“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier. Love everything, you will be happiest.” ~Sri Chinmoy
I hated myself when I was a kid.
I was overweight and starting to really like girls, but they didn’t like me.
I didn’t want to take my shirt off in front of them, so I didn’t go to the pool. And, when my parents made one last ditch effort at their marriage and moved to Coral Springs, Florida when I was in fifth grade—away from my friends and my hometown of Davenport, Iowa—I didn’t go to the beach.
Any religious feeling I might have accidentally absorbed as a boy attending Prince of Peace Lutheran Church every Sunday, I channeled directly into prayers for the Roulette-like decision to be picked to play “shirts” not “skins” during basketball in gym class.
I felt overwhelming self-consciousness during those agonizing moments waiting for the gym teacher to go down the line, pointing his almighty finger at each player.
I sent my entreating pleas up to whatever deity would listen, asking to be saved from the humiliation of running and jumping without a shirt to hide my love-handles from the girls on the other side of the gym.
It’s like that scene in On The Waterfront where Marlon Brando stands on the docks with all the other men waiting to be chosen for a day’s work.
The men stand, anxious, cold with visible breath, waiting for the decision, hoping they look strong enough to work even though they haven’t eaten for days. If the foreman picks him, his family has dinner tonight.
If the gym teacher picks me to play basketball with my shirt on, well, then…
I can play basketball with my shirt on.
I look at kids now and wonder if they feel as sad, lonely, and serious about life as I did when I was that age. It seems impossible, but I’m sure some of them do, and I have great compassion for them trying to find comfort in their own skin.
It’s the kind of feeling I gravitate toward when I watch films and plays, and read books, and in my own work as I continue to develop my voice.
It’s a feeling, ineffable, a longing, an ache.
It’s wanting to rewrite the past, salvation from loneliness and pain and loss.
But I don’t hate myself anymore.
And there is a great gift of compassion that painful experience has given me when I look at children now who are wrestling with eating disorders, obesity, or just a general sadness or loneliness they can't define.
It’s taken a long time and a lot of hard-won self-esteem through a lot of mistakes (a lot of mistakes), and too many positive influences to name.
I have learned to love my body as the gift that it is: a home in which my spirit lives that helps me travel, perform, and write these words.
I've learned the importance of taking care of my body by releasing destructive eating habits, smoking, drinking alcohol, and abusing drugs (all of which I've struggled to transcend in my life), and taking action to live in a healthy way.
I’ve learned that healthy living entails being conscious of negative thoughts when they arise, allowing them to pass without judgment, and acknowledging the gift of being healthy and alive.
I've learned to love my body the same way I would love a friend or spouse or family member, and treat it with the same compassion, kindness, and acceptance.
But I have to admit that sometimes my inner-fat-child still wants to swim with his shirt on. So, there’s this dance I do around accepting my body for what it is vs. working really hard to change it; or, lapsing into treating it badly with old self-destructive tendencies that I’ve spent years trying to change.
It’s a long, strange trip to be inside a body, to have a body, to want to be somebody, to have a belief about your body, true or not.
To identify with it, live with it, understand it. To love it or hate it. To take care of it or destroy it.
Yearning for someone to love you for more than your body.
Or, in spite of it.
But I know that there's only one choice: Love your body. It’s the only one you get.
If we experience the light within as actual consciousness, then it’s something of the eternal that we can experience now. We can transcend the emotional pain from our childhood and learn to love the skin we're in.
It’s a sort of weird perfection that the opportunity for depth, understanding, and love for ourselves can evolve from our loneliness.
I only speak for myself, of course, because everybody’s experience is different. Some look back on their childhood as a wonderful time, and that’s a beautiful thing. But I know that in my life, ever since I was a kid, I’ve felt lonely or alone or so lonesome I could cry.
It's important to embrace that feeling and knowledge about ourselves, and share it with others who may feel the same way.
If you’ve ever felt ugly, alone, or worthless, or wanted something or someone so badly you felt like your chest was caving in on itself, I understand.
I have felt all those things and felt like I was going to die because of it.
Sometimes we think we are those things.
Sometimes we think we are ugly and alone and worthless and afraid and consumed with need and desperation.
But we're so much more.
We’re courageous and loving and funny and weird; creative, hopeful, open-hearted, awkward, and passionate.
We can only recognize those beautiful things if we tell the truth about what we’re ashamed of.
We need to be honest with ourselves that we are all of it, or we’ll go through our whole lives feeling like there is something wrong with us because it seems like so many other of the billions of beautiful bodies on this planet have it all figured out.
I don't have it figured out. But I'm trying.
You’re not alone.
Photo by whologwhy