Love Yourself to Heal Our Nation

Following is an essay I wrote almost two years ago; following the U.S. Presidential election of 2016, its relevance remains:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014, about 18 hours after the announcement in Ferguson, Missouri, that White police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for fatally shooting unarmed, Black, 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer:

Helicopters hover about a quarter of a mile from my office on the ninth floor of a skyscraper in downtown Philadelphia. I’m trying to communicate something to my client but am distracted by the noise and the emotions it evokes. Thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop. The chopper blades quicken and seem to multiply, and my heartbeat hastens to match their cadence. I stop mid-sentence. “I’m sorry,” I tell my client. We exchange pained looks. We know that just a few blocks away protesters are chanting through megaphones as they prepare to march up Broad Street and demonstrate.

I can feel our nation’s collective rage, grief, indignation, and confusion gnawing at my heart and my gut in a way that briefly interferes with my ability to stay in my body—because I feel like I should be doing something. Part of me wants to cradle the nation in my arms and soothe it as I would a distraught child.

I look at the human being sitting across from me. I know that this is where I’m called to be, in this moment, supporting her on her journey so that she can heal and go into the world and touch others similarly. I breathe, bow inwardly to what’s present, and focus my attention on her.

In the moments that follow, the separation between her, me, and the hurt people all over the country dissolves. By touching into the place in myself and loving that which is human in me, I am anchoring the space and holding compassion for her humanness, for everyone’s humanness. Here there is unconditional positive regard and love for all beings.

At the close of my work day, I tend to e-mails, text messages, and missed phone calls. I’m invited to an organized rally in which its photograph on Facebook is, I’m told later, of a protester throwing a molotov cocktail back at the police who threw it into a crowd. Why would they post a photo that could mistakenly lead people to believe their aim is violent, I ask organizers. I’m attacked for my ignorance regarding the “iconic image” and sent private hate mail to my Facebook inbox. “A violent system must be overturned by a violent revolution,” a stranger wrote to me.

My body moves as if underwater, and my thoughts disappear into fog. I decide before I meditate to check my Facebook newsfeed to find out whether the protests taking place all over the country have remained peaceful. What I discover is that people are not just hurting. They’ve lost their minds. I scroll through my smart-phone and see folks lashing out via social media, using terms like, “punks, pigs, Nazis, animals, bigots, racists, animals, savages,” and on and on. One article after another emerges, pointing fingers this way and that. No one is listening to anyone else. Most have become hypnotized into an “us vs them” mentality.

Everyone has a right to their anger, I tell myself. You’re a therapist, you know this. Rage comes out sideways. It must be felt before it can heal, I repeat the mantra I tell my clients. Then my own tears begin to fall. “I have a right to my grief, too,” I whisper. Just as I counsel others to do, I allow the sadness to move through me, give it time to just be.

I sit in meditation afterwards, asking then letting go of the question: How can I serve the greater good in this turbulence? The answer feels warm in my “gut” and then translates into words, for me, for you, for all who wonder, what can we do?

Everyone’s role in healing our planet is unique. For some, it’s writing, acting, painting, or singing. For others it’s legislating, organizing, rallying, or wearing a police badge and enforcing the law. Still others must raise a new generation who will change the social climate. And others will change the world by being their best selves. Only you can access the wisdom within yourself to know exactly how to play it.

But the message is this: It starts with you. Love yourself. Because if you don’t, then you cannot fully love others in that deep and selfless way that facilitates the mending of others’ hearts. If when you witness other people’s behaviors and are quick to label them with hate or with even the slightest tinge of judgment, then you do not love yourself—for the external is a mirror to your internal world. If you accept your imperfections with full compassion, then your perception of the flaws in others will shift as well. Rather than a “punk or a pig,” you’ll see a human being who is afraid, suffering, or does not love himself.

You’ll see something else: that he is you. That they are us. That the only distinction between yourself and others is three-dimensional in space and time. You’ll know on a level beyond reason: We are ONE. There is only one human race, indivisible. Separation is an illusion.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

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To My Body: I’m Sorry. Please Forgive Me. Thank You. I Love You.

Shopping for clothing to accommodate the weight I’d gained from a health struggle over the past year, I entered a dressing room with several pairs of pants. I tried pulling up pastel khakis past my hips, and they wouldn’t budge. I sank into shame. They were one size larger than I’d worn last year. I pulled on a larger pair, and they too were snug.

I frowned at myself in the mirror. 

In a neighboring stall, two women brooded over their own bodies.

“My arms look like sausages. I should buy something with sleeves, shouldn’t I?”

“You’re smaller than I am. I look like a tent in this dress.”

At the sound of the ladies’ self-deprecation, my heart felt like it gained a few pounds. 

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are more aesthetically discerning than 80 to 85 percent of the population, according to psychologist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron. I suspect that this aspect of our personality traits can translate to perfectionism with regard to our physical appearances. 

For a decade, I’ve worked with highly sensitive women (and a couple of men) who hated their bodies and themselves, and I’ve cheered inwardly at the slow but steady progress theyve made in feeling more tenderly toward themselves.

Well, healer, heal thyself, I thought while slipping forlornly back into my too-tight jeans.

After years of personal growth and healing work, I thought that at last I’d fallen in love with myself and vowed to help others regard themselves as tenderly.

Today was a setback. I winced at the emotional bruise inflicted by my own self-loathing and at the collective “I’m unlovable” or “I’m not enough” wound that weighs on the psyches of humans around the world.

Exiting the dressing room, I spotted the women I’d overheard. My favorite barista, among the two, lights up entire rooms with her bright-green eyes, warm smile and belly laughter. People pack the coffee shop where she serves genuine compliments and encouragement along with our espressos and herbal tea, remembers our names and details of our personal lives, and creates an environment to which patrons like I return for a little energetic sunshine when life feels heavy.

If only she knew how easy she is to love, I thought, I doubt she’d fret at her figure.

Her friend attends the more advanced ballet class still in session each week as I arrive to warm up for mine. I gaze at her in delight through glass doors as she steps and pirouettes masterfully across the hardwood floors. Her frame, soft and curvier than her peers’, expresses most precisely that which stirs within me as I hear the music.

On summer nights when I was a little girl, my Catholic grandmother would summon my sister and me to shower as we returned sweaty from playing badminton with our aunt. “Your body is a temple,” she’d instruct cheerfully, the vessel through which our Souls came to Earth so we could spread God’s love. Then she’d hand us towels and washcloths for our evening scrub.

My grandmother planted in me a seed that today has sprouted into gratitude for my physicality; over the years my body has provided a safe container to process years of emotional pain and grief and assists me to this day in tolerating strong emotions. It is among a list of reasons I cherish my profession as a somatic psychotherapist. Moreover, by grounding into and being aware of our physical experience, we can more fully access our creativity, divinity, intuition, and information that is beyond the intellect’s reach.

Every May, my legs carry me sturdily as I run like a lover to her beloved at the first sight of the Jersey Shore and plunge ecstatically into the waves. Through September, my arms pull me beneath and my knees help me jump high above crests as I splash and flirt with the restless summer sea. From fall until spring, my ankles and core prevent me from falling from boulders and steep hills on hikes while my lungs welcome fresh mountain air and exhale city pollutants and accumulated weeklong stress.

When I consider all that our bodies do for us and the miracles they perform every minute of every day, I regret the mental and verbal abuse we inflict on ourselves and cringe at its potential impact on our health and well-being.

Consider these experiments conducted by Dr. Masaru Emoto beginning in 1994: When Emoto exposed water to words in the form of printed letters, prayer, speeches, and music, the results were astonishing. Samples from rivers and lakes labeled “love and appreciation” and “gratitude,” for example, transformed when frozen into silvery mandala-like crystals. Those subjected to “I hate you, I want to kill you” and similar language turned murky and asymmetrical.

Humans contain about 60 percent water. How are the the thoughts and words we use to label ourselves and others affecting our bodies? If we could crystalize the water inside of us, what would it look like?

From infancy into adulthood, we’ve adopted beliefs about ourselves based on the way people have spoken to and treated us. Parents, teachers, peers, strangers, institutions, and even our culture and society have dubbed us dumb, lazy, losers, sinners, uncool, lacking in this or that, etc.

How long will we choose to perpetuate such cruelty with our own self-judgment?

When will we turn the tide and begin to heal our relationships with not only our bodies but ourselves?

I can tell you from experience, in what I’ve observed in myself and in clients, that the more you love yourself unconditionally, the more love you can hold for others. Assess the consciousness of our planet these days, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the world could use a whopping dose of unconditional love.

By now you’ve likely heard the increasingly popular mantra, “Heal yourself to heal the world.”

So I invite you to join me, for we have plenty of work to do.

Jot down all the ways you’re able to live your life as you intend, thanks to your body. Or, consider what you’d not be able to do if you didn’t have a body. Remember the fresh berries you’ve tasted, the hugs you’ve received, the sunsets you’ve watched, the dinners you’ve cooked, the car you’ve driven, the dances you’ve danced, or the fires you’ve started at camp sites. Include the impact you have on people day to day by just being you, holding doors, smiling at strangers, comforting a child, tipping generously, giving people the benefit of the doubt, offering expert advice, or cheering a friend.

Regard the story of your life as an omniscient observer and notice whether you can feel compassion for all that you’ve been through and for all that you dream of.

Now, if you feel so inspired, repeat several times the words of this ancient Hawaiian healing practice, called Ho’oponopono. Address your body:

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.

Or sing it along with one of my most inspiring friends and favorite kirtan musician, Jennifer Angelino Petro, whose YouTube videos she created when known as Joseph Anthony recently facilitated deeper healing in my relationship with my body—to the extent that inflammation that caused me chronic pain has healed and, yes, I’ve even lost a little weight.

For all of that within you that longs to heal, sing these words. Sing them to political candidates (perhaps without them knowing), people with whom you experience conflict, people who are suffering, and even your cat (mine purrs when I do).

I invite you to contact me via my web site, or leave a message below, and let me know whether you experience any shifts in emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual health.

And if you love Jennifer’s video as much as I do, there are so many more in which she includes tapping on specific spots of the body, or the Emotional Freedom Technique, to help boost your body image and self-worth. You can find them on her YouTube channel.

Here is one more of Jennifer’s videos I recommend (and my grandmother would appreciate):

And to Jennifer (and all others on this planet): for the persecution you’ve endured for expressing yourself authentically, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. So much.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy