Yet how many of us have some kind of conditional relationship with our bodies? Sure, I’m happy with my body as long as it behaves itself… as long as it doesn’t freak out and start packing on extra pounds. Or wrinkles. As long as it keeps up its end of the deal and stays healthy and in shape, we’re buds. But the minute it starts to show signs of decay, illness, or age, we start talking to our body like someone in the Sopranos… “Hey, I thought we had a deal. You better shape up or things could get ugly around here. I’m just sayin’.”
Maybe we’re happy with our bodies, maybe we could even learn to love our bodies… if they stay just the way they are, right now.
Nothing is certain but death and taxes… and I would offer a Buddhist addendum: change is certain. Your body will change, guaranteed. No amount of time spent at the gym, or under the plastic surgeon’s knife, or under cover of 400 SPF sunscreen and your favorite safari hat will alter nature’s inevitable course. Your body will change over time. You will get diseases you’ve never heard of, you will grow fat and thin and fat again, or the other way around, you will have pain in places you didn’t know existed, and you will find wrinkles that (gasp!) have their own wrinkles.
Over the years, my body has changed for the better, and for the worse. Thanks to years of chaturangas and handstands on my yoga mat, my arms and shoulders are stronger than ever. Yet my knees crackle and pop when I bend them. No pain, just cereal elf sounds. My sister, the family doctor, says this condition is called “crepitus” which sounds uncomfortably like “decrepit-us,” a place I admit I’m headed, but I hadn’t planned on reaching anytime soon.
Loving my body isn’t taking a mental picture of myself as I am right now (or was in some pre-snake Edenic past) and loving that body, frozen in time, for the rest of my life. Truly loving your body envisions a relationship that allows for change, even change we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.
If your body is your best friend, can you support and love it throughout aging, sickness, disability, weight gain and loss, through all of life’s ups and downs?
Maybe this feels impossible. Yet you probably already model this type of enduring friendship with your own friends. When your friend gets sick or injured, do you call her up and nag her about what a drag she’s become, how she’s getting fat and old, how it’s all her fault? Or do you make her soup, arrange with friends to bring her meals, and read out loud to her as she falls asleep? You already know how to treat your friends… treat your body the same way.
When your body gets ill, or imbalanced, love it. Offer it nourishing meals, rest, and whatever else it needs to heal. Love your body unconditionally, no matter what it looks like, no matter how it feels. Your body deserves your unconditional love.
Why? Because you’re going to be with your body your entire life. Instead of spending your energy warring with your body and thinking up more elaborate ways to torture it, spend your energy becoming its best friend, showering it with love and understanding, and it will pay you back a thousand-fold in insight, well-being, and sheer power.
Look for what’s good in your body, for what’s good in the changes your body goes through. Appreciate how your body is now and be open to how it will be later. I once heard a beautiful teaching from Thich Nhat Han. In front of his students, he held a delicately painted china teacup, obviously painstakingly decorated by the hands of a talented artist. He said (and I paraphrase), “Can you drink from this cup, wash it, take care of it, admire it, all the while knowing that someday it will become shards and dust, perhaps even in the very next moment? Allow your understanding of its impermanence to help you let it go even as you enjoy it and recognize its preciousness.”
The precious, fragile cup is your body, your life. See its beauty, embraces its changes, and know someday you’ll let it go. Live from this place of knowing.