My belly took charge of things last week. On my trip to Costco, I roamed the aisles I usually skip: appliances and housewares, gadgets and pots, lamps and reams of paper. I was charged with finding a handcart, something small and collapsible, to be used for events, but something in the second aisle beckoned, whispering to my belly, “you need me”. Like one of those folks who hang out at the gas station, offering to clean my dirty windshield, a Weight Watchers scale, discounted to $19.99, noticed the slight pooch of my belly and figured we were a match made in heaven.
I haven’t owned a scale in well over 15 years, but we are not strangers. In Chicago, at the end of my Friday trip to the health club, I’d gingerly step on the medical scale perched in a corner of the locker room, and slowly slide the weights to the right until they balanced. Sometimes I’d glance over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking, then I’d place my feet in different positions, trying out spots that would register the lightest. Of course, it didn’t matter if I stood on my head, on tiptoe or even one foot; it all came down to the same result. For the most part, those were happy days for me and my belly. We were nice and taut from Pilates and weights, treadmills and spin classes.
When I moved to Aravaipa Canyon Ranch I escaped the demands of the scale. “As long as my clothes still fit…” was my mantra. Ranch life kept my belly in line: mucking the horse corral, maintaining the grounds, lifting bales of hay, painting the sheds, tending the garden, and cleaning the 7 bedroom ranch house along with forays into the wilderness did the trick. After two years, I moved to Gold Canyon, married for the second time, and settled into a sort of semi-retirement. Glorious but softer.
Like a deflated, wrinkled balloon, my belly tends to sag a bit thanks to two pregnancies in my 20’s. Exercise mainly consists of hikes with the dogs and riding my bike. Good for my legs but doesn’t do much for anything north of my thighs. When the sun is shining and the sky is so blue, the local health club, though reasonably priced, quickly loses its allure. Sit-ups are a chore ranking well below cooking, laundry and vacuuming. My belly has taken full advantage of this situation, blossoming like a full blown rose that never wilts. My comfortable, wearable wardrobe has shrunk to one pair of hiking shorts (with a little elastic in the waistband), a pair of Capri’s, and several loose blouses which means I’m doing laundry every other day. (With all that laundry who has time for sit-ups?) When I moaned to Tom about my belly, he did the safe, husbandly thing and said, you look fine to me. My belly rumbled gratefully in response but my mirror didn’t agree.
My belly responded to the call and the scale magically lifted itself off the shelf and floated into my cart. It sailed through check-out and found a home in the master bathroom next to the cat box. I avoided it for two days until Tom finally noticed it.
I had to confess. “My belly bought a scale.”
“How does it work?”
I rolled my eyes. “You stand on it and it sends your self esteem plummeting until you’re in tears.”
“Then why buy it?”
“I didn’t buy it, my belly did.”
Now it was his turn to roll his eyes. He tapped the glass top with his foot and the digital screen sprang to life. Without fear, he jumped on. “Hmmmm, not as bad as I thought.” He stepped off and looked at me expectantly.
“Good for you!” I called over my shoulder as I followed my belly out of the room. It’s different for men. Tom gets away with wearing loose shorts and jeans that tend to ride below his belly. The look works for him, but for a woman baggy equals frumpy.
A week went by before I summoned up the courage to step on the scale. I needed that week to diet and exercise so that I could say the same thing when I finally stepped on “not as bad as I thought.” I chased the dogs and the cat out of the bathroom, kicked off my slippers, dropped my robe. The scale was icy cold beneath my bare feet. I closed my eyes for a good ten seconds then peeked at the screen. Seven, maybe eight pounds, had to go. My belly grunted in disgust as I stepped off for it knew it was entering a no peanut M&Ms zone.
Since then, it’s been up and down. One barbecue, a couple of lunches, and dinner out conspired to put my belly once again in the lead. But I force myself on the scale every few days and now, four pounds lighter, I am giddy with looming victory.
I can hear you now and, yes, I agree with you. I’m turning 61 years old this week and here I sit, still struggling with a self-image issue. I’ve cajoled myself with the idea of self-acceptance, being comfortable in my own skin, and loving me as I am, but I’ve realized two things. First: I may be the woman who never dyes her hair or wears make-up but deep down I am a little bit vain. My hair might be gray and worn in a simple style, but I use a hair dryer and curling iron to get it there. I don’t own a tube of lipstick or a lick of eye shadow, but I deeply moisturize and exfoliate to keep my skin glowing. Every six weeks I visit the nail salon to have the hiking calluses removed from my feet, but I also like seeing the polish on my toes. I am a little bit vain. There, I said it. And that’s a big step towards self-acceptance if there ever was one!
Second, I struggle every day, in every moment to be aware of what I’m doing, seeing, feeling, and thinking. When you have a monkey mind like I do, eating often becomes secondary. I’m like an opportunistic dog: put the dish in front of me and I’ll eat it all. There are times I look down at my plate in surprise that I’ve gulped down not one cookie, but three. That the whole bowl of chips and salsa has disappeared without a trace. Now, I can blame this on my upbringing and the whole starving children in China thing, but what it really comes down to is mindfulness. Scale (after that first week we moved to a first name basis) is doing a bang-up job of making me aware of every morsel that passes my lips, every mile I pedal on my bike, every hill I hike. Hell, I even did some sit-ups and push-ups the other day thanks to Scale.
“Are you using that thing?” Tom asked the other day.
“Yep! And it’s working!”
So it is. Scale has insinuated itself into my life and I’m the better for it. It may not be forgiving, but that’s another story for another day.
I stumbled into the kitchen around 5:30 in the morning with three wiggling dogs milling around my feet and one meowing cat. After plopping cups of dog food and cat food into appropriate bowls, the animals settled in to eat breakfast while I struggled to fully open both eyes, but it was enough to notice a text from last night waiting on my phone.
“Heading up to Payson Tuesday to hike to Horton Springs just below the Mogollon Rim. Interested? Leaving at 8 and will be back before dark.”
My body slammed wide awake, energized by the thought of towering ponderosa pines and icy running water. Backpack packed, I kissed Tom good-bye and headed to my friend Cyndi’s place and by quarter after eight, the three of us, Cyndi, her dog Rudy, and I, were on the road heading up into the White Mountains.
The Mogollon Rim, at an elevation of 8,000 feet, is an immense escarpment of sandstone and limestone running the breadth of Arizona along the southwestern portion of the Colorado Plateau. Visions of long ago pioneers, cattle rustlers and cowboys danced in my head for Payson was the site of the late Western novelist Zane Grey’s home. My late father rarely picked up a book to read, but when he did, it was a pretty good guess that the author was either Grey or Louis L’Amour. As we rolled up the highway, I thought of Dad and how much he would have loved the landscape rushing by our windows. After a long drive, our feet hit the trail around eleven a.m. and immediately we were immersed in towering trees, climbing steadily up to the Mogollon Rim to the music of gurgling water. The air was sharp as a fine blade; delineating the trees against a pure blue sky.
We ambled, first along the creek then along the high trail, but always, always returning to the water. The creek tripped along, slipping down slide stone, tumbling over boulders, spinning into pools. I envied Rudy each time he stepped into the cold water to drink. I plunged my hand in from time to time, wet my feet as I stepped over stones to cross the stream and reveled in the icy purity. I couldn’t be sure exactly when we reached the spring for on this day, time held no meaning. We reached the spring when we were meant to and marveled that the edge of the Mogollon Rim was only a few steps further, but it was the spring that drew us. We climbed, stretching our feet and hands to grasp boulders to pull us up to the source. The water spewed out between the rocks and we discovered a small opening in the stone that allowed us to see the spring actually bubbling up from the Earth. With my left hand I reached in, sinking it in up to my wrist…the Source.
I’ve hiked mile after mile across so many places, wandered around the rim of the Grand Canyon, flew over an erupting volcano in Hawaii, prayed at Kilaeau, snorkeled with sea turtles, climbed to the mission of San Sebastian in Spain and wept tears in the embrace of the red rocks of Sedona. Each experience captivated and humbled me, yet standing on the rocks of Horton Springs overwhelmed me like nothing else. Here I witnessed the Earth Mother giving birth, her life force churning out to bring sustenance to all. The vibration of the water entered my feet and pulsed through my legs and up to my heart. Inhaling deep, I knew this moment was sacred fulfillment.
The sun’s descent brought a slight chill to the air, a signal to return to our car. I brought a bottle of the sacred water back with me. In my youth, before entering church, I would dip my fingers in the water font and make the sign of the cross in a ritual of blessing and purification. This day I poured the clear spring water into an earthen bowl, dipped in my fingers and scattered drops around my home with prayers of gratitude. The blessings continue.
Rain drenched the desert this past weekend, moisture we desperately needed. The amazing thing about the desert is, after months without precipitation, the plants immediately burst with green after a mere inch of water. The crystalline air has been washed free of dust and all is pristine. Cholla glows in the sunlight, the brittlebush stands tall, and the globe mallow is vibrant and lush. Even birdsong rings more clearly after a rain; everything and everyone is energized.
If water is that cleansing, that invigorating, why are we so often afraid to cry? Tears expose us to the world, leave us soft and vulnerable, yet it is in that vulnerability that we reveal our humanity. The last two days I’ve been communicating online with a dear woman from my past. Out of respect for her privacy I won’t reveal her identity or the genesis of our relationship. It is sufficient to know that after long years without contact she reached out to me in emotional pain. As she shared the details of her situation, my heart heaved and tears welled in my eyes. In her last missive, she told me tears were running down her face as she read my words and felt the love I extended to her.
This morning as I walked the dogs through the fresh desert, I couldn’t help but think of the synchronicity of the desert rain and my friend’s tears. She brought me a gift: the recognition of the power of water to physically cleanse and the power of tears to emotionally heal. Tears are meant to be spent. How often do we hide our tears in embarrassment, quickly wiping them away before anyone can see? Instead of accepting the sweet release they bring, we hoard them, storing the emotions they represent away, piling them up like boxes on a dark closet shelf. Time after time we cram those boxed feelings away, stoically standing tall beneath its weight until finally the shelf gives way. The closet door springs open and we find ourselves awash in a torrent of unresolved emotion and tears.
Once I was gifted with a silver medallion etched with a Medicine Wheel by another dear friend. As she slipped the medallion over my head, tears dripped freely down my cheeks. Embarrassed I brushed them away but she stayed my hand, telling me “your tears are crystal tears and are meant to be shared with the world.” She was right. There is great beauty and power in running water, in flowing tears. Like the desert after a rain, spent tears leave one clean and bright, ready for new.
The woman who reached out to me the other day lingers on my mind. I hope she reads my words. I want to congratulate her and tell her I’m glad she wept for it means she is unafraid to heal and those tears are the first step on that path. Sending her all my love and letting her know how grateful I am she shared her tears.