve me. I understand that denying unity and reducing the multi-prismatic complexity of existence muddies up our vision of reality and can sometimes clog up the channels to compassion. So knowing that this perspective is not universal, but temporarily (at least) healing to me, a particular body with a life situation that gives me access to this kind of thinking, I explore taking a maternal perspective toward my body.
In Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara’s Most Intimate, she mentions the “freedom of experiencing myself [the self] as relationship” (23). I was confused when I first read this. Relationships are usually outside of me or with me, but not what I am. Yet, after thinking about it, I know that I have been in relationship with myself. We (my body and whatever the “me” is) have been simply so enmeshed and mottled with my perspective of possession, owning, unrealistically demanding and having authority over that body, that it was just not a healthy relationship.
My realization is that over-consumption is inefficient as a coping strategy for suffering. I am not sure I was always an emotional consumer. But I became one. I would graze to distract myself from boredom, and I would eat to the point of discomfort and tangled up digestion just so I could suffocate depression with matter. No one really ever knew. It did not show up on my body in ways I could not hide. But my body and soul were being harmed because consuming food was quite easier than feeling my emotions.
Imagining myself as a better mother to my body, my pain-body, specifically, somehow helps me to honor it more. I did not learn to spend much time offering a loving touch to my thighs or belly. I only learned to scrutinize and reject. When emotional pain comes, it is a new practice to be present to and sit with it. Instead of running to the kitchen, I slow down and imagine myself soothing it like a mother smoothing her hand over her child’s forehead. The old familiar loneliness or depression or anxiety is there, and it is sad and sweet. Rather than controlling the situation by indulging, ignoring, or demanding we not feel this pain for too long, maybe we can just breathe with our bodies and see what happens. It is a lot like what Nhat Thich Hanh in his book Anger says to do with the feeling of anger when it arises. He says to treat it as a baby, to not despise its presence, but to take good care of it. I think we can extend that to all the emotions. I decided to say better mother instead of “good” mother because I think I will be continually learning what kind of nurturing and empowering being I can be.
Mindful eating and mindful cooking have helped me in my journey. Rather than rush through dinner, I respond to the life of the carrots I’m peeling, noticing their bright orange or purple or yellow colors, letting the weight fall heavy in my hands, placing them up to my face for their cold and aroma of earthy sugars. Then, to eat mindfully, I try to savor the tastes, to not distract myself by books or television or all my thoughts about what I have to do. Buddhist literature suggests that when you eat, just simply eat. I practice these ways much less than I want to; perhaps I can only cope and not cure this in myself. But I’m so glad there is some kind of way to approach food that feels healing to me as of now.
I also feel this benefits the earth. With a bag of chips in one hand and pint of ice cream in the other, I ask myself if my body really needs this and if the body of the earth really needs the waste from the packaging to build up in my trash can to transfer to the trash can (or recycling bin) that has become the earth. For sure, this thinking can easily fall into creating another self-righteous way of living, but the point is not to go from one extreme of unrestrained over-consumption to unbending sacrifice. Life is more often healing when a balance is found. There are no rules or standards of perfection to more compassionate responses to the body and the earth. Sometimes resting serves us and sometimes action does. More mindful consumption is not an extreme but a potential middle way. Minimalism is not nothing. It can mean just enough.
Perhaps I’ve never said it right, but this is what I need my body to know:
Dear love body, when you hurt, I no longer want to sedate your cries with substances that quiet you. I mindlessly sacrifice your safety and comfort for my own sensate pleasures or to preserve my own happiness by escaping the discomfort I think you cause me. I have thought of myself before you – even when I claimed otherwise. You are not my “problem” or my enemy I need to subdue or shape. I cannot demand you be what I want you to be. In these ways I have not honored you. Now feel my hand lightly on you, the warmth and release of my loving touch. I will remove what I impose upon you. I will try not to obstruct your natural inclination towards balance and ability to self-heal, I will believe in your resilience and your internal intelligence and wisdom. I realize my hand in harming you, in making your work harder for equilibrium. I think I begin to feel your forgiveness, and I have gratitude for all that you are and have ever been.
LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches an online composition class at Oklahoma State University from a contemplative pedagogical approach. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating wisdom from Buddhist, Sufi, and Christian literature. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.