Consider the Tree

I can encourage my daughter to love her body, but what really matters are the observations she makes about my relationship with my own body.
— Brene Brown

I wish someone had told me when I was younger, fifty times if that's what it took for me to hear it, that it's ok to be happy, that it’s not shameful or selfish to find what makes you light up and to fight for it.

It’s difficult to change patterns from our earliest childhood, ideologies that created grooves along neural pathways in our brains, ways of knowing and being we come back to, because they’re home.

Extreme religion is like that.

The high of extreme religion usually hinges on the mercurial charisma of a man, an attractive man who has qualities people adore and eventually worship, who teaches them to trust in God’s plan--as told to and interpreted through him. Followers are taught by a man created in God’s image to negate subjective experience, to obey a higher power and no longer trust or interpret the experience of their own bodies as valid..

Where I come from, there is a lot we don’t talk about.

For most of my life, when I have experienced pain in my body, I had no idea where it was coming from. Several times when I was washing dishes, I cut myself on a spatula or a knife, and even after the water started turning red, it would take me some time to stop and pull my hands out and check to see where the color was coming from. I remember cutting myself on a broken glass and I was following the blood trails across the floor before I recognized that they led to me.

My religious training taught me that my body and my mind belonged to God and to the community who served Him. Everything I felt, every possibility of affection or pleasure or curiosity or even stillness, was negated and beat out of me, until I could perform the purported will of God on command. I didn’t shed a tear from age 12 to 26. Not once. I never knew there was anything inside of me worth listening to, caring about, attending to or loving.

My body was colonized by the community I was born into, by caregivers who didn’t respect the boundary of my skin. Religious or not, abuse from early caregivers can cause us to shame and vilify parts of ourselves which, if respected, would help us resist succumbing to the power of those who would use us.

When we have loving ownership of our bodies and our feelings, we aren't as susceptible to abusers--in leaders or in partners.

There are many ways to find safety in the home of our bodies. One way is through the practice of yoga. When I practice yoga, I am present in my body. As I listen to its cues. I remember that my body exists as more than a receptacle for other people's pain. When I recognize what it feels like to be safe in my body, when I sit with it, acknowledge it, name it, trust it, and move to the rhythm of my own breath, I practice saying no to what no longer serves me and nourish new roots to grow what does.

Michelle Dowd