Saturday, April 18, 2009

Other People's Glances

Laying on my back in the silence and warmth of yoga class this morning, I heard Liz say, "Now here in this stillness, are you letting the earth just hold you?" Having been here, palms up, toes draped to the outside, face relaxed, for several minutes, it was amazing to me how, as soon as she said, "Are you letting the earth hold you?" I was able to relax even further. My shoulder blades touched the mat beneath me, my eyebrows unfurled, my heart beat slower.

Learning to be, to breathe, and to be calm amidst, well, less than calm, is a lesson I'm still learning and will continue to much of my life I'm sure. Laying there this morning, you know what I was thinking about? Put on few pounds, yup, you did. Ate those cookies, you fat slob.

Coming back to the presence of a safe, calm room, I decided, yes, decided, that those thoughts were not welcome here. Instead I thought, What would a normal person be thinking right now? If I pretended that I wasn't healing from an eating disorder, and I was just a normal 21-year old girl (yeah, woman sounds weird) how would that change today?

I realized that if I was just a normal 21-year-old girl, I would not be beating myself up for what I ate, how less-than-flat my abs were compared to the woman next to me, or how tired I was of fighting this horribly selfish disease. So, considering what a normal girl might be thinking right then, I decided that I'd give it a try too. Fighting all urges to dissect and analyze every thought passing through my head, I stopped. I let it go. I just let the earth hold me.

Oprah magazine, you bring me joy. An article entitled "Other People's Glances" was a much needed breath of fresh air today.

The author, Noelle Oxenhandler, writes about seeing a picture of herself on a friend's kitchen bulletin board. The photograph shows her outside, in the sun, eyes crinkled tight, and cheeks about to burst into a fit of laughter. "Why on earth do you have to display that hideous picture of me?" she asked. Irrational as it was, I honestly thought my friend was trying to humiliate me.

"It isn't hideous," she said, sounding hurt. "When you laugh, you have a way of losing yourself in the laughter. And that's something I've always loved about you."

In blurting out my dislike of the photograph, I had rejected a gesture of affection. That photograph represented a friendship deepened. Suddenly it struck me that several of my close friends kept, somewhere in their houses, an image of me dissolving in laughter. I've always preferred a rather wistful, pensive image of myself. I let it sink it that maybe my friends appreciated something about me that didn't penetrate my self-critical radar."

Another friend, "When my father died ten years ago, it was such a surprise to see the photograph that he'd kept in his wallet. A photograph of me at age 11, just before I became anorexic, so round and smiling."

Another conversation, "One friend told me that, on her refrigerator, she kept a photograph of herself at her absolute thinnest, taken after her trip to India where she got dysentery that lasted three months."

Saddest of all, "...a friend who showed me her favorite photograph of herself, thin as a rake and leaning against a tall, oak tree. Remembering the context, I gasped, "But that's when you nearly died of heartbreak! Pale and fragile, we had to feed you like a baby bird: soups, pudding." Anything that would make it past the giant lump in her throat. I actually felt betrayed that she could possible admire the photograph that was evidence of such a desperate time."

Reading that last line, I am reminded of my favorite picture of myself. Graduation weekend my senior year of high school. Saturday night was class night, when we got all dressed up, reminisced of the last 4 years, and said goodbye before graduation the next day. Short, straight, blond hair, perfect skin, thin and thinning body, boney arms, behind a black, elegant, shimmery, floor-length gown, big hungry.

Oxenhandler finishes, "We say that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' but what would it mean to look at ourselves as though we really believed this were true? The Tibetans have a saying: Who looks not with compassion sees not what the eyes of compassion see. Today, when the suspicious stranger looks into the mirror at her own reflection, I'm going to remind her of that. And who knows? If she can summon enough compassion to let go of her critical gaze, maybe she'll catch a glimpse of a woman dissolving in laughter--and see with the eyes of a friend."


Anonymous said...

amen girl