The Washroom: Tenderness

The washroom, or as probably most of us call it, the bathroom, has the potential for being the toughest and tenderest place in any of our homes.  Consider.  It is in our bathrooms that we hang mirrors: small, large, wide, full length.  We keep in our bathrooms almost all of the medicines, soaps, bandages, ointments, creams, and powders.  We also store and plug in and re-charge any number of gadgets.  If it’s not clear by now, this is the one room, if no other, in which we take off our clothes and stand before ourselves, completely naked, to tend to our bodies.

This is the tough-tender part.  In this most private of spaces in our homes where we keep all the things pertaining to the care of our bodies, we can see ourselves as we are–if we look, that is.  We live in a culture that makes much of the bodies it deems beautiful.  We celebrate them on the sides of urban buses, in the first shiny, full color pages of any magazine one opens, in movies and sitcoms.  We celebrate certain bodies airbrushed, dyed, and modified.  When we celebrate these culturally acceptable bodies we are immediately judging as unacceptable other kinds of bodies without ever saying it. There we stand in our bathrooms, naked.  What sort of conversations do we have with ourselves? If we are honest, many of us stand there and begin to make judgments about what we see that doesn’t measure up.  Because it might need to be said, men do this as much as women do, though the TV talk shows often focus on women in this act of body-judgment.

A few years ago, I begin a little “yoga of the mind” when I went to the gym.  The gym is certainly a place where one can easily fall into the cultural judgments about bodies. My little yoga of the mind works like this.  Between exercises, I look around the gym.  I allow my sight to land on one person at a time.  For just a few seconds, I allow myself to really see this person, and in my own head and heart I say:  you are beautiful.  And then, I go to the next person.  By the time I leave, I’ve seen nothing but beautiful people in the gym.  I leave the gym happier, smiling.  I leave feeling like these are my friends.  I leave wanting to come back again.

Recently, I spent nearly a week at a national conference for language teachers eating three times a day in restaurants.  Despite exercising while I was there each day, when I returned home, standing on those bathroom scales, I had gained five pounds. In one week! It was easy to go to that place:  judgment, bad feeling, negativity, blah, blah, blah.  Then it occurred to me.  I learned so much; I made so many new friends; I had a great time at this conference.  I gained so much and it was not just a few pounds.

When we go into this tough place called the washroom, can we begin to practice a little tender yoga of the mind–see our own selves, really see–and then make the declaration: you are a beautiful person?  That’s tough!  This is the kind of tenderness that, if practiced on ourselves, is much easier to practice on others.  Our world abounds in judgment, not so much in tenderness.

Bob Patrick

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