Me and my body conspired to experience lava entering the ocean, Puna, HI 2013

Learning to Love My Body as Well as She Loves Me

My body is one of my best friends. She has shown a loyalty to me unsurpassed by any other. The vast majority of the time I get to choose what we’re going to do together. If I want to try something she’s never done before, she’s always game. She’s malleable, always ready to learn new things, building new muscles and creating new neural pathways. If I ask her to keep going even when she wants to rest, she does, never abandoning me no matter how much I mistreat her. My body’s love for me reminds me of a dog’s love — loyal, present, non-judgmental, and unconditional.

I recognize that I am not such a good friend to my body. Sometimes I ignore her and her needs, whether it be for food, or rest, or exercise. Sometimes I tell her she’s ugly, or get frustrated that there’s an activity she hasn’t mastered yet. I’ve made choices that have led to broken bones and scars. My love for my body reminds me of a cat’s love — delightful when present, intermittently absent, and sometimes with claws. Despite the incongruity of our loves, though, my body still hasn’t broken up with me.

If I were my body, I would not put up with being in such a one-sided relationship. Her love is unwavering and constant, whereas my love is expressed only some of the time. Sure, I do some good things for her — I let her sleep as much as she wants, and I make sure she always has water, and I treat her to massages and hot baths whenever possible — yet is that a fair trade for all that I ask, and all that she gives? If I were my body, I would recognize that our relationship is characterized by an unequal energy exchange, and I would want to break up with me and either stay single or find someone that would treat me as well as I treated them.

I don’t mean to take advantage of my body. Like a classic abuser, when I realize I’ve been mistreating her I’m full of remorse and promises to do better. Yet somehow a moment always comes when I have a choice to either be nice to my body or to do what I want, and at least some of the time I do what I want. I guess because it’s “my” body I feel more justified in the abuse, because “I” will be the one that pays for it. Yet if I see my body as a separate entity, and put myself in her shoes, I would never want someone to treat me the way I treat her. It might be different if she treated me equally, so there was some balance and fairness in the relationship; because she is so impeccable in her love for me, though, it sets a very high standard that I find difficult to live up to.

I am getting better, though. Every year, the number of times I say yes to taking care of my body increases. I’m less likely to impose my will upon her when I sense it will hurt her. And if I do decide to push her limits with exhausting physical labor, lack of rest, or a limited diet (say, for example, at Burning Man every year) then I do my best to make it up to her by having some recovery time with special treats. Really, she’s a lot like me — she enjoys a good challenge — and getting torn down once in awhile will just lead to greater strength as long as she’s given time to heal afterwards. As long as I don’t chronically abuse her, it’s ok to push her sometimes.

I love my body. I really do. I hope she knows it. It’s humbling that she’s already forgiven all the times I ignored her or mistreated her. Since I am not willing to love someone in the sacrificial way she loves me, it’s hard to feel like I deserve her. All I can do is learn from her love for me, and do my best to reflect that love back to her. Meanwhile, every once in awhile I just get overwhelmed with a wave of gratitude that she has stuck with me through thick and thin, even though I haven’t earned the privilege. Thank you, body, I love you so much!