from Contributor: Jane Lawson
originally published in Western North Carolina Woman magazine
Windows on the Body
The Church says: The body is a sin
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
– From Walking Words by Eduardo Galeano
My journey in this lifetime has taken some interesting twists and turns. My body and the way I treat it, live in it, feel about it, view it, and think about it have utilized more of my physical, emotional, and mental energy than practically any other topic. My identification with it and belief that it is who I am has caused me to do some pretty strange things over the years.
As a young girl, I didn’t give my body a whole lot of thought. I was just living in it, and it was pretty wonderful. I had energy to burn and spent my days playing freely and just being. I was a tomboy and especially loved playing tennis. In fact, I played tennis all day long during the summer, and I loved winning.
The ease of this time came to a halt around the age of 12, when puberty hit. Suddenly, I found myself crying for no reason, and my body was changing beyond my control. My family moved, and I was in unfamiliar territory. I started losing tennis matches. My body became The Enemy. I hated myself and didn’t feel at home in my own skin. Thus began the roller coaster of gaining and losing the same 15 pounds over and over again for years.
My self-esteem was inversely proportional to my weight. When I was heavier, I felt defeated, depressed, and unlikable. When I was lighter, I felt happier, more confident, and attractive. Yet I was always fearful of gaining the weight back and thus could never really be present with myself. I developed elaborate routines and rituals around food and exercise. I tried every diet known to man and fasted on a regular basis. My appearance and how others viewed me was central to my self-concept.
As a young adult a couple of things happened that helped me get a healthier perspective on my body. I moved to the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina and lived a “back-to-the-land” lifestyle for several years. This was liberating in many ways and gave me an opportunity to experience myself in connection to the land. I felt I was a part of the earth and could begin to feel the rhythms of life vibrating through me. My body size literally began to carry less weight in my self-concept. I also began dancing. This helped me to discover that my body could move creatively and express deep feelings without having to adhere to rules and winning, as in competitive sports. I felt like I had found myself again.
I became a dance therapist. This wonderful avenue helped me to resonate with my body and also gave me the opportunity to encourage others to do the same. I found myself drawn to working with women who were suffering from depression and low self-esteem. Many had eating disorders and body image distortions. Through years of working in this way, I became more and more convinced that many women in our culture live with varying levels of anguish regarding their bodies. I discovered that even the women with “perfect bodies” are not necessarily happy with themselves, and so many buy into the never-ending cycles of dieting, cosmetic surgeries, and shopping addictions in a desperate effort to feel better.
In the worldviews of many, the overwhelming desire to lose weight and look young and thin overrides everything else. I found that counseling and movement therapy work was helping these women address the issues underlying their problems and was making a dent in the armor of the self-hatred and depression. However, over the years my inner voice kept telling me there had to be a way to help people connect more deeply with their true self.
In the last few years, another great opening has occurred in my life that has shifted my perspective on this issue in a much more profound way. My inner experiences while practicing meditation and yoga have helped me to discern a great understanding. It is the growing knowledge that we are so much MORE than our bodies; that our bodies are really our vehicles for enlightenment, for knowing who we really are.
Our bodies are the gift we have all been given to experience the energy that flows through everyone and everything. When we are in touch with this fact and then nurture ourselves so that we can feel more of this joyful energy, things just seem to make sense. This shifts us into another realm of consciousness, into embracing and opening to the sacred energy that is so life giving.
As I try to write about this I realize that words can convey only so much. Eduardo Galeano’s poem “Windows on the Body” says it better than I can. I guess it must be experienced to be understood. I do know that from this perspective, it is essential to cherish our bodies as manifestations of divinity, to nourish them with healthy foods and healthy activity, to aim for balance in all of our endeavors, and to open ourselves to the formless and boundlessly compassionate energy that pours through us. It beats the heck out of worrying about carbohydrate grams and wrinkles.
About the Contributor: Jane Lawson, MEd, LPC, MBA is a psychotherapist and energy healer in private practice in Asheville, NC. She also founded Hickory Nut Forest, a sustainable eco-community in Hickory Nut Gorge and Laughing Waters Retreat Center.
Image: from the We’Moon Calendar, Artist Unknown