‘Caress yourself, slowly. Feel into every piece of you that you love. Perhaps the softness of your hair or the skin on your cheek. Or the feeling of pressure underneath your feet or how gently your tongue rests at the roof of your mouth. Feel into everything you love about yourself and bring it alive…’
My voice carried on with the instruction as the women in the circle moved with me. Together we were feeling the soft textures of cotton and wool keeping our supple female skins warm and cozy. Together we focused our minds on what our love feels like inside.
After the experience ended, one woman shared, ‘You said to focus on what I loved about myself, but I also wanted to include the parts I don’t like. I wanted those parts to be seen as well.’
I nodded at her, but felt confused by her words. She was an incredibly beautiful woman, inside and out. What parts of her could she possibly not like?
Did I miss something here? I scanned my own inner world and found nothing. There were no parts of me that I didn’t like. Instead, the entire concept felt like an impossibility. How could I tell some cells of my body that they are less likeable than other cells of my body? Some feelings that they are less welcome than other feelings? Can pigs fly?
Yet there was a familiarity of all this. Like I should have been able to empathise with her. Like I should know how that must feel like. A whispering from a past life brushed into my mind, saying, ‘You haven’t even tried the soup yet.’
Ah yes, the soup.
Three years back, I was traveling in Southern India. One afternoon in Tiruvannamalai, we visited a satsang of an Indian guru who’s name I no longer remember. The room was crowded and hot and I remember feeling vaguely superior even as I sat there. I didn’t believe in guru-worship. I wasn’t there to learn anything. I was a tourist attending a ‘local performance’. Egocentrism at its best (or worst). Kind of glad those days are behind me.
The guru was dressed in white robes and sitting on a podium. Perhaps I was a little hungry, for I didn’t pay much attention to what he was saying until he started talking about soup.
‘Imagine yourself as a large pot of soup boiling over a small fire. Your parents added some vegetables and seasoning, your grandparents sprinkled some more. There have been many cooks around your kettle. Relatives, teachers, your culture and the politics of the times you grew up in. All of these different elements have been seasoning your soup since the dawn of time. How do you live with that?’
That caught my attention. I thought about all these aspects that have created ‘me’ as I was back then. When the time came to ask a question, to my own surprise, I raised my hand and asked,
‘What if I don’t like the kind of soup I am?’
The white-robed Guru looked at me kindly from his dais and said, ‘You haven’t even tried the soup yet.’
He continued to express how most people are so focused on the image and idea of ourselves that we forget to taste the life we have been given. We say we want to live fully, but carefully avoid getting our hair wet or our hands sticky with the sweet juices of ripe mango. Instead of eating our soup, we stand next to own kettle, keep one corner of our eye on other kettles, comparing and judging the way our soup has turned out.
But to actually live our own life, to define it and enjoy it, we have to take charge of the taste of our own soup.
That touched something in me back then… uncomfortably so. Still it took me the better part of three years to put it into action. To understand once and for all that no-one can fully taste the soup of another person. We can try to guide their hands, sprinkle some sugar on top or warn them if the smell is bad, but we can only live one life, our own.
And our life is an inside job.
My love, my attractions, my choices, my definition of beauty. It’s all right here.
For who could define my beauty for me?
Would I allow magazines and diet marketing to define what my version of beautiful is? Will shows and movies give me guidance to decide which types of forms are given permission be considered beautiful? Or will I simply define my own soul and the combination of my cells as a wondrous thing of beauty and make peace within.
Can I taste my own soup… not in comparison to how other soups seem to taste from a distance; but taste it like the spirit of the infinite that’s hungry for a moment of pure human experience? For whom even a tiny fraction of Helen would be the most magnificent unique piece of God anyone has ever seen and felt in the entire multidimensional mishmash of universes.
It seems I somehow did it. Three years later, I like who I am. Without reservations and without doubts. Enough so to wonder how I ever could have felt differently.
Somewhere along the way I have managed to take back the authority for defining how I should feel within my own life. The only one I have.
I’ve tasted my soup and after learning the ropes of seasoning, thanked everyone else for their contribution and asked them to kindly take a step back from the kettle. And oh they were happy to do so. It’s always nice to be released of the responsibility for others.
Now I am the queen, the head chef, the master of my own attitudes. Only I can define how I want my life to taste. No longer for the appetites of other well-meaning people, but for me. The only person who has to live this life.
My life has become an inside job.