by Dr. Jenny Copeland
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and
embracing who we are.
~Brene Brown ~
What does it mean to be able to embody yourself in a genuine and authentic way? This question came up in conversation this week, and I was simultaneously dismayed and excited to find I did not have a simple answer. There are many academic and abstract definitions of “embodiment” which, from my perspective, can be boiled down to this: the tangible expression of an idea or feeling. That’s still a fairly vague definition if you think about it. Let’s break it down even further: thinking, breathing, and acting in a way that is consistent with your chosen values.
It is important for each of us, regardless of how long we have been in this movement, to assess where we are and how we are embodying ourselves. Let me be clear, I am not going to tell you HOW to embody yourself or what that SHOULD look like. Rather, I encourage you to use these three steps to determine what exactly embodiment could mean to you.
- What are your values? A value is a guiding principle for behavior – a judgment on what is important in your life. Good examples include courage, faith, and compassion. Your primary values shape how you live and act throughout your life, as they are the core of your individual perspective, thoughts, and attitudes. Your values comprise your worldview, or the lens through which you perceive the world. We usually do not spend a lot of time trying to decide exactly what our values are; they are often an assumed component of our lives. If you had to identify your core values, what would they be? Harvard’s “The Good Project” has a great online tool to help you begin this exploration. Check it out here.
- Now that you have a more clear idea of your guiding principles, ask yourself: do your daily thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors match these values? Unfortunately for humanity, we are not perfect, which means there are often times in our lives when we make choices that are inconsistent with our beliefs. How inconsistent are you in this regard? If integrity is one of your most important values, then are there any moments (large or small) when you observed an injustice without commenting or intervening? In these moments of discrepancy, were you aware of the conflict as it was occurring or not until later? If you were cognizant, then what were the reasons for making that choice? If you were not aware, then how could you be more mindful in the future? Does how you think about and treat your body (and others) match your core values?
- What do you want to do with this knowledge? Consider several questions. Do your values fit your current context? As we mature our values must naturally evolve along with us. Although we may have begun our adult lives prioritizing our work, for some these values shift into prioritizing family in a way we may have not anticipated. In reviewing the fit between your values and your lives, were you comfortable with the number of moments in your life when you were inconsistent? Do you wish you could have been more mindful of the reasoning behind your choices? Are there areas where you would like to continue growing and developing?
The truth is, I cannot instruct others on what it means to embody themselves. That is a deeply personal and unique journey for each of us. But I have learned some important lessons as I have progressed through my own path to embodiment, as well as being a part of others’ journeys. The most common pitfall I have observed in myself and others is the instinct to push ourselves to our limits to ‘perfectly’ adhere to those values, losing sight of the purpose of our values.
From my perspective, at least for today, the HAES principles are the embodiment of joyful and compassionate living. If we are too busy hurling ourselves towards achieving perfect body acceptance, complete realization and awareness of our biases and attitudes, and compassion towards others, we utterly lose sight of the opportunity we have to live in and cherish our bodies in the here and now. Remember, then, wherever you are in your journey, no matter how many inconsistent moments you have, that place is exactly where you are supposed to be. The question is, where do you want to go next?