* This passage by devon hase is from the book How Not to Be a Hot Mess, co-authored with nico hase, and describes how devon’s meditation practice has affected her self-image and sex life.
Take Back Your Body
My first moment of body shame. That moment when I put on my new turtleneck at ten years old, saw my belly, and suddenly and irrevocably divorced my body. I became, in that moment, a divided person, with one part of me living in the body while another part of me stood somehow at arm’s length, in a continuous and horrified state of judgment, looking shamefully, angrily back at myself, wishing and willing it to be different.
By age fifteen, this bizarre twin consciousness, this sense of being two different selves, one torturing the other, had solidified to the point where I stood for long minutes in front of the mirror, staring at my mostly naked body every morning and every evening, looking for flaws. I began to exercise, then to over-exercise, then to control my eating, and then to over-control my eating. While I was lucky to never fully tip into anorexia, my eating—or lack of it—hit a painful crescendo during my two years in a sorority. I ate almost nothing, lost too much weight, and successfully landed the hottest boy on campus, a bronze-skinned Filipino American quarterback whom I accompanied (externally smiling, internally freaking out) through a rotating door of fraternity parties.
How was the sex? you might ask.
Not good. I mean, we loved each other. He tried his best. But by this point, internalized patriarchy was the daily weather pattern inside and I had no idea what I actually wanted. I didn’t know what turned me on. Or if anything really turned me on. And all the cultural signposts seemed to point to making myself as ravishingly desirable as possible, without too much concern for what my body actually needed. And so most of our sex consisted of me turning him on and then going numb. Waiting until we were done so that I could go on a run or to the gym, or back to my dorm to tell my friends that we were, after all, having sex.
A sad state of affairs. And one that continued with my next boyfriend, a lovely human and wonderful friend who should have just stayed a friend but instead we ended up dating and then living together for four years after college. Sex? Same as before.
So what changed? Well, things started to change as my meditation practice gained traction in my midtwenties. And shifted again when I discovered yoga. Body-centered psychotherapy has also been a big, glorious, super-win. But the biggest shift—the seismic transformation—happened in the midst of a six-month meditation retreat all alone in a cabin in the mountains of southern Oregon. I had no phone, no computer, no electricity, no running water—and I had nothing to do but look at my own mind, feel my own heart, and know my own body, hour after hour after hour, day after day after day.
I wish I could say this long retreat was an entirely pleasant experience. I’d like to tell you I was filled with light, that angels danced, that I was elevated, blissful—and, in fact, those things do happen on meditation retreats (sometimes).
But not this time. This time, from just about the moment I first closed that cabin door behind me and the pickup truck that had dropped me off drove away down the long dirt road, I was struck by a clenching dread. That dread settled around me as I unpacked my things. It followed me to bed. It was there when I woke up. And then for one hundred and eighty-something days it was my ever-present companion.
Were there thoughts that accompanied this dread? Indeed there were. All the same thoughts I always had. Except magnified. Amplified. Spinning me around and dragging me down. Shame thoughts. Guilt thoughts. Self-doubt, self-disgust, loneliness. The utter certainty that I wasn’t good enough, not thin enough, not worthy enough. Oh, and the unrelenting hatred of my body. That particular variety of unfiltered self-loathing. Yep. That was me. Alone. In a cabin. For months.
I always tell people that it was during this stretch of time that I learned the true meaning of compassion. Firsthand. For myself and for everyone. Every morning waking up alone. Every evening sleeping alone. And nothing in between but knowing the body and watching the mind. Knowing breath, knowing the crunch of a sour apple, knowing the steps of my feet on crusty snow, the swirling thoughts of helplessness and despair. And just being with it. Remembering the meditation instructions again and again—just be with it. Just know. Awareness has room for everything.
And it did. It truly did. Awareness didn’t let me down. By the end of that grueling, endless, lonesome retreat, I was a different human. And I felt, for the first time, that I could handle my whole life. Handle anything and everything. And that my body—this body, just as it is—was not only good enough: it was magic.
Most of us are never going to hole ourselves up in a cabin with no running water and no electricity and no cell reception for six months. And I’m not sure I even recommend it. I bought that little ticket to cabinland after doing a whole lot of training with a whole lot of very skilled meditation teachers. And I am also the recipient of many requisite privileges—race, class, nationality, and more—that even allowed me to consider such an option.
The good news, though, is that for the whole of humanity, who largely have no real interest in meditating alone ten hours a day for half a year, there are still ways to take back your body. Unplug, slow down, and let your body be the guide.
*Adapted from How Not to Be a Hot Mess: A Buddhist Survival Guide for Modern Life by nico and devon hase © 2020. This edition published 2023. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com