I’m re-reading Eat, Pray, Love. If you haven’t read it, please do so (and don’t judge this book by its movie) and watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk while you’re at it. She speaks my language in a way that few people can. And pretty much every part of my copy is annotated, underlined, or highlighted.
If you recall, the first leg of her yearlong journey is to Italy, where she rediscovers pleasure. I was reading along, enjoying her witty style of writing, when I stopped short at this passage:
For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too–the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. [emphasis mine] **
For how true is that statement? We do believe we need to earn it. And not only that, we believe that we need to publicly earn it, or we’ll have to spend our entire lives justifying our pleasure. We have to be “perfect” and “do it all” in order to be worthy of… anything. And that pursuit of perfection becomes our chief motivation in life, at the expense of our intuition and personal needs.
Can you imagine the stress your body is under? It tells you what it needs, and you say No. You say no, usually with some societal norm as a justification.
Your body doesn’t know the rules of a successful member of society. It doesn’t necessarily know that it’s supposed to look a certain way because magazines says it’s supposed to. It only knows what it needs to function and survive. And when you diminish your body’s truth by shoving it into a cookie cutter mold, you will always feel out of touch, like something’s missing. And you’ll need more and more outside validation. And resentment builds. You resent your body for not being perfect, and your body resents you for not fulfilling its needs.
I have a new paradigm to propose, said beautifully by the poet Hafiz:
My loves, the relationship you have with your body is the most important one of your entire life. You’ve earned the right to listen to and honor your body. Your body has earned the right to a voice. You are the Queen or King of your life, and if you need something that isn’t within the “normal” realm of What People Do, who cares? You’re in charge! Cultivate a new normal.
I challenge you to really listen to your body this week. Make it a conversation. Take a note from Jena la Flamme‘s book and talk to your body about what it wants to eat, then tell it what you want to eat, and come to an agreement. If you’ve got a to-do list longer than your arm, pick your favorite one randomly, and do it until it’s no longer fun. Then stop, and move on to something else. Make like Leo and just do one thing. One ridiculously, laughably small step. In fact, the more you can laugh about it, the better.
Maybe you don’t love your body yet. That’s ok. You might not have loved your significant other immediately. I’m pretty sure I hated my now best friends for several months before I even tried to get to know them. If love is too big a leap, start with respect. Give your body the respect of a voice at the table. Then you can move to acceptance, when you get to know your body a little better. And eventually, love will come.
** For those that haven’t memorized this passage in the book, I want to give you the whole thing because it’s so good. Italians understand.
“For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too—-the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat. This Bud’s for You! You Deserve a Break Today! Because You’re Worth It! You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah! Thanks! I am gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it! Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge. Followed by the remorse. Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life. The reply in Italy to “You Deserve a Break Today” would probably be, Yeah, no duh. That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to your house and sleep with your wife.” [Eat Pray Love pg 62]