Tag Archives: empowerment

Wabi-sabi and Body Image


“Perfection is poverty.”-Ryan Drum

I have a tea cup that someone I love gave me for Christmas a few years ago.  One day, when I was moving some things around in the cabin, my table fell over and everything on it broke.  The tea cup lost most of its handle.  It’s still the cup I use almost daily.  It is just the right size to have a large cup of tea and I can still cradle it comfortable in one hand.

Even longer ago, during a particularly strong Japanophilic phase I was going through (Kurasowa films, language classes, matcha tea with the little whisk, learning the proper way to wear a kimono) I came across the concept of Wabi-sabi.  It was like all great discoveries.  It seemed new but it just reinforced something I had decided was part of my identity anyway.

Since I was little, I loved old things.  I loved the cracked, the weathered, and the worn.  The patched jean was so much more pleasing to me than the stiff denim of the new.  Clothes that were new to me would sit in my closet to “age” until they took on my smell, relaxed their starchy posture, and felt like they belonged to me.  I preferred dishes that had been used for a long time by others and furniture that knew things.  

My father was 48 when I was born.  His friends with their lines and their graying temples were robust laughers, image-rich story tellers and could walk up and down hills with a sprightliness that I though all people of their age had.  And they were infinitely more interesting than people who had not yet LIVED.

When I was sitting in a classroom at the Southeastern Herbal conference six or seven years ago, Ryan Drum, forager, seaweed collector, white haired wild man, started his lecture with the quote above.  “Perfection is poverty.”  It got me sit ramrod straight as I had somehow lost my way.  Perfection was what I wanted so badly then.  

I had forgotten all that was truly important to me.  And, my body was suffering.  I wasn’t the one who came from a place of ill health or weight problems.  I just thought I did.  It wasn’t until I really devoted myself to perfect health and perfect body that both fell promptly to pieces.

Wabi-sabi is an acceptance and reverence for the impermanence of things, for the imperfection of things.  The hair thin fissures in a pot make it exquisite.  The fraying shoulder of the gray cardigan that I wear is what makes it special.  The new holes that need to be patched in my jeans are what make them mine.  The pot, the cardigan, the jeans…my tea cup: they are not beautiful to me in spite of these things.  They are beautiful to me BECAUSE of those things.

The current constructed cultural idea of beauty is a certain type of perfection.  It is a perfection that 97% of people can never achieve except through starvation, Draconian exercise regimes, and plastic surgery.  Not to mention chemical hair dyes.  It is the denial of age.  The shunning of the body itself.  It is rooted in deception.  It is impossible without deception.  Now that photoshop is used without impunity, even the 3% look more perfect than they already are.  In other words, the examples of the ideal that we uphold don’t even look like that.

But, the thing that I find the most sad is that the stories are all gone.  We are being taught to appreciate the uniform, blank, scar-less, line-less, age-less ideal.  It is nothing more than a blank page.  There is no story.  We have fetishized the absent.

My pinky toe is about half the length of my others.  I get that from my dad.  I have been graying for years, at before the age of 40, I’m about 25% there.  My legs are strong.  My belly is soft.  I just learned that I can carry a tune.  I can dance.  My right shoulder hunches forward a little and my neck needs special care since an auto accident.  I am short and round.  Curvy, low-rise.  I have 4 large tattoos.  I am not beautiful in spite of all these things but beautiful because of them.  

My body holds my story.  You can see what my story is if you look at my with attention.  When I look at you, I see your story, too.  You don’t have to say a word.  

The story is always being told and can be taken in any direction that you want.  Time, nourishment, movement, rest…so many other things are all the contributing characters in your story.  Your body is the story, itself: its beauty, its tragedy, its comedy, its poignancy.  There can be that humbling moment of breath-taking expansion of the incredible chance that that story gets to be told at all.  Tell the story truthfully.  The details matter.  



Power vs Authority


TThere has been a lot going on in the Nourishing Freedom world.  A lot of things that I’m getting more and more excited about.  (Excited and terrified often feel similar in the body, by the way, so I’m choosing to label it excitement.  Is anything scarier than having dreams become reality?)

One of those things has been doing some interviews, very casually right now as practice for the formal “real” ones that are coming quickly my way.  Listening back to them, I have noticed that I use the word authority like Madonna used to use trashy lace in the 80s.  I don’t use the word power.

I was born and raised under a dictatorship.  I grew up in that same dictatorship until I was 13 years old. (It’s no coincidence to me that we use the word regime to describe a dictatorship and it is the french word for diet.) After that, the country’s leadership changed as frequently as the aforementioned Diva.  Power is easily gained through manipulation, intimidation, bullying, money changing hands, bulk, strength, and so many other avenues.  I am sensitive to using power as a decent health model.

I am a post-wellness coach.  Wellness and the current health model is all about power.  Power over the body.  Trick it.  Hack it.  Bully it.  Buy it out.  Intimidate it.  Make it do what you want it to do through whatever means necessary.  Impose standards of perfection upon it that it can’t meet and then punish it when it can’t (and it can’t) meet those standards.  Purify it.  Clean it out.  Cleanse it.  Cleanse it.  Cleanse it.  It becomes a microcosm of the atrocities of ethnic cleansing.  Exert the power of an idealized, impossible purity onto the body and cleanse it of all hints of filth.

In short, we are living in an age where “health” is something of a totalitarian regime inflicted onto the body.  Health is a power that we try to control that winds up controlling us.

Authority, however, has always rung a little different to my ears.  I have known many, many people with very little power but with great authority.  I grant someone authority because they have earned my respect.  I acknowledge someone’s authority on a subject because they’ve done the work.  Authority is grounded in knowledge and in admiration.

When someone speaks from a position of authority, I listen and learn.  When someone speaks from their power, I listen but don’t trust a word.  With authority comes a knowing, deep and steady, that recognizes humility as valuable.  With power also comes a knowing: that power is fragile and can disappear in an instant and must be gripped through any means necessary.

There is a shift that happens when you start nourishing yourself, start nourishing your body.  It is a recognition of fragility.  It is the acceptance that our minds change, our thoughts flitter, that ideas are malleable.  These are the playthings of power.

The shift from power over the body to the recognition of the authority OF the body is one of the most radical paradigm shifts that one can undertake in their lifetime.  You will not have authority OVER the body.  This is difficult for us to accept, this humility before the body.  It is not comfortable to know that when my body says something loud and clear, it KNOWS.  It has the knowledge.  Your thoughts and perceptions about your body have been used to exert power over you by getting you to impose that power over it yourself.  The transformation that can be experienced by rebelling against this power structure and returning the authority to your body is something I could write pages and pages about but unless you go through it, it’s nearly impossible to get you to understand the depth, height, width of it.

In practical terms, health is sleeping when your body is tired.  It is eating in the way your body needs.  It is moving when your muscles beg for it and being still when you need to rest.  But, this is not on a schedule that someone decides on molding you to, it is by learning to respect the authority of your body.  What this means is that each of us will have a life that is unique to us but also just the same as everyone else that has a human body.  The details will glitter.  The particulars will dance in a one of a kind light but we will share all the joy and abundance that it really means to be a human animal.

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