By Kellie Schorr
Dr. Maya Angelou met her teacher, Bertha Flowers, after childhood trauma took away her ability to speak for five years.
Flowers took Maya Angelou to the library, brought books home for her to read, and was instrumental in helping Dr. Angelou recover her voice.
Oprah Winfrey was tossed from relative to relative during her chaotic and abusive childhood when she ended up going to 4th grade in Nashville and met Mary Duncan, a woman Winfrey credits with being the first person to give her a love for learning and the confidence to speak out.
Yves Saint Laurent was an awkward and misunderstood young man ridiculed because he liked to play with paper dolls as a child and sew dresses for his sisters. At 19 years old, he boldly shared some of his fashion sketches with Christian Dior, who hired him on the spot and became Saint Laurent’s most profound teacher.
The course of every life—famous, infamous, or unknown—makes it best stride when a student meets their teacher. Our world is the way it is, in part, because these meetings have occurred. At some point Plato met Socrates. Later, Aristotle met Plato. Hellen Keller met Anne Sullivan. Carl Jung met Sigmund Freud. Milarepa met Marpa.
And so it goes.
Perhaps you can identify someone who changed the course of your life or was/is your most important teacher. You may have a list of people who have played that role, or you may still be waiting for that person, that moment, that spark. There is one teacher, however, we have all met and need to meet again. It is our first teacher, otherwise known as our body.
The First Teacher
From the moment of your conception, your body has been informing a large part of your precious human life. Before you knew A was for Apple and B was for Batman, your body was already teaching you so much. How did you know you were hungry? What made you stand up and walk? When did your pain receptors let you know touching the stove or sticking your finger in your eye wasn’t a good idea?
As is the case with a long-term teacher, there’s a tendency to take it for granted or get to a place where we think we know more, know better, and we break our vows of listening, protecting, and presence with our own bodies.
In a culture where women are objectified and sexualized at a young age and men are given constant doses of idealized toxic masculinity, it isn’t hard to turn from our teacher toward negligence or the next shiny idea that comes around. We forsake our teacher for fad diets, repetitive damaging exercises, denigrating self-talk or abandon it altogether for the haven of disassociation as a response to trauma.
When we ignore or contradict the needs and lessons of our body, our path suffers. Our present aches. Our future bends.
We hear affirmations and advice over and over. Be body positive. Value your reality. Celebrate your curves. Age with appreciation. That all sounds wonderful but where do we start? Some of us have been at war with our own bodies for so long we don’t even know how to start a conversation without a four-letter word.
What can we do to reclaim the student teacher relationship with this ever-present instructor? We must meet our teacher again.
Start With Forgiveness and Purification
It can be hard, and awkward, to reconnect with a friend you lost a long time ago, particularly if the parting was an angry moment or ugly betrayal. You could rehash everything that happened, every old wound, every incidence. That would both waste time going over something you both know and needlessly pick at scabs. Or can you just say, “there’s a bridge over this troubled water, let’s just begin anew.”
Purification is different from forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the act that accepts there was harm and moves forward beyond it. It is a relational process. Purification is renewal, creating a state of newness where you are. It is a transformational process. The two are not mutually exclusive. Like love and marriage, or chocolate and peanut butter, forgiveness and purification work better together.
Don’t sit around beating yourself up for every time you failed to hear your body or give it the care and love it really needed. Sometimes there were circumstances you could not control. Other times you were very much in control and made choices that were not for the best. Either way, you are present with your body today.
Admit there was harm, forgive, and prepare to move forward.
There’s a myth that forgiveness just “isn’t’ that easy” but it doesn’t always have to be hard, either. It all depends on the relationship, the harm, and the willingness of each party to move forward. If you and your body are ready to renew on a healthier path, there doesn’t have to be shame, guilt or punishment. You can learn from your choices and agree to journey on.
Purification rituals or practices exist in every major belief and life system in the world. There are no perfect lives or paths without sandpits. The ability to overcome challenge and start anew is an important component of every healthy relationship, even the one we have with our own body.
Look at your own practices and you will find a method that works best to start over with your body on a path that is positive, authentic, and vibrant. Witches have cleansing spells. Jewish people have rituals of atonement. Christians have prayer, and that great promise in the Bible, “Behold I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5).
If your path doesn’t have a built-in way, then make a way. Create a ritual that allows you to start over.
As a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, I do Vajrasattva practice to release the regrets and wrongs I have perpetrated on myself and my body. As the Bodhisattva of purification, Vajrasattva doesn’t just sit around collecting mantras and clearing up karma. There is renewal in every chime of the bell and click of the beads. The practice is a way of transforming my path from shadow to light, so I can walk awakened and see where I’m going.
We all meet different challenges as we journey with our first teacher. Weight, age, health, energy, appearance, physical injury, emotional concerns, gender expression, fears and memories can create turbulence. Anyone who has ever had a teacher will tell you that’s normal. Not every lesson is a gem. Not every homework assignment gets completed. Challenges will persist even in the best teacher/student combination.
If you’re ready to embrace your embodied self, and turn those daily affirmations into real life actions, it’s time to meet your first teacher—once again.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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