Happy New Year!
Scrolling through my social media feed last night, I got the distinct impression that 2018 was a very difficult year for many in my network. I know the feeling (been there, done that!), although 2018 was quite the opposite for me. As I drove home from work last night, it occurred to me that 2018 might have been the best year of my life thus far. I took a mental inventory of every year of my adult life and affirmed that it was. My intention for the New Year is to keep that positive momentum going, which is quite different from all the years I was grateful for the fresh, new beginning the New Year offered.
If 2018 was a real dud (or worse) for you, then I wish you a much better 2019.
New Year, New Material
I woke up this morning from a dream that revealed a couple of opportunities for growth this year. I also experienced some feelings that surprised me last night and showed me there’s opportunity for growth there, too. Then there’s my very conscious intention to feel more physically fit and comfortable in my body. In other words, I have some material to work with – which is always the case. And that is actually quite exciting.
And Old Material, Too
Feeling self-conscious about my body is really, really old stuff that has kept me from engaging more with the world. It even kept me from agreeing to be my sister’s matron of honor when she got married. (Yeah, it was that bad.) And I’ve always done my best to avoid any dancing scenarios – although I did teach aerobics many years ago. But now I feel ready to do something about this ridiculousness.
I know when body shame became activated. It was when I was ten or eleven years old, and my mom sat me down and had a little talk with me about my weight. At the time, I was an early developer going through a “filling out” stage. Until that day, I hadn’t given much thought to how I looked. But that talk rocked my world and made me feel there was something really wrong with me. I became fixated on my appearance and felt I needed to look good in order to be loved.
I never told my mom how serious an effect that talk had on me and on our relationship. She never meant to hurt me. She worked as a flight attendant recruiter, and in that world physical appearance was of the utmost importance. And I was a sensitive kid.
I’ve done some inner child work in which I imagined my current self as a loving presence in the room during that talk and assured my fifth-grade self that she was beautiful and loveable just the way she was. That was part of the healing. Now I mostly work with feelings as they arise and constrict the present moment, and send love and compassion to both my mom and my younger self.
Back to the Gym
Last winter, I walked outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions, and it was great to experience the fresh air and nature connection. However, it didn’t do much for me physically and actually left me feeling more out of shape than I’d ever felt in my life. When we had a snowstorm in November, I decided I wasn’t going to spend a long winter exercising outdoors (though I do hope for a good season of snowshoeing) and reactivated my gym membership. I’ve been working out almost every day for the past six weeks or so, and it feels awesome.
Every day, I imagine how great it will feel when I finish my workout, and that feeling motivates me to get to the gym. Focusing on positive feelings is key.
I was inspired by a few friends who’d recently committed to fitness and experienced results that included losing weight, having more energy, and feeling better emotionally. Still, I held off on reactivating my gym membership because the thought of exercising indoors around other people with lots of television screens mounted from the ceiling was entirely demotivating.
But I found a way to make it work. I have a subscription to Gaia and spend my time on the cardio machines absorbed in enlightening, inspirational content. The rest of the world melts away when I’m in my little cardio-Gaia cocoon.
So that is going well and has momentum. I do it because it feels great, and I also anticipate how I will feel even better months from now – because that’s what happened with my meditation practice.
Last spring, I recommitted to a daily habit of meditation, and after more than seven months, my practice is solid. It’s not something I feel obligated to do. There’s no dogma attached to it. I do it because it makes such a positive difference in the way I feel, and I want to feel that way more. I expect to experience the same kind of positive effects with exercise. Already, it’s something I’m motivated to do because it feels so good, instead of being something I “have to” do. It’s a subtle yet important difference.
The other part of the physical fitness equation, of course, is food intake. I have a pretty healthy diet already but can improve in terms of quantity. There’s a powerful reference experience for this, too, that gives me hope.
The weeklong vipassana meditation retreat I went on last spring and have referenced frequently (because it was so transformative!) involved sitting meditation, walking meditation, dharma talks, and EATING MEDITATION every waking moment. More than 100 of us gathered in the dining hall three times a day for completely silent meals. No eye contact or words spoken. Just mindful eating. Contemplation of what was on our plate and the sensations of tasting, chewing, swallowing, craving, fullness, etc.
During those meals, my plate was like a mandala. A complete universe. I didn’t think about second helpings, and while chewing a forkful of food, it even felt too complicated to think about the next bite or to arrange the food on my plate while still chewing. Instead, I was mindful of the taste and physical sensations and didn’t pick up my fork until I was ready for the next bite.
I appreciated the sensation of comfortable fullness and noticed the pull between that lovely satisfaction and craving more. Resting in satisfaction and choosing to stay with that instead of longing for more is what I remember most about mindful meals at the retreat center. When the retreat was over, I set an intention to eat mindfully one meal a day. But I didn’t follow through on that. Life got in the way, and meals were often rushed. Stress-eating happened.
When I got home from the gym today, I had a homemade buddha bowl for lunch and became aware of thinking about what I’d have after finishing the bowl. Then I remembered my retreat experience and tried to be present to the sensation of enoughness. And it worked. I didn’t have the rice cake with peanut butter afterwards. Didn’t give it any attention. Instead, I lingered in satisfaction. It was a sprawling, spacious sensation, a sense of fullness. It felt really good. Just like a good workout or meditation session.
So mindful eating is a new frontier I want to focus my attention on. Not in a dogmatic way. No shoulds. Better to remember the delicious sensation of one-plate satisfaction from the vipassana retreat and my intention to bring that awareness into my daily life because it feels so good, in itself. Add another healthy habit to my life as a gesture of self-love and lovingkindness, rather than focus on dissatisfaction.
A Path of Kindfulness
We all have our areas for improvement, but what a difference it makes to set intentions based on self-compassion rather than on self-loathing. Focusing on how we want to feel rather than on a current, unsatisfactory condition that brings us down. Imagine it already so, as Adriene Mishler from Yoga with Adriene encouraged in her kickoff email for Dedicate, a 30-day yoga journey to start the New Year that I’m doing for the fourth year in a row. 2018 was my best year yet because I learned the value of focusing on the positive and not giving attention to negative, disempowering thought patterns.
We have a choice about where we put our attention. Choosing presence and satisfaction over craving is a lovely experiment. When you experience the loveliness of it, it can motivate you to do it more. To make it a habit for all the right reasons.
In addition to being aware of satisfaction and craving through mindful eating, you also can be mindful of your thoughts and realize when self-consciousness about body image creeps in and let it just pass without clinging. Then your thoughts about your body become an opportunity for awakening and practicing lovingkindness, tenderness, and acceptance. Through kindfulness, you can appreciate and accept your body now, even as you envision feeling even better about it in the future.
Gratitude is another friend when you’re working with body shame. It is a blessing to have a body that is healthy and not in pain. So many people in this world would give anything to have a healthy, pain-free body. Being able to exercise is a blessing. So is having food to eat.
I absolutely did not intend to write today about the cliché New Year’s topics of diet and exercise. I didn’t intend to write at all. But as I sat in satisfaction after finishing the last, nourishing bite of my buddha bowl, it’s what arose. (I love the inspiration that comes from Presence, and writing was more satisfying than more food would have been.)
© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.