On Friday, my Body Image class had the privilege of being joined by Julie Hall, the Founder of the HOPE Program at the Harris YMCA in Charlotte that aims to helps it participants gain insight into their relationship with emotional eating, and KT Champion, one of the program’s participants. They powerfully talked about their body image journeys and the wisdom they have gained from their experiences. I’ve had Julie and KT come to class now for at least 5 years and every single visit is unique and powerful, with a new message that stays in my head long after we all walk out of class together.
This past Friday, Julie talked about choosing to put away the battle with one’s body. Her turning point, she said, was when she realized that her feelings were not meant to destroy her.
“Feelings are given to us to tell us what we need. The more we ignore them, the more they come out in another way,” she shared.
We all know this intellectually, don’t we?
Too often we choose to push past our feelings, often to a “business as usual” type pace, in the hopes that those feelings don’t get in our way.
But Julie is right. Feelings don’t evaporate when ignored. They just present another way. They manifest into something else, still demanding attention. And so we deal with the symptom: the stomachache, the migraine, the nausea, the breakout, etc. But we still don’t deal with the cause until the message keeps piling up, as life will do, and we are finally forced to learn the lesson we were meant to learn at a point where it has become an even more painful lesson then we would have realized if we had just stopped and acknowledged, observed, and learned from the feeling far earlier in the cycle.
Life really does keep handing us the lesson we need to learn until we learn it. Ignore the lesson and it doesn’t go away. The volume just keeps getting turned up until we are too uncomfortable to ignore it any longer.
What is it that you have been feeling lately? What situations, experiences, choices have brought you to those feelings? Have you learned everything those feelings have to teach you? What more do they have to offer you? How much more attention do these feelings honestly need from you? How can you do yourself the best possible service by honoring, listening to, and acting from them?
In graduate school, I discovered Mary Oliver ( I was a student of poetry and non-fiction). When I came across the poem Wild Geese, I had to resist the urge to look around to see if Mary Oliver was right there peering into my soul as she wrote,
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
I remember my fingers lifting to my lips in awe of the gorgeous truth of those opening lines. Still now, those words get me every time. But today, I want to add just one more thought to them:
You only have to let the soft animal of your body feel what it feels.
We spend so much time hiding from what we feel because we fear it might crush us. What I have learned from my own lifetime of dodging feelings (and constant recovery from dodging feelings) is this: it is not the feeling that will crush us. It is our denial of it.