I was chatting with someone the other day, when she described herself as not being skinny. ‘I’ll never be skinny,’ she said. And then she added, ‘I know that’s what you’re all about, being skinny.’ It took me by surprise, not because she said it with any critical undertones, she didn’t. But because of that word: skinny.
It’s actually true that this is part of my story. At one point in my life, I was ALL about being skinny. I would run my hands over my body, searching for any telltale padding that would be evidence I was failing. I distinctly remember taking a photo of myself in a swimsuit, and then marking with a black marker on the printed image the curves of my thighs that needed to be eradicated. I stoked my self-loathing with determination to eat less and exercise more, seeking to bury under this furnace the true pain of my soul.
You see, the integration of my being had been dismantled early on in life. While I don’t know enough to say categorically that this happens to all of us, it does seem pretty much true across the board. Whether it’s being told that big boys don’t cry, or being touched inappropriately, or being forced to do things our bodies intuitively told us to be scared of, we come to think of our bodies as separate from and mere containers for the rest of who we are. Speaking for myself, from a young age I had learned to think of my body as something that would betray me, that made me vulnerable. It was a battle I tried to win both by making myself very small, and by fuelling the type of anger that creates a force field of self protection.
This is a road that leads inexorably to disintegration. Out of touch with pain, it becomes impossible to feel joy. Unable to feel at one with oneself, it hard to foster intimacy with anyone else.
My journey of formation - this lifelong process of becoming in which each of us is engaged - has been one of moving towards integration; of learning what it means that every dimension of my humanity is intricately connected with every other part. My spiritual state, I have come to realise, is not separate from my physical self. My body is not simply a container for my emotions, my intellect and my personality.