TEMPLE OF VENUS: BEAUTY IMAGE BEAUTIFUL

In her latest Temple of Venus column, Elyssa Jakim discovers that even among spiritual circles, body image issues persist…Images: Karis Wakeling-Farren 

Beauty. Isn’t that a gorgeous word? Look at how it sits on the page: regal with all those vowels. I’ve always adored words with lots of vowels: elegant, exquisite, gorgeous, pleasing. Beauty is such an angel word.

Recently in a meditation, I heard the message: “You are more beautiful than you think you are.” This message struck me—it brought a sad little pang to my heart. When I thought more about it, I realized I’ve been experiencing one of those periods where I look in the mirror and think I look weird. Where I’m breaking out more than usual, where I don’t feel particularly connected to my sensual side, where, I don’t know, I just don’t “feel beautiful,” you know?

And I know what it’s about, really, this denial of beauty. I’ve been dancing with body image issues since I was thirteen. There was something wrong with my belly! Why did it stick out from my body like that? Why was I the only one with a strange belly like this? At 17, when other stresses kicked in, I acted on these thoughts and began dieting. I struggled from compulsive dieting for the next eight years.

I had grown up wanting to be an actress, famously a profession of body image perfectionism. When I was 19, I spent my summer as an apprentice at a theatre festival. I recall hanging out in a circle of about 10 women, and the conversation turned to food and dieting. It became clear to me that all these young women who wanted to be actresses had struggled with or were struggling with eating disorder.

All these gorgeous women who I knew as gorgeous because of their insides, their passionate outlook and fearlessness on stage, were folding themselves in one way or another in order to feel included in an exclusive industry: in order to feel included in their own dreams. It was the first time I realized how much I wasn’t alone in this “bad body image” compulsion. And, of course, it’s not just actresses who go through this. It’s all of us.

As years have passed, I feel better about me. A lot. I’m no longer dieting, and I feel I can accept whatever it is I have chosen to eat. However, I now find myself in many other women’s circles that mirror the above one. Healing circle. Meditation Circle. Brunch table. And to tell you the truth, even though these are circles of loving, empowered people, I’m often still worrying about the size of my belly.

The tendency toward self-blame is always there lingering in the background—and I’d like to posit that it is for many of us. It’s an elephant in our yoga studios and sound baths. We’ve had so much programming about how we’re supposed to look for our whole lives, that body anxiety just feels like a channel many of us have been set to. Especially if you live in a trendy city, and the street suggests fashion putting your body on show.

In groups and even just among friends, I’ve started paying attention to when my body image insecurity comes up. I get in touch with my inner knowing and I ask, “Is this mine?” Often, I hear “no.” It belongs to a peer. It belongs to a friend. Doing this has helped me understand, once again, that I am truly not alone in my insecurity. That it is SO MANY OF US who feel not right in ourselves.

Everyone, everyone has that something: “I’ve got a great body, but my skin sucks.” “I love my hips but my eyes kind of cross sometimes and I think I look messed up.” “My face is weird.” “I should look more masculine.” “I should look more feminine.” We compartmentalize ourselves and obsess over our “wrong” thing. So of course, even if the thought is usually not mine, it IS mine too. It’s all of ours. And we “empath” it back and forth to one another.

At this point, I’d like to bring up that this is the ego’s favorite myth, that: “There is something wrong with me.” Psychologist Tara Brach brilliantly describes this concept in her book Radical Acceptance:

[T]he universal sense that “something is wrong” easily solidifies into “something is wrong with me.” When I look into my own feelings of unworthiness, sometimes I can’t point to any significant way I’m actually falling short. Yet just this feeling of being a self, separate from others, brings up a fundamental assumption that I am not okay…Believing that we are separate, incomplete, and therefore at risk, is not some malfunction of nature. Rather, this perception is an intrinsic part of our human experience—indeed of all life.

Brach makes it clear: it’s our sense of alone-ness that makes us feel wrong. The great irony of course is that we’re all together in feeling separate. And there is nothing wrong with you or me or us. There may, however, be something wrong with the society we live in (“The universal sense that something is wrong…”). There may be something wrong with the messages that we ingest and unknowingly propagate.

The author today

But what is the gift of these insane societal standards? What is the gift of the insecurity?

Disagreeing with the ego’s unloving ideas strengthens the mind and soul. When you choose to say “no” to this habit of self-attack, when you choose love in favor of compulsion, you are growing. You are claiming your worth. You are getting stronger each time. Whenever we actively proclaim the Truth to the unloving self, we are paving the way for freedom.

Choose an affirmation today for your unloving habit and resolve to challenge it in order to gain freedom. Mine is: “I know that these fears about my body are untrue. I know I am so much more than this body. I surrender these fears to love.” This can, of course, be applied to any flavor of compulsion, not just body perfectionism. And of course, whenever we free ourselves, we free our sisters and brothers, too. The grip of group insecurity relaxes, we’re all getting spiritually lighter together. Which, in my humble opinion, is way more important than physical lightness. This is a spiritual workout!

These hurts also build empathy and compassion. How could I, Elyssa, help others love their bodies if I hadn’t run the whole gamut of fear and love in my own thinking? Thus our misfortunes become our miracles.

I told a friend about my meditation, the one in which I heard, “You are more beautiful than you think you are.”

“What do you mean by that?” He asked. “Physically?”

“Yes, physically.”

“Go to your heart,” he said. “Go to your heart. That’s where beauty lives. Focus on the feelings inside your heart and you will know you’re beautiful. Then your whole self responds.”

I love this. And, it is true. And when I talked to Venus, Venus told me: “You are all beautiful. You are all divine. You are all so much more radiant than you know.” Go to your heart. Find the beauty and resilience there. “Heart.” That’s got a nice vowel assortment too.

PS: This post marks my one-year anniversary of writing for the Numinous! From Spring to Spring, I am grateful for all of the gifts.

Need more Venus inspiration? Check out Elyssa’s last Temple of Venus column on the practice of receiving.

TEMPLE OF VENUS: HOW TO RECEIVE

Elyssa Jakim’s monthly Temple of Venus column returns with some wise words on the practice of receiving… Artwork: Megan Thorp-Levitt

The paragon of the divine feminine, Venus is born of water. She, like water, receives, or takes in. Receiving then is the nature of the feminine, right? But paradoxically, we often talk about women as “givers.” The woman is the mother, the gatherer, the caretaker, the nurturer. And of course, we all give and receive, regardless of gender. But I want to posit that many of us, women in particular, are not receiving enough.

Especially if you’re an empath or a healer and a highly sensitive person, you may feel as if your tank is constantly empty. As if you’re “giving” all the time, in small and subtle ways – like giving up your ability to make decisions, giving up your lunch hour to a friend, giving up your freedom because of “should’s” or “supposed to’s.” Are you an over-giver? Venus is here to help!

The first thing to remember is that receiving is not about doing. It is about simply being and allowing. But society is set up for us to do, and do, and do some more. We’re taught to do our homework, to get good grades. We’re expected to be brilliant self-starters and become CEOs of our own empires. Our society loves masculine, Yang phrases that get us fired up like: “hit the ground running,” “just do it,” “get it done,” and “killing it.” And well, ehem, can I please get a “fuck that”?

Receiving is your birthright as a divinely feminine creature. Here are some ways to receive…

:: RECEIVE GIFTS ::

A receiving practice is really about cultivating deeper awareness about what you’re already receiving. By truly acknowledging what you receive, you can take this energy in consciously and use it to refill your tank.

A simple way to do this is to receive your gifts! Whenever someone offers to pay for you, cover the tab, or gives you some kind of gift receive it willingly. Say “thank you” with graciousness, and do not offer to pay instead. Feel into the sensation of receiving by taking a second to breathe in the kindness and the loving feelings it brings up. Visualize this feeling filling you up.

Now try it with praise. When someone compliments you, do not leap in to downplay your worthiness! Breathe it in. Receive this gift. It may feel awkward at first, but once accepted, it can feel so good. I’m going to give you one right now to practice: with “You are an incredible being, always doing the best you can. I love you and I see you.” No joke, that is the truth!

Another great way to receive more “gifts” is to ask for help and favors. Can’t reach a top shelf and a tall person is nearby? Ask them for help! This is a really simple way to receive and I’ve noticed in doing this that people really like being given a simple, discrete way to help out. Try it with kids. They LOVE it.

In fact, one of my favorite phrases about receiving is: “receiving empowers the giver.” So be a gracious receiver and empower the people who give to you. It makes everyone feel good.

:: RECEIVE THE PRESENT ::

The present moment is always ripe with abundance and possibilities, and so when we stop to just be, we get in touch with our receiving nature. We are “being” rather than “doing.” (NB: I have learned so much about this from my dear friend Lindsay Mack, who now writes the Numinous Tarotscopes).

A great way to be more present is to practice deep listening. Next time you’re in conversation, notice the cadence of your interlocutor’s speech. Notice each word. Take them in. This is deep receiving.

Is there someone in your life you can do a better job listening to? Make a commitment right now to listen more deeply in conversation with this person (I’m doing it too, believe me). Really receive his or her words, and see what you notice. Were you keeping yourself from receiving this person’s love in certain ways? How can you take in more of the love that’s all around you? Which brings me too…

:: RECEIVE NATURE ::

Nature is always waiting to shower you with her myriad gifts. So whenever your tank is really low, take any opportunity you can to find nature. Even an office plant or the sidewalk tree will help you to reset.

In many belief systems, nature is the feminine polarity of the divine — that’s why we call her “mother nature” and “mama earth.” By stepping out into nature, we are refreshed. We are filled to the brim with nature’s essence, which is a mirror of our own. We are reminded of our inner nature, which is peace, strength, love, beauty, wonder, and so much more.

An energy healing secret is this: when you’re tired, touch a tree. And on a long hike through rugged terrain, touch tons of trees! They will energize you. Once when I went out in nature with a teacher of mine, we were connecting with trees, and she was teaching me how to feel the spirit of a plant. I turned to a Ponderosa Pine and exclaimed, “This tree needs love.”

I put my hand on the tree and breathed into it. I let it take me on a little visual journey and it showed me how it was a mama bear. It grounded me. It made me feel safe. I laughed, telling her, “Obviously this tree didn’t need love. She just wanted to give me some of hers.” My teacher nodded: “That’s usually how it goes.”

It turns out, of course, Ponderosa Pine was exactly the medicine I needed for what was going on in my life at the time. So receive your dose of nature. Give your heart to the earth and she will give you so much it will bring you to your knees (in the rapturous way).

:: RECEIVE YOUR LIFE ::

This bears repeating: receiving is following your intuition. This section has fewer tangible steps, for it is intangible and highly personal – yet so many of us are striving to learn how to follow our intuition as one by one we “wake up.”

Difficult, since following your intuition may go against the Yang ways we have been taught (do your homework, go to college, no days off, time spent doing nothing is SLACKING). But this is needed in order to balance the energy on this planet right now. So, can we embrace the slack? In the Western world, we have been living in such a masculine paradigm, that it’s time to strengthen our other muscles – the intuitive receptive muscles. Yes, the pelvic floor muscles just to complete the metaphor!

So how can you be more intuitive, and open to receiving messages from spirit? Where can you put space in your life just to be and listen to your inner guidance? Here is the biggest secret of all: the Divine is standing right next to you, ready to guide you, ready to give to you every day if you let it.

So let go and let God. Do less to receive more (wisdom, love, creativity). It’s funny, it’s miraculous, but it works! And it feels damn good. Bowing to you, may you receive all the gifts and may you feel radiantly receptive, revivified, and rejuvenated.

Please note: this article is intended to be useful to all, regardless of gender. We can all use help with receiving.

Need more Venus inspiration? Check out Elyssa’s last Temple of Venus column on connecting to your inner child through crafting.