Allow me to start here.
I’m sitting quietly and comfortably on my bed in my small van/home. I’ve just poured myself a gluten free beer and a tall glass of water, lit some incense, made the bed, and eaten a lovely homemade dinner. I’ve been thinking about writing about this statement that’s come to me over the past few days – a statement I’ll share momentarily – and right now, I’ve made the decision to sit down and give a try. I’ve started playing music and serendipitously, the track that starts me off is “My Body, My Bones” by Jim and Sam.
Allow me to take a moment to arrive here.
I sense my seat heavy on the cushion as the haunting acoustic guitar rushes up and down the back of my body in gentle, massaging waves. I try to find the synthesized story that I so deeply hope is going to emerge, but before I can follow the hope too far, I take a deep breath and feel my rhomboids, the major muscles between the shoulder blades, creak and begrudgingly stretch with the inhale. I’m suddenly back in my body, witnessing the tension of inspiration against tissue and experiencing the sensitivity of the back of the heart. It’s often said this is where we receive love and support and right now, I feel mine enliven like small fists unclenching. I shift my weight back just enough to know without a doubt that my back has me…that I’ve got my own back…and breathe again. My shoulders give up their fight with gravity and I can inspire more. Awakening, I begin to write.
I was walking home from the BART the other night. Though staying in what seems to be a incredibly safe neighborhood, I walked with the knowing that I – a petite woman and her even more petite dog – could fall victim to some poor soul who cannot get his fix of regulation without assaulting souls like mine. I had a flash fear of being attacked and went through the process of getting to friends and then to the hospital should that happen. I wondered what Diego (my pup) would do and tried not to imagine him also getting hurt in the process. I tried to remember the self defense moves I learned in a class I took at maybe 12 years old with my grandmother. I squeezed my arms and then my thighs as I walked briskly and feeling the muscle engage, told myself I’m strong – I’ll defend myself tooth and nail and this imagined other won’t go unscathed. As I approached home for the night, the worry and story began to melt away, my pace slowed and my shoulders came down from my ears. I was able to take a deep breath and a warm wash of tiredness slid down my legs. It was in this moment I was struck by what a sad state of affairs this whole being a human is… how terribly we’ve conditioned one another to envision, fantasize and contemplate the worst atrocities possible and then anticipate them actually happening to us. What a horrible thing to do to one another. Of course this has been the rhetoric for ages. We’ve ALL been taught that Girls/Women/Female Bodies are subject to rape and assault by Boys/Men/Male Bodies and it’s less a question of if, but when. If those of us in female bodies are lucky, we ‘re supported in keeping ourselves safe against others that appear far more resourced to attack than we are to defend – though that often means cover up, don’t be alone, don’t drink, don’t make eye contact, and carry mace. We’re on the defense all the time… which is different from safety…and our bodies get to reap all the consequences of hyper vigilance – one of the major symptoms of PTSD (but I won’t go there right now). We’re taught this rhetoric as truth. All genders are taught this and those of us in female bodies carry this with us every time we’re in one of those positions our mothers and fathers warned us about; i.e. walking home by ourselves after dark (even if it is only 9:30pm). Once I sat down on my bed, safely locked away from potential perpetrators of this story I’ve been taught to know and believe as normal and standard, the statement “My body is not a burden” rang clear and loud in my mind.
Say it out loud. Say it to yourself.
My Body is Not a Burden.
I let myself follow along with this statement in meditation. I realized that the conditioning that leads to fear and worry of being a lone body walking at night is so embedded in what I’ve learned it means to be in this body, that it’s often unrecognizable as what it is. I wondered how much of my practices of self-care can be seen as an effort to stave off feelings of vulnerability associated with the body. With my body. With my woman of color female body. A sadness washed over me…what a tragedy it is to feel this way. To try to navigate embodiment with the unspoken assumption of burden. This is completely unfair. I asked how I can navigate my purpose in life if I’ve also been conditioned to believe that there is some inherent danger in being a body. I have to guess I’m not alone in this…
Please, allow me to begin again.
My body is not a burden.
Nor am I a well oiled machine,
Or simple a meat suit encasing my celestial soul.
My body is not a source of trouble
Or a problem
Or an item.
My body is not a task
Or a pet I feed
Or a plant I water.
It’s not a car I fuel
Or a vessel I share
My body is not just a body.
My body is ME.
And I am not a burden.
I am skin and muscle
Toned with breath and intention
Stretched with change and weather.
I am the cycle of the moon
And the vast landscapes of Africa
I am the giver of life
And the carrier of deep history.
I am an interconnected
Woven tapestry of experience and blood.
And this body is my best friend
It knows all my secrets
It reflects my state of mind.
It tells me when I need to slow down
When I’m hungry
And when I’m in love.
It shares my wishes and dreams
And contains what my mind cannot comprehend.
My body is me.
My body is not a burden.
It is not your problem, or mine.
It is an opportunity.
A chance to give life
To give love
To share history
To enliven my ancestors
And birth the next generation.
It is an opportunity for learning.
For growth and unyielding change.
It is how I know the world,
Truly know it,
From the inside out.
It is how I experience other –
Including my own otherness.
My body is not a burden.
Your body is not a burden.
The Human Body
Is many things,
But it is not a burden.
I suppose this is what I stand for. For safety in skin. For all beings, but especially those beings that have ever felt their skin, their breasts, the curve of their lip or the glimmer in their eye is a burden. For all beings that have fought tooth and nail to get away from the burden and problems their bodies seem to create. For all the beings that resent their bodies for seemingly inviting in pain. Because the truth of the matter is, it is not you.. It’s hundreds if not thousands years of oppression. Of mis-education. Of misguided expertise that has lead us to believing that this is just how it is. But that is not your body – it is human history, the anthropocene, Western society, patriarchy…
Don’t take my word for it… I know this because when I’m in my body – my body knows – and I sense the same for you. It knows that my mind has been filled with lies and misconceptions. It knows that other bodies have been taught to reject themselves. It knows that and it chooses to stay with me, no matter how far away I try to go. It knows me because it is me – just as yours knows you because it is you. And you are not a burden. You are worth joy and safety. Your body craves understanding and witnessing without preconceived notions of what it is to be your body – skin and form. All I hope for in this world – if I can be bold enough in this moment to claim just one thing – is that the body as Self learns that it is not a burden. Not our joys or our fantasies. Not our loves or our passions. Not our grievances or our angers. Not our loneliness or our hunger. Not our needs or our wants. If we were to learn that we are not burdens, we as a collective are not burdens unto ourselves, we would be able to meet each other with a whole new perspective. The trials of others will be something we can carry because we’ve already learned how to carry trials – our own. We will already have the capacity to be in the presence of other without losing our sense of self because we will have stopped “othering” ourselves. This comes with practice. We have to relearn how to take time to check in with our experience, as I did before writing this all down, and welcome whatever comes up. In order for us to know that our bodies are not a burden, we must attempt to be in them. To stay in our skin and with our physical experience, no matter how challenging it seems to be. By coming back, over and over, we stretch our capacity and find we have more space for our experience. Over and over, we stretch, we grow, and we stay present.
Say it with me again.
My Body is Not a Burden.
Say it until you believe it. Every day when you wake up until you know it. And when your mind fights you and struggles against this idea, write down it’s story and continue to say it. It’s kind of like that moment in a yoga class when you’ve been in a posture long enough for your mind to say “I can’t do this anymore” and you acknowledge the thought and respond with a deeper breath and the conviction to stay in the pose to the end. That moment when you choose to hear your resistance and stay anyway. Those moments when you choose to show up for yourself. As you do, see how your relationship to yourself evolves. Witness if “working out” your body becomes “being in” your skin. Wonder if “eating” could become “nourishing yourself”. See if strong feelings become something to tend to versus something to ignore or get rid of. What, if anything, changes. And in the moment you KNOW, without a shadow of a doubt, that your body is not and has never been a burden (even if other people have treated it as such) start telling other people that they – in their bodies – are not a burden. Share your experience of coming to terms with what you’ve been taught and how you navigated its unlearning. Don’t talk about this moment, but about the moment you knew it to be true. Engage from your experience. Then maybe ask them to say it aloud with you. Perhaps invite them to say it every day when they wake up until they know it. Ask them how they learned it. Inquire about what they discover. Then suggest they offer it to others they know.
This is the revolution.
The Body is not a Burden.