Words are powerful. A positive word has the power to set you sailing into the sky, feeling amazing, light, brilliant. A negative word has the power to shoot you down just as quickly, sending you headlong into a painful, dirt-packed faceplant.
And yet we use our words so carelessly. Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements, likens our words to spells we cast on each other and ourselves, too often for ill. You know which spells I’m talking about… “I can’t,” and “You can’t,” are two of the most familiar, predicting failure for ourselves or someone else before we’ve even tried our first tentative pirouette on the skating rink of life.
Then the positive thinking movement comes in with its well-intentioned Stuart Smiley approach: “I’m good enough… I’m smart enough… and gosh darn it, people like me!” Sure, it’s better than “I’m not good enough,” but when you’re spitting out affirmations between gritted teeth trying to convince yourself of something you don’t really believe, what’s the point?
If we know to not constantly repeat bad mantras to ourselves, but we also know our affirmations only work if we already believe they’re true, what do we do? The in-between step, according to Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, is offering aspirations, good spells that we can cast on ourselves. Instead of the perky shout of an affirmation: “I am happy and loved!”, an aspiration whispers: “May I feel happy, may I feel loved.” Where affirmations are strident, aspirations are hopeful and spacious. Instead of a billboard: “I love my body, my body is great!”, the aspiration poses an invitation: “May I learn to love my body, may I come to enjoy living in this body as it is.”
When I first decided to learn how to love my body, the idea of looking at myself in the mirror and saying “I love you, Body!” gave me the heebie-jeebies. I might as well tell myself that I’m Cleopatra or a giant space monkey if we’re going to just start making stuff up. Knowing I wouldn’t be satisfied by mouthing words I didn’t really believe, I wanted something more, something that would help me evoke not just the words, but the feelings behind them. In the lovingkindness practice taught by Pema Chodron, you repeat a blessing (or aspiration) towards someone you love, and then towards yourself, then eventually towards the whole world. I found that repeating to myself, “May I treat my body as a friend, may all beings treat their bodies as friends,” was something I could really get behind. Instead of the harsh, empty feeling of trying to con myself, I felt a softening, a tiny crack in my heart that a little bit of love towards my body could start to trickle through.
My little aspiration became a balm I could apply anytime my mind reached out with a mean-girl scratch. If I caught myself feeling badly about some late-night donuts or getting freaked out by a bloated reflection, I could pause and whisper my aspiration to myself, a soothing blessing to myself and all beings. Finally I had a good spell, powerful words that I wanted to cast over my life. At home, on the subway, driving, anywhere, I could remind myself of my aspiration to feel love towards my body instead of frustration. And slowly, from that trickle of genuine feeling, actual affection started to grow.
Choose an aspiration that resonates for you. Turn an affirmation you wished you believed into a blessing you can aspire to. For really hard stuff, Pema suggests putting the words “May I someday feel this way,” in front. As in, “May I someday be able to wish myself well. May I someday feel my body deserves love.” Start with a single drop of authentic feeling and let it gradually grow into a river that carries you where you want to go.
Here are some more sample aspirations to try out:
May I soften towards my body.
May I come to appreciate my body.
May I treat my body with the respect it deserves.
May I be a better friend to my body.
Next post: Do you and your body live in the same zip code?