“My skull is dissolving,” I say.
My voice quivers.
The woman with me has to lean in closer to hear it. “Dissolving?”
“Yes. Dissolving. My face is caving in. Crumbling. Like sand.” I pause. “Oh my god, my whole face is caving in!”
I am panicking now. My heart pounds. This is raw feeling. Pure instinct. Brain has left the building and it’s full-on terror time.
My fucking face is crumbling. My skull is imploding. Like a reverse mushroom cloud. Getting sucked into a hole.
Yep, this shit is happening.
It’s not real, of course.
I’m doing a guided imagery session with — thankfully — an older and wiser guide who knows not to lose her shit when people say crazy things like My skull is dissolving.
We’re here to talk about my resistance. Which we all have, so it’s not like I’m special.
Resistance is that force in you that throws rebellious tantrums, whispers sweet self-critical nothings in your ear (or screams them in your face like a drunken guy at the bus stop), keeps you stuck in self-destructive habits, and glues your ass to the chair when you know you should get up and do something.
Resistance says, You suck so don’t even try.
Resistance says, It’s too hard.
Resistance says, You can’t move.
Resistance says, You don’t have any friends but me. I will protect you by keeping you small and insignificant.
At the moment, my resistance is telling me (in graphic, skull-dissembling form) that if I let it go, it will crush me. It will eat my spine. I will be nothing.
It tells me I need it. If I do not have it, I will be a gelatinous blob.
If I don’t police myself and point out all the ways I have failed, and lock myself into a shell, then I will explode. I will fragment. A billion grains of sand, scattered to the wind.
“Sit with that image,” says my guide. My right brain, off the leash, is flailing, stuffing my mind with horrific images of self-annihilation.
Sit with it? What the fuck? This thing is chewing my fucking face.
I sit with it.
My skull is gone now. My spine is crumbling, vertebra by vertebra. Like a gray chicken carcass left too long in the boiling water.
Chunk by chunk, my spine crumbles, down to a nub at my tailbone. I am, indeed, a gelatinous blob now. Where my face was, is nothing.
No, wait, not nothing.
My eyeballs, weirdly, are still there. Hanging in space. Like an invisible Mr. Potato Head.
Dude, this right brain imagery is some trippy fucking shit.
It’s ludicrous now, suddenly, so I start to laugh. My body is gone. Except for my floating eyeballs. Ha ha ha! I laugh. I’m still here!
I’ve poured much of my self-concept into being Fitness Person. Which felt about as comfortable as a too-tight thong and shoes on the wrong feet.
Now, age and physiological realities (and the fact that Fitness World is, in fact, deeply trite and tedious) are asking me to relinquish that identity, at least the way my old brain had conceptualized it.
Fitness Person is hard and brittle, like a terracotta shell. Fitness Person is all-powerful, eminently able, destroyer of all things, mistress of her domain. Fitness Person is riptshizzled. Fitness Person is the sum golem of all the imaginary people around me who are successful in all that they do, who have bodies like machines and squat a million pounds.
It’s a joke, of course. I’ve coached hundreds of people and seen them in their underwear. I know all their secrets. I know who’s on drugs and who’s had surgery and who’s starving themselves and who’s had a nervous breakdown. I see the man (and woman) behind the curtain, and the emperor with no clothes.
Fitness Person doesn’t exist, even if you’re actually super-fit.
But still, my brain attaches to it.
And in Fitness World, there is a pervasive discourse that we are at war with something. To be a Fitness Person is to fight.
You fight your body, you fight evolution, you fight through every workout, you fight yourself. We glorify fighters. Hell, I used to train like a fighter, and I loved it. I did the Fight Gone Bad workout. I loved feeling and living like a fighter. I still do.
And yet, my body is softening. I am softening towards it. And everything else. I am becoming a lover, not a fighter.
Because when you fight your body and declare war on it, you declare war on you.
You might as well start beating up your own child. Kick the shit out of a toddler. Slap a baby. Does that feel good? (If you said “yes”, please enrol yourself in a psychopath treatment center immediately.)
Women ask me, Am I doomed by my age / biology / hormones / genes?
Doomed? WTF? Doomed? How the everlovin’ shit are you doomed? Look around! The sun is shining and your eyeballs are hanging in space to see it! You can pee and breathe and blink. Think about that. You are exchanging ions and gases right now. You are living alchemy.
I understand, though. That resistance is a mean motherscratcher.
Resistance sticks its claws down your throat and tells you to feel ashamed. It points at your flabby arms and weird toes and stretch marks and ears that stick out and numbers that just aren’t good enough and tells you that this is evidence that you must keep fighting. Even if you are sick and tired and feeling your muffin top flap over your yoga pants and wondering about what the point of it all is.
Because what if you didn’t have that resistance? Well, it’d be chaos, right? If you didn’t self-criticize and guilt yourself and lard the internet with teary confessions about your cellulite and “imperfect” body, what else would you have?
You’d have to live.
You’d have to get off the fucking internet and into your experiences.
You’d have to believe your partner when s/he says you’re beautiful. Or be unrepentantly, gloriously, fabulously ugly, if you want. (Because not being beautiful is a totally available option. Millions of men out there give zero fucks about their ugliness, and they seem to be just fine.)
You’d have to look people in the eye. Do what you want to do. Do what you dream about. Do nothing.
You’d have to stop stuffing your feelings with food. Or starving them. Or making an OCD-style “passion for fitness and nutrition” your drug of choice.
You’d have to experience yourself. Experience the world as it is, not as you think it should be. Experience the void. Experience the nothing that is between the somethings that we grab at desperately to fill the time.
If you quit fighting, you’d have to get real with pain. And no pain. You’d have to let the real-ness in.
You’d have to let yourself dissolve, because that shell isn’t you.
You aren’t your numbers or your lifts or your abs or your anything. You can and will lose all of that. Yet you’ll still be here. With your eyeballs.
I let my spine crumble. Sit with the nothingness.
I suddenly become aware of the birds outside. Blackbirds. A fire engine goes past. Chickadees. I feel the chair on my back. My back that doesn’t exist. I’m feeling it with my nothing-body.
“I’m gone, but I’m still here,” I say. Mild surprise.
“You’re still here,” says my guide.