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One of my old students just called me for advice. He wanted to know if I was a religious person or if I was, “Some kind of athiest.”

Different students know different things about me. Some students know I’m gay, some students know I’m married, some students know I’m into health and wellness, and some students know I’m Buddhist. All of my students know me as someone who’s radically honest, sarcastic, and eccentric. I regularly say off-the-wall things to my students in off-the-wall ways. I can bring any kid, no matter how rigid, into the learning experience by joking with them and making them have fun with the day’s lesson through unconventional and hilariously bizarre game-play.

But for some reason my totally blind students are often astonished when they find out that I’m religious. I guess most of them automatically associate religion with a certain kind of speech pattern. (Judgmental? Stiff?)

I explained to the student that I’m extremely religious, but also an athiest. He couldn’t reconcile the two.

I told him about non-theism. I don’t believe in a higher power, but I also don’t disbelieve in a higher power. I’m a Soto-Zen Buddhist. I believe that everything is connected to everything else. I believe in applying your awareness. And I believe in not accepting, not rejecting, and not ignoring things as they arise. I don’t know or care how a higher power fits into that. I’m content with not knowing. And if for some reason my lack of belief results in a punishment after I die, then, as is the Soto-Zen custom, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

He got it. What I found interesting was that my totally blind student sees me as a whimsical, adaptable weirdo, but my fully sighted colleagues and classmates find me to be overly formal and standoffish.

Sighted people get the idea pretty quickly that I’m extremely religious. I shave my head, I’ve worn all black for years, I often wear a samui (a traditional jacket that acts as something like a more socially acceptable robe,) and unless someone needs me to be funny and outgoing for some reason, (like an unenthusiastic student,) I’m usually a quiet, observant person. Even my body language is pretty Zen. My movements are intentionally respectful. My body, voice, appearance, and interactions are all measured to be supportive and non-threatening to people.

This is why I’m concerned that the more outwardly religious I become, the more people are going to walk all over me, or worse, be uncomfortable around me. I’m already a little different. Several people who I could imagine myself befriending avoid me, and my understanding is that it’s because my behavior makes them start to reflect on theirs, and they’d rather avoid me than to reflect in that way. Basically, my influence makes them squirm.

I wonder if people’s discomfort is based in the same confusion as my student’s cognitive dissonance? They don’t understand my religion, it’s obvious that I’m religious, and so rather than asking, they avoid me. The problem is compounded by not fitting neatly into the stereotypical Buddhist box from television and movies. I don’t wear an orange robe, I’m getting my master’s degree, I’m a teacher, I have a laptop, and, if required, I’m joking and playful.

My student probably isn’t alone in his confusion, and it could be representitive of something deeper for many others. My student can’t see me, so he can’t use my visual presence to form a mental checklist of uncertainties about my identity and how to interact with it. My identity has to come to him, and it has to unfold based around the interactions we’re having before those uncertainties can come into existence. It’s a much more organic, less fearful dynamic that I have with my totally blind student than I have with many of my sighted classmates/colleagues.

I think it might be because blind people get to know me based around conversations, and sighted people don’t need to get to know me because they have vision.

I’ll continue to reflect on this. One thing I’m going to do is to start wearing different clothing when I’m not at temple. That way I’m at least not in all black every day. I’m also going to make more of a point to let sighted people know that I’m a real human being, too, and not just made of my outward appearance. I’ll ask them how their weekend was or make it a point to interact on a more friendly (less formal) level. Normally I wait to speak until people address me directly. Maybe making sighted people more comfortable will be as simple as treating them like my blind students– telling them good morning, asking how they are, and creating a dynamic around speech and action, not just appearance, body language, and perceived formality.

I’m aware this must be obvious to most people. I’m socially awkward. But I’m learning. And that’s okay.

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I hate beginning these things. I imagine blank white boxes full of the space where I’m supposed to start and end a series of thoughts, but how can I possibly start at the beginning if my thoughts are nothing more than never-ending paragraphs?

The joke’s on you, cultural norms: I’m starting in the middle!

I’m skipping over a bunch of not so happy stuff that went down over the weekend. Everything’s fine, there’s no lasting damage, but let’s just say thank god I’m careful about logging communication between myself and group members on school projects. I get an A in the class, They, well, don’t.

Moving on!

I’ve wanted a different body for as long as I can remember. I was fit as a little kid, I got straight up obese when I was 9 years old, I started losing weight as a teenager, and I’ve stayed between 149 and 135 pounds since I was 15. And before you read those numbers and get all weird about how low they seem, A) Dude, it’s my blog! And B, I’m short. Like, reeeeaaaalllllyyyyy short.

I’ve hovered at the low end of overweight and the tippytoe top of a healthy weight range since I was 15. My all-time low was 134.2 with a goal weight of 130, but then I got busy with something else, I ballooned back up to 147ish, and I felt I had to go back to hiding my gut with baggy sweatshirts and winter coats. I’m sure some of you can relate. (Fatties.)

Yesterday I was trying to meditate on my relationship to my physical body. I have a lot of questions about this whole mind-body complex.

Is making a point to eat and move a certain way attachment to a certain kind of body? Why am I so interested in being “healthy” provided my current weight doesn’t increase my risk factors for problems later on? I’m already diabetic from my childhood obesity; does it count as attachment to keep that in check? Why am I interested in not being sick, anyway? Isn’t sickness an invaluable opportunity for exploration? Some monks believe that regular exercise is just an excuse for overeating. How do I feel about that? Do I believe their beliefs? Do I believe mine? I’m scared that I’ll get sick if I don’t eat enough. How do I experiment with that safely?

Beyond that, I’ve also been applying my awareness to what kind of body I’m looking for. I’ve never really had a goal besides being less fat and having more energy.

Do I feel comfortable in my body as it is? I don’t. Is that because I don’t have energy to function? Is it because I’m depressed? Is it because I’m hairy? Is it because my clothes are too tight? Is it because I feel less capable than I predict I should feel? Am I missing out on some kind of life experience because I have too much body fat? Do I just dislike feeling unnecessarily low-energy given my less than nutritious diet? Do I even know that my diet is what makes me low-energy, or could it be more than that? How would my life be different if I had a body in which I were more comfortable?

I started to contemplate the body of a healthy, active boy. I’ve always found a healthy kid’s body to be one of the most artistically beautiful and mechanically perfect things on the planet. It’s this completely natural, innocent expression of being alive, yet it’s full of vitality and power. Kids’ bodies are bilt to learn, explore, grow, and do. Kids’ bodies slow down when they don’t use them, but they don’t have to use them very much at all to speed up again. It’s beautiful!

That’s what I want. I want a body that does what I want, when I want; a body that learns with me and can change when I need it to change; and a body that is low-maintenance, entirely natural, and perfectly average.

I don’t want to be ripped. I don’t want to be fat. I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be thin, firm, and flexible. I want to have energy to climb a tree or go on a long walk with my students. What would change if I had my perfect body? Not a whole heck of a lot, but enough to make it important to me. I’d have energy to be a kid again. And as a teacher, that’s a big deal.

That’s…. that’s it.

The other questions still apply. But now I know what I want, and that’s a great next step.

To me, part of having a natural body is not overeating, and to eat things that make me feel good even when what I want is something that will make me feel bad. (ESPECIALLY when what I want is something that will make me feel bad.)

I don’t want to exercise a lot. There it is. I want to go on about an hour long walk every day and maybe work my way up to doing some light yoga or bodyweight exercises. I don’t want the special clothes. I don’t want a personal trainer, I don’t want to obsess over what I’m eating and how I need to change and how I’m not good enough. I don’t want this to be so complicated. And I don’t want to be my own home improvement project.

I’m not obese. I’m not even technically overweight anymore. (Within a few pounds, but not technically overweight.) I have time to start adding these things as I want to, and to find my way back to a natural, kid-friendly body.

I’m fine. I’ll get there when I get there. I know what I want and how to make it happen. The equation isn’t going to up and change if I get sidetracked for a few weeks. Now I just have to make one tiny change here and there to make it happen, and before I know it, it’ll be done.

Maybe wanting a natural, kid-friendly body is attachment. But aren’t I also attached to over-eating and undermoving? Aren’t I attached to not knowing what to do, and aren’t I attached to trying to figure it out?

I bet that letting my cravings pass without acting on them, choosing simple food over complicated food, not over-eating, and not under-moving are much less attached than what I’ve been doing for the past several years. I just need to eat how kids eat, and move how kids move. Maybe it really is that straightforward.

Neat!

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