The guts of my most recent book, Divine Audacity, emerged from an unnamed yearning within me that was coming into view like a soon-to-be born baby. Whoever said that writing a book is like giving birth certainly spoke to me. Grappling with spiritual capacities (Unity’s Twelve Powers), in one moment ecstatic from glorious revelation and another moment tortured by it, I painfully proceeded to write.
This thing, this excruciating longing, gnawed at me. I recognized it in relationship to a familiar refrain of self-disgust about my seeming inability to regulate my weight, control my appetite, and exercise my body. Years of practiced self-condemnation wriggled to the surface of awareness. I could have repressed it again. I wanted to. But the adjusting power of Order, the perceiving power of Faith, the intuiting power of Wisdom, these and the light of all spiritual capacities were simultaneously haunting me. I was dreaming of self-mastery, yearning for freedom. For once, I decided, I would not dismiss this inner urge. I would not numb or distract myself from feeling the entirety of it. I would “be” in it.
Something else began to haunt me. That picture of me at age 16, twin pony tails framing my smiling face as I walked in a field at summer camp on my way to lead my little campers to their next activity. How had I never noticed that, despite thinking of myself as “hippo hips” and “thunder thighs”—names given to me by my brothers—I had been a beautiful, petite teenager?
Stunningly, at nearly 60 years of age I was just beginning to realize the terrible effects of lifelong dysmorphic body image. I had become as large as I had always imagined myself to be. I had lost and gained pounds by the dozens, dozens of times. I felt old, tired, stiff and weak.
But that picture haunted me! I wanted to know her. I wanted to be her. I longed for her innocence, passion and wholeheartedness (although I certainly did not want the pathos that comes with being 16). Despite having never felt at ease in that version of my body, I wanted to feel the way I should have as a slender 16-year-old!
Imposing False Limitations
Committed to “being” in my longing, I started to remember early life experiences and my decisions based upon them. I remembered seeing my mother and my aunt laughing during my dance class when I was five years old, convinced they were laughing at my unbending legs and awkward moves. From that time forward, I knew that my legs were unlike everyone else’s. My legs were unstretchable.
Furthermore, I was short and round like the short, round Italian women in my family. As much as I dreaded it, I believed I would take after my Aunt Emily who at age 60 resembled a squat quarterback. I would have to live within the limits of my genetics that cursed me with a double-dose of curvy hips and thick thighs, as my mother repeatedly told me when my body morphed from girl to woman in puberty.
These and other memories began to inform me of the limits I had set, and the falsehoods I had claimed, regarding my physical appearance. In the mirror I saw a distorted image much like the pressed-down and spread-out shape I had once seen in a fun-house mirror. Repeated attempts at dieting, and my aversion to exercise, had solidified the thought that I could never achieve the body of my desire. I had given up.
I had given up. This recognition startled me. At the time, I was deep into inquiry about my spiritual power of Will. OMG! I had said, “I will not.” I became consumed with learning about Will, my power to choose, commit and be willing. I studied Will. I became willing to be willing.
Will unleashed the light of other powers inside. Soon I started questioning every limited and false idea I had harbored about my body. What if I was not destined to look like anyone else? What if my leg muscles were not all that different from other people’s? What if my body remembered its natural petiteness? What if I actually could become—and feel— trim, fit, pretty and graceful?
The momentum of Will tipped the scales, spiritually. I had been clear that I would not endure another diet, follow another plan, in the consciousness with which I had dieted in the past. I would not undergo a punitive program for a desperate makeover. I would heal, spiritually heal, and then my restored consciousness would know what to do.
The scales tipped when, instead of feeling discouraged and defeated, I started to feel interested and curious. I paid attention to the way my brother, my son, and my friend T eat. These beloveds eat with gusto. They love good food. No food is “bad” in their estimation. They enjoy every bite. And then they are finished. I longed to learn how to eat like them.
I observed women who wore their clothing well and exuded beauty. I noticed muscular definition, shapeliness, strength, flexibility and vitality. I wondered whether I could have a beautiful and graceful body.
Curiosity growing, I awoke on December 19, 2013, feeling ready to take action. Two things happened that day to spur me on. The first thing was wonderful: I felt my energy shift. Seeds of “will” had grown into tender, tentative sprouts of willingness. I felt enthusiastic, hopeful, and free of the fight in my head. The second thing that happened was terrible. My dear friend and colleague, died. When I learned that he had relapsed into alcoholism after thirty years of sobriety, my heart sunk into sorrow. In the midst of freely feeling sorrow, I suddenly gasped for I heard, clearly, “Enough. It stops now.”
Sixty-plus pounds later, at age 60, I have reclaimed the fervor of my 16-year-old self. I have rediscovered my innocence, passion and wholeheartedness. I have recovered many latent capacities that I believe are natural to all divine human beings—strength, stability, courage, tenacity, and many others.
When I am asked what dietary program I underwent to lose weight—which is the number one and usually only question I am asked about my transformation, I say, truthfully, that the diet and exercise plan I followed was incidental. The path I chose was to dream of self-mastery, to yearn for freedom.