Riots Not Diets

Ending the war on your body is a spiritual practice

Updated December 21, 2020

On Facebook this week, friend of the newsletter Reilly wrote that two things everyone needs right now is 1) an air purifier and 2) spiritual practice. While I don’t have the former (tho I do remarry my humidifer every year when the temps drop), her message was a chance to reflect on the latter.

I thought about all the little rituals that prop me up daily, like savouring that day’s first cup of tea, deeply inhaling the scent of my breakfast bowl, greeting family members with pet names in the morning. As Reilly wrote, “Spiritual practice doesn’t have to be meditation or even anything similar. Just something that helps you process, become more grounded, make meaning.” (Reilly and I met in divinity school—I am an official divinity school dropout—and she knows of what she speaks.) 

Beyond my beloved daily rituals, though, I realized my spiritual practice this season is surrender.

On the face of it, surrender is scary as hell. It means vulnerability, which, ew. But if you lean into it enough, you get to where the gold is. In that space where we relinquish control, we can make glorious discoveries. 

That’s why surrender is a spiritual practice.

So here I am, surrendering to the deep embarrassment of being fully myself, opening up to longings I have held inside for years. I have no idea what I’m doing, other than allowing myself to be pulled by the invisible thread of my own inner knowing. I’m mortified to be listening to this call to start my own business when I barely understand things like what it means to “keep” something called “books” that have to be “clean” (truly, I don’t know her). It is all so cringeworthy that I can almost physically feel my old beliefs begging me to stop all this nonsense and retreat back into the cave of safety

I’m doing it anyway.

Two nights ago, my daughter asked me to help her with her French homework. I wasn’t of much help, though, because as soon as we sat down, she became embarrassed at having to practice her pronunciation in front of me. My attempts at encouraging her backfired. In fact, she doubled down and went HAM on deliberately mangling the words.

It was clear the problem was not her actual pronunciation; rather, it was her resistance to the vulnerability of speaking a language she isn’t fluent in that was getting in her way.

Resistance to vulnerability is the problem more often than we realize.

A few years ago, when I saw that my obsession with eating “healthy” had become increasingly, um, unhealthy, I knew I needed help. I learned that, instead of seeking more and more control over my body, the way forward was to surrender to the beauty and capacity and joy of my body. In fact, it was my resistance to accepting my body that produced my suffering. In order to heal, I had to create the belief that, without my familiar talismans of restriction and food rules, I was still going to be safe. 

And I was. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but I did it.

This is the reason why ending the war on your body is a spiritual practice, too. We fear that surrendering to the body means non-stop indulgence, a never-ending festival of chocolate and french fries. (This itself is a sign that we truly don’t know what it means to experience genuine peace in our bodies.)

But coming home to yourself and the goodness of your body does not mean giving up on yourself. Quite the opposite.

It means lavishing yourself with the love and kindness and peace that you thought was only reserved for your future self, the one that has chiseled abs. In doing so, you find out that everything you thought you had to postpone for the future you is available to you right now, right here, in this body. 

This is the principle at the heart of the work I am surrendering to doing: guiding people to the deep knowing of their fundamental ok-ness, and to knowing that your beliefs about your lumpy thighs or inadequate jawline won’t be changed by restricting an entire food group or doing a Whole 30.

Like my daughter clutching her French homework, we all have times when we need to surrender, over and over, to vulnerability.

Because just as the problem is not French or your body or starting a business, it’s the resistance to the thing that causes the suffering.

I wish it were otherwise! Because my original plan for just trying to control the shit out of everything in my universe was pretty damn satisfying (until it wasn’t).

This essay originally appeared in This Week in Bitchcraft, October 24, 2020.