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Torri Shafer’s “Romancing the Soul” has another great section to share with you.  This time, we’re looking at self-image and loving ourselves.  Enjoy the latest post.

Exploring Self-Image

Take a moment and picture the perfect body. Really think about what comprises the ideal form. Was it your body that came to mind? Was it even a recognizable person or was it a dehumanized collection of parts that mirror societal standards?

How often have you heard someone say, or wished yourself, that your body was different in some way—thinner, taller, younger or healthier? How often do you avert your eyes from your body when naked or try to disguise it when dressed by picking an outfit that is baggy or draws attention away from a particular part? How did we develop this aversion for the image of the person we should cherish the most?

We are not born hating ourselves—it is an acquired habit. I look at children laughing and running on the playground, and I know that, within a year or two, most will succumb to the messages saturating our culture that they are physically flawed in some way. The standard for acceptable desirability will be beyond most of them. The so-called physical flaws will be perceived to mirror mental ones. Their self-esteem will start to erode. They will start to look at their bodies with shame and/or taunt others about theirs. By middle school, 40 to 70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their bodies and over 80 percent are afraid of being fat.

If we can learn to hate ourselves, we can also master loving ourselves and, by doing so, deepen our love for others. To do so, we must defy the messages bombarding us that we are unworthy because we cannot attain the improbable physical standards set for us. We have to embrace the notion that beauty is found in uniqueness, not in uniformity.

We have to look upon our bodies with loving-kindness. Every time we do so, we send healing energy to both our bodies and our mind. That energy not only enhances the joy of our lives but helps us to deal with the impermanence of them.

Because our bodies are also harbingers of our own mortality, there is a deeper reason why we distance ourselves from them. I have difficulty reconciling the disparity between my mental and physical age. In my mind, I am perhaps 30 years old, so it is hard to rectify the age spots on my hands, the softening of my stomach and the wrinkles around my eyes. I resent every sign of aging. I know that, even if my mind feels young and vibrant, my body is slowly declining and one day I will suffer illness, pain, indignity and ultimately death.

Out of fear, I want to disassociate myself from the shortness of breath I feel while going up stairs, that sudden mysterious pain in my chest, the sagging of my skin.

By divorcing ourselves from our own bodies we create a disconnection at the very core of our being. If there is one thing that we need to feel joyful and whole in this chaotic world, it is to welcome our bodies back home. To cherish them because of their individuality and impermanence.

So, for this mini retreat, give yourself a media fast. Turn off all those unrealistic expectations that pour in from TV, magazines and social media. Instead, send warm thoughts of love to your body, something it has probably been craving since you first felt disgust at your own reflection. Eat with pleasure, not guilt. Revel in everything your body allows you to do.

Eve was cast out of Eden the moment she discovered shame for her physical body. Bring your body back to the garden, water seeds of self-love and your contentment will have no option but to grow.


Mirror Meditation

The time will come

When, with elation,

You will greet yourself arriving

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the other’s welcome

~Derek Walcott, Love after Love

Do you remember when mirrors were magical and reflected genuine smiles? As children, we were, indeed, the fairest of them all. As the years passed, however, something changed. The mirror, like the picture of Dorian Grey, began to reflect not our delight, but our darkest and most self-demeaning thoughts.

And, of course, because it is a mirror, we believe it to reflect reality, not magic. But we rarely think about how our perceptions and self-esteem magically filter the image. What we see could well be a fantasy of our choosing. Atticus put it succinctly, when he wrote, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, tell no more lies of who we are.”

It is time to confront the mirror and look into it fully. Mirror meditation was developed as a therapy to increase self-compassion by Tara Well, PhD, professor of psychology at Barnard College, and Columbia University.

According to Well, in adulthood, mirrors are primarily used for grooming like fixing our hair or make-up. When done day-in and day-out, it becomes habitual, which can promote self-criticism. “Then, we tend to look past ourselves, not at how we’re feeling. Or we don’t see ourselves as people but more as objects that need to look a certain way to get approval,” she said.

Go to a place where you can sit comfortably in front of a mirror for several minutes. If there is not a mirror on the wall where you can do this, get a hand-held mirror for the practice.

Be sure that you are dressed comfortably. Turn off the phone and make sure that you will not be disturbed for about 15 minutes.

Set the mood for the meditation by dimming the lights as much as possible. Light a candle if you have one to enhance the relaxing ambience. Turn on soft music and light the incense.

Start by simply looking at your face. What thoughts arise as you do this? What feelings? Do you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable? Where do your eyes tend to focus first?

Whatever thoughts are normally in the background tend to move into the spotlight as you continue to sit and contemplate yourself. The mirror hasn’t created these self-judgements but is reflecting them back to you.

Consciously begin to look into your own eyes with compassion and love. Each negative thought that arises merely fuels the love in your gaze. You can see your vulnerability now and how the harsh words you feed yourself have hurt. But you can also forgive yourself because of that very helplessness you experience in your eyes. Give yourself solace. Give yourself love. Bring back the magic in the mirror.


Beauty Walk

As I walk, as I walk

The universe is walking with me

In beauty it walks before me

In beauty it walks behind me

In beauty it walks beside me

In beauty it walks above me

Beauty is on every side

~Traditional Navajo Prayer

One of the most rejuvenating aspects of walking in nature is that we do not have to be preoccupied with judgment, both from ourselves and others. In nature, everything is pristine and embraces us unconditionally. We tend to respond in kind as long as our mind is open to the beauty around us rather than to the disquiet within us.

So, put all worries and ruminations aside and focus on looking with loving eyes at your surroundings. Look at the world as an artist might. See textures like the sculptural lines of tree bark. Note the exquisite colors that can never be imitated like the crimson and black-winged dragonfly floating in a faultless blue sky.

Observe small details like the dew gilding a dying wildflower and the larger picture like a field of grasses that have been woven together with brilliant strands of spider silk shimmering in a glittering tapestry under the rising sun.

What happens when we look around us with loving eyes? We restore our sense of awe and the wonder in a world that is much larger and more spectacular than our small worries. We start to shift from being on the alert for the negative to focusing on the positive. Stress is reduced and well-being is enhanced. If we continue to do this as a practice, we begin to naturally look at the world with more love, at other people with more love and, ultimately, at ourselves with more love.

Truly, that is what is lacking in most people’s self-image. Others love us despite our flaws and we love other people despite theirs. If we can look at ourselves with conscious love, similar to how we view our surroundings on the beauty walk, what a difference it would make!

So, feel free to include yourself in this walk. Notice the beauty of your hands, the grace of your walk, the way your body continuously takes care of you, despite the harsh thoughts you direct towards it. In her book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness”, Joyce Chozen Bays writes, “Some Zen teachers say the way the body takes care of us, without our even being aware of it, is an example of the beautiful and continuous functioning of our original nature, the inherent goodness and wisdom of our being. Our hand pulls back from fire before we even register heat, our eyes blink before we are aware of a sharp sound, our hand reaches out to catch something before we know it is falling.”  The wisdom of nature embraces you; all that is left is for you to embrace yourself.

Torri’s book is available for purchase here.