Body Hope (a week in the woods)

Amazing what a week in the forest can do for a woman's tattered, tired soul.

Taking a break from our stressful jobs and modern frenzied lives, the husband and I packed up our gear and headed to one of our fave camping spots in my beloved Oregon. Our two teenagers were unable to join us this year, so with a mixture of missing them yet relishing our alone time we headed out of Portland into the emerald woods of the Tillamook forest.

On day three of our camping trip, an innocent remark by my husband resulted in an avalanche of body shame erupting inside and out of me. I was already feeling a bit vulnerable after posting about my body trauma at the Korean bathhouse, and Jerry had no idea that he had wandered into a field of landmines with his one playful sentence. My mood went from relaxed and peaceful to agitated and fretful. I was in tears.

I gave him the silent treatment for a short while, but before our campfire breakfast was over, I decided to be transparent and confess all to him about my lifelong struggle with my soul housed in This Body. He listened. He sympathized. He apologized. He affirmed. He loved me and declared his allegiance to me no matter what.

Then he left. Jerry had already planned to drive into nearby Nehalem to get into a hot spot to get cell service. Despite getting away from it all, there were still some real life business affairs that had to be tended to. I decided to take that opportunity to take my body out on the trail for a heart felt talk. I didn't want our time in this ancient forest overshadowed by my angst with the shape and size of my frame. I needed to confront my body image instead of skirting away from it as I have been doing for the last four decades.

As my feet moved forward among the velvety verdant moss carpeting the trail, I began to make amends with my body self. "I'm sorry I've been so mean to you," I whispered under the old growth trees as I cradled my rolling belly, the part of me that I detest the most. "Thank you for serving me well and for helping me birth two beautiful children. Thank you for working properly and for not failing me. I will be kinder to you."

A well of peace misted out of somewhere like morning dew. I kept pace on the trail, pausing to drink in the lushness of greenery I was surrounded by. The woods is where I feel most Womanly, the power of nature and the power of She both brimming with vitality and the creative life force. I did not realize at the time how perfect and prophetic it was for me to make nice with my body in the thick of the earth's bounty.

"Thank you for nourishing my babies," I said softly to my matronly bosom. "You have served me and my family well and I thank you. I honor you." Then, with a bit of joy appearing from under the scars, I teased my bountiful "girls" with a flirty affirmation: "You are both full of life. And I mean full!"

As I continued walking on the forested trail, crumbles of hard crust that had formed over my wounded body image fell to mother earth. With each step I proclaimed a new allegiance to myself, my body. I trudged up the path to where the firs and cedars thinned out revealing the river below. The water shimmered like a living mirror. I sat on the bench that kindly invited me at the viewpoint. And there, under a canopy of towering woods who witnessed my healing, I continued reconciling my invisible self with the visible parts of me.

I wrote in my journal that I had brought along with me to record the moment like a peace treaty:

I hereby break my vow to suppress my negative feelings towards my body and my self. I hereby affirm that body acceptance is a worthy and necessary pursuit in my life and in my writing.

My journal spoke back to me with the caption of Leap Fearlessly emboldened from the page. I received that as if it was a herald sent to the forest to find me. It is time to take courage and begin the good work of loving my body, for in loving my body I will learn a greater measure of self-love. Not a narcissistic indulgence of self-worship, but a holy practice of sacred love of the person my Creator has made me to be.

St Bernard wrote in his famous Four Degrees of Love sermon that self-love is the greatest expression of loving God, for when we truly love who we are, we are loving the image of God whom we bear in our being.

I am not so naive to think that one jaunt through the woods is going to rectify a lifetime of self-loathing against my body. I am full of hope, though, that a genuine breakthrough was reached in the Oregon forest. My body and I are now at least on speaking terms, and all relationship wisdom points out how open communication is key to reconciliation and growth. I am encouraged that I have at least achieved this, and have begun the journey towards wholeness and integration between my body, soul and spirit.

This is what a week in the woods can do for a woman like me.


What about you? Has nature aided you in self-love and body acceptance? What insights can you give me as I affirm a new relationship between my body, soul and spirit? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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© 2017 by Pamela Sue Johnson