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Body Listening.

Like most women in this country, I've been at war with my body for most of my life, and I'm trying to make peace with it. It's hard work, and feels oddly like "giving up", whatever that means. Giving up what, I ask myself? Shame? Insufficiency? Striving?

Two and a half years ago I made my way to my current therapist, Ken, who uses a somatic modality of therapy (for the uninitiated, that's "relating to the body") - I do a lot of learning to check in, query, and listen to what my body is telling me - and use that as a basis to move forward.

I have spent a good deal of my life living by my wits and up in my head, which I've become to feel is rather unreliable. I understand how I got that way - between a childhood raised in Christian Science (where no body information was reliable or true, AT ALL, and theologically, even death is an illusion) and then an extended tour in elite academics (where the currency of success is all cognitive), the script that my mind could fix it all, was all that was important about me, and was in fact, all I was, got pretty strong.

I neither knew or appreciated my body, and she spoke a totally different language than I did, and had a radically different set of values. Rest, pleasure, comfort, care, abundance: that's what bodies seek.

I had been seeking all their opposites, out of a sense that being careful, and controlled, and ambitious and preserving resources would keep me safe, and make me morally worthy of love. It's not done to ask for, or expect too much, right? I always had to be giving back, earning my keep. I felt guilty napping, even before I had kids. I constantly calculated food and activity in some sort of virtue calculus that left me never happy at table. Never. I looked at ingredients and locked horns with my kids on what they ate every time they sat down. It was terrible, to be eternally at war with the physical world.

It's also futile and in direct conflict with the reality that we're all dying, declining, degrading every day - and that the lucky among us live long and bear all the scars of age: white hair, wrinkles, fat.

The only people I know who are forever young and beautiful died way too soon.

So I'm learning to check in with my body and translate what she's telling me. It began that day on the yoga mat - but she had to scream to get my attention then. A couple years later, it's more like a stage whisper: "I don't want to do that." "Maybe not." "More of that, please." "I'm tired." "I need some space." "I'm OK." "I don't need to worry."

The interesting thing is that as I learn to be present in my body and speak that language, I start listening to other bodies too. My kids, for instance, I see their tired or worry, or joy, or tenderness radiating off them, and can meet them there, easily and fluidly.

So, file this under the topic of "Why I don't believe online dating works." I think the stories we tell online and the faces and personas we present usurp the wisdom of our bodies. We learn to experience people initially through cognition, and essentially, it's circumventing the first and best information we have, which is our visceral reactions. As Ken says, "all the information you need is within you."

We learn to think rather than to feel. 

I've taken a bit of time for myself and have decided not to date or look for a year, but I can see how this would apply when the time comes: Do I like his voice? Do I see HIM in his eyes? Do I like the way his body moves, and is he present in it? Is he flexible and fluid? Does he live in his front body, his back body, or is he balanced? Is he guarded, like he's waiting for a car crash, armored? Is he tense, coiled, or always in motion? Does he stand apart or close? Does he face me directly, or stand turned? Does he pull and tug at his clothing because he doesn't like the way it fits, or rub his abs to check they're still there? Does he feel himself, and can he feel me? Is this a language he has?

Does he like his own body, and is he familiar with it? Are they on good terms? Can he forgive himself? 

In order to make a space for this to occur, I have to be the answers for all those questions as well: Let my voice be mine, and my words be true; be present in my body, balanced and flexible, open and unguarded, direct and relaxed; and most importantly, have the courage to be present in my body, to respond to its needs and wisdom and to let my outside-and inside-selves become congruent.

To show up as who I am and let that be OK. That's what this year is about.


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