Yes, I admit it: I laughed out loud when I first saw this meme. I’m not sure what made me laugh, whether it’s the Boston’s almost human expression of disdain or the feeling that this dog has been spying on my morning weigh-ins. As much as I’d like to blame the indulgence of the holiday season, the real reason I’m feeling a little bit like a dumpling right now is my flagging discipline over the past few months.
Then I thought: mean little dog! And I wonder how many people’s inner dialogue sounds just like this.
There’s a petty, judgmental tyrant living between my ears, too. She points out every flaw. My mistakes never escape her notice. Worst of all, she compares me to everyone else and finds me lacking. Sometimes hers is the loudest voice in the boardroom of my mind.
A wonderfully wise and playful swami taught me this lesson several years ago. Now I am sharing it with you. Try this:
Please close your eyes and imagine that I am placing a fresh, juicy wedge of lemon in your hand. Picture it in your mind’s eye as completely as you can, using all your senses – see the bright yellow color, feel the coolness in your palm, smell the citrusy freshness. Now imagine yourself taking a bite. I’ll wait right here while you try it.
Did you salivate?
If you did, you’re not alone. Every time I do this exercise with a group of students in my yoga or stress management classes, my body responds too.
Even without a lemon in sight, your body reacted to the thought. Your mind is that powerful.
Can it be that the body responds to our mental messages all the time, even below our level of awareness? Consider how much damage we could do to ourselves without even knowing it. So often we give our body the message that it’s not important or doesn’t measure up. We deprive it of sleep. We starve it or feed it substandard food. Some of us cram our feet into impossible shoes or squash our bellies in Spanx. (Honestly, I thought girdles went out with bra burning in the 60s!) So if our bodies stage a rebellion once in a while, who could blame them?
You would think we could give our bodies the respect they deserve, rather than calling them fat, clumsy or otherwise undesirable. These messages show up in our bodies, in the slump of our shoulders and the collapse in our chests. Really, we should be fascinated by the body’s innate wisdom. It always knows what it needs. It’s the mind that causes all the trouble.
For example, as I sit at my laptop pecking out this message, my body is giving me distinct signals that it’s time for bed. It’s after 10 p.m. and I am feeling sleepy. I have a choice. I can listen to my body – it’s pretty smart about these things – or I can follow the directive of my mind and keep working. Knowing that I don’t function well when my sleep is poor, the right choice should be obvious.
My mind is also reminding me about the vanilla ice cream in the freezer and hinting that it would be really fun to have some. Never mind that it’s a little chilly in my house right now, and the last thing I need (see the dumpling reference in the first paragraph), is a fat-laden, sugary bowl of empty calories right before I go to sleep. My body is not asking for food right now; it’s not hungry. And when my body does crave something, it’s usually virtuous – cool water, fresh greens, sweet berries.
Here’s the thing: If I indulge my mind by staying up past my bedtime to eat ice cream, not only will my sleep be disturbed while my body tries to digest all that dairy, but my mind will also berate me for it in the morning when I awaken feeling sluggish and heavy.
In a culture obsessed with physical appearance, it’s easy to focus on the numbers on the scale or the date on a birth certificate. We forget that the body is an instrument of the Divine: the Vedas of ancient India and St. Paul’s epistle in the New Testament tell us that the body is the temple of God. Rather than obsession, adulation or abuse, the right relationship with the bodies we are given is one of acceptance, respect and care.
Out of respect for my very own temple, I’m getting ready for bed now.
I let Ret polish off the ice cream.