Appreciating Our Body, Imperfections and All
An Excerpt from Parenting with Presence
I talk to my body a lot. Sometimes out loud.
I don’t usually share this fact with people (which makes it kind of interesting that I’m putting it into a book that I hope will be widely read). But the fact is, I place a lot of stock in having loving conversations with my body and its many miraculous parts and have decided that it is an idea worth sharing.
“Thank you stomach, for digesting that meal so nicely.” “Thanks, eyes — what a great job you did in letting me see the colors of those flowers today!” “Thank you, heart, for beating so reliably and keeping my circulation going. You’re amazing!” “Thank you, legs, for ferrying me around so nicely...thank you, ears, thank you, liver...bones...knees...teeth...” This love fest with my body can go on for quite a while. I nearly always find that my heart is soft and melty by the end.
Almost all of us take our body for granted until it breaks down, and then we can be quite mean to it, complaining about its failure to do what we want. And then there are the features we loathe; lips we wish were fuller, the nose we wish were daintier. If you consider how relentlessly critical we are of our human container and how it still plods on thanklessly, it really is a wonder that our physical systems work at all. If we treated employees with the sort of disdain we so frequently show our body, they would walk off the job. And yet our bodies carry on doing their duties as best they can.
Years ago I took a workshop during which we were given a paper bag with two holes cut out for the eyes. We were instructed to take it up to our hotel room, remove all our clothes, and stand in front of a mirror with the bag over our head. The assignment was to look through the holes at every inch of our bodies, noting the commentary in our head as we viewed ourselves. It sounded very weird.
But it was a life-changing experience. I began by focusing on all the things I didn’t like — the parts that were too big or too small, too soft or too wrinkled. As I eased into the exercise, however, I fell into a place that was almost holy. I moved from noticing how harshly I judged each part of my body to realizing what a gift it had been to receive it and how perfect it was, exactly as it was.
I saw the pooch in my belly as evidence of the blessing of motherhood. I recalled how my slightly wobbly knees had rallied through achiness to get me to the tops of mountains. I reflected on how my arms had cradled my loved ones. By the time I got to my feet I was overcome with thankfulness...and remorse. Those feet! They had tirelessly ferried me through life for decades, almost never receiving a word of thanks. I felt waves of appreciation for the vessel I had been given, a gift extraordinaire — and one I had endlessly criticized for not being somehow different, or better.
We reassembled after the exercise to write letters to our bodies, then listened as people shared expressions of contrition, gratitude, and shame toward the miraculous heart-and-soul containers each of us had been allowed to inhabit. The room was pin-drop silent. Between racking sobs, a man in a wheelchair described the horrible things he had said to his body for years, angry at all the ways he had believed it had failed him. An overweight woman spoke of the unhealthy habits she had inflicted on her body to keep love and lovers at bay. The room filled with a quiet hum of gratitude. It was just a weekend workshop exercise, but it awakened something in me that thankfully remained.
Thank your parts for serving you and allowing you to dance and sing and eat and see and smell and touch and climb. When your children see you acknowledging the wonderfulness of your body instead of complaining about what you don’t like about it, they will be far more likely to regard their own bodies — warts and all — with respect, care, and appreciation.
Excerpted from the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com
Susan Stiffelman is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, a determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at http:// ParentingWithoutPowerStruggles.com.