Last year, I did a fair amount of traveling for the trainings and talks I conducted around the country. During one of these trips, an experience occurred that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.
I was walking back to my hotel after finishing a Be Body Positive training where I’d been leading activities for two full days about self-love and listening to the body’s wisdom to guide positive self-care. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally, but filled with light because of the healing work our group had done and the friendships we’d made.
As I came up to my hotel, my eyes went to a man standing against the wall smoking a cigarette. There was nothing about him that I could describe as dangerous—he was well dressed and calm—but for some reason, my whole body went on alert. We made eye contact, so I nodded my head. No smile, just a nod to acknowledge that we were two people on the planet who had made a connection.
I walked past him and turned into the hotel, loaded down with my backpack and numerous bags filled with workshop accoutrement. I pushed the button, the elevator opened; I stepped in and selected the ninth floor. When I turned around to face the doors, I saw the man from outside making a beeline towards me. The alert feeling in my body heightened as he entered the elevator. I tried to ignore it. In what felt like hours but was actually a split second, I had the thought, “Don’t be rude, Connie. He’s fine.” What happened next didn’t come from my brain—it was intuition. Just as the doors started to close, it felt as if someone’s strong hand on my back pushed me out of the elevator. I mumbled, “I need to go this way,” as I lunged through the closing doors, made a left turn, and ran for the stairs leading down to the dark bar.
I sat in a dimly lit booth where I couldn’t be seen from the door and tried to calm myself. The logical part of my brain wanted to chastise me for being unkind, stupid, and afraid of nothing. But, because I have been listening closely to my intuition for a very long time, I knew without any doubt that if I’d stayed in the elevator something very bad would have happened to me.
My emotions began to swirl. I was scared that the man knew which floor my room was on and might be up there waiting for me, so I stayed in the bar and ordered a beer. Then the questions surfaced:
Was it my fault that he came after me?
Did he perceive my eye contact and nod as a come on?
What did I do wrong?
As soon as I re-entered my body, the answers became clear: NO, APPEARS SO, and NOTHING! Protective anger surged through me as I remembered the mantra I say to myself whenever I’m hiking alone in the hills and a man walks by: “Touch me and you die.” I know this sounds harsh, but, growing up, I was often alone running in a huge park where I’d had experiences of being flashed numerous times by men masturbating in the bushes and once chased by a man on a motorcycle. In those days I felt the need to surround myself with protection so I could continue doing what I loved; hence the strong mantra, which has stayed with me.
My anger slowly transformed into elation. I was almost giddy as I honored that by listening to my body’s wisdom I had protected myself from harm. My intuition had been heightened due to spending two days teaching others to pay attention to their bodies’ signals on all levels. It was instant proof that loving our bodies and listening to them is deep and life-sustaining work. It is not, as many people think, simply about liking our physical image and how we see ourselves in a mirror. Not even close!
I thanked my body, and logged into memory the intense encounter I’d just had. I wanted to forever be reminded to ignore the “good girl” voice that demands politeness to everyone at all times. I added this experience to many I’ve had since healing from my eating disorder, when I made a commitment to do my best to listen to—and follow—my body’s profound wisdom.
I want to be very clear about something here—I am not saying that listening to our body’s wisdom will always keep us safe.
Bad things happen that are outside of our control. We can be completely in tune with our innate wisdom and we may still get harmed. But, in a world where we have very little control, it is my opinion that self-love and intuition offer us the opportunity for true protection. Intuition, when followed, can let us know when danger is present. When it is not enough to protect us, then it is self-love that can help us heal when traumatic events do happen.
I also want to say that sometimes we choose not to listen to our innate wisdom, even when our bodies scream at us, and that’s okay, too. It’s part of being human. I once had a powerful experience where I chose not to listen to my intuition, and it was one of the factors that led me to create The Body Positive. A story for another post…
What I’ve learned in my 56 years on the planet is that we can only do what we can do in each moment. Sometimes our best is better than at other times. Often our best isn’t so great. And we can still love ourselves! All we can do is wake up each day with a commitment to loving our fragile human selves just a bit more if possible, ask ourselves what type of mindset we hope to have throughout the day we are gifted with, and step out into our lives. And, as my amazing and very wise 88-year-old mama does, we thank our bodies for all they do to give us life.
“It’s all how you feel about your own body, because this is home. And if you’re not comfortable at home, you’re not going to be comfortable anywhere else.” —Caelayn Brown
My offer to you:
If you are interested in learning tools that will help you listen to your body’s wisdom and grow in self-love, I invite you to attend my Self-Love & Beauty Embodied workshop on November 19th in Berkeley, California. If you can’t attend the workshop, you can experience some of what I teach on your own by reading my book, Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!).
A note about this blog’s photo:
Decades ago I was at a drama therapy workshop with my mom where we had to create a mask to express something about ourselves. We were outdoors, so natural elements were part of our art pieces. My mom’s mask was simple yet profound. She chose a milk thistle to describe herself. The purple flower is soft, beautiful, and tender. It is surrounded by spikes that, when touched, are sharp enough to draw blood. She described her inner self as the flower and her outer shell as the spikes. She told us that if people don’t approach her in the right way they’ll get hurt. But those who come to her with gentleness will get to experience her tenderness and beauty.
As I’ve been hearing more and more stories of sexual assault on high school and college students, I can’t help but think about the milk thistle, and how I wish I could share this image with every young person to by a symbol of their protection.
Photo credit: Hilary Batey