I’ve just returned from five blissful days of The Work of Byron Katie with participants, and the lovely certified facilitator Todd Smith, all gathered to learn and practice questioning our stressful thoughts.
Breitenbush Hotspring Resort was our venue. We were surrounded by forest, the most glorious fresh air smelling of northwest pine and moss, three lovely vegetarian meals per day made from scratch….
….and separate mineral water pools with clothing-optional use.
Dit-dit-dit-dom. Did you say clothing-optional?(Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony opening line just played in the background).
The mineral pools are there for those who wish to soak on their own time during our program.
Some people have frightening thoughts about seeing naked bodies (which happens only right at the soaking pools–nowhere else). Some choose never to go near the pools or natural sauna for this very reason. Some happily wear bathing suits on their own bodies, but may be sitting in a pool with someone else who’s nude.
Not soaking in the waters is a perfectly fabulous way to be at Breitenbush. (I’m usually one of those people who doesn’t, as I spend my down-time writing, meditating, hiking and reading).
In our workshop sessions, we’re gathered in a special building called the River Yurt where we have three sessions per day, so in some ways, there’s a lot going on besides free time for soaking in between our workshop sessions.
But because of this lush, beautiful location that happens to also include hot springs with some people doing it in the buff….we invited people to do The Work on our bodies at this retreat, if so moved.
No one ever has to go in the pools, or go naked, or soak in the waters while spending time at Breitenbush, but the very fact that nudity is allowed on the land somewhere can make people nervous.
So yeah. We did The Work on the body.
Participants in the retreat brought up their concerns about how they looked in the world, or how they felt: too many scars, hips too big, weight too heavy, belly too large, skin too sagging or old, too out of shape, pain in the knee, too awkward in movement, skin tone wrong, cellulite too disgusting, burned skin too ugly.
People noticed how these thoughts can rule our lives when we assume them to be true, rather than inquiring.
What do you imagine people would think, if they saw your body, or body part, or shape or size or anything at all about that body you live in?
What do you think you’re unable to accomplish or enjoy or do or be, unless this body function or body part changes (like an injured leg)?
What would you have, if you had a body appearing or being that OTHER way–the better way?
I remember thinking my body was horrible when I was only 14. It’s too thick. I should be light as a feather, I should reduce my eating, I should be skinny. Skinny is better. Skinny is powerful, attractive, right, sexy, and shows I’m someone who has it together, accomplished, desirable, winning, a force of nature, strong.
Believing those thoughts was very stressful. I didn’t even realize where it would go at the time when I was so young. I didn’t realize my quest for a perfect and thin body would drive me literally crazy. Crazed with thinking only about this goal, and concentrating on the effort to Not Eat nearly all the time.
Let’s just say, it backfired.
My life was miserable.
I felt the need to control myself constantly. The desire to eat grew bigger, not smaller. I wanted to consume everything in sight sometimes. I felt desperately hungry….for more than just food, it seemed.
I was fighting, punching, hitting, kicking and At War with reality one hundred percent of the time when it came to the need for thinness, eating, food, perfect health and dangers looming just around the corner (like a piece of cake, or a trip to the beach).
What a nightmare.
Who would we be without our thoughts that this body, or body part, or body condition should be different than it is? Or that it needs to be maintained as it is at all costs?
(Wow. You’re allowed to question that thought? Aren’t we all supposed to be trying everything we can to be healthy, perfect, balanced, thin, pain-free, anti-aging, etc, etc?)
If I question the thought I should be thin and perfect, won’t that mean I’ll stop being motivated to be thin, and eat from one end of the country to the other without restraint?
My answer was “no”.
I never found this to be true. When I was “motivated” to be thin, I wound up eating in a frenzy at times. It was not peaceful at all. It was chaotic and painful. I got excessively full, then tried to starve myself. I felt angry and rebellious and then even more frightened. I felt completely out of control. Then swung to IN control (or trying to be).
The command to get thin and remain in control caused an equal and opposite desire to break out of prison and eat whatever the hell I wanted (which I didn’t actually want).
So who would you be without the story of your body needing to be different in order to be happy? Who would you be without the story of other people’s opinions mattering for you, when it comes to this body you live in?
What if you could relax and be still on the inside, focusing only on the inside to discover what is truly, truly wanted and needed in this very moment when it comes to nourishment, rest, movement, activity, sensations, and being in this body exactly the way it is?
I have found, as I question my thinking about body image, body pain, body function, body health….I am free to make changes without fear, or learn about new ways to be with the body, or to not eat too much or too little. I’m relaxed.
Without the nightmare story of “this body MUST be different in order for me to be happy” I’m so much lighter within.
Turning the thoughts around: I do not need this body to be different. Could this be just as true, or truer?
- My thinking is shallow about these scars
- These hips are supportive, my thinking is too wide (about these hips especially)
- My weight just right, my thinking is too heavy
- This belly is beautiful, my thinking is ugly
- My thinking is too sagging or old, out of shape, awkward, wrong, disgusting
This body, I notice, is doing what it does.
Can I support the one I have, without attacking judgment?
I notice with my old hamstring injury when I don’t fight against the belief “it hurts”, then I take it to the body worker, I take it to yoga, I study this thing called “pain” without going to war with it. I take time to stretch and attend to this organism called a body, a hamstring, with loving care and attention.
I notice there’s a mind watching it all, conscious of this body, being with the body but not actually the body itself.
Something is here looking, observing, aware of it all.
Most important of all, I feel kind and soft and loving towards whatever’s happening in the body–relaxed and free from agonizing about it mentally, even if it “hurts” or doesn’t look right, in my opinion.
“Every story is about body-identification. Without a story, there’s no body.” ~ Byron Katie
P.S. Summer Camp for The Mind is coming. A blitz of live inquiry sessions for 7 weeks. Read about it here.