‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me’ is a saying that was very present in my childhood and still is today.
The ease of rendition shows the very power of words and how they attach to us. Of course, sticks and stones may break our bones, but I am hard-pressed to believe that words don’t harm us. More times than I care to count, my spirit has been broken by words. Words turned into thoughts. Thoughts entertained often enough to become beliefs. Beliefs ultimately becoming false truths.
Views about our bodies and how we are told they should look versus how they do look is a seemingly endless battle. I’ve had far too many negative things to say about myself and I’m not sure I would have had they not been pointed out to me in the media. Or by other people or by comparisons to non-existent ideals. It’s impossible to avoid the onslaught. It’s been pointed out countless times, that the impact of social media and what constitutes an ‘InstaGrammy’ life has only exacerbated the problem.
I’m human (last I checked) and I want to look and feel my best but at what cost and for whose validation? Earlier this year I was seeing someone who was very clear about their exercise routine, eating habits, sleeping patterns. It was all very set with some, but not much, wiggle room. To a certain extent, I appreciated their focus, it was admirable. What I didn’t appreciate was:
- the daily check-ups to see if I had done any exercise.
- the YouTube links to cardio routines.
- the ‘observations’ made about my salt intake.
- being told when it was time to go to bed.
There was a subtle creeping change from the early days of gooey donuts and laughter for breakfast, to a protein shake and a snide comment about my 9am sleep in. There were cutting remarks made about people’s physical appearance. It was unnerving and skin-achingly uncomfortable. We all know how it goes, ‘It was just a joke’ but it wasn’t a joke, it was harmful words spoken. Words that harmed me and words that stuck like oxygenated glue to the people being frivolously judged. These words and judgments came far too easily. The relationship ended. I’m hesitant to call it a relationship, it was a ‘pandemicship’ and it was done.
As endings often do, it got me thinking, among other things, about the power of words. I had rightly become combative in the face of the suggestions and observations that were being handed out with such ease. I felt frustrated and annoyed. I’d sigh a lot and mutter expletives under my breath while skimming over the daily suggestive WhatsApp’s ( and not the fun kind) about what exercise I should do and for how long. No matter what I said or how many times I tried to explain how I liked to do things, the weight of the words that were being dished out kept coming. I shut down.
I’m not averse to exercise, in fact I quite like it, but I like it on my terms. I remember how much I hated sport at school. I was never very good at it because my joy was not sparked by tennis, netball, or hockey. My joy is sparked by daily walks, boxing, and martial arts. I’m not averse to clean eating, in fact I quite like that too with a bit of salt and spice and a Krispy Kreme donut thrown in for good measure. I love sleeping. It’s more of a joy to me than a routine. I’m a moonchild, I revel in starlight and ideas that burst forth in the night. I’ve tried the 5am club but quickly fell off the wagon and I realised why. I. Don’t. Like. It. A simple realisation but a powerful one, nonetheless. I don’t like being told what to do and suggestions are even worse. My jaw clenches at the word.
If I was being so affected by words, it clearly showed their power. I wasn’t being consistent with my exercise, eating or even sleeping, I hadn’t been for a while. I asked myself why? What was going on?
I knew that what was being said was unhealthy and destructive, this was not my first rodeo, but there was something else niggling at me. The answer hit and it was simple, I wasn’t having any fun. Exercise was laborious and timed. Sleep had lost its glow, and other than a pizza, with the same toppings on a Saturday evening or the less and less frequent homemade tapas, food had become grey and unsalted. All of this was not me. Maybe I had to go down the rabbit hole, as we sometimes do, for self-truths to hit home. The good ones, the ones that with a kind, yet stern voice, tell us to come home to ourselves. We’ve ventured out again, a little too far and it’s time to return. Bringing the lesson with us but not holding onto it. I had to make a choice and I did.
I’ve changed the words I use when I talk to myself, about myself and it’s glorious! I’m now in a fabulous routine. I wake up in the morning, at whatever time makes me happy and keeps me anxiety-free. I take a few minutes to send some gratitude out into the ether and get excited about the day. I search around for my headphones because they never are where they should be, get comfy again and settle down for a 15-minute meditation. Then I toddle off to the lounge for a body burn session that lasts anywhere from 10 – 60 mins. However damn well long I feel like. I top the morning off with a delicious cup of coffee or two and eggs with salt and sometimes, just sometimes, the gooiest Krispy Kreme doughnut I can get my sticky mitts on. This routine has come about organically and beautifully, with no judgement and all because I started dialoguing with myself differently.
It’s only in the past six months that meditation has become part of my life. Previously, I used words and phrases like, ‘I can’t, I don’t have the time, my mind races, I can’t concentrate, I’ll get distracted, I won’t be any good at it, it’s too hard’. How did I think I could I possibly get anything off the ground using those words?! It’s impossible. I realised I’d been limiting and judging myself in so many areas of my life. In this case, my body and how I was treating my powerhouse of a life system. So, I stopped using them. Instead of meal replacements, I’ve introduced word replacements, and it has changed everything for me.
Decisions have become choices. I don’t make the decision to do something anymore, I choose to do it. Because it brings me joy and I’m filled with curiosity and anticipation. There’s childlike excitement about all the possibilities that may come from trying something. 5 minutes of giving meditation a try, has led to 15 minutes every morning of pure bliss. I wake up excited to drift off again into a space that my mind, body, and spirit crave. It has become a daily treasure and it’s so easy! Thank you 21st century, thank you apps.
Challenges and goals. Not anymore. It’s a lot juicier now, curiosity and possibilities. I don’t want to challenge myself and set goals that I may never reach. That is too much pressure and no fun.
A couple of months ago, I made the choice to start walking 5kms a day. There was no future goal. Just playful curiosity about the possibilities and anticipation for the allocated time in the evening when I would leave my phone at home and get moving. The same thing happened. My mind, body and spirit started to crave the space and the peace to process my thoughts. I conversed with my anxiety; we have become friends. Rather than my shadowland, for the first time in my life it has become my greatest teacher. I’m not solely focused on losing weight or getting fit. I’m savouring being in the present. Looking out for the family of parakeets who live in the tree at the bottom of the street, watching the sunset, getting lost in the neighbourhood sounds and my own grand ideas. I don’t train or push myself anymore. I enjoy.
Lastly, I have removed the word ‘commit’ from my vocabulary. Anytime I have committed to someone or something, it hasn’t ended well. Somehow when we use the word ‘commit’, we think we must stay, endure, stick it out. That’s not true, we can leave whenever we want but we don’t. I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not committing to anyone or anything. If I do something, it is because I want to, and I think that’s a great energy space to work from.
I want to meditate. I want to walk. I am present. I am doing the work. I am falling in love with my gorgeous self.
It’s happening, I’m witness to it. It’s taken 44 years and a life of stories that, for a large part, have been narrated by outside voices. But in the past year there has been a seismic shift. I’m narrating now. I’m using words that uplift, protect, hold, support, enrich, embrace, cherish, celebrate, and infuse my life with joy. I’ve lifted the weight of words and I’ve never been healthier.
About the Author
Jess is South African, improviser, teacher, soul purpose explorer, and perpetual student. She also had a IG page called myndful_mondays helping people to grow their mindfulness skills.
You can connect with Jess through the following links 👇