“You do not have to be good.– from “The Wild Geese”, by Mary Oliver
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
It’s been a minute. Life has changed in numerous ways since I last wrote. As it is known to do. This time, each change brought more and more challenges. Tasks to face. Hardships to live through. Experiences that disrupted everything I thought I knew about the world.
Each moment, each task, each challenge asked to be met through the lens of a deepening of love. Not the kind of love that comes with a beautiful photo for instagram and an expectation of bliss, but the kind of love that builds the very foundation of our lives, root by root. The kind of love that comes when you realize that things are happening outside of your control and the only thing you can do is choose how to respond to them. The kind of love that reminds you there is more to life than this moment, and yet this is the moment you are in, so please – breathe through it. The kind of love that stays with you through the long, dark night of becoming. Messy. Heartbreaking. Terrifying. Free.
This is the path of True Love. For Ourselves.
* * *
It takes tremendous strength and courage to learn to truly love and receive love. This is not an easy path. Love, in fact, is not for the faint of heart. So many of us who have experienced the traumas of abuse, assault, interpersonal violence, and oppression can learn to believe that we don’t deserve our love. Even when we have worked deeply to challenge these beliefs about ourselves, to create new stories and new scripts – our bodies can still reject self love. This is a skill we must learn. Patiently. With practice. With a true dedication to all we know we deserve, even when we can’t feel that yet.
* * *
Our bodies hold the stories of everything we have ever experienced. We can change our minds, heal our thoughts, alter our habits, unpack and process our experiences – but at some point, the healing must come through our bodies. Our bodies are the home to our self. They hold the key.
If you’ve ever experienced shame (and most of us, unfortunately, have), you may understand the importance of your body in healing. Let’s say you made a mistake that hurt someone you care about. Your loved ones tell you that it’s ok, you’re still a good person, that you’ll get through this. You try to forgive yourself, understand what happened, and remind yourself that you still deserve love even and especially as you are learning. But yet every time you think about it you feel your muscles tense up. Your jaw clenches. Your breathing becomes shallow. Your shoulders begin to curl inwards. You want to hide. Nothing you tell yourself calms this down.
This is your body, speaking. Your mind may have already forgiven you. In fact, the person you hurt could have even forgiven you. But until your body truly experiences the healing that has happened, it will still hold on.
This is part of the magic that can happen in therapy. So much of what happens in the room is beyond what is said. The deeper work takes place through the lived experience of being in a healing relationship with another human being in another human body, who is making space for you with non-judgmental love, support, and care. Our bodies can feel that. Our bodies can heal through that.
Our bodies can learn to love ourselves, by being loved.
* * *
I recently had the opportunity to share part of my challenging times with loved ones, and even colleagues. I do not remember what I said, or the words they said in turn. What I do remember is how my body felt. Like a weight had been lifted off my chest. Like my heart could beat again. Like I could breathe.
Like I too, in my messiest of places, could be loved.
I now have a practice every day of bringing myself back to that feeling, as if remembering a beautiful day by my favorite place in nature. I remember what it felt like to speak my truth. I remember how my muscles melted as I felt smiles in the eyes of those who listened. I remember how my tongue softened, and my throat opened as others offered that they, too, could relate. I remember how feeling the love from these other people, helped me to feel the love of my own self. And I practice that. Every day.
Trauma teaches us to give up on ourselves, our lives, our being. True Love teaches us that we are the only things we have to hold on to.
And we are precious beyond our wildest knowing.
This week, dear ones, I invite you to practice just this. Recall a time in which you felt deeply loved. It could be by someone you know well, it could be by a stranger you met once, it could be by an animal companion or a place in nature. Throughout the week, practice returning to that place. Remember every detail – the way your muscles moved, the way they smiled, the way your breath was held, and then released.
Practice being loved. It is one of the bravest things we can do.