I have noticed a phenomenon among a majority of the people who come to me for meditation and/or spiritual counseling: they are disembodied. They clearly are not connected with their bodies—mentally, emotionally, or even physically.
Why People Abandon Their Bodies
Our culture is absolutely obsessed with body image and particularly with bodies that are youthful, slim, sexy, and with pleasant symmetrical features. You can see our cultural obsession everywhere. Perfect bodies appear on television, in movies, on billboards, and in marketing messages. Think Brad Pit or Angelina Jolie. Once in a great while the media may offer up a quirky fictional character portrayed by someone with less than perfect features. But most of our successful film actors, newscasters, and performers could easily win beauty contests.
Due to this cultural barrage, we ourselves have become preoccupied with body image and appearance. We constantly compare and size up our own and everyone else’s bodies to see who makes the cut. Who has the better looking body? Clothes? Hair? Skin? Teeth? The list is endless.
And who of us can live up to these ideals? Even if you have a near-perfect, beautiful body, you will sooner or later meet others who are equally, if not more, gorgeous! You just can NOT win.
As a consequence, many of us judge our bodies as inadequate. We view our bodies as somehow failing us. And as we age, it only gets worse. Our bodies sag and wrinkle. If we’re overly identified with body image, our insecurity about our bodies’ perceived failings may make us feel defective as human beings.
Wow! Do you see the vicious cycle? We are obsessed with a body image we can never live up to. This is an insidious and very painful loop to be stuck in.
As a martial arts instructor, I taught my students to use the mirrors on the wall to view the correctness of their form and technique. One of my adult female students was so traumatized by her perceived physical flaws that she burst out crying at the mere thought of looking at herself in the mirror! She told me that at home she purposely hung her mirrors high enough so that she wouldn’t have to look at herself. Sadly, this student was not alone in her distress. Many other adult students communicated their unease with looking at their mirrored images.
Free Yourself with Mindful Awareness
To begin freeing yourself of unrealistic beliefs about body image, bring mindful awareness to all thoughts you have about your body, others’ bodies, and body image in general. Challenge these thoughts. Are you subscribing to the belief that physical beauty implies youth, slenderness, and a similarity to the iconic, airbrushed models in media? If so, remind yourself that beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms. Beauty arises in what is natural and unique to each body.
Notice how often you compare yourself to others. Bring awareness to your preoccupation with checking out everyone’s bodies. Do you find yourself cataloging bodies as short, tall, fat, large, or small? Are some too thin, some too fat, and others “just right”? Try to stop the comparing mind every time you catch it going down these tracks. The more you notice and stop these thoughts, the less often your mind will go down this road.
It is crucial that you pay extra close attention to the declarative statements you make silently to yourself or aloud to others about your own body. Most of us are harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. If you’re like most of us, there are some parts of your body you don’t like and judge harshly. Each time you catch yourself criticizing some part of your body, try the following steps:
- Stop and examine what you’re telling yourself.
- Notice the pain these judgments are causing you.
- Bring compassion to that part of yourself that is stuck in this vicious cycle and/or that does not feel good enough.
- Set the intention to stop criticizing your body.
- Accept your body in all of its glory.
- Practice gratitude.
No “body” is perfect by society’s standards. But there is so much that each body does right. The sciences of biology, physiology, and chemistry catalog for us the millions of intricate internal processes our bodies continuously perform to keep functioning. Our bodies breathe, walk, rejuvenate themselves, move, and weave their way through countless different activities throughout the day. They talk, think, plan, see, hear, taste, and feel. They are living miracles! Life is lived and expressed through these bodies of ours. How could we view our bodies as anything less than the precious vehicles they are?
- Now, thank your body. Appreciate all that it does for you and send it the gratitude and appreciation it deserves: “Thank you for all that you do for me, every minute of every day.”
Once you can accept your body and appreciate its positive contributions, you will be able to start practicing being embodied.
Read more tips on mindful embodiment in the follow-up article, Becoming Embodied.